Monday, December 13, 2010

On Running

I haven't really written much of an update on my running program. Well, let's face it, I haven't really written much of an update about anything much in a long time. But I did want to sketch out the highlights.

I went through the beginning running schedule through the class that I was taking with my local Y. For the most part this worked out pretty well and it did a good job of generally keeping me on track. Having each week's requirements in black & white and not wanting to fall behind were very good motivators to keep me on the schedule. I think the max of straight running that I was able to do (running without a walk-break) was 26 minutes. The goal of the class was to be able to run for 30 minutes straight (they assume that in that 30 minutes you're covering about a 5K -- nice try), so I fell a little short in the end. To be honest, however, I never did go out there on the last week of the class and attempt the 30 minutes, so I very possibly could have done it, but at that stage the class schedule had gotten me to the basic place where I wanted to be and I was satisfied enough with that.

Around the last week of the class I participated in a local 5K at Mine Falls Park, which was a fun thing to do. I was very disappointed with my time and, even more than my time, I was disappointed in how poorly I paced and pushed myself during the race. But it was fun to be out there again and it was a perfect day for a race. I had forgotten how great I used to feel on a Saturday or Sunday morning right after participating in a race. There were a few years while living in NYC where this was pretty common weekend activity for me. I had had plans to do another 5K on Thanksgiving Day at the same location, but, between every muscle in my body being unbelievably sore from hunting the day before, and the race starting at the ungodly hour of 8 AM (previous race had started at the more civilized hour of 10 AM), I never made it to the start. I wish there were some other local races coming up that I could target, but the race calendar around here is pretty sparse this time of year. I find that if I have something that I'm working towards that it helps me focus a bit. I may not be going for some big personal record (PR), but not wanting to be embarrassed and not wanting to disappoint myself are usually good enough motivators to stick with a training plan to some degree. But, with nothing coming up, I'm going to have to find other motivators. Already I am finding the colder weather to be a big challenge, most of my runs over the past couple of weeks have been on the treadmill. There is nothing wrong with the treadmill, I guess, but I worry a bit about keeping the running going through the entire Winter if I'm only using that.

I am now trying to come up with some kind of training plan. I would like to run a 10K in the late Spring or thereabouts and I would like to get my weekly mileage up to about 25 miles per week, but I'm not thinking much beyond these two goals. I think I am going to push back the idea of running straight (no walk-breaks) and do some planned run / walk intervals for a while. There are a number of reasons for this decision:
  1. I want to keep running as enjoyable as possible. I recognize that I am at a bit of a vulnerable point in my new running program. This is the stage when I very often give up. The excitement of the new program starts to wane, I start to get pissed off over my lack of progress and I get discouraged over how impossible it seems.
  2. I want to build some more mileage and I just can't do it the way that I've been running.
  3. Run/walk intervals will allow me to include more variety into my weekly schedule.
  4. I need to build endurance, while also getting in a good workout for each session. Run/walk will allow for longer training sessions.

I am really trying to come up with ideas that are most likely to make me successful in getting through the Winter. I am not being too ambitious about what I expect to accomplish through March because I want to be realistic. I feel that if I can finish the Winter still running, with a consistent weekly mileage base, even if it's only 20 miles per week, and a long-ish run of around 5 miles. I will feel that I was successful. If I can maintain that through March, then I feel that I'll be in a pretty good position to start increasing mileage a bit and also increase the long run some. That's what I'm thinking anyway.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A-Hunting We Will Go!

I was invited to go fox hunting on the day before Thanksgiving, something that I have wanted to do since I was probably, oh, about 12 or 13. Anyway, I've been meaning to write up a detailed report of the experience and haven't had time. Instead, I am cutting & pasting highlights that I wrote in an email that I sent to a couple of friends a couple of days afterwards.

(Disclaimer: This was a drag hunt, which means that a scent was dragged ahead of time for the hounds to follow. There were no live foxes involved).

This is what hunting was like:

  • Pre-hunt announcements, instructions, etc. (meet our field master and so-on).
  • Release the hounds -- watch them fly across the field (it was an awesome sight). Ruby, ears pricked & watching, you could almost see the wheels turning and her thinking, 'Well, I know what THIS is!' (At certain times in open country when you could see the hounds and the field of horses all spread out chasing, it was breath-taking and amazing to know you are a part of it).
  • Next moment, you're just flat out galloping HARD. Like, tears-flowing-out-of-your-eyes-so-much-you-can-hardly-see, hard. Horse is galloping and passing everyone in the field. You have strong "conversation" with horse to gain control and not pass field master. Pass everyone in field but field master (thankfully).
  • Gallop hard from field to field to woods to field again.
  • Encounter jumps along the way and jump everything. Thought once in a while floats across brain, 'Wow, that looks a bit ... LARGE ... oh what the heck.' And jump it anyway. Try to get the coordination of giving the horse in front enough room to jump while not disrupting the flow of pace. Figure that out and move on.
  • Fly though the woods and think, 'Wow if I was trail riding on my own, I'm not sure if I would even trot through this footing, no less gallop ... ' Gallop anyway.
  • Gallop through field with a little ditch with water flowing. Other horses splash through, your horse jumps it (yes, those ditch issues are long gone).
  • Realize about 20-30 minutes in that your quads are completely shredded and jell-o-like, like you had been skiing big moguls all day.
  • Realize that without recent running program you would NOT have been able to do this. Be thankful for running program.
  • Finally some trotting and a couple of check-points (where you stop and the fields re-group). Realize that your legs are now jelly.
  • Reach area for stirrup cup, volunteers hand out lemonade. Some seasoned hunt members pull out flasks.
  • Hack back to starting point and the riding part of the hunt is over.
  • Go in for the hunt "tea" (which is really a big, potluck brunch). Eat good food and down two big glasses of wine.
  • Wake up the next day incredibly sore from head-to-toe.

That was my hunt experience in a nutshell! And I can't wait to do it again (am considering becoming a member for next year).

Did I mention how wonderful my horse is?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Course Brook Farm HT 10.9.2010

It’s awesome to ride a bold horse who loves her job. A horse who, while galloping along on cross-country, is eagerly looking for the next thing. When you have that in an eventing horse, everything else seems to fade down the scale in importance. When you have that in an eventing horse, your enjoyment of the sport can be limitless.

My competition planning for this year was pretty random at best. After a relatively poor start to the season with my fall at Pine Top in March, my meltdown and resulting scratch from King Oak in May, other falls and mishaps around the May & June timeframe, I started out lacking a lot of confidence and with not a lot of desire to commit to anything much. We had a pretty successful showing at the Groton House Summer Classic in June, but I came away from that effort considerably disappointed in myself as I felt that I rode pretty horribly overall. Well, our dressage was nice, but I was terrible in the jumping phases, my brilliant horse basically saved my behind again & again on that day (it’s pretty telling that I’m having a bad day if my best ride ends up being the dressage phase!)

Alison (my trainer) had been nudging me all Summer about signing up for some events. I finally caved and signed up for Valinor at the very end of August, which turned out pretty well. I knew that I should sign up for at least something else, but I didn’t want to do UNH Fall because that is a two-day event (I did it last year) and stringing two of those marathon days together is just BRUTAL. I wasn’t too thrilled about King Oak either after my meltdown there in the Spring (although, at some point I’m going to have to face that boogeyman and do an event there again so that I can put any phobias to rest). The Course Brook Farm HT was an attractive option for a number of reasons: it was a one-day event. It was relatively close by. And other adults were going, plus there ended up being only three of us in the trailer, which made for a more relaxed experience overall.

