Thursday, September 30, 2010

Adventures in Jumper-Land

Pictured above, the main arena at Culpepper. Where we stood, for I have no idea how long, waiting for our classes on Wednesday :)
Video of Morris in the rain having a good round at the Level 4s at the bottom.

Early, and I mean EARLY, Wednesday morning Lara, Morris, Gunsmoke and I were up and out of Kaleidescape heading down to the last show on the HITS circuit at Culpepper, VA for 2010. I planned this field trip as an opportunity to do several jumping rounds with Morris and help him get over some of the excitement that we face on our final day at big events. I must say, we really did a good job! The arena itself was large, lined with tents, banners, and bleachers. There were bright, spooky, airy jumps pretty much everywhere, with a hunter ring occupied right on the backside and warm-up happening all around. It certainly was enough to get Morris some exposure to atmosphere!
It was a little odd, being a professional and accomplished eventer and finding myself at a competition feeling like I really had no idea what was going on nor what to expect. I pulled into the show grounds not even knowing where to park! It is hardly possible to be incognito with a giant striped 4 horse head-to-head and logos on the truck that state plain and simple "Blue Clover Eventing." The office was staffed with a crew of really helpful, non-intimidating people and before I knew it Morris and I were officially entered. Too bad the class list for the day looked nothing like the one that I found online. And thus we began a game of hurry up and wait.
Totally worth it, however; Morris got to stand around the arena and be completely bored and unimpressed with the entire ordeal. I got to jump the same course twice, the second round being a couple of inches higher. Not really sure the height of the fences as they were in metric; but it looked like a pretty big intermediate track so I was pleased. I had a rail at fence 3 down in the first course. It was a very vertical vertical and the way the planks and poles were configured it was airy and a touch of an optical illusion. Morris was surprisingly soft and adjustable and I came through a turn easier and on a bigger step than I had anticipated. The distance I saw was a bit forward still and I chickened out! I came here to be quiet and calm and the last thing I wanted to do was boogie on down to a gap early on in my first course. So I tug tug tugged myself right into having a rail and a time fault. Oh well, he jumped the rest of the course really well, springing over his fences. He did build a little thru the course, although it was much better than what we usually get at an event. I think the main difference in what I was feeling was due to a lack of cross country the day before! Cross country doesn't make Morris tired, I've yet to find anything that makes Morris tired. It does make him a little tight, and really excited, and then this carries over into our jumping rounds.
I was going to take advantage of getting to do multiple rounds, and having Morris as rideable as possible. We went back down to the large warm-up arena. And actually, that is worth mentioning. Unlike our rules, the jumping warm-up arena is more or less a free for all. You can jump any jump, any direction. You can make it an oxer, a vertical, a combination. You can cut people off and nearly run people over. For a groom's point of view of this, you should read Lara's blog (and make sure to comment next time you see us on how white our boots are...let me tell you by the time we left the rain was pouring down and everything, I mean EVERYTHING, was covered in at least 2 inches of black/grey goo) because poor Lara was nearly run over I don't know how many times defending my jump (not letting anybody else's jump crew change the heights or configuration). I jumped more before my round than I usually do at an event and I think I will try this strategy this weekend at our next event, Morven Park.
Our second round was even better than the first, even though we still had a rail we were well within the time. This round our approach to the third fence was spot on and Morris really soared over the entire thing. I was practicing hard a landing technique that Jimmy grilled me on in my last lesson, and it seemed to work well, with Morris really finishing his jump and clearing the rails by a good couple of inches behind. We had the rail down this time at fence 7, I negotiated with Morris and let him cut a turn to keep him softer, and when we got there we weren't totally straight and down it went. Easily preventable, I just have to find the right balance between keeping him soft and making sure I get the job done.
Let's hope I find that balance this weekend at Morven, in two weeks at Fair Hill, and then for the rest of our lives!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Marlborough Horse Trials

