Wednesday, October 14, 2009

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

Day 2: Stadium Jumping & Cross-Country

I think that I managed a little off & on sleep on Saturday night, but still, 2:30-3 AM came around awfully fast on Sunday. Definitely the hardest part about this event was the 2-day element. I think it might be kind of fun to go to something where you stay overnight, but this coming home and starting all over from scratch business was quite brutal. Still, once I was up and moving and on my way, I was able to push aside my exhaustion for most of the day. It came back to me at odd times when I had a moment to sit, but generally I was able to forget about it.

I again was not scheduled to ride until relatively late in the day – 3:04 PM or something. The morning was filled with walking our Stadium & Cross-Country courses, helping the morning riders get ready and watching some of the morning Stadium rounds, which had the added bonus of cementing that jump course in my head (I’m always worried that I’m going to forget the course.) We really lucked out with the weather. If anything, Saturday had been worse than had been predicted, however, Sunday ended up being so much better. I had heard a number of reports that called for rain all morning and then clearing for the afternoon, but it never ended up raining even a drop on us all day. It remained a bit cloudy for part of the morning and then cleared into a lovely sunny and temperate day -- it seemed just the right temperature for me, warm enough so that it was comfortable for hanging out all day, but not at all hot for riding.

It was mostly a leisurely day, certainly much more so than any 1-day event that I’ve experienced so far. Still, all too soon it seemed that it was time for me to get Ruby ready. Again, I decided to follow my policy of giving myself extra time – both for getting ready and for warming up. This took a little bit of the stress out of things for me, at least for the getting ready part. I never once felt in a much of a panic and it helped to hold off my nerves. Again, I have to state how nicely my horse behaved around the trailer, I was able to deal with her and get her ready with no help. My experiences with her and the two-horse trailer at UNH starts to make a good case for considering a two-horse of my own for someday – but I can’t think about that now!

We made our way over to the warm-up and right away I could tell that Ruby was in a keyed-up mood. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially on a Stadium and Cross-Country day, but there was also a big horse in the warm-up ring majorly acting up (bucking & rearing & whatever) that really set Ruby off. We started our warm-up with some bucking and big spooking and a mini-bolt or two which, of course, immediately scared me with flashbacks of Groton House! As I’ve mentioned before, the warm-up is far from my favorite part of any event and, for some reason, I seem to be the most nervous for the Stadium phase. So my nerves for UNH seemed to come to a head at this point and I found myself somewhat seriously freaked out. I was not quite paralyzed with nerves, but I definitely was impaired. Luckily Ann was there to talk me off of the ledge, I mean, coach me and I was able to work through it. Ruby settled down reasonably and we jumped a few of the warm-up fences relatively competently, but I was very happy to say good-bye to that warm-up ring.

Very soon I was on deck for my Stadium round. I had watched enough jumping rounds throughout the day so felt that I knew the course well enough, but I spent the last few moments plotting the lines I wanted to take to the various fences and trying to quell my anxious Stadium Jumping nerves. For the first couple of jumps I caught a couple long spots, but soon was able to find the rhythm well enough. I was very conscious of lines to everything and about using the corners of the ring, keeping a forward, but steady & balanced pace and about getting straight to every jump. The only part that got a bit funky was the two-stride in & out combination. I was pretty good about getting deep to the corner before it and our line was reasonable, but I found Ruby trying to run out on the first jump! This is extremely unusual for her and in hindsight I decided that she was most likely spooking at the judge’s platform which was right beside these jumps. Still, even when being squirrely, Ruby is pretty good about broadcasting what she’s feeling about something, there was no dirty stop or last minute bolt around the jump. So I was able to encourage her over by being very clear with my leg about what I wanted her to do and she listened quite nicely. Because of the awkward jump into the combination, I was a little concerned about how we would negotiate the striding, but I made a point of driving her forward and we did end up getting the two strides, even with that funky first jump. After that the rest of the round was pretty perfect, I think. Ruby was responsive and adjustable, she listened nicely to me, was balanced and forward and enthusiastic & happy to jump everything. We finished with a clean round and no time faults, which was good enough to bump us up to 5th place in our division.

One of the nice things about how this event was organized was how they scheduled everyone to go directly to the Cross-Country start, as soon as their Stadium was completed. No need for another warm-up (and thus no opportunity for me to psych myself out again), no need for un-tacking and tacking up again. It was also nice to take my little adrenalin rush from Stadium and bring it with me to my Cross-Country start. Oddly, I was not at all nervous for Cross-Country, nor I had I been worried about it at any point during the weekend. I remember walking my first XC course at this level (at this very venue!) back in July and how it had scared me. Have I really become completely jaded about it over the course of a couple of months? In any case, I started my XC course loose and confident and happy to be out there with Ruby. I think Ruby loves this phase the most so she was forward and excited with ears perked looking eagerly for the first jump.

