Doing A Whole Lotta Nothing

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As the title implies, the last week has been a total waste when it comes to riding. It started a week ago Sunday when we had an absolutely bitter day, with temperatures in the teens and wind chills below zero at night. I can’t remember the last time we had 60 mph wind gusts, and we had to barricade the barn doors because of how strong they were.

I actually had a very good lesson with Bear the day before where we worked on shortening his stride. I guess I’ve always thought that the concept of shortening the stride was a little too advanced for Baby Bear, but Lisa said it was time.

We’re not exactly working on it yet in canter on the flat (mostly just working on proper bend on the circle both directions, some short bursts of counter canter and some lengthening down the longside to get him moving forward), but when we set up a simple vertical on the short side of an indoor ring with a placing pole on both sides set a little short, as long as I kept my leg on around the turn and sat up a bit, he grasped the concept easily.

Oh So actually got a bath before the big snow storm!
Oh So actually got a bath before the big snow storm!

I was excited and inspired to continue with some homework later in the week, but that never happened because of the Polar Vortex 2015 edition!

The ring was quite dry and unfrozen last Sunday despite the temperature being in the low 20s and I could have ridden if I wanted to deal with the horrible wind. On Monday late afternoon, we got our first serious winter snow storm–about 5 inches that fell over night, luckily.

And ever since, it’s remained below freezing, save for this Sunday, so no riding! I’m bummed that we had to get pretty much all of our winter weather within the span of a week. We got another 3 or 4 inches of snow on Saturday, canceling any plans I may have had to trailer out to an indoor to see Lisa.

I walked Oh So up and down the driveway one day and actually took him to an indoor about 5 minutes away on Sunday, but the footing was not good, so I decided not to take Bear and ended up walking him around the outside of the ring where my dad had plowed and it had melted because it was 50 degrees (!!!). We went up and down the driveway a few times and that was that, unfortunately.

It’s not looking like we’ll get much melting until later in the week and I scratched the dressage show Bear was going to do last weekend and the derby cross for Oh So this weekend.

Will it ever end? 😦

I’m more concerned about Oh So losing fitness since he’s ring fit, but is lacking with hill fitness. Bear will be the same when I get back on him as he was the last time I rode, which is a strange feeling for me!

My tentative plan, depending on how much we can get out to school cross-country, is to enter Bear in a combined test at Morningside in March and then Morven Park beginner novice, but only if he feels very confident and I don’t feel too rusty! We can always make it a CT if the footing is bad or we’re not totally ready. If he’s not sold by then, he could do CDCTA or a starter trial at Loch Moy in April.

Oh So is going to need to regain his fitness on the hills since he wasn’t quite there last year after he did something to his hip. We’re going to be very careful about when we start competing and probably won’t do a full event until late April, maybe Loudoun Hunt HT.

I’m a planner by nature, so it’s really hard for me to not have a schedule for Oh So, but roughly, we’ll do a couple of novices, mostly to get me back into jumping the bigger fences, and do training for most of the year and see how he goes. The vet was pretty confident about the strength of his tendon last year and as long as we’re careful about what kind of footing he goes on, I don’t see why he couldn’t do prelim again. I’m actually more concerned about his hind end now that he’s older and had that injury to his hip. I hope that was a one time thing, but I’m guessing he has some arthritic changes in his hocks too, so we’ll be continuing with hock injections once a year like we’ve been doing for a few years.

But this all hinges on the snow melting and actually getting out to school cross-country and see how he feels.

A circus world at WEF.
A circus world at WEF.

As for my trip to Florida a couple of weeks ago, I had a really awesome time, save for it being quite chilly, but I guess it doesn’t even compare to the -1 we had last week at night!

I covered the Adequan Global Dressage Festival CDI 3* and 5* and unfortunately the winners were the usual suspects and a bit boring to interview, but how can you complain about watching some of the best horses and riders in the world?