Photo courtesy of Dorothy Anderson, Peacock Photography. We had some wonderful weather, and a wonderful time, at the Marlborough Horse Trials on Saturday. We are really lucky to have such a nice venue so close to home...the HT runs at Rosaryville State Park and takes all of 20 minutes to drive the trailer from Kaleidescape to the trailer parking field! It was Freddie's first horse trials where he had to work out of the trailer, and only his second horse trials total. We let the entire day be all about The Fred, and what a day it was! He certainly was a good boy in the dressage, came out with the best score in his Novice Horse division. This was a win that I really had to work for, however! Lara had him all prepared, longed, grazed, and primped by the arena so he could settle in to his surroundings. During my warm-up, there was a completely random and panicking loose horse that kept running back and forth behind the dressage arenas...seriously I couldn't make this up....and Brian is announcing for the outriders of cross country to please come to dressage. So of course like 3 of them come galloping into and thru the warm-up to chase down this wild horse, whose people are running all over the place with buckets and ropes....disaster! I admit that once I walked over to Lara and had her hold on to Fred and pet his Fred-head and tell him it would all be okay! Not really sure what became of that horse, actually; but I do know that when Freddie finally got to go into the arena he was pretty focused and relaxed. He did spook at the flower pots at all of the letters, poor baby horse.
Show jumping was next and it was certainly a HUGE improvement from Richland as far as his attitude and understanding about what was going on. He jumped a double clear round and was really very good through the combination, past the judge's stand and the in/out gate. Warm-up he floated around, wasn't the least bit worried about all the commotion. On course he had to jump a skinny, and the course was difficult for the greenies as it takes place out on the grass and the area has a good bit of terrain. Fred has to work pretty hard to get those long legs snapped up, and he did a great job of it out there on the course. I was looking at the pictures tonight and it is a pretty cute sight, huge Freddie makes all the jumps look like toothpicks a foot off the ground! He barely has to make any effort and the next thing you know he is practically clearing the standards. Pretty cool, I must say!
Cross country, well I suppose the pressure was on as he was still our division leader; but I was looking to have a smooth, confident round that got me over the ditch and the drop on the first try! Unfortunately, mission wasn't exactly accomplished. He was much more in tune with the fact that he was out there for a reason, wasn't spooking at the jump judges this time and managed to be pretty strong and ground covering in his gallops. However, he did have an incident at the drop down...he walked up to the edge and was walking more left than forward. I gave him a tap at the last minute to try to encourage him to take a leap of faith and instead he overreacted and spun himself even faster left. As he did this he smacked the side of his head flat into the white flag and he really never saw it coming and he was so shocked really by the whole thing that when I re-presented him to the drop he surely had to realize that taking the baby step off the drop was far easier than the predicament he managed to get himself into on his first attempt! He finished the course really well, cantering through the water and over the ditch without a hiccup, and these were two pretty tough technical questions for the novice. All in all, a pretty good showing for only his second event! And he is going back to Rosaryville tomorrow morning when they open the course for schooling, exactly how it was during the competition. Freddie is going to go through his entire course again, this time spending some quality time at the bank, ditch, and water. We want to be winning at Morven after all 3 phases, thank you very much!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Entered Fair Hill!!

