Monday, March 28, 2011

Southern Pines II

I admit that Lara and I packed as fast as possible to leave Southern Pines II and we couldn't wait to hop in the truck and drive the 4 hours back to Aiken. Not because we didn't have a good time; but because it was absolutely dark and freezing! The weather, however, couldn't really dampen our spirits about a good weekend overall. Great job to the CHP and the the Southern Pines II crew who really put on a top notch event. The vendor village on the lane of cross country was a great addition, and I am sorry that the weather didn't cooperate more to bring in more spectators. Hopefully next year!
We brought Morris and Smarty, and I was feeling like both were well prepared for this first event on the PRO Tour. Morris and I were making our advanced debut together, hooray, and that certainly made the weekend meaningful and luckily memorable for most of the right reasons! Smarty was there as well and handled that atmosphere like a big horse. The bucking in the canter during his dressage happens all the time, don't think it had much to do with 6 rings running simultaneously lol. We are working on that, and he still scored great. Better yet, he finished on his dressage score. The cross country he was focused and rideable the entire way around. He needs to continue to get more adjustable especially to be ready for the preliminary combinations and skinnies, although I felt like we are really on the right track. His huge stride just swallows up the ground and he is so brave about the ditches banks and water. He did, actually, trot a few steps up to the ditch at the sunken road complex; but I think it had more to do with him needing a moment to understand the whole area. Once he realized I was riding him towards a ditch he locked right on and still made an easy 2 strides to the house on the way out. Good boy! His show jumping was pretty perfect, if I don't say so myself! Did a clean flying change it like was part of the course not part of a disobedience, made all the inside turns and kept a pretty regular and round stride. Lara had him looking like a winner, and he almost was! Even busted out the quarter marks for the first time this year. Stood proudly with his parents for a picture after a fairly exciting victory gallop. He wanted to make it very exciting, and I had to keep that a little bit more under the controlled/boring side of things.....
Morris was far from boring the entire weekend. He had some super moments in the dressage and some moments when the judge was pretty hard on him. He did score an 8 x2 on his extended walk go Morris go! Maybe he thought/hoped he was done? lol. The half pass still needs some work. Well, a lot of work, and 50% of our changes were stellar. In general, however, he is such a stronger, more supple horse than a year ago. Hell, than a week ago! Cross country, it was really his day to shine. He was fantastic at the combinations, my ride through the big water still gets me all giddy just thinking about it. I had a great forward ride to the bounce and it gave me all the time in the world to get a safe jump up the bank and over the corner in a neat and tidy 2 strides. At the turning skinny brush question Morris proved he was a game advanced horse cross country, because he got the job done which is about what you could hope for there. He had a couple of beautiful galloping fences with some serious air time (I could really feel a difference on the width sometimes versus intermediate that is for sure!) and he finished strong, full of gallop, and looking for more fences! Unfortunately, he did a little fancy footwork at the first trakehner on the course, before the pond water. It looked better to me in years past, still though he is a touch ditchy and I thought I had him outsmarted by jumping far left where the angled log was hiding the ditch for the most part. I didn't have the best move up spot to it, should have held his head up a little bit more, and he kinda snuck/glanced off to the left. Jumped it the second time still not so thrilled, and you better believe I gave him a huge ride to the mammoth sized new trakehner at fence 20. This one's neighbor had wiped out the Intermediate earlier in the day and it was probably the most worrisome jump on the course for me. And that was before I had a stop! A couple of good cracks on the way up to it and some good old fashioned cross country get the job done riding and I found a perfect forward distance (aka I kinda flew over it) and I hope that the photographers were there because that was really something. I have a new plan for the trakehner after the water at The Fork if the course runs like it usually does there....
Show jumping was an improvement over last year because Morris was far more focused and relaxed jumping out on the grass in the cross country field. The course was beautiful and asked a lot of tough questions. Unfortunately Morris and I each had a rail, I will work on my turns and Morris will work on being more careful behind in combinations, we each promised one another ha ha ha. Sorry to Lara in advanced for the jump crewing and pole placement she will have to help me with for the next two weeks!
Everybody looks great today, they have a good day off in the rain getting dirty and doing absolutely nothing productive. Looking forward to The Fork where Morris is back again at the Big A and Smarty makes his move up to Prelim. Can't wait!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ocala Boot Camp