I went over to the WEF showgrounds on Saturday night and watched the Great Charity Challenge, a fun costume class run like a relay against the clock. I hadn’t been to WEF since 2004 when I won an award from the American Hanoverian Society, and it’s changed so much. It’s pretty much a circus world, like, literally there were fire throwers and circus food!

I had to miss a big jumper class the next day because of my flight, but it was fun to get a little glimpse into a world that I will probably never be able to participate in.

It was a wet weekend in Florida.
It was a wet weekend in Florida.
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Bear’s Eventing Debut! (and a setback for Oh So)

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It’s been over a year, but I finally got to head out of the start box, even if it was to jump 2’3″ fences!

Bear stood nicely for his first braid job (only 11 instead of the 16 or 17 that Oh So requires!) and my dad and I headed up to Loch Moy for their fall starter trials.

He was great to hang out while I walked my courses, even though the atmosphere was quite big–think 4 dressage rings, 2 show jumping rings, 2 cross-country courses going at once and a trade fair area.

He didn’t seem too overwhelmed when I went into the expansive warm up ring for dressage. He was a little distracted, which was to be expected, but for the most part he put his head down and went to work.

I trotted around the ring a few times and let him take a peak at the trade fair area at the C end of the ring and he didn’t seem to mind too much. We started off the test well, did our centerline, trot circle and change of rein on the diagonal, and as we came around to do our left trot circle, he must have heard a horse that sounded like someone he knew, because he neighed, bucked and then carried on as best he could.

Warming up over an intro fence. Nice knees! GRC Photo.
Warming up over an intro fence. Nice knees! GRC Photo.

I was definitely not expecting the buck! I tried to settle him for the canter work, and it wasn’t pretty, but we got it done. I should have kept him on the bit and round in the free walk, but I let the reins go for some reason and he caught wind of the horse again and kept screaming. The final centerline was a little rough and he wouldn’t stop neighing while the judge tried to talk to us (she did that for everyone). She was sympathetic to my cause and just said to make sure to ride every step when he acts like that.

The ride back to the trailer featured more screaming and a rear and spin, and it took awhile for him to stop screaming back at the trailer. But he was just neighing, not being fidgety, dancy or silly.

Oh well…he is four and he decided to choose his dressage test to act that way. I guess I’d rather it be there than during the jumping.

He neighed a bit during his jumping warmup, but once we actually started jumping, he was fine. He did one neigh as we went into the ring, but then settled in to his job. The jumps were so small that he kind of puked over a couple, but as Lisa said, it was all about going through the motions that day.

We were the last ones to go cross-country for our division and the starter let us pop over a couple warmup jumps by using the intro level ones, then we were off!

He really didn’t back off anything over our little 10 jump course. It was tough to get in a rhythm, since it was just a loop basically and I took my leg off and got him close to a couple of them, but he wasn’t going to stop or runout.C RWN14-0737508

We ended up with a 38 in dressage for 6th place. Yay! We survived and now it’s time to move on to beginner novice. He’s jumping bigger at home so now we need to take those skills to the real world.

Oh So has been doing well…until this week. I’ve learned that every time I mention a show these days, he comes up lame. We had planned on doing a schooling show at CDCTA this Thursday to run through a couple of dressage tests, then do Seneca novice on Sunday.

I had a great jumping lesson on Saturday with Lisa. We set the jumps up to solid training and maybe a bit bigger and I really felt that we were back in sync. It was fun! He had a day off Sunday, then Monday he just didn’t feel quite right from behind, so now I’ve scratched from both shows.

The vet came out on Thursday and did complete flexions with no real issues, but when she palpated his SI joint on the right side, he kept in the air and nearly kicked her teeth out!

She recommended an injection, so he went down to the clinic on Friday and got a little chiropractic adjustment too.

To say I’m discouraged is an understatement. We’ve been very careful bringing him back slowly, and while I’m relieved it’s not a front leg or the same tendon he injured, I was so close to being able to compete that I could taste it! We were ready, but now I wonder if maybe the increase in intensity of jumping and galloping (although just novice XC fences and training show jumps) was too much? Or maybe he did something in the field? Or it could be a combination of both.