It has been a very busy past couple of days! We got home from the AECs around 2:30 this morning and then a pretty busy day back at Kaleidescape getting ready for an exciting week. I anticipate finishing this blog and some other computer work and then dinner shower bed. Let's do a quick recap of the highlights:
SATURDAY was of course cross country day at the AECs. The advanced went first which was helpful because it gave me time to walk my own course one more time and watch how the course was riding. We shared several fences and had several similar questions (the intermediate would be next to the advanced, or share the first two parts, etc.) and it is always an advantage to get to compare how it walked with how it is actually riding. The advanced was a little unusual...the footing really hadn't been prepared the way we were all expecting, and although the facility is amazing the cross country certainly wasn't the biggest, most beautiful course I've ridden this year. A lot of the WEG horses either withdrew or did a modified course, or were told to go very easy with their pace. That was a little disappointing and I would hate to be a selector; but nonetheless I got to watch lots of good rides and lots of nice ponies cruising along doing what they do best! Before I knew it, Morris and I were hacking over to the start. We had a super warm up, they provided us tons of portables, skinnies, it was really well done in that department. I was going for time for sure, it was a championship and I could easily be Top 10 with a quick and clear round. He handled the early questions well, was really listening and by the middle of the course (particularly in one stretch after the big drop question) I was just absolutely flying in between my fences and I knew that Morris and I both were having a great time. The coffin caught him by surprise, which did not catch me be surprise lol; but we got thru it leaving only a little bit of stifle fur on the brush on the way in :) The water was big and set on a really forward step and I really had to ride to get the distances; but Morris answered, just kept drifting left. Didn't think a whole ton about it until I am on my way to the next combination, third from home, the bounce bank, where I really lost his left shoulder galloping up the ramp to get onto the mid-level of the bank. I was trying to stuff him back into straightness as he was hopping up the bank and hard to say what really happened (I bought the DVD so I will know when it comes in the mail lol) it all happened so fast. He kinda ran out of room, didn't understand that he had to bounce over the log? Wasn't straight enough, or didn't have enough power because of the drift? Either way, in less than a second my beautiful double clear round came to an abrupt halt while I sat there trying to figure how exactly one gets off of a bounce bank in order to re-approach. There were no options, so I recreated the entire combination, and galloped down the backside of the bank and made the right handed turn to the corner. It was a very frustrating afternoon and I had my fair share of margaritas at dinner, not going to lie. I'm just a competitive person. But Morris really was a star, jumped around a big tough track like a horse that deserved to be an Intermediate champion, and I have some stellar pictures to prove it! I also learned a valuable lesson, the left shoulder is going to be the focus of my paranoia forever more in cross country rounds of the Mor-ris.
SUNDAY was kind of a game of hurry up and wait. Because we were so close to the time on cross country I was afraid of warming Morris up too much for show jumping. So I sat around and watched a LOT of jumping. It was interesting, the Team had a pre-warm up warm up and I basically got a lesson watching the Capt and Katie et al working on the horses getting ready for WEG. In hindsight, I wish that I had been riding Morris because when I finally did get on yikes did I have a firecracker! The arena was packed around 3 sides with spectators, the VIP tent, flags, the Landrover driving course...really just a ton of stuff going on and Morris just wouldn't particularly settle. The horse before me gave the jump crew a lot of work, and I took advantage of this trotting and cantering Morris around the arena before I heard the judge sound the buzzer. We had a better round than Richland, certainly; but nothing like we have been getting at home and at Karen's. Morris just didn't want to exhale and I tried numerous different things around the course to encourage him to do so! It didn't much matter in the scheme of things, even with my rails I moved up a couple of placings and a clear round would have only resulted in me moving up another 2 or 3. I'm glad that I got a chance to jump around all the atmosphere; you can't recreate that at home and Morris obviously needs more work staying focused and relaxed when he sees a giant jump-filled arena after cross country day!
MONDAY came way too fast, mainly because we were up all night driving home! I slept for a few hours when I got home; but I was up early on Event Entries getting Morris and Freddie all entered in Morven and....drum roll please.....the Fair Hill CCI2* for Morris, obviously as the baby is just attempting his second novice. I am really excited to get to end my first year with Clifton Jade on home turf more or less, at the Fair Hill CCI2*. So much work to do until then!