After our slow time at King Oak last month, I also wanted to make a point of staying at a more forward pace more consistently this time. In other words, I needed to have fewer sections of trotting. We had to be careful about some turns here and there because of all the rain we had had over the last 24 hours, but in general I felt that the footing held up very well, allowing us to move nicely forward. We kept rolling forward through the first two fields, over the first 4 or 5 jumps or so. There was an area where we had to make a turn, cross a dirt road and there was a hodge-podge of jumps from other divisions that we had to navigate around. We had to trot for a few moments here because of this confusion, but then we were forward again, with a nice gallop over the next two jumps, around a squash field and into the woods. As we entered the woods Ruby tried to break into a trot (probably a little uncertainty with the terrain change and moving from light to dark), but I said (outloud) to her, while using my leg, “No, you can canter here, it’s okay.” And so she moved forward as asked and down to the hill to this rather upright, reverse roll-top kind of jump. I remember this one from July where we jumped it going the other direction, in this direction, it was more upright and the side we jumped from was lower than the landing side, making it a bit of a bigger jump going this way. Still, Ruby rolled nicely and confidently forward to it and jumped it with a lovely spot. It was some more down-hill terrain to the next jump, a coop that they were calling “The Dog House” also something we had jumped in July and then it was on to the water. By now I felt that, between the downhill grade and the excitement of the jumps, we were going at a good forward clip, but with the water coming up I felt that it was perhaps a bit too forward. I haven’t done too much water with Ruby, really only once officially (at UNH in July) and I haven’t done any real schooling on this with her otherwise, so I did not feel confidence coming into it at this pace. Mostly I just didn’t feel in enough control of this situation if she decided at the last minute that she wasn’t too thrilled with the obstacle. So, I “woahed” her down, and “woahed” her down some more until I had a nice forward trot from her. She pushed right through the water very nicely and gave me no trouble at all, but I felt a little bit more in control over everything at this trot than I had at the strong canter down the hill.

After the water we had to pick through a little bit of terrain that did not have a clear path and where there were some tree roots and other things that I felt compromised the footing a bit. Mostly I was trying to remember the path through this bunch of trees to the next set of jumps that I had decided on when I walked the course earlier in the day. It was a relatively short portion from the water to the next jump and from there, Ruby jumped in, exploded up this steep bank, jumped out of the series and it was nice gallop around the last couple of jumps on the course. I was exhilarated and so, so happy with Ruby! She was bold and brave and happy, but also listened to me and did everything I wanted her to do at every moment on the course. She is a total thrill to take around cross-country, she really is.

Well, it turns out that we were 7 seconds slow on the course. Those 7 seconds cost me 2.8 points and two finishing places for our division (dropping me from 5th back down to 7th). That’s how close my division was for this event, for 5th-7th places we had all been within 3 points of each other. Oh well. In hindsight, I should have kept that forward pace through the water that would have made up those 7 seconds and more. I’m pretty sure that Ruby would have rolled right through there at a good, strong canter, but in this case I’m the one who was green and unsure, so that was my misjudgment. Still, I would rather err on the side of caution than not, so I can’t really be too upset about it in the end. I do think that we’ve both made a lot of progress. I know that Ruby has, but I feel that I have too. Our first two events in May & June I pretty much trotted everything (both in Stadium and on Cross-Country). In July, I trotted lots of stuff on XC, but made up for it by galloping way too hard on other sections (we had no time faults on that course, however). In September, I trotted in significant sections causing us 7-8 penalty points (I think we were 20-25 seconds over that day). At the October event I feel like we were much more consistent, there were very short pieces were there was a minimal amount of trotting, but far less than at either of the two events. There were areas where I was tempted to trot, or to continue trotting, but where I pushed forward instead. Really, the only thing on that entire course that I feel I would have done differently is the water. I feel that I made the right decisions everywhere else. Most importantly, I came away with a happy & confident horse after the course and I was happy & confident myself. All-in-all, I was extremely happy with it and felt that it had been our most consistently-ridden event yet, for all three phases.

This event closed the competitive year for me, so I was extremely happy to end on what I feel was a very positive note. I feel like I made a lot of progress throughout the season and that Ruby & I grew into a good team. I feel like I moved from merely trying to get through these competitions to actually developing some consistency. On this side of the season I now feel pretty steady at this level that I was pretty freaked out about at the start of the Summer, and am looking forward to working on our weak spots. After UNH-Fall I felt more that I have very specific things that I can focus on, where the other events I participated in over the season I came away with more of a, “Well, thank God THAT is over!” kind of attitude. Overall I feel pretty proud of myself and extremely proud of my horse. It’s hard to believe that we’ve only been together since late April.

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