Ever since he’s come back into work, we’ve been working on strengthening his hind end, but maybe he’s saying he needs more hill work, which is a pain to do, but I’ve always tried to make the time to do it. I’ve also felt that he’s starting to feel “old” since he’s come back. I know he’s 14, but before his injury last year, he’d hardly taken a lame step in his life and always acted like a 5 year old. Maybe the time off has accelerated his aging, or maybe he really does just need more time to get his hind end back.

Either way, the idea of a fall season, even just the three events I’d planned at novice and training, is looking unlikely. I’ve scratched Morven and now with a week off, then slowly coming back into work for the next two weeks after that, we’ll be lucky if we make it to one event.

Less Is More

Seneca prelim last year.
Seneca prelim last year.

I’ve been grappling with the idea of “less is more” as Oh So has come back into work after his injury.

As he’s gotten older, it’s definitely a realization that I’ve been coming to, but since his injury, I’ve had to be careful about how much jumping I do and where I do it.

It’s been a year since I’ve jumped even novice height, and over the last few months as I’ve bumped the jumps up to training height (and eventually prelim), I find myself wanting to jump a line or a single big fence more than I might have in the past so I can “catch up” or get my feel back and work on my position.

But because I want to save him for as many years to come, I have to be satisfied with fewer jumping efforts.

My perfectionist nature leaves me always wanting to jump through a gymnastic or line several times to fix things, but I’ve not always been able to do that because Oh So tends to build as we keep jumping the same thing over and over, resulting in pulling or just jumping in bad form. Jumping fewer fences leaves me feeling like I didn’t quite master something, but it’s often necessary so things don’t spiral out of control. Over the years, Lisa and I have tried jumping the same thing several times in a row to get him to “give it up”, but we learned that strategy just doesn’t work.

In a jumping session at home last week, I set up a few bigger exercises but had no one to help me. I usually like to build up a gymnastic line, but this time out, I trotted my warmup fence four times, then kept my canter going and did a bounce to a one stride over a big double X.

Going straight into a gymnastic exercise cold seems to get his attention, and even if I was worried about screwing it up, he jumped it very well the first time. I couldn’t help myself, so I did it a second time and it was fine–he was listening to me and the double X really made him use himself.

I kept my canter going and did a training-height wide oxer, which surprised him at first, so he didn’t use his head and neck as well as he could have. I came around again and it was better, kept my canter and did a one stride vertical to square oxer nicely.

I let him walk, then picked up my canter and had a beautiful jump over the single oxer and almost kept going to the one stride again, but ultimately decided to end on a good note before he got too wound up. What would be the point other than for me to practice? He knows how to jump a training level one stride.

Did I want to jump more? Absolutely! Did he want to jump more? Yes! But I exercised restraint on my part and trusted myself and him that we could get the job done in fewer fences.

I tend not to have a lot of self confidence, in my real life or my riding life, which is why I think I feel the need to “get it perfect” with more jumps. When I’m on a role during the competition season, I tend to do better. Trusting in both of our skills is difficult for me.

We had a similar experience two weeks ago during his first cross-country school back with Lisa. We jumped a bit in the arena, then went out to the course. She picked a few fences for us to do, we did them, and that was that. He was raring to go, I wanted to do more, but we just stopped. We know we can both do it.

With Bear, I’m more apt to repeat things so he understands and can practice. In our lesson last weekend, we did a few good size beginner novice fences in the ring, about once time each, then went out to school cross-country. We decided to try a few bigger fences and he was a little surprised at a bench/rolltop jump that was solid BN. He ran out, not badly, and I re-presented. He had a slightly awkward jump with his hind end, but did it, then we did it a third time nearly perfect.

Lisa was pleased with how he handled himself the second time. She said that shows a lot about his character that he was willing to try again.

This lesson did not start on time, but Bear learned a lot about patience!
This lesson did not start on time, but Bear learned a lot about patience!

