Saturday, July 21, 2012

Riga Meadow Horse Trials Results

I didn't start the day off too confidently when I picked the course map up and realized the ditch was fence number 5 headed away from home. I believe the exact words were "Oh s&*t, the ditch is number 5!" ;-)

But we're getting ahead of ourselves, let's start with dressage. Warm up was bad, then good, then bad, then the test was okay. He started off per usual, head in the air and checking everything out. Then he settled down and started looking really good. And then Lilly, his girlfriend, came over to warm up for her test. And then he wouldn't stop screaming his head off and was paying no attention to me at all.

I will say the test went better than I expected. He didn't call at all and once we trotted down centerline something seemed to click in his brain and he tried really hard to listen to me. To make matters worse cross country was running in the not-so-distant distance.

Both of our centerlines were decent although on the turn off the second one he fell on his face. Oops. Both out trot circles were pretty decent although the flies were really bad so that warranted some head flipping. The judge seemed to realize this was fly head flipping and not behavioral head flipping which was nice because we got sevens on both the circles.

Our trot walk transition was good but we get knocked all the time for being inactive in the medium after the transition and before the free walk. I hate to walk and then kick him forward because then he tends to jig in the free walk. We almost made it all the way down the diaganol in the free walk without jigging but Ben decided he NEEDED to jig the last few steps so that was an automatic four.

The transition from walk to trot was the only time Ben felt he needed to see what was going on over in the big field with the jumps in it (of course!) so that transition was pretty horrendous. Then for our canter transition Ben decided he needed to show everyone how smart he is by performing his transition a quarter of a circle early with zero input from me. I just rolled with it instead of pulling back and then transitioning again.

Both canter to trots weren't great but were okay and we got 6s on both which I was pretty pleased with. The right canter circle was pretty good and got a 7! That's new! His halt was perfectly square but he likes to add some sass and swing his hips to the left so that along with the fact that he needed to get another look at the cross country course meant we got a 5 on that.

I got a 7 on Rider and on Impulsion which I was very pleased about with some very nice comments from the judge about doing a good job keeping him on track and riding well. Overall we scored a 40 which is our best recognized dressage score ever. Just can't break into the 30s though! 0.1 points off! This left us tied for 9th out of 14 so I was pretty pleased.

The stadium course was really fun. It was a bit tricky which I LOVE because Ben rocks stadium so when the course is hard, Ben usually jumps a clear when others don't. He didn't disappoint this time and jumped clear to move up to 6th. We had a close moment at fence 3 when the rail literally came out of the cups and dropped back into them again... I had asked him for another stride, which he listened to, and he just couldn't get his knees up quite enough. Even if the rail fell, I wouldn't have minded because he listened to me instead of blowing me off which was nice! Number 7 was a very spooky fence with a brick wall filler and some fake flowers sitting on top of that right under the rail. Ben peeked pretty hard but I expected such and rode accordingly. I love how well we know each other.

Then came cross country. When I first walked up to the ditch on course I wanted to throw up. It wasn't huge or anything. Probably about three feet wide, I could just barely step over it with a little extra hop. It was probably only a couple feet deep. It was in a treeline so it was winged on either side. But it was a real live Novice ditch and I was terrified. But I sucked it up and trudged on and honestly, I felt pretty good about it after stadium. I talked myself down by forcing myself to stick to the plan.

Sometime between getting on and walking to the start box it started to rain pretty steadily. I was actually happy because the ground was a touch hard for my liking. I jumped one oxer really nicely in warm up and headed to the start box.

He headed out and over the first jump like a xc machine which hasn't happened in a while and I was very pleased with that! This picture is actually the back of fence one, I was having camera difficulties in front of it and my course walking buddies were leaving without me!

We turned to fence two and his head went between his knees and we threw in some bucking for good measure. That's apparently a new thing now... The cons of overly fit horses...

Fence two had some weird gentle terrain changes in front of it and then landed ever so slightly downhill.