I think this picture pretty much sums up the way that things went in Ocala this past weekend. I took Smarty and Morris (and Richard and Gunsmoke, sorry to have to leave Lara behind but there was a whole herd to train back there in Aiken!!) and off we went fully expecting for Karen to whip us into shape in a matter of days. And that is exactly what happened!
We got to spend the weekend stabled at Longwood, which in itself is an amazing experience. I just would like to tell Smarty that he has some serious 'earning' to do, landing in the US, and then residing at places like Shag Hill in Aiken and Longwood in Ocala. Smarty - you owe me lol! Actually, I think he started to earn it a little, such a smart horse. He got better and better every day. Karen had him figured out pretty quickly and he spent the rest of his lessons cantering over ten thousand poles on the ground. Yes, you must steer. No, you may not buck with every flying change. There is always one more stride. Always. It was great for Karen to give me so many things to work on, I have a whole new plan for the jumping arena when we set it this week. She also stressed time and again not to be too hard on him. Yes, he needs very strict perimeters! But he needs lots of walk breaks, lots of pats, and lots of encouragement. We want him to work hard because he loves his job. I do believe that keeping that spunky little part of him alive is what is going to help separate him from the rest of the pack at the upper levels. He is set to run another training level at Southern Pines this coming weekend, and then we are going to determine what April is looking like for Playtime.
For Morris, well he wishes he got to do poles and jumps every day like Smarty did! Sadly, however, Mr. M spent most of his time in Ocala in the sandbox. Karen had me working on a variety of different exercises set to help Morris get more supple, which in turn is going to help pump up the volume in the dressage arena. It is always a fine line between pumping up the volume and still having him under control. He tries so hard that at times he is his own worst enemy. Already by my last lesson we were really getting the hang of how the new and improved Morris feels. We had some great flying changes and also some really good, relaxed work after doing said flying changes. We spent one lesson working entirely on Advanced Test A, and I feel like I really have a good plan of attack for how to use the arena and get the most out of my horse come Friday at Southern Pines. Don't worry, Morris got to jump a little. Actually, what he jumped was quite big lol. And then we mixed it up with a lot of cavaletti type exercises to keep the brain and the feet sharp. We need brain and feet of everybody working together this weekend as we make our Advanced debut at Southern Pines. Wish us luck!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Full Report from Full Gallop

Just want to make this point clear from the beginning - the lercher was the only one just lounging around at Full Gallop Farm this past weekend here in Aiken! And in my opinion, he looks quite guilty about it from this photo, taken at the top water. This weekend started as a fact-finding mission, we had 3 horses going (Smarty, Splash and Buttons), none of which I had evented before. 2 of which had never evented before. 1 of which just came from the hunters and hadn't jumped out of the indoor until coming down here in February.
Even though I had been to FGF several times this season to school, I hadn't competed there since last year. I was pleased with the new area for dressage, a huge improvement from having to squish into the paddocks in front of the barn. I was very appreciative of the spacious warm-up, even though some very upset grey horse still got close and attempted to double barrel my poor little first time starter. Show jumping, too, was in a new and improved area. Cross country, jury is still out. While great for schooling, I have found it difficult to get a good galloping rhythm at FGF. I will only speak for the training and beginner novice since that is what I walked and rode; but I found it to be inconsistent. Parts were trappy and non-confidence boosting. I feel like I can say that because I had horses finish all over the map! I guess we should get into that...
Playtime wanted to have a little playtime in the canter work of his dressage test. Last I checked flying changes weren't required in Training test A and my submission score let me know that the judge, too, didn't find flying changes in the list of required movements. The good news is, he was no different than he was at home so we can keep working on the same old stuff! Jumping, he was even better than he had been schooling or jumping at home in the short month I have had him. His show jumping round was easy peasy, I hope I can say that when they are a foot taller :) Cross country we had a run out, although I consider myself lucky. Smarty didn't know he ran out, he just knows he bounded down the steps in the back field without having to take any shuffle steps like some of those sissy-horses did. Unfortunately for Smarty Pants, those little shuffle steps were critical in getting the distance correct to the skinny chevron at the base. Drats! We circled around, he jumped it as though he saw it for the first time - because he was noticing it for the first time ! - and then boogied on off to the water and had a fabulous jump in over the roll top and out over the log on the mound. Schooling and hill work for Smarty and then it is off to Southern Pines in 2 weeks!
Buttons and Splash set the bar high with some great dressaging. So happy to have their owners in town to see them really shine (and I mean REALLY shine Lara worked over time on that grey knowing that her owners were going to be in town lol) and they did, Splash was commandingly in the lead after her test and Buttons was sitting 4th in his. Show jumping went well, a little spooky but we left the rails up with a little bit of flair here and there. On to cross country it was, a little nervous because with a beginner novice first timer you really could have a stop or a run out at ANY of the 14 fences on your course! To me, the second fence was the first obvious place for a stop (on a dime) drop (your inside shoulder) and roll (your rider onto the ground). Luckily Splash was as brave as she has ever been and jumped everything on the first try, regardless of whether or not she really knew what she had gotten herself into! Just kidding, this cute little horse does everything with such style and grace, she is a real keeper, and coincidentally a winner! Buttons, sadly, went from 3rd to 8th after deciding that the sharks teeth in the woods really might bite, and I have a jammed left pinky finger to prove it (he only managed the stop and drop). We trotted it the second time; and he finished strong still under the optimum time. Not too shabby for a hunter pony that is Cute as a Button ha ha ha.
Upon checking in at the barn this morning, Splash was as dirty as she had ever been, Smarty was refusing to get caught in his paddock, and Buttons was flat on his side taking a sun nap. All signs of a good weekend :)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Aiken in Full Swing