Of course, as the date for the event approached, I began to dread it (as I always do). Added to the general stress of nerves and worry and dread for the long day, was the fact that the weather has cooled off considerably which has made Ruby naturally pretty fresh. The shorter days and some significant rain has also interfered with my being able to ride consistently (and also contributed to creating the fresh horse). I had a pretty bad ride the Sunday before the show where Ruby really was feeling her oats and wanted to leap, buck & bolt around the ring. I was ready to scratch from the show right then and there. I managed to ride a number of times during the week, although we missed Wednesday due to a torrential downpour. On Thursday in a lesson Ruby started in again with the fresh behavior and Alison had me spend most of the entire lesson cantering and galloping her around without a break – the only breaks came when we were required to ride a jump course. I was pretty freaking sore after that ride. All the way up until Friday afternoon I toyed with the idea of just scratching. But I finally decided to go. I figured even if there was some fresh behavior, I am almost always able to ride through it. And if something REALLY freaked me out, I could always just scratch at that point.

For a change, I had a really early ride time (usually we get there at the crack of dawn and I don’t ride until noon or later). So, because of this, we had to leave even earlier than normal (at 4:30 AM) in order to fit in a cross-country course walk with Alison before all the action started. We were basically the first horse trailer there and were out and on the course as the sun was coming up. In fact, I used my headlamp for most of the walk, it was still pretty dark, especially in the woodsy parts. Once we got back to the trailer I pretty much had to start getting ready for my dressage ride. This was a very welcome change for me. Usually my ride times are so late that I just find myself getting increasingly nervous as the day wears on. The time crunch made things a little bit stressful, but I appreciated being able to get going and get on with the show!

The dressage warm-up areas were pretty dicey at best. Held in paddocks with deep, soft footing, it was hard to really do much of anything. Added to that was the fact that Ruby was spooking, and doing some leaping about, well, let’s just say we really didn’t get much accomplished during our warm-up. When it was close to my ride time we were able to move up to a small grassy area beside the dressage ring, but this was not much better. We did a couple of very short canter transitions there, but that was all we were able to do for canter warm-up. Really insufficient for what we need. Even still, I was happy when it was my turn to head into the ring, I usually just reach a point where I need to do my ride and be done with it, and on Saturday, Ruby was very, very “up”. I didn’t think anything was going to get much better, to be honest. The test was BN Test B, which I actually think I prefer, it rides much nicer than it reads. I don’t like that canter before X business, but other than that, I like all the diagonal lines. It’s especially nice for someone who may have some trouble keeping their horse straight down the long sides of a dressage ring (ahem). So, the highlights of our test on Saturday: I felt that we were nicely forward. I felt that some of the trot parts were nice. I would have some nice bend, some nice round trot, but then there would be some head tossing and some resistance. She was spooky and very, very hyper-alert to her surroundings, so honestly, I was happy to just keep all four feet on the ground. The canter transitions were not very good, but, once going, we did get some nice roundness and bending, before resistance and head tossing started again. So really, as with most of my tests, there were some good moments and some bad moments. I don’t feel like I was fighting her the way I had been at Valinor. I think I rode the horse that I had that day and did my best. But I am still chasing that nice, rhythmic, flowy, harmonious test that we had at the Summer Classic. I wish that we could be more consistent in producing that. Anyway, as always, I was happy to be done with dressage and I was happy enough with our test, even if our score was terrible.

It was such a gorgeous Fall day that it was a pleasure to hang-out hand-grazing our horses in the sun and chatting between each phase. The timeline was rather tight, so I luckily did not have a ton of time to sit around and get super nervous like I usually do. About an hour and a half after my dressage test it was time to get ready for stadium. I think I get the most nervous for stadium and I really don’t know why, I don’t think we’ve ever really had much trouble with this phase. What I dislike the most, however, are the warm-ups. I HATE the warm-up. This warm-up didn’t prove to be too bad on this day, we did our cantering around and jumped a few fences in a nice, forward rhythm. The only real mishap were the two horses right in front of me who basically collided (uh, hello?! Don’t people know about the “pass left shoulder, to left shoulder” rule???) that sent Ruby into a bit of a freakout spin, but by then our basic warm-up was done at least. Very soon it was time to head into the stadium field.

I kept in mind what Alison had been drilling into my head recently about forward, forward, forward! So I very determinedly established that good forward pace on our way to the start flags. First fence rode well and then it was a slight bending line to #2 that I really planned very poorly -- we jumped it practically into the right jump standard! A couple of inches more to the right and we would have brought that jump down. Of course Ruby, being the brilliant & big-hearted jumper that she is, jumped it happily regardless of the crappy line I rode her to. After that it was a left turn back in the other direction to a 4-5 stride vertical to an oxer. I’m trying to remember but, I think the first jump in the line was fine, but I think we chipped in and had an awkward, sticky jump out. I must have dropped the ball a bit and not have had enough leg on through there. Oh well. #5 was another vertical along the edge of the field. Fine. And then it was a left turn up a hill to a two-stride combination. This I rode assertively and we got the two, it felt just right, so I was happy with that. #7 was a roll-top at the top of the field and then it was a turn down the hill to an oxer. That rode well, but after we jumped that, I realized that we were kind of charging down the hill, uh, can you say “whoa”? BIG WHOA. I actually almost took out one of the start flags that sort of appeared in our path very quickly. SHEESH! So, we whoa’ed, whoa’ed, whoa’ed and then it was a turn back up the hill to the last fence which we flew over and then it was gallop through the finish flags. To be honest, I had to ask Alison later if I had knocked anything down, I really wasn’t sure! I didn’t think we had, but the course was such a blur, that I really didn’t know for sure. I WAS sure, however, that we hadn’t incurred any time faults. That was a no-brainer.

Happily, my cross-country time wasn’t too long after stadium, so I did not have to do a whole lot of warm-up again. The time had been tight enough that I found that I almost had to sprint my second walk of the course, that was interesting (good thing I’ve been doing all that running!) So, we did a little canter in the warm-up, a fence or two and we were then able to pretty much head directly to the start box. I loved that, no real waiting around. Count-down, start the watch and we were off, no muss, no fuss.

Across a field and over the first fence, a simple log, and then it was through a fence line and down a galloping lane with a bunch of brush on one side, and woods on the other side. Ruby found this section pretty spooky so we kind of zig-zagged down the lane as she galloped and spooked, galloped and spooked. Then it was a 45* turn to the right across a little bridge and into the woods, jump #2 was a double log-vertical and then it was down the path, through the woods and out into a big field. A turn across the field and it was a combination log, maybe five strides and this fake ditch thing, a sharp turn and another bunch of strides (5?) and then another jump (I think another log). At this point I was fiddling with my stirrup. Somehow my foot was too far through the stirrup and I was trying to jiggle it back into the right spot, but then I lost it completely ARGH! I tried to get it back while galloping along. When I couldn’t, I had to bring it back down to a trot and then even to a walk. I am not in the right place now where I felt that I could have ridden the rest of the course with one stirrup!