There was some more attempted bucking on the way to three but I was ready for it that time!
Number three was very sketchy. I cut the turn a little too close to it, as it was a right hand turn after two. He looked a bit at it and we jumped like a deer over it sideways. But he went and that's the important part! My horse a few months ago wouldn't have done that, especially since this fence was actually quite sizeable.

Then there was a left turn to fence four, a hanging log, that I made sure we had a good ride to, because the ditch followed.

Then came the dreaded ditch... I cut the turn short, kept my eyes absolutely GLUED forward, kicked my feet up on the dashboard, threw in a growl for good measure and OVER we went!!! YES!!!

He got a ridiculous amount of praise and pats and I had a ridiculous smile on my face for the next three fences. Honestly he could've bucked me off right then and I wouldn't have cared, I was just so happy with him!

We galloped on to fence six a nice little cordwood:

Then we headed to this little log which had a sizable drop on it, I was actually surprised that we shared it with Beginner Novice:

Then came the water which he went right into (I guess we don't have water issues any more...), then a few strides to a tiny little ramp out which we wiggled A LOT to. He still has a hard time with fences out of the water, he gets transfixed on going through the water and has difficulty focusing on jumping jumps so soon out of the water. But we made it and that's one more good jump-out-of-water experience in the experience bank.

Then we made the turn to a nice red house that we jumped well:

Then came the very fun up bank, few strides, down bank which we got good practice with at Frazier last month, with a much harder version of this! He was really good although really flung himself off the bank again. If I trot and pop off the edge he just pops down quietly, if I canter off, he flings himself... silly horse.

Then we galloped a short way to a big, ginormous, airy oxer in the treeline. Again, the pictures never do big jumps justice, I should've had somebody stand next to it but it was most definitely maximum height. It was one of those awesome fences where you see the perfect distance about 10 strides out, your horse locks onto it, you feel how powerful they jump it, and you land perfectly and gallop on. Those don't come often but they sure are incredible!

A little ways on to 14 A & B, a bending line of tables. The first table was maxed out and the second was slightly smaller. It was an 8-10 stride bending line depending on how you bent it. I believe we got 9. It rode really well for us.

Then we went down a little decline to fence 15, a bench, but not before we spooked at a jump judge's umbrella... horses.

We then galloped on to the smallest fence on the course where I think I had the stupidest stop of my eventing career. The tree was in the middle to make the jumpable part narrow and he did spook at it but the log was 2'3", we should've been able to jump it. But I lost control of his shoulders and once that happens I'm screwed. So, smack, circle around, jump it no problem. Really?

Next jump was another tiny little log up a little incline that we jumped just fine:

Then came the next stupidest stop in my eventing career. Yes I really did have two stops at two of the simplest fences on the course after jumping the ditch, the water, the drop fence, the bank complex, the big oxer in the tree line, and the table combination just fine. This one was covered in brush which Ben is generally not a fan of. I planned to ride this one defensively for this reason. Of course I didn't expect him to drop his shoulder and run sideways 15 strides away from the fence, I expected more like 5... Again, once he gets his shoulder away from me, we're done. Smack, circle, jump perfectly. Ugh.

The last fence went well, except we got a little close and popped it.

I truly wish I could say that I cared about the two stupid stops but I truly didn't. He jumped the ditch!!! I'm beating myself up a little more now about the stops because there is no other explanation except that I stopped riding, yet again. One of these days I will learn that I have to ride every.single.fence. with this horse, he is not an easy ride. If there's a way out, he's going to take it just because he can. There were other people across the Novice divisions that had stops but I was the only one in my division. That being said, we were also one of only three that made the time. Sigh. I swear we don't feel fast, or out of control, or dangerous, or too quick to the fences, but somehow we are always WAY too fast. Can we even imagine what my time would've been if we didn't have two stops? I had 0:28 left on my watch when I crossed the finish line as it was!

So if we had jumped double clean xc we would've finished up 5th, but we didn't so we finished 10th. I didn't get a ribbon and I don't care. I am so unbelievably thrilled and proud of my horse that I can't even explain it. One day I will learn to do him justice and actually ride well for an entire recognized Novice course. Hopefully that day will be in the near future.