I’ve had some good flat lessons with both boys recently. With Oh So, I’m working on keeping him a bit deeper than I might like in our warmup in hopes of keeping his neck soft throughout our ride.

With Bear, I’ve been working on halts, centerlines and general test riding in preparation for his official eventing debut this weekend at the Maryland Starter Trials. We’re doing baby novice/2’3″ for the first time out, especially considering how he reacted when we did some bigger fences on cross-country last weekend. He needs them small enough that he can trot them and not get into trouble since there will be so much more going on that he’ll probably be focused on!

He has really turned into a “real horse” this summer with solid muscling and a bit of a growth spurt. His canter is coming along nicely and his trot just keeps getting better. And all with no tension! It’s just a very different ride going from Oh So to him every day.

I took Oh So to the Loudoun Hunt HT schooling day on Monday with Lisa and we had our first serious schooling. He thought the novice jumps were silly, but I needed to do them to get my feel back a bit. I started out a bit tentative and looking for a spot, but by the end, I felt back in the groove with him and he put up with me thankfully!

His first event back will be novice at Seneca next weekend. I’m excited to be back out and I hope the footing holds up–I’d rather it be a bit firm. But first, we’ll do a couple of first level tests at CDCTA next week for practice.

Lamplight
Lamplight

I was in Chicago two weekends ago to cover the USEF Developing Horse Championships for COTH. It was super hot and humid, but the Lamplight Equestrian Center was very pretty and I saw a lot of very nice young horses. Check out my coverage here – http://www.chronofhorse.com/content/2014-developing-horse-championships

Morningside CT recap

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Bear schooling at home.

It’s been about two months since Bear was last out at a show due to his foot bruise, my travels and just getting him legged up again, but we made it to Morningside on Sunday for a combined test.

We decided to do baby novice one more time and he was pretty good. I don’t think he’s going to be one to need a lot of dressage warmup, which is nice, because it’s exhausting riding him compared to Oh So! He’s still learning to get off my leg but I decided against spurs since he’s been ultra sensitive to them at home lately, and I really could have used them by the time I trotted down centerline.

As a result, in our first canter transition, I freaked out a bit and chased him, so we got a 5 for that. His downwards transition was also rough as he swung his hindquarters in. Those are hard to do on the long side!

After the free walk, the test was steadier and we picked up a few 7s and 8s to finish with a 32.0. It was probably a little generous, but hey, it made me feel good!

He cantered easily around the baby novice course, but I was throwing my upper body left a little on landing so we didn’t get every lead. I’m not sure why I do it to the left on him but to the right on Oh So.

They had quite a few people sign up for baby novice and beginner novice jumping rounds, so after warming up on the track for our beginner novice round, which is awful because you can’t get into a rhythm, we had to sit around and wait for probably 40 minutes. He was fine with it, but I think I should have done a couple of jumps before we went in since I work best off the momentum of a few rhythmic jumps.

They put in the panels and fillers for the beginner novice division and in hindsight, I should have let him have a peek at some of them. He started off ok over the first fence, but then I asked for a long one to the second and he popped in an extra stride, while I stupidly jumped ahead for a pretty ugly effort.

We regained our composure quickly for the next two jumps, but I did the same stupid thing again to a vertical with a stone wall, and pretty much almost fell off! We regained our composure again and finished a lot better than we started!

So, moral of the story- I’m still figuring out my balance on him compared to Oh So. We’ve only recently started putting the jumps up to serious beginner novice height, and while Oh So made them seem tiny when I started him, Bear is smaller and I have less in front of me. His neck comes out of his shoulders at less of an upwards angle and I don’t have huge withers and a long neck to “catch me” should I jump ahead.

Oh So also finds long spots quite fun, so I’ve been able to get away with jumping ahead with my upper body. He’s rarely chipped in in the years I’ve had him.