Once I had the stirrup back, we were back to a gallop and it was over a log vertical thing (which I rode to a sticky spot, I will admit) and then it was back into the woods. Up the hill and a turn and then over this red house jump, which jumped nicely. From there was a very narrow & twisty path through the woods. I don’t think I had appreciated how twisty it was while walking the course, suddenly, at speed, I was thinking, ‘crap! These trees are REALLY close!’ It would have been easy to get hung up on one! Ruby at this point was really flowing along, happily galloping away and looking for the next jump. At the top of the path, it was a sharp turn to the right and up through this mogul-y little combination – up a sharp, short hill, a log on top, down the other side, and then up another sharp, short hill with a log on top, down the other side and then a short distance to a big stone wall with a log on top that we jumped out of the tree line and into a field. At this point Ruby was rolling! We had to do a 45* turn across the field to a down bank. Ruby was flowing at such a nice pace, but I brought her back to a trot for the bank. She can sometimes launch very enthusiastically off of down banks and I wasn’t too sure if I’m competent enough to handle that right now – it sure would have been a shame to fall off for such a stupid thing. So I was conservative and trotted. Kicked on to the next jump, a bright white coop thing with corn husks stuck into the top of it. As we rode for it, I could feel Ruby peeking at it, but a good, solid leg on and she jumped it nicely. A gallop all the way across the field, a turn, and over a bench that we got another sticky spot to. I probably did not push enough for pace after our turn. Another turn down the field and it was a gallop to the last jump, a big feeder, a fence that jumped beautifully, and then through the finish flags.

So, the thing with the watch, this was only my second time wearing it for an event and so I’m not really used to it yet. At the last event (Valinor) I remembered to look at the watch a couple of jumps before the end and so knew that I was on track, but I forgot to look at it as I crossed the finish line. This time I remembered to look at the watch as I crossed the finish, but had forgotten to check the watch at any other time on the course where I could have made an adjustment, had our time not have been on track. Luckily, we were about 20 seconds under optimum time, so we were in a very good spot. If I had not had that slow down on the middle of the course for my stirrup, I guess we probably would have been about 30 seconds under, which is a pretty good place to be with time. I was very happy about that. Best of all, I did not have any trouble with the breathlessness I had been experiencing on XC last year. I think the running that I’ve been doing has helped quite a bit with that. I think also that BN level is becoming a little, “been there, done that” for me (at least as far as XC is concerned) so my adrenalin is probably not quite as pumped on course as it was when I first started competing. Last year it was a bit humiliating to be incurring time faults at BN level, I’m glad that I seem not to be having trouble with that this year.

So, crappy dressage score + double clear stadium + double clear cross-country was good enough to earn us 6th place. I was happy with that and actually realized, once I had a chance to think about it later, that this was the best we’ve done (placing-wise) in a sanctioned HT to date, so I suppose that could be considered progress.

Monday, October 04, 2010

This is incredibly inspiring.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Self-Doubt & Loathing

I had a bit of a meltdown in my jumping lesson last week. I'm still not even quite sure what happened. I do know that I was nervous all day for the impending lesson, but that's not anything new. I just started riding and I felt like I couldn't ride to save my life. I was full of self-doubt, convinced that I just Cant. Do. This. I'm not really sure where that was coming from.

When we started jumping I just felt so unfocused, not sharp and questioned every tiny decision I was making. I also was sort of hyperventilating a little bit and was light-headed. I was riding a jump course, generally about the height that I have been competing at, with one or two jumps maybe a smidge higher (but not by much). I had jumped half the course, had just finished a line down the long side, when I pulled up and said that I just couldn't do it anymore that day. I really kind of lost it and a week later, I'm still not really sure why. Nothing bad had happened, Ruby was acting fine. I just suddenly had a real loss of confidence for some reason. I don't know, I'm a bit of a freak, I guess.

This sort of illustrates a general on-going refrain in my life overall. Self-doubt, self-loathing, insecurity, lack of confidence that I can accomplish ___ (fill in the blank with whatever I'm worried about at any given point). With my new running program, it's more of the same thing. I am filled with thoughts of 'who do you think you are ... '. As I struggle to complete whatever running intervals that are on the schedule for any give day, I am completely self-conscious and mortified to see other people while I'm out trying to struggle through. It can totally get into my head and kill any ability to continue running. With work? Well, I don't even want to talk about work.

I have to figure out how to create more self-confidence in my life. This really affects everything from, being successful in my job, to feeling like I am able to have the lifestyle that I want to have. I am such a head case, it's just so strange how cyclical this can be. I can be going along, everything is fine and crash! I'm just a mess of doubt and self-loathing. Of course allowing the self-doubt to cause a meltdown such as with the jumping last week breeds even more self-loathing and utter disappointment in myself. It's just a vicious, ugly circle.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Running Program: Week 1

Scheduled: 1 minute running, alternated with 2 minutes walking, x10 -- 30 minutes total.
Actual: 1 minute running, alternated with 2 minutes walking, x10 -- probably a little more than 30 minutes, maybe 40. *

This ended up being harder than I expected it to be, especially after the class on Saturday where, instead of alternating 1 min. running to 2 mins of walking, we alternated laps of the indoor track, so our running intervals ended up being longer than one minute each. By the end of each minute of running on Monday, I was really looking at my watch for the count-down of the last few seconds. I'm not sure if maybe I was running a little faster than we had for the class, if it was the effects of running out on the road, or maybe the humidity (because, even though it was fairly cool, it was also humid), but it was definitely harder on me than I had expected. I was glad to have the plan though that forced me to do this ten times, it definitely pushed me a bit. In order to complete it, I had to overlap the neighborhood loop, but I got it done.

Scheduled: 30 minutes easy walk.
Actual: 1 hour trail walk with some longer (longer than 1 minute) running intervals.

The pressure was off for running since the schedule only called for an "easy" walk. Not sure what they mean by that, but it didn't sound too interesting, nor did it sound like there was much benefit to it, so I figured the least I could do was some good trail walking with some steep bits. I wasn't sure if I was actually going to also do some running until I was out there, but once I was on the trails I did feel somewhat inspired to run. What I did was first run the entire Beaver Path. I had not run this in its entirety in about two years or so, so it was definitely a challenge to me. But managed to do it. Barely. Total running interval was 2 minutes, 30 seconds. Not really all that long, but it was hard for me, I really had to push myself to keep running. Now, there is a fair amount of uphill to this path, particularly in this direction, but still, having this much trouble with 2.5 minutes of running does not bode well for my success with this program. After the Beaver Path, it was some road walking to get to the North East Trail Loop. Some steep and technical walking to the top of that trail and then a lovely, lovely long running interval down the other side. I think this is my favorite place to run on all the trails at work. There is such a nice, long downhill, and then you hit a relatively level part of the trail for a good piece, but because you've got the momentum and rhythmn of the sweeping downhill established that it carries over for a good while on the level parts. This long patch of trail can actually bring me back and remind me of what it feels like to be able to run. I don't like to do it too often because I feel like it will lull me into some kind of complacency, but it sure does feel great when I allow myself this indulgence. I wish I had timed this section, but I didn't think of it in time and so I don't know how long this running interval was. It was longer than the 2.5 minutes though. From there I got on the Rock Ledge trail, technical, rocky & rooty for most of it with lots of steep parts, so I walked it all. And then the fire road where I threw in three more shorter running intervals (1-1.5 minutes each).

Scheduled: 1 minute running, alternated with 2 minutes walking, x10 -- 30 minutes total.
Actual: 1 minute running, alternated with 2 minutes walking, x10 -- probably around 40 minutes. *

It was a perfect day for running, cool & crisp with no humidity at all. I found the running intervals easier to do than they were on Monday, hmmmm, interesting. The time also seemed to go much more quickly overall. I chose a running route around the paved roads on the company campus, with one section on a fire road. It was almost completely flat. I did not want to venture onto the trails as I didn't want terrain or hills or anything else to interfere with the intervals. It worked out very well and actually ended up being enjoyable. Imagine that?

Scheduled: 30 minutes easy walk.
Actual: 40 minutes of trail running & walking (appx. 2.5 miles).