Next up is Lord Creek HT on August 19th. That's like home base for us so I'm going for some redemption and a CLEAR xc round!

I leave you with this video from Riga, its dressage, stadium, and xc all in one. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Best Laid Plans

So, in short, we did NOT get to go xc schooling at King Oak this week which is really unfortunate. I had hoped for numerous reasons we'd be able to go. I was hoping to school the ditches, maybe the trakehner, the Training drop into and out of the water, the Training bank to log combo, and maybe the Training level corner. All the places we have around here to school are all lower level stuff, usually only up to Novice. Which is all fine and dandy, but I would like to see what Ben could do over bigger and more complicated stuff.

But, such is life, and we've been trudging on, prepping for Riga per usual. We did a jump school on Monday with varied success. I had a warm-up crossrail on one long side, a 5 stride line of a 2'6" and 2'9" vertical on the other long side. On one diganol there was a 2'6" vertical, on the other a 2'9" one. On one short side I set up a 3' oxer. And then we have these super skinny coops that are probably only four feet wide. I put one of them more or less next to the oxer on the short side. If you stuck to the edge, you went to the oxer, if you cut in a little more, you went to the coop. I put the other one on one of the diaganols. Nothing special or fancy, just wanted to get him jumping over some Novice fences as this was to be our last jump school before Riga.

He was jumping okay to begin with. He wasn't throwing his shoulders over fences or anything and he was being as adjustable as Ben can be. He actually was jumping well, it was just the in between that was kind of bad. I warmed up over a bending line of 2'6" verticals, jumped the outside line and had the 2'9" down simply because I chased him to the distance and he couldn't get his front end out of the way. My bad. He jumped everything else fairly well until the oxer. In hindsight, it was a very bad place to put the oxer. Because it was on the short side, I had about two straight strides to it, which wouldn't be terrible if I had a horse that actually bent around the turns when he was jumping. At this point he was starting to get strong to his fences and hang on the bit. He doesn't do this all the time, but its really annoying when he does.

In my attempt to get him *up* in front and *bending* around the turns, he gets pissy, starts kicking up with his hind end and then ends up even more on the forehand than he started out. This is what he was doing going into the oxer the first time. I didn't see a distance so I pulled back instead of pushed forward because all he was doing was resisting my leg if I kicked him on. Of course that just made us lose all of our energy and before I knew it we were right in front of the fence with zero energy and I had a very bad image of what was about to happen when he tried to jump this sizable oxer.

Luckily, he ducked out to the left. I have never ever ever been so happy to have a horse run out in my life. I actually patted him for it because he made a smart decision. Sometimes I really wish he wouldn't take off for some of the things he does. By all means, I am thrilled that I have a game horse with a good fifth leg that will help me out when I get us wrong. I don't want him to stop if we don't have a perfect distance. But there *is* such a thing as a too honest horse! I was happy he used his brain in this situation.

We circled around and tried again with a much better result. He was still kicking up and being annoying headed in but I kicked forward and even though we still got there pretty close we had the energy to get up and over and cleared it. I then omitted that jump from any later courses we did because it was just in a bad place and it was hard to get a correct distance to it where it was. We won't have to deal with any crazy turns like that at events, so why risk integrating bad habits?

I thought I would finish up with a quick course. Crossrail, outside line, bending line, diaganol vertical, skinny coop on the diaganol. All is going super well. After the coop I loop around and go to jump the other coop on the short side as the last fence of my course. And he runs out to the left. Umm, my horse doesn't run out, so I think I might have gave him an unintentional mixed message with the oxer. So we reaprroach but I definitely overcorrected and basically gave him no other choice but to duck out to the right this time. So we turn around and try yet again, but at this point he is so flustered that I don't even think he knows what he's doing and runs out to the left again.