Don't be fooled by the picture, neither Gunsmoke, Lara, nor Smarty have much time to stand around and enjoy the scenery down here lately! I think that's a good thing, well at least I know that Lara and I are at our best when the schedule is action packed, we kinda thrive on the excitement and challenges of a seemingly overwhelming schedule. With another horse arriving down here in Aiken this week, well things at times were certainly very exciting!
Pine Top parte dos happened Saturday and Sunday. Morris was a mere 5 points off the lead in his Intermediate division, in part thanks to dressage lessons from Marilyn and a massage from Katie Lou (for Morris, that is. Remember, I've been too busy running around Samantha Charles' lovely Shag Hill Farm for such selfish indulgences!). Lara had him looking like a million bucks, and he acted for his entire pre-ride and warm-up, and for moments during his actual test as well! The show jumping course was fairly straight forward, although the terrain definitely came into play a few times. Morris and I fell victim to jumping the oxer at fence 2 a little too quietly, and got to the very vertical at fence 3 on a lovely strung-out not quite 5 strides. Oopsie. Down she went. More canter poles and grid work for homework for us! I enjoyed my course walk with DOC, although I use the term 'walk' very loosely as we biked around and gave Gunsmoke a good work out. In fact, that's a great picture of the lercher trying to swim in the trough at fence 6. Watching him crawl between the rail and the lip of the trough was priceless! As usual, David gave great advice (can we say, New Chef?!?) and pretty much predicted exactly how it was going to ride for Morris and I. On Sunday, we didn't disappoint! Although it nearly started with disaster, we ship in to Pine Top and didn't get the memo that there was a giant move up on times and the entire day was running early. Major props to Lara who got my pony ready in record breaking time, and acted calm, cool, and collected about hitting fast forward on her morning. Well done! Morris did our part to return the favor. Clean and fast and it was the best that Morris has ever jumped a coffin, I dare say in his entire life. Finished a strong 6th, would've been 3rd without our show jumping rail!
No rest for the weary, however, with the rest of our week. Farriers, dentists, shows for sales, more farriers, lessons, and cross country schoolings. Whew! Today was a lot of fun schooling at Full Gallop. Took the beginner novice fleet, about to make their recognized debut next weekend. As long as the grey/white chevrons were not on our course, we would have been spectacular. Not one of my little darlings, however, wanted to jump that on the first try. Poor little Buttons in fact was trying to dart away from it at least 8 strides out. I see more cross country schooling in his future! Also had fun with Playtime, schooled a good bit of the training, or preliminary. That's the bad thing about schooling. Sometimes it is nice to have the map and the colored flags so you know exactly what you have gotten yourself into lol. He is certainly up for the challenge, however, the bigger the better for that cheeky little fellow! Big weekend ahead, in fact I guess I had better get to bed 5 minutes ago, my last Key Equestrian Team competition and we have the Champion title clenched, or so it appears. Still hoping for a very strong finish for a talented group of riders that I have had the absolute pleasure to work with this season. Wish us luck!