Work was a little crazy, so I didn't have as much time as I wanted. I decided to do the "Duck Pond" trail loop, I haven't been out there for about two years. It was quite pleasant and I even ran up a bunch of the hills. I also saw a big snake along the way and wished that I had a camera with me. It was a gorgeous day, and a particularly nice one for running. Cool & crisp & clear.

Scheduled: 1 minute running, alternated with 2 minutes walking, x10 -- 30 minutes total.
Actual: 1 minute running, alternated with 2 minutes walking, x10 -- 40 minutes? *

I had a real struggle with myself to get out for this one. I had had a crazy, insane Thursday and so spent most of the day pretty exhausted. Plus it was a dreary, rainy, cold-ish, gray day, the kind of day where it's very nice to cuddle with a few dogs on the couch. I work from home most Fridays, so I went out on my lunch hour back to my neighborhood loop and I brought Tig with me. The intervals seemed to go pretty uneventfully, but again I felt that that the running parts were harder than I would have liked. Tig was great, I can run with him holding the leash with one finger and he'll just stick with me, no problem. Of course, he probably wishes we would run more, and faster.

I'm pretty happy that I managed to do everything that was on the schedule for this program. It was particularly tough this week because I was on-call for work, so that did throw a few complications my way. I felt that the run intervals for week 1 were completely doable and I felt good enough that I even did some trail running on the days I was supposed to just do an "easy walk". I actually managed to cover a total of 17 miles this week!

I'm concerned, however. Tomorrow we bump up to intervals of 4 minutes running / 1 minute walking. To me, this seems like a huge leap from 1 minute walking / 2 minutes running. After doing my running sessions this week, I am having a hard time believing that I will be able to run for intervals that long. I don't even want to think about the 15 minute intervals that are on the schedule for a couple weeks from now (I guess I'll worry about that when I get to that week). So, we'll see. I'm sure we will doing the longer intervals in class tomorrow morning, so I'll see how doable it really is.

Most of all, I'm proud that I didn't blow anything off. This is why I need this program right now, it gives me that extra push to get out the door. I'm happy that I could do the assigned running intervals and didn't need longer recovery times. At least I know I can continue doing that, if the next step proves to be impossible for me.

(*Note: The time added to the 30 minute interval days was added walking time before and after each workout).

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Structuring a Running Program

So, I've been thinking that I have to take this running thing (and cross-training, in general) more seriously. Running is my main focus in this for a lot of reasons: it's an activity that can be done without too much logistical worry, if I can't make it to a gym, I can go out the door at work on a lunch hour, I can use the treadmill at home, or whatever. I feel that it can have a high return of benefit for not a huge investment of time. In other words, you can get a lot out of running for a half an hour. It makes your legs strong and is one of the best things for cardiovascular/aerobic conditioning. And mostly, I really like how I feel when I'm running consistently.

One of my big problems is motivation. I've always struggled with this and getting geared up into a running program for me is particularly tough because it takes me a long time before I am able to run an interval of more than a minute or so at a time. Getting to a point where I can run, say, five miles will take months. Maybe a year. At least historically that's been my experience and that was when I was starting out in reasonable shape. So, the fall-out factor for me is high, it's easy to get discouraged and give up. It also takes me a long time before I'm mostly enjoying the running, I may have a moment of bliss here & there, but runner's high? Nope. That's months & months or work and pain down the road. The only runner's high I'll be feeling is the rush of euphoria once the run is over, although sometimes that is enough of a payoff to keep me going.

So, overall, I like the idea of running, I like the potential benefits, I like the way it makes me feel (both physically & mentally), it is the activity that is probably the easiest to insert into my busy schedule. But I recognize that it is going to take more commitment, planning and mental toughness than I've been expending thus far. So, when I saw that the Y was offering an intro running class ("Run a 5K in 8 Weeks"), I thought that maybe this would help put some structure around my desire.

Today was the first class and I feel like it went pretty well. It's a bit tough to commit to be be at the Y every Saturday morning by 8 AM, but once I was out and about, I actually preferred the early hour. Most of all I liked the company and the camaraderie of the other women in the class (interesting that there were no men). There were about 10-11 of us in varying states of fitness. I would say that I am at the lower end of the scale, although, at each run interval, I was always one of the runners at the front (competitiveness maybe?) For today it was fine, but as we progress through the weeks, I'm sure the disparity in fitness levels will sort the group out more. The goal for today was to run one interval (one lap) around the indoor track alternated with an interval of two walking laps, x 10. When it was finished, we had covered a total of three miles. This was easy, so that was a relief, but I know that it is going to get progressively harder each week and if I'm not doing the necessary work during the week, I'll fall behind very quickly. I am hoping that this will help motivate me to keep going during the week on my own. I want to feel confident going into each class that I'll be able to keep up!

Anyway, so I'm encouraged so far. I hope I can keep my enthusiasm going. I'm also hoping to have a decent enough running program established that I can carry it through the Winter a little more easily. January is a tough month to be kicking off a brand new running program, after all. I am also hoping at some point that it will help me start to lose some weight and that it will also benefit my riding.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Am I ready to move up?

(the answer is "no", by the way)

Alison (my trainer) recently sent out the new lesson schedule for Fall and I noticed that she had moved some people around so that now my Wednesday night lesson is comprised of three girls who are competing at a level above me and, well, me. Gulp. I would say that this caused me some concern. Yep, that would be pretty accurate.

So, this week was my first jumping lesson with the new group and I can say that I spent a lot of the day leading up to the lesson somewhat anxious and tense. It worked out pretty well, though, after all that worry. After our warm-ups she had a course set more or less max for BN level (my level) with a couple of jumps at N level (next level up), so I didn't end up doing a whole course at the higher level, but did the few bigger jumps sprinkled in as part of my jump courses. I'm a little proud of myself because I didn't allow myself to get too freaked out and the bigger fences actually ended up jumping rather nicely, I didn't seem to have any problem at all. Perhaps this is part of Alison's Evil Plan, sneak these bigger jumps in on me one at a time until one day I look around and realize that I'm doing whole courses of them. We'll see how this goes, I definitely feel like I'm going to be somewhat out of my comfort zone on the weeks I have a Wednesday jumping lesson, but perhaps that is a good thing. Am I ready to move up? No. But I feel like I am taking the right steps to maybe do so next season. If I had been more aggressive about my show schedule this Summer maybe I could have tried this Fall, but I'm in no hurry after all.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Valinor Farm HT: 8.29.2010

I have not signed up for a lot of competitions this season. There are a number of factors affecting this: first, I lost a bit of confidence with some of my riding mishaps earlier in the year. Even though the Groton House Summer Classic ended up working out pretty well, I still came away from that event feeling like I had ridden very poorly, most of that was related to soreness and minor injury resulting from a fall a few days before, but the bottom-line was, I sucked and almost felt like I didn’t belong there. My schedule has been a real challenge this year. Now that I am part of our operations on-call rotation, I don’t feel like I can sign up for a competition that follows an on-call week, since I can’t guarantee that I’ll have the prep time available to me during the week. Also, it’s expensive! My budget has been pretty tight, and I’m finding it hard to justify the cost. Still, I’m an eventer (I like saying that) and eventers compete in events, so I could not let the season go without competing in at least ONE sanctioned event. So, I signed up for the Valinor Farm Horse Trials.