I did give him two good whacks for that because, whether it was my fault he was doing this or not (and if it was I feel extremely guilty!), he still needs to be reprimanded for running out three times. That is just not acceptable. So we came back to a nice, quiet, reassuring trot and popped over the coop without issue. LOTS of pats! Then we popped over a 2'9" vertical well to end on a good note. So it was a mixed jumping day. The quality of the jumping was good, but the in between he was stubborn and strong. He's not like that so much at shows which is good but it just makes it hard to work on things at home.

As far as the running out I am 100% convinced that I gave him a bad idea when I praised him for being smart about the oxer. I think I was just so relieved that we weren't both on the ground that I didn't think it through all the way. I don't think I should've reprimanded him for it, but I do think that I should have just done nothing and tried again. As far as the coop, I don't ride him defensively because this horse has never really run out on anything in the time I've had him. I think his confidence was a bit low at this point and I wasn't helping him by giving him barriers with my hand and leg and he just slipped out the side door. I think it would have been slightly less worrisome if it hadn't happened *three* times but it truly was my fault and he was upset. As soon as I took a step back and reassured him, he was super about it.

We have been diligently working on our dressage the past two days. Yesterday we worked on all of the things that are tricky for us: the centerlines, the trot-walk transitions, the trot-canter-trot transitions, and the free walk to med walk transitions. Things went well and I felt pretty good by the end of it. Today we did some basic w/t/c and then some walk/canter/walk (which he is getting really awesome at by the way!) and some changes as an attempt to improve his canter, particularly to the left. His left hind is definitely weaker than the right and some days its harder for him to use it than others. Today was one of the harder days. So to the left, when circling, he bucks and kicks out in protest so we were working on NOT doing that today. Once he was going better in the left canter we did a quick run through of our test for Sunday which went pretty well. The 20 meter trot circles and the left canter circle were pretty stiff but fairly steady for the most part. When he is bending and moving more fluidly, it is a lot easier for him to be steady in the bridle. He just wasn't moving all that well through his hind end today which affected the quality of the work. That improves at shows as well, luckily.

The canter transitions I wish were a little more prompt while still being balanced and steady. He either does a prompt transition immediately when I ask with his head in the air, or he runs a bit but then makes a pretty nice transition. I want to have my cake and eat it too! Free walk to med walk has improved a ton! Which is nice because there is a whole movement dedicated to that transition in Novice A. Everything else was decent, but I will definitely be running through again before Sunday.

I'm planning on riding on the flat for the rest of the week assuming I don't burn him out by all this dressage work. Maybe he'll need a walk to the stream at some point but I really am happy with how he's been going. Bring on Riga!

Sorry about the length of this post, it really wasn't supposed to be this long! As always thanks for reading, you guys are the best!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sailing On

I thought now might be a good time to catch everybody up on all of the current happenings.

I had the vet out for Ben's odd back bumps. She said not to worry about them and to just let them go away on their own. They are still sensitive but I've been riding for a couple weeks with them now and he doesn't seem to be bothered even a little bit.

We did not end up going schooling because of the bumps but we will hopefully get to go Monday or Tuesday. We should know by tomorrow if we'll be able to go or not. If we don't get to go, we'll just have to wing the ditch thing, which is not ideal but I really don't think the ditch at Riga Meadow is going to be an issue.

Ben tossed a shoe a week before the farrier was supposed to come and I still haven't found it in the field, which worries me because Ben will eventually find it, probably by injuring himself on it. But we got a new shoe put on the next day and so far, so good.

I hadn't realized how close Riga Meadow was until today. Its a week from tomorrow! I'm pretty excited because our last event went so well and I'm itching to get back out and jump some real Novice sized cross country fences. I actually miss walking cross country and thinking that some of the fences are huge. It makes it feel like an even bigger accomplishment when you fly over them without a problem. I'm also a tad nervous just because its our first time back at recognized Novice.

After this, we're headed to Apple Knoll on July 29th to give their Novice course another go. Last year I got my butt dumped at the tiniest of all ditches because I looked straight at it. So we're going to go and redeem ourselves this time!

So those are the tentative plans for the rest of July. As always, thanks for reading, I'm sure I'll be around this week as we prep for Riga and I'll especially be around if we get to go schooling!