Friday, September 10, 2010

American Eventing Championships - Dressage Day

A quick hello and then good night from Fairburn, GA where we are competing at the lovely Chattahoochee Hills for the American Eventing Championships! Today was the first day of competition for the Preliminary, Intermediate, and Advanced. Morris did his dressage today and was so so good, you would all be very proud! A huge competition, tons of atmosphere, and everyone that got here qualified throughout the year and came to bring home the bacon! Morris really rose to the occasion, probably the best he had been quality wise in the dressage. This could be in part due to the fact that Lara had him turned out better than any other horse in the OI, he was just absolutely glittering and I don't think she had a hair out of place. I might be slightly biased...but he really looked amazing and I think he wanted to go in there and just strut it! He stayed very focused and gave me a chance to ride for nearly all of my movements. I was rewarded with his best score to date - a 35.8. Good news is I'm only 7 points off of the lead. Bad news is I'm in 27th place! Ridiculous! Nearly 60 horses in the Open Intermediate, so I shouldn't be too disappointed. It has been nearly a year now that Morris and I have been together and looking back we have come so far in such a little amount of time. There were 3 or 4 places I would like a minor redo from my test today that coulda bought me a few more points, maybe down to a 33 or so. Other than that, he was pretty much on his "A" game.
I really hope he's on his "A" game for tomorrow, we run XC at 12:33 and it is going to be hot and I hope that we are just smokin' around the course! Above are 3 pictures of some of the more difficult parts. Course is very long, ground is hard and it is hot and humid....all factors that will make it easy to move up or down! Early on at fence 4 there is a tough accuracy question involving a mound. 5 and 6 are some pretty good sized (read: BIG) angled tables. The drop at fence 11 is pictured above, you pretty much look and feel like you are jumping off of the edge of the earth and then you continue in either 4 or 5 strides (make that decision early btw) to angle a skinny of healthy proportions. There is a turning corner question in the back field that will catch you because you just come blitzing up to it after 3 or so galloping fences, and the coffin is back there as well and it is not inviting at all. Will be a little tough of Morris on the way to that one to let him know that I hate him until he gives me reason to feel otherwise :) The water comes towards the end, big drop in and then you better land with your reins and stirrups because you have to land and kick and steer to get the job done to the next two skinnies in the water set on pretty forward distances. After that you get to gallop up to the bounce bank (not much of a reward, is it) that's in an ABC combination with a left handed corner. Whew. All in 6 minutes 11 seconds.
Better check in tomorrow to see how we go!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Loch Moy Dressage and Key Riding

What a beautiful weekend all weekend long, no wonder it's after 11 before I get a chance to write my blog tonite! We had an action packed weekend, well really it started on Thursday with a jumping lesson for Morris down at Karen's. I was a little disappointed with my rails at Richland so I brought the video for Karen to see on the laptop right there in the arena. A discussion and a large amount of jumping followed! Karen made an excellent point of reminding me that paying attention to small details of my position can make a big difference in a big, tough round like Richland, especially when the ground was so hard. We practiced on the flat really getting him to tune into a lifting sort of cue, and then applied it time and again over a course of jumps bigger than what I jumped at Richland. Practice makes perfect, and let's hope that we are perfect next weekend at the AECs!!
Saturday I went to the recognized dressage show at Loch Moy to help perfect my dressage in time for the championships. This is the same venue that hosts the Maryland Horse Trials, and luckily all of the dressage arenas faced the beautiful cross country course, and hopefully Morris thought for a moment that he was at an event instead of at a dressage show! Lara had him absolutely sparkling, if I was going to be the only New Zealand TB there I certainly wanted to be a positive representation! From the moment we stepped into the warm up arena you could tell Morris was feeling good, and the right amount of good ha ha ha, and there was no looking back. We won both of our classes very convincingly, the first one by over 9 percentage points which is a huge margin! We were the high score of the show for Second Level, again a bonus. I was there to get my horse relaxed in a dressage arena, and I think the mission was certainly accomplished. I guess we will know if it is successful or not on Friday sometime around noon...our scheduled ride time for dressage at the AECs. Also, a quick shout out to Logan Elliot and her horse Eternaluma. "Ep" was one of Valerie's former superstar eventers, and this weekend at Loch Moy he was certainly a superstar...Logan and Ep won the High Score Award for Juniors/Young Riders at First Level. Way to go!
There was no rest for the weary, in fact if anything Sunday proved to be more exciting than the dressage was our first day of evaluations for the Key School Equestrian Team. I am thrilled to be their coach this year, and we had a super afternoon of riding. I was really impressed by all the riders, their abilities, and their positive attitudes. I met many of them for the first time today and I couldn't think of a nicer group to get to work with for this coming school year. We are really looking forward to a great season, with their first official practice happening in two weeks. Go Team!