It’s funny, but, despite my issues with lack of confidence, overall I feel that my riding this Summer has been going pretty well. Ruby and I have established a strong partnership, I feel that our flatwork has really turned a corner, I’m much braver jumping and definitely am better (but nowhere near perfect) at the balance + forward thing. We have been hacking out a lot more this year, both in company and on our own. Our bond is stronger, Ruby can no longer truly be called “green”, I’m a little more solid in my skills, in general I really SHOULD be in a good position to move forward and be a relatively strong competitor. However, when it comes to participating in an actual competition, I kind of fall apart. I guess it’s all nerves and it could be argued that if I went to more horse trials, the nerves wouldn’t be nearly so bad. Yeah, I know, I know. But between the nerves and knowing what an exhausting, marathon weekend each competition will be, I just DREAD it when I know something is coming up. On the flip-side of that is the fact that I always (with maybe the very rare exception) walk away from a competition on a total, glowing high, completely thrilled with my horse and so very, very happy that I did it. Conflicted much?

As has become the routine for going to a HT, I got up around 3:30 AM. What I did differently this time was take an Ambien before going to bed, so I actually had managed to have some amount of sleep. The pill had worn off before 3:30 and I woke up before my alarm, so it really seemed to work out well. With a show, it is expected that it is going to be an incredibly long day, what was different for me this time was that I had actually had some sleep, so I did not feel quite as horrible as I have for some of the others that I’ve been to. Another thing that is typical for me with these competitions is I always seem to have late ride times which leaves me with a lot of time to sit around and contemplate my rides, and thus become increasingly nervous.

My ride time for dressage was 11:20 AM and the day had heated up quite a lot by the time I was on the horse. There is nothing quite like riding a steaming horse, on a steaming hot day, in a high collar, stock tie and black wool dressage coat. After about twenty minutes or so of warm-up, I thought that I was going to expire on the spot. Anyway, otherwise warm-up was relatively uneventful. I felt that Ruby was nicely focused on the work, not too distracted by the goings on. I did have a bit of a struggle getting a good forward pace out of her though. Who could blame her with it being in the mid-90s and all? The warm-up areas were not at all crowded and were actually very pleasant, which one doesn’t always find at these events. Overall, I have to say that my dressage warm-up was not a bad experience at all.

My dressage test, however? Well, that is another story. Let me just say that I was incredibly tense from the get-go. My tension translated down to Ruby and we really ended up fighting each other for most of the test. I look back on our Groton House test with such fondness, because in that one there was such nice rhythmic harmony. This test just did not flow, Ruby and I kind of muscled each other around the ring and basically just got through it. Some of the comments include, “fussy in the bridle”, “needs longer steps”, “swinging head”, “fussy, tossing head”, “could be more accepting”. I am a tiny bit proud about the comment for our left lead canter however, “fairly round” is a big compliment (and represents a HUGE improvement) for us. Even the right lead canter didn’t have any real terrible comment, “above the bit” is actually not too bad considering where we came from. But overall, the test was not very good. I still feel that it’s an improvement over last year, but not truly representative of the work we are currently doing. Still, a dressage test is only, and can only be, a snapshot of a moment of time and in this moment, Ruby and I were not working together, but against each other and it really is all my fault. Her warm-up was nice, but then I lost it in the test by being a tense wreck.

My time for stadium jumping was not until 1:46 pm, so this gave me plenty of time to walk the cross-country course a couple of times. Nothing on the course alarmed me. Actually, I can’t remember the last time I saw anything on a BN course that made me goggle, but one thing I did note was that there was A LOT of terrain involved with this course. It looked to be a constant roller coaster of up and down hills and I wondered how that would affect my ride. The stadium course also had a terrain element. It was in a field and there was one hill in particular that you had ride up and down a number of times during the course that I knew was going to be a factor in my ride.

It was such a hot day. I really dreaded putting that (black wool) dressage coat and stock tie back on. DREADED IT. I watched others warming up for stadium and noted that there seemed to be half-and-half people in show coats vs those in white collared tech shirts. I stood there for about ten minutes waffling but then decided that I was going to go the tech shirt route. I mean, it was about 95 with the sun just beating down. I could not face that coat again.

Decision made, I got Ruby and myself ready and over to the warm-up. Again I was pleased with the warm-up situation. Stadium was crazier than the dressage warm-up had been, but there was adequate room for the most part. I was not as overwhelmed as I can get in these situations. Our warm-up canter and jumps went pretty well and very soon I was waiting for my turn at the In Gate. I generally get pretty nervous for stadium, but I felt relatively okay, considering, and all too soon I was on course. Alison has been trying to beat into my head the forward + balance concept. Most times I seem to be able to carry it off, but I’m not completely consistent yet. We started off nicely over fence #1 and then it was a turn down the significant down hill on the course. You had to do some good balancing at the bottom as you turned the corner and then head up a hill to #2. Watching other stadium rounds, I had noticed that this had been a problem fence for a lot of people, lots of rails were brought down. You had to get your horse back enough after that down hill, you needed to do some good balancing work in the corner and then needed some good forward to power up the hill to that fence. And being #2 on the course, it was easy to not yet have that good, rollicking momentum and rhythm going that was needed to ride that jump correctly. I had this in mind as I rode and I can say that it rode very well for us. Most of the course went that way. I can say that some of the bending lines I took were maybe a bit questionable, there were maybe two jumps that were a little stickier that I would have liked (I did not have the right amount of forward to those), but overall I would say that our course was pretty steady, consistent and good. I think we rode the terrain well and for the most part had the exact right pace. We got the desired two strides at the in-and-out at the end and were through the finish flags and were double clear! As always after a course like this, I felt this rush of pride for Ruby. She is such a star!

Unfortunately, coming out of the stadium ring, it was quickly apparent that Ruby was suddenly lame. I jumped off and we saw that she had somewhere and somehow thrown a front shoe. Luckily there was a farrier on the grounds and he was able to fix her up and, after walking it off and resting a bit, she was completely fine and sound again. But that was a pretty scary moment.

Unlike many of the other events that I have done, this was arranged with three distinct ride times, so there was no going directly to cross-country after my stadium round. In this case it obviously worked to my advantage as otherwise I would have had to scratch with Ruby’s shoe issue. Luckily for us, our XC was not scheduled until 4:46 PM which gave a good amount of time for Ruby to recover. Normally I would hate all that waiting around (and it had it’s element of stress), but this time that wait was pretty welcome as it gave Ruby the recovery time needed from the bobble.

One thing I dislike about not being able to go straight to XC from stadium is the necessity to go through another warm-up situation. But the XC warm-up at Valinor was pretty laid-back and relatively stress-free, well, except for horses galloping up the hill to the XC finish behind the warm-up ring which sent Ruby into a bit of a spin. But by then I think she was just getting a bit hyped up for her turn. Very soon it was our turn to head to the start box.

After the start it was a short gallop across a field to (what I considered) a pretty max size (for the level) stone wall with a tree trunk/log on top. We got a really nice pace established and it rode beautifully. From there, it was a turn back the other way and then up a very steep hill to a black log at the top. Then a blue bench and then it was a turn into the woods. Then it was a nice gallop through the woods until the path took a turn down a hill. The last downhill bit I trotted as I felt it was a bit steep and the footing had been chewed up a bit at this point. It was a turn around some trees, reestablishing a canter and head for the #4 jump, a moss-covered cordwood pile. Ruby was a little squirrelly here as it was sort of a spooky spot. But I firmly put my leg on, and she was over it without any real hesitation.