So, Bear will teach me not to jump ahead I hope, because otherwise I’ll end up on the ground! He’s also been so saintly, quiet and almost bored jumping at home and in our lessons that I think I’ve trusted that too much. He was slightly surprised by the fillers at Morningside, so he added a stride instead of taking off long. Thankfully he doesn’t seem to mind as I right myself after the jump. A true amateurs horse, even at 4 years old!

For now we’ll just work on getting comfortable jumping at the height. I’ve done a ton of prelims but beginner novice feels big on him to me. He doesn’t seem to care, but I need to get brave now!

I included the second half of our BN round here since it was much better than the first!

 

MD HT II – Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad

Well, I survived the heat at the Maryland Horse Trials II, but didn’t turn in the performance I’d hoped for. Oh So was fairly calm for our dressage warmup but perhaps not as supple as he could have been in his back in the trot work. We did test A, which is much simpler, especially compared to the two second level tests we did on Thursday, but he stayed pretty focused. We got an 8 on our canter lengthening and sevens on both leg yields. We also got an 8 on our change of lead through trot, and ended up in second place after dressage with a 31.8, just a fraction of a point out of the lead.

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

I wasn’t able to get a show jumping school in after my vacation because a gallop and cross-country school took precedence, and silly me thought we’d be fine. Not. He was little careless in my jump school at home on Tuesday and although our warmup at the show was fine, he proceeded to take down the first fence on course, which rattled us both (to be fair, it was a vertical and was coming down a lot apparently).

We got a little close to fence 3, a skinny, and he didn’t forgive me for it, so he had the back rail of the oxer at 4a down, then randomly had a vertical down at 6. He jumped the triple combination beautifully and proved to me that he does know how to jump, but then I’m not sure what happened as we came around to a simple liverpool vertical. He asked for a bit of a long one and he added a stride, thus throwing me up on his neck. Thank goodness he still jumped, but we had that one down and I had to regain my stirrup, which cost us 3 time penalties on our way to the last, which he also had down.

I’m a little bit at a loss except to say that I was out of practice and we both got upset after the first fence down. I think he got offended after fence 3 and was really backed off after that. Lisa and I talked about it and she said we never really got into a rhythm and that he decided to peek at the liverpool, which he’s never done.

The cross-country was meant to be a “move-up course”, but I never take any prelim

GRC Photo
GRC Photo

course lightly. The jumps in the combinations weren’t all max height, but almost all of them were angled, which luckily he does very well.

There was a cabin to a left-handed corner that I thought we could have done a little bit smoother, but he was honest to it. The water jump was just a cabin at the lip of it, then a bending line to a cabin out, so not too much there. At that point, which was fence 13, I was starting to feel a little like I did at Seneca. I was a little weak and my position was starting to soften a bit. He jumped the giant cordwood table beautifully and GRC got a great photo, but I look terrible with my lower leg. They also got a great photo at the table afterwards, but again, I look inexcusably awful.

After the table was a log down into a canyon, then out over a roll-top, which we haven’t seen too often. He jumped that well and popped over the last two fences to finish easily inside the time, and I wasn’t even trying for it! We ended up in eighth place.

So, I was pleased with 2 of the phases, but yet again, we embarrassed ourselves in show jumping. He’s turning into a heartbreaker I think. How is it that we can have a nice round like we did at Seneca, then a round like this one?

I feel like the dressage is pretty confirmed now and he’s very reliable cross-country. There’s not much he hasn’t seen at this point.

1C RJC13-0325063Until our next event in September, I’m planning on trying the Dr. Bristol again for jumping to see if I have enough control. I think the Pelhem is fine, but in certain instances, it does more harm then good if I don’t follow him completely with my hand. I’m planning on doing the CDCTA August schooling dressage show in Warrenton and I’m going to try to get to some jumper shows or do some jumper rounds at Morningside. I’m also thinking of trying a lesson with a jumper trainer or maybe trying Stephen Bradley again and asking him if he could sit on him for me and give me an assessment.

Tomorrow I’m off to Young Rider’s Championships to cover it for COTH, just in time for the massive heat wave we’re having. It will still be hot in Kentucky, but not as bad as here.

