Thursday, October 08, 2009

UNH Fall Horse Trials – October 3-4th, 2009

Day 1: Dressage

Unlike how I came into my two previous sanctioned events (UNH Sunmmer Horse Trials in July and King Oak in September) I did not do a ton of riding leading up to the day of this event. Between coming down with a bit of a bug the week before that mostly had me feeling exhausted and crappy, and work, I did not have a lot of time leftover to work on my riding. On Thursday I worked something like 15-hours, so there was no riding on that day. Finally, Friday (the day before the event), I managed to get in a good ride. I also managed a run-through of BN Dressage Test-B (the required Dressage test for my division for this event) which was completely new to me. After the ride I had to try and get Ruby clean and get my tack and gear together and cleaned.

3 AM Saturday seemed to come awfully fast after the busy week that I had had. Actually it came at around 2:15 AM, because that is when I ended up waking up (I had planned to get up at 3). It was pouring down rain. A cold, driving, Autumn rain. Got to the barn around 4:30 AM or so and helped with the outdoor feeding in the dark and rain. Then we got all the horses loaded and were on our way. The 6-horse barn trailer had broken down that week, so there had been a mad scramble to come up with enough 2-horse trailers to transport everyone. Ruby (and I) ended up in a trailer that was generously lent to the barn by one of Alison’s students.

It was just one of those miserably horrible days. Unrelenting cold rain that seemed to run the gamut from merely pouring, to torrential, sideways driving rain. Ugh – exactly the kind of day where it would be wonderful to stay in bed with a book and a pile of dogs. We got to the event by around 7 AM, but my ride time wasn’t scheduled until 1:25 PM, so it was a lot of time standing around and waiting in this misery. I distracted myself by walking my cross-country course for the next day, stuffing hay bags, watering horses, picking horse poop out from the trailer from underneath horse hooves and, when all else failed, and once I was good and soaking wet, sitting huddled on a hay bale under the feet of the horses with the hard rain driving on the metal roof and reading my book (thankfully I remembered to bring a book!)

Everyone was off walking jump courses when it was time for me to start getting Ruby ready for our Dressage ride. I learned very quickly that my horse is quite easy to unload (and load) and deal with in and around the trailer and without cross-ties. It’s definitely a plus to know that I actually can do all of this without help.

Our warm-up went surprisingly well. Typically, the various warm-up activities at these events have not been the highlight for me. All of my tension and worry seems to come to a head here, and if Ruby is going to misbehave, this is where it starts to happen. For Dressage, I can usually tell pretty quickly what horse I’m going to have that day and on Saturday what I had was a light, forward, responsive horse. She was quite nice from the very beginning. Canter transitions are our Achilles heel at the moment and worrying about them causes me some anxiety, so I tend to ask for one or two pretty early in a Dressage warm-up, so that I know what I’m dealing with. But Ruby stepped into the canter beautifully each time I asked, no problem there at all. Her canter in general has gotten much, much better, it’s much more balanced, round and obedient and also easier to ride. However, she was a little resistant to the right on Saturday, resisting the bend and tossing her head some, we’ve had much better right lead canters lately, but she was not offering me her best on Saturday. Still, everything else seemed very good. Very responsive to my leg, willing to bend in each direction, offering impulsion over the back and from behind, even Alison said that she looked good. Surprisingly I also was not very nervous. I remember the wreck that I was back in May & June for my first couple of events and I didn’t feel even remotely like that – perhaps that also helped me to relax and warm-up Ruby without too much tension. Being relatively new to all of this, I still haven’t figured out how much warm-up Ruby needs (or how much I need, for that matter), and I suspect that it’s probably going to vary with her anyway. This day because she was so nice and responsive, I decided that less was more and I walked the last 10 minutes or so of our warm-up time, still doing circle and serpentine figures to keep her working and listening, as well as supple, but not pressing for anything more than that.

Very soon I was on deck for my turn in the Dressage ring. I’ve come to the realization that it’s better to get on the horse a little earlier rather than later. The warm-up time seems to really fly and I do also like to walk Ruby around some before I start, so she can look at everything, and I don’t think it hurts to walk her around after I’ve done most of the warm-up. Of course, every horse is different, but I’d rather be a little early and know I’m in the right place than rushing around to get there and get ready.

We had time to trot around the outside of our Dressage ring a few times before they rang the bell, signaling that I could start. Ruby rode nicely forward and round down the centerline, but I could tell we were not exactly straight – this is one of those things we just haven’t gotten quite right yet, but at least I could recognize it and try to adjust. I have to say that at every movement and figure, she really did listen to what I wanted and tried to comply. A better rider might have been able to get more out of her, but I really was quite pleased, I felt (like I did at King Oak) that we were a team in this, that there was some harmonious flow to our effort. I’d say she stayed pretty round for most of the test, straightness wasn’t great, but bending was better than it has been. And she was very nicely forward, I thought, I was particularly pleased with that. I was very happy with both canter transitions, but her right lead canter was a bit stiff and she tossed her head and resisted some on the circle. Still, the impulsion was nice and she did offer the transition eagerly. Overall, I was quite pleased with everything. At the end of it I felt like we were maybe entering “respectable” territory for our Dressage. Later I was thrilled to learn that we earned a “39” score on our test. Not stellar by most riders’ standards, but really a HUGE improvement for us. At the UNH event in July our Dressage earned us a 54.2, that’s a 15.2 point improvement! I was very, very happy with that. It was also good enough to put us in 7th place for our division. I feel like if we can improve from here, that we may truly be able to be competitive someday.

It was a very long and miserable day for just one little Dressage test, but after all was said and done, I felt like it was pretty worth it. I feel very encouraged that Ruby and I are making progress. It was very disconcerting, however, to finally get home, collapse on the couch and realize that I had to just turn around and do it all over again the next day – GAH!

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