After the cordwood, you followed the trail back up a hill. It was a good gallop up a hill and into a new field. Once you entered this field, it was a turn up an even steeper hill to a jump made of tires at the very top. I remember thinking that jump looked big when walking the course, but a lot of that was because you are mostly looking at it from the bottom of this very steep hill. Riding it, you really had to push the momentum up this hill. We rode it well enough, but it was definitely a sitting back on the hocks kind of jump. From here it was a rolling down hill, around a turn and back up a hill to a log that was set into the hill that jumped almost like an up bank (although, it was not technically a bank). Farther up the hill was a log pile and then it was a turn across the field and to the water complex. Alison had advised I trot this as the last time she had galloped Ruby through water, she had been so into it, she had launched herself into the complex. So, I managed to get her down and then it was a strong, bouncy trot through the long water feature. Picked up a gallop on the other side, it was down a hill, up another hill and then to a pyramid of rail ties at the top of that hill.



Down a hill directly after the rail ties, across a field and back UP a hill (see what I mean about the terrain element?) to a hanging log combination at the top of the hill. Jump in, four comfortable strides and then jump out. A turn to the left, down a hill and to a tiny ditch. Now the thing with the ditch ... when we were walking the course, the jump itself was not worrisome, but the question was whether the horses would even SEE it, and especially at this point in the course where presumably you’re rolling along pretty strongly, particularly after flying down that hill. Yeah. So, Ruby and I are flying down the hill and I’m reeling her in and bring her back, getting her off her forehand and paying attention to me and what was coming. When walking the course I had thought that maybe we would come back to a trot there to pop over the ditch, but once we were on course our pace was so nice and she was so in the zone that I just didn’t want to do it. I needn’t have worried, however, as she listened to me nicely, saw the ditch and just flew over it.

Red House:

A gallop across the field, up another good hill and then over a red house jump at the top of it. Another jump that had looked relatively large when walking the course since it was sitting at the top of the hill. A turn across the rest of the field, and then exiting the field down another wooded path. Now, I have to admit, in other cross-country runs, this would be exactly the type of spot that I would use to trot a bit to catch my breath, to reel myself in, to get a handle on my adrenalin and the rushing “OMG OMG” emotions. It was tempting, but this time I kept the pace. Ruby was ON, we were so in sync, our pace just felt wonderful and we were both having such a blast. So we kept going, I suppressed my usual need to get a grip on myself. Through the woods, down another hill (kept the pace this time) and over a narrow coop out of the tree line. A turn to the left, down a wooded road, a little detour up into a wooded patch to a jump that looked kind of like wood sled with a pile of rocks. Back out of the woods, a turn across the road, yet another steep hill, sharp turn and over the last jump, whiskey barrels, and a gallop through the finish flags. Of course I forgot to stop my XC watch, but I had checked it at the second to last jump and we had had 1:05 left there, so I knew that we were good on time -- turns out we were something like 43 seconds under the optimum time, which is a serious accomplishment for me!

We both finished the course on a high. Ruby just strutted and pranced and wanted to know if there was more (probably disappointed that there wasn’t). I hadn’t done a cross-country course in a long time, so I was pretty much on cloud 9. I was very proud of Ruby (as always), but I was also proud of my willingness to keep the good pace going throughout the entire course and finishing with that good time cushion. It turns out that this paid off for me as I managed to break a tie for 8th place with my time, earning myself the ribbon.

Overall it was a fabulous day and I ended the experience on a real high and completely thrilled with my horse. I have been reliving that awesome XC run in my head ever since! Things that I learned:

* Find a way to relax for Dressage. Your horse is learning her job and is quite capable of a respectable test. Trust her.
* Don’t let stadium freak you out. Establish a good pace and know that this will bring the jumps to you.
* Think about the quality of the canter, balance in between the jumps and especially in the corners.
* Be more careful about the lines you plot (stadium).
* On cross-country, don’t be afraid to gallop, gallop, gallop!
* Remember that Ruby loves this and is more than game & willing for the job.
* Relax and enjoy yourself.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

An Improvement in Flat Work

I have to say that I am very pleased with how Ruby's flat work has been coming along this Summer. If I remember correctly, last Summer it was a bit of a struggle to get her consistently round and reaching for the contact and working through her back. I remember a good amount of inverted flat work. I would get some nice roundness for a few strides and then lose it again. And so we we would go back & forth with this. Last year I would see those nice round moments and be encouraged that the potential was there, it didn't seem completely impossible that we might get some nice consistency on the flat some day. And so I feel that day has more or less come.

Today I decided to do some schooling, since we have a show next weekend. We had the ring all to ourselves which was nice for me, I didn't have to feel self-conscious about my riding (I know, I have issues). We did about twenty minutes of good, solid trot work where she tried quite hard with pretty nice results. Once we moved on to the canter I was again thrilled with how lovely her left lead canter has gotten. Supple and round and really working from behind, it is a complete pleasure to ride. Her right lead canter still needs work, so we still struggle there. But it has definitely improved, we now seem to be able to string together a number of good strides before we lose the roundness. This week Alison (my trainer) pointed out that it might help to ride her right lead lighter in the tack, even in 2-point, so I tried that today. It's a bit hard in dressage length stirrups, but I just concentrated not so much on a real 2-point as I did on trying to stay a bit off her back in this direction and I have to say that I definitely felt that it helped. I got some nice roundness for longer than I usually do. What I probably should have done is finished with a circle sitting in the tack after warming up this way to see if that also showed improvement, but I wanted to end on a good note. Instead, after about 30-40 minutes of the ring work I ended by cantering a few additional circles in the field (my stirrups jacked up to jumping length) to shake out a bit of that routine ring dullness. All-in-all I ended our work today very, very pleased with my girl.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On Running

I’ve known for a while that just riding alone is not quite enough of an activity level to make me as fit as I need to be. And I’m not even talking about weight loss here, at this point, thoughts of weight loss are a pie-in-the-sky fantasy for me and if I seriously sit down and think about it as more than a passing idea, I get very, very depressed and start to feel very hopeless, complete with all those wonderful feelings of self-loathing and worthlessness and whatever. Believe me, I have a lifetime of experience with this and would rather not go there, if I can avoid it. So, I’m really right now just thinking about better overall fitness, what I can do to improve my ability to ride and for better stress relief in general. I’ve always felt that running is a high return activity in this regard. A lot of bang for your buck, if you will. You can go out there, throw out a few miles in under an hour for a maximum physical result. Riding probably would be adequate if I could somehow manage to ride five horses a day, six days a week and do a lot of barn chores. But riding only one horse requires that I do something else outside of the horse stuff. Although, I DO feel that I am more riding fit at this point in the season. I’ve noticed that I can do a 10-12 fence jump course and feel just as good and fresh at fence #12 as I did at #1. This was not the case over the Winter. Still, I need work.

The problem has mostly been time. When you work 9-12 hours a day, and when plans to ride require about three hours round-trip, where does one sneak in the time to also add a run or something else? Lately what I’ve been doing is squeaking in a lunch-time run. It requires some planning and some willingness to be flexible and to change plans at the last minute, but so far I’ve managed to eek out a little bit of a run schedule. Luckily at work we have lovely, lovely trails just outside the door. I change in the locker room and have been rediscovering them all over again over the past couple of weeks. Of course running during working hours does have its challenges, like yesterday while standing out on the trail during my run and responding by BlackBerry to a volley of emails that had come in about a customer issue. But that keeps things exciting anyway, and this is the reason why we have modern technology! Of course, my colleague may not have appreciated my showing up at his desk immediately post run dripping with sweat to discuss said issue, but what can you do? (They don’t even notice when I cut off all of my hair, nor when I walk through the office in riding breeches and chaps, so it’s unlikely a bit of sweat registered either anyway).