Lucky at Loch Moy

I’m sure glad I chose to compete this past weekend at the Maryland Horse Trials II instead of the first weekend! We got extremely lucky with the weather, and considering I was done with everything by 11am, I was happy.

It always stinks to get up at 4:30am, but I had an 8:22 ride time. We got stuck in a bit of traffic on the beltway getting there so I felt slightly rushed, but I’d planned on a shorter dressage warmup anyway. Loch Moy has a lot of atmosphere, with four rings going at once and the trade fair, so he was a little bit tense, but surprisingly. He’s been getting better in the dressage, but this time he felt like he was holding his neck a bit and was quite dry-mouthed. The test was fairly obedient, but at the end as we were coming down to trot at X, something caught his eye, so the last lengthened trot was not too pretty. He usually doesn’t get that distracted, so it was surprising and I was expecting a bad score, but we ended up with a 31 for fourth place.

I feel like I kept my cool a little bit better in the show jumping, but we had three rails down. The first three jumps were beautiful, then I asked for a big spot to the one-stride and he had the second part down. I let his head get a little low towards the liverpool, and we had a bit of a long spot to it and I got jumped out of the tack. It stayed up though!

I thought I got him quite nice to the triple combination, but he had the first rail down for some reason. Then he had the last rail down, which happened at Seneca too. He gains as he goes along and runs out of room. Triples used to back him off, now I need to find a way to make him whoa in between.

I wasn’t as disappointed as I thought I’d be about show jumping. I guess it’s because he had mostly nice jumps, and one rail was my fault. It looks bad on paper, but I think overall, it was better than Seneca because he was more rideable.

He just skipped around cross-country. My goal was to make time, and we were only 2 seconds over. I really let him gallop to the first two jumps and tried to move along in between others even though the course was quite twisty.

I thought he could have come back to me a bit more for the skinny brush to the steps. I tend to go to my hands first to slow him down instead of sitting up and really putting my leg on. We jumped the ditch and brush confidently and the roll top to corner combination. I used to worry about corners with Sam, but Oh So just sees them and locks on.

The second water had a serpent jump in it, and we’d never done a jump in the water before. I landed from the cabin, sat up and collected him a bit, and we had a steady ride to it, no problem! We ended up fourth, which wasn’t too bad considering our show jumping round.

We’re heading to a jumper show this weekend at Fox Chase Farm whether I like it or not!

Sam’s been having a tough time the past month. Unfortunately I think it’s time that I stop riding him regularly. He’s not been sound in trot and this past week he’s actually seemed a bit ouchy in walk, especially coming out of his stall. I think I’m gradually coming to terms with the fact that I don’t have two horses to ride anymore. I really liked having Sam to practice on, but obviously I can’t push him now.

He seems ok to trail ride and enjoys being groomed. I’ve never retired a horse before, so it’s kind of odd having one around that doesn’t have a job. It’s just really sad that he’s so unsound at only 18 years old. I guess that’s what happens when you do dozens of long format events with no breaks, ever.

I’ve been really trying to appreciate every ride I have with Oh So now that I’m basically a one horse rider. I’m not sure what I’d do if I couldn’t ride him. I don’t have the money right now to get another project, but the idea has been planted, so I’m thinking about starting to save.

Spring schedule

I'm glad this winter has been more mild!

I’ve got my early schedule together for this season. Since I’m headed to Rolex on a mini-vacation and to Spain in May, it’s a little light on recognized competitions, but I think this year I really want to work on getting comfortable at the preliminary height, so I think my money will be better spent doing a few small schooling shows, in place of a recognized show. I’m going to try not to worry about placings and ribbons and concentrate more on a smooth show jumping round!

Feb. 26 – Bascule Farm jumper show
March 4 – Bascule Farm dressage show
March 10-11 – Southern Pines I (training)
March 25 – Loch Moy Combined Test (prelim)
March 31-April 1 – Morven Park Horse Trials (prelim)
April ? Combined test?
May 5-6 – MCTA Horse Trials (prelim)