Let me just say, though, that running is HARD. So, so, freaking hard. I’ve never been a natural runner, I know I whine about this from time-to-time, but it’s true. I am just not one of those people who can go out and bang out a couple of miles at the drop of a hat. It takes a long time to get myself to where I can even run a mile relatively comfortably, even with a walk break or two. So I’m trying not to be too disgusted with myself. Right now I’m just trying to get out there and cover some ground. I run, I walk. I walk, I run. I try to run some past the point where I desperately want to slow to a walk. I pick out landmarks, but once I reach them, I try to run a bit farther (even if it’s only the tiniest bit). I particularly like running on the single track trails. For some reason I find myself running for the longest stretches on those. I think it’s partially because it’s a bit of a mental game, picking through the footing so I don’t fall, plotting my path, etc. As much as possible, I try to run where the terrain allows it and to walk when the tricky footing forces me to be more careful. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that is my goal on most of my trail runs these days.

The other night I even did a run on the treadmill. I have to say, compared to riding and running on trails, running on a treadmill is some kind of mental (as well as physical) torture. I managed to squeak out two miles of intervals. It went something like this:

• 2 minute walk warm-up (16 minute mile).
• 2 minute running interval (12 minute mile).
• Continue walk/run intervals until I hit 1 mile (intervals consisted of 1 minute walk @ 16 minute mile alternated with 1 minute run @ 12 minute mile).
• After the 1 mile mark, I alternated 30 seconds run @ 10 minute mile with 1 minute walk @ 16 minute mile.
• At the 1.5 mile mark I just walked for the last .5 mile (16 minute mile).

I know that all sounds like a completely sad effort, but that is where I am in running ability at the moment. I can barely run a 12 minute mile for one minute. And I can only keep the intervals up for a short time. Still, I ended the session feeling like I had had a really good workout, so I think that my body definitely got something out of it, and I was sore the next day.

I think that if I can get myself outside to run/walk in some fashion three times a week and then do a TM interval session like the above one time a week, that I could see some decent improvement in my fitness. Since I am not really training for any kind of running event and because I don’t want to make myself crazy, I’m trying not to concentrate on distance or speed in any way right now (although, I think speed & distance is something I have to target for an interval work out). I’m mostly focusing on how long I want each running session to be (40 minutes, 1 hour, whatever).

Now if I could also just carve out a little time to include some yoga or pilates during the week …

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Riding Out

This Summer I have been enjoying riding outside of the ring and off of the barn property. Last year I didn’t do nearly enough of this, Ruby & I were just getting to know each other, I was still getting my riding legs (and seat) back and I just did not take nearly as much advantage as I should have.

This season I was off to a shaky start with my riding. First there was the unfortunate fall at the Pine Top HT in March, and then in April (or maybe it was early May) Ruby managed to buck me off during a ride. I think this shook my confidence more than anything, the other fall was an accident, sort of a freak thing, so I don’t think it left as lingering an effect as the bucking incident did. The bucking was the type of thing that I had been able to ride through before, so it had me a bit shaken up. I wasn’t hurt at all, but it had me worried that my horse really could dump me whenever she wanted to. I went out on a trail ride shortly after my fall with a couple of the more advanced riders at the barn and I can honestly say that I was a bit shaky. We spent most of the ride doing a very athletic trot, to canter, to galloping and that did help take a bit of an edge off of my fear once it was all said and done (although I was slightly freaked out about it during the ride). After that ride I managed to suck it up and take Ruby out on the trails on my own a good number of times and each ride (especially each ride I did alone, just Ruby & I) restored my confidence in leaps and bounds.

Once I got over the bit of nervousness that I had, I really started to enjoy these hacks out on the trails. I like to talk to Ruby the whole way, I never mind being alone (some people hate that) and I take it as my opportunity to commune with my horse, go at the pace we want that day and to take the direction that we decide in the moment. As an event horse, I think it is good for Ruby’s brain to go out alone sometimes. I think it’s good for her brain to hack out in general (it’s too easy to become ring sour or dull from 100% ring work), but it’s also good for her to feel confident getting out there without another horse along for company. I think the hacking out in general also helps to install a good “forward” feeling in the horse as well, no kicking along required outside the ring! And it’s good for my own bravery and confidence. Once I got over my initial post-fall shakiness, I really relaxed and felt completely comfortable to trot, canter and gallop with Ruby on the trails on my own.

And then the deer flies set in. This pretty much ended our trail riding excursions for most of the month of July. They are too numerous and too miserable for the horse during these weeks, I just couldn’t subject her to that. Luckily there is a big field over on the next road that we are welcome to ride in when we want and so I started going over there once or twice each week. The field is a different experience than the trails. The huge, open area definitely makes for a more firey, “up” horse. Last year the one time I took Ruby to this field, she was a bit crazier than I’m comfortable with. This year she has been more settled. I’m not sure if it’s because I introduced the field riding during a real hot spell, or because I’ve been riding her a lot in general (maybe a combination of factors) but she has been, while still prance-y and excited with a spook here & there, much easier to deal with overall. When we’ve gone, I usually do a good solid trot for three circuits of the field and then will walk a lap and then will introduce a canter and do a couple of laps of that (usually with a walk lap in between). If I’m feeling particularly adventurous we will then gallop up one long side or another. And then I will change directions and do the same in the other direction. If I really got my act together and put a plan together, I would map out some kind of regular trot & canter repeat plan, but for right now I’ve just been enjoying going out there and winging it.

The deer flies have abated somewhat, so we are now back to regular trail riding. There are a couple of people in the barn who recently have been inviting me to ride out with them on the weekends and I have been enjoying that a lot, but I still need to find a way to keep a hack alone once or twice a week in the rotation. Ideally we would have about three hacks during the week. One to the field, and two trails (or one trail and two field rides, maybe alternating the ratio week to week), with one or two of those hacks being out on our own. It very rarely works out this way, work or weather or laziness or something usually eliminates at least one of the rides, but that is what I’m striving for anyway. This is the plan in general:

• Two lessons per week.
• One-two dressage schools (no lesson) on farm property – on a dressage lesson week, one dressage school should be enough.
• Three hacks a week: some combination of 2 trails / 1 field, 2 fields / 1 trail, one or two of the weekly hacks being in company.
• One day off a week. (In real life however, it’s really worked out to be two days off a week, sometimes three).

This is what I’m striving for anyway. I’m still trying to figure out how to work in a little jumping on dressage weeks. On the jumping weeks, since I have two lessons during the week, I think that’s enough. But I find that on the dressage weeks I’m not jumping at all. And, while I don’t really think Ruby needs it (although she LOVES it), I think that I do somewhat, if for no other reason than I need to it to keep up my nerves. Too much time between jumping and I start to get nervous about it all over again. I need to jump enough so that I am not so freaked out about it. So, I still have to figure that out. Of course, the season is going to be over in about two seconds so I may need to start working on my plan for NEXT year at this point!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Weekend o’ Riding

I knew going in that this was going to be a busy, exhausting and somewhat stressful weekend. I had a lot on the agenda with very little rest time planned. The capper of the weekend was to be the Groton House Summer Classic show on Sunday (6/20/2010), my third attempt for this season to put in a successful show effort, having failed miserably at the first two attempts, Pine Top (GA) in March and King Oak (MA) in May. Ironically, The Summer Classic is the show where Ruby acted up so dreadfully last year. I’m not exactly sure what made me decide that returning there might be a good idea, except that I think part of me wanted to make sure that venue did not get the best of me. I needed to move forward and not let the memories of the insanity of last years show settle as a permanent cloud of fear in my brain. The other things that I had planned for the weekend were: a jumping clinic with Lynn Coates-Holmes after work on Friday, cross-country schooling at Scarlet Hill Farm on Saturday morning, followed by bathing and trimming the horse. Oh yeah, and my father was also coming to stay overnight on Saturday.

Into every rider’s life, a little fall must happen.

In a way, my Weekend o’ Riding started on Thursday night with a riding lesson. It was a jumping week and so we started with a gymnastic followed by short courses of fences. I was riding one of these courses and it was going well, until we came to a jump across a diagonal. I somehow misjudged the pace and we got into a bad spot, which caused Ruby to crash through the fence, pitching me off in the process. As falls go, it wasn’t that bad, I just fell pretty hard on my butt, which hurt (and resulted in a lot of bruising and residual soreness). I got back on and, after a couple of bad fences, continued on and finished up the night with a great course of jumps in the ring, jumping out of the ring, jumping fences and whatever in the field and then jumping back into the ring and some more fences there. So, I was able to shake off the fall pretty well, sore butt and all.

The Clinic.

Friday afternoon was the Lynn Coates-Holmes clinic and the soreness from my fall the night before had really settled in. I had attended a LCH clinic in December and had gotten so much out of it that I really did not want to cancel and miss out, but my sore parts were really affecting my ability to ride effectively too. I didn’t want to start bowing out of things because I knew that would allow some amount of fear to grow in my head. So, I decided to move forward and see how it went. Well, for the most part it was good, but I was definitely both mentally and physically affected from my fall the night before. I could tell right off of the bat that I was not riding well. Over fences I felt like a sack of potatoes and did not have the consistent leg that I usually do. I felt like I was more of a passenger than a rider and it was not a very comfortable feeling for me. Both Lynn and Alison continued to insist that I was riding well, but I was riding with Ruby mostly behind my leg and riding to some pretty sticky spots here & there. Some of it was a result of being a little mentally shaken up, but I also think that there was a good part of it that was a result of my sore parts not allowing me to ride the way I normally would. I rode through the clinic however, and just bowed out of the very last jumping course, feeling that my last course had been very successful and wanting to quit while I was ahead. I think Alison was a bit disappointed because she knows that I can do it, I think she thought that I was letting my fear get the better of me (and I WAS), but I really did not feel physically capable of riding at 100% that day and thought it was better to finish on a good note.

Oh, Scarlet.

Early on Saturday morning a group of us loaded the horses up and drove to Scarlet Hill Farm in Groton, MA for cross-country schooling. I had jumped at this chance because most of the cross-country schooling opportunities happen on weekdays and so I usually miss out, I definitely wanted to take advantage of a weekend outing. I had never been to Scarlet Hill, but had heard wonderful things about it and so was happy to finally get to experience this beautiful facility. This was a perfect opportunity for a cross-country tune-up before the show on Sunday and Ruby did not disappoint. She was happy to jump everything I pointed her at, even the scary, funny house jump thing. But again, I felt unable to really ride her forward much and got into some sticky, close spots. I did not feel all that nervous (okay, maybe a little bit), but my soreness affected my ability to ride as I normally would. Still we rode over various elements, over fences, through water, over ditches, over the funny, scary house, over some whiskey barrel jump, up & down rolling hills and around the property. Through it all Ruby was a total star and I managed to come through it unscathed and feeling a little more confident for the show the next day.

Groton House Summer Classic

Sunday morning came very early for me at about 4 AM. I never actually got any sleep on Saturday night because, with my father there, the dogs were all restless and agitated all night long and so I spent most of the night trying to calm them down. Every time I would start to nod off, Tig would jump up or bark which would then also set off Fitz. It turns out that my father went to bed with the door open – sheesh! Of course the dogs could hear every tiny move you made, GAH!

Anyway, so we had the horses loaded and were on the road to the show by 5:30 or so. We got to the show grounds with just enough time to settle the horses in, pick up our packets, walk our stadium and cross-country courses and get back to the trailer in order for some of us to start getting ready for our rides. For the first time ever, I had an early ride time and I was thrilled! I usually have the latest ride times and all that waiting around makes my nerves get progressively worse. The downside with the early ride time, however, is that I did not have enough time to walk my XC a second time. Nothing on the XC course walk alarmed me, although there was some amount of criss-crossing the various fields and re-entering of woods here & there and I was concerned about remembering where and when each had to happen, I did not want to leave out a fence or get lost on course! Groton House has the most beautiful property though, walking the course made me feel thankful for the opportunity to ride there.

After the course walk I really had to hurry back to the trailer to get myself and Ruby ready for dressage. Already the day had heated up and I was pouring sweat. I did not relish the thought of wearing the stock tie and black dressage coat, believe me, but I suited myself up just the same. I was ready and on the horse relatively quickly and before I really had too much time to sit and think & stew about anything. At Alison’s suggestion, I right away asked Ruby for some roundness and bent around a couple of circles beside the trailer, before riding off, just to get her listening to me and not distracted by everything that was happening on the event grounds. We then rode on off to the dressage area to warm-up. Last year I knew pretty quickly in the warm-up that I was dealing with a naughty, completely agitated horse. Spooking, bucking, bolting, and basically freaking out from the start. This year what I had was an angel. Ruby got right to work, interested in what was going on around her, but not overly distracted or upset by any of it. She softly and willingly moved off my leg and forward and was supple and happy to bend in either direction (yes, even to the right!), happily worked correctly across her back and from back to front, becoming (and remaining) lovely and round. I found myself quickly relaxing which also helped create the smooth, soft dressage state that always seems just a bit out of my reach. It was an incredibly hot day (by then over 90 with extremely high humidity), so I did not want to over work Ruby before our test. I still wanted that forwarded, enthusiastic, but relaxed step. So we spent the remainder of our warm-up walking circles in either direction, doing a little overbending here & there, etc. but keeping things as relaxed as possible.

Soon enough it was time to enter the dressage ring. My overall impression of the ride (a few days later) is that it was … easy. Not at all tense, well, except a few tense moments during the transition to the right lead canter, and then the first few strides of that movement. There were also a few moments here and there where we weren’t straight and I probably added some tension in trying to correct it. But overall, I felt that the ride just flowed and was very pleasant. Dare I say, even, fun? Relaxed, smooth, in harmony with each other. Ruby reaching for the contact, with nice forward implusion. I ended that test very satisfied. Our right lead canter piece was a bit of a disaster. I had trouble getting the canter at first and then she broke a couple of strides in. But once we had it established, the remainder of the movement wasn’t as bad as it can be. But the rest of the test felt quite nice to me. Turns out we were in 8th place after dressage, out of a pretty big pool of competitors, I think. I was very happy with it and feel that if our right lead canter had been even just a little bit better, we would have had a somewhat competitive score. Ruby & I have achieved this score before, but I felt that this was the best test we had ever ridden. We also had some nice comments from the judge like, “nice job” and “great pair”. I was also extremely happy to have been scored with a “7” for Rider in the Collective Marks section. That almost never happens for me. So, I was quite pleased with our first phase and in a pretty good state of mind because of it.

My ride times were all stacked a bit close together and the dressage had been running a little behind, so I found that I did not really have enough time to walk my cross-country course again. Usually I liked to walk it at least twice, but oh well. I did take the map and try to visualize what each element was and where it was, so that helped a bit. About an hour after completing our dressage, I was back on the horse and headed up the hill towards the stadium ring. Last year I think the worst part of the day for us had been the stadium warm-up. This was the place where Ruby had been at her naughtiest. Basically, it ended up being one huge, unrelenting freakout. I think that we only ever ended up jumping one little cross-rail and then spent the rest of the warm-up doing figure 8s a little bit away from the jumping area (before entering the ring for our jump course). This year she was not at all fussed, even though the set-up was exactly the same. When I got to the warm-up the ring steward told me that I only had about 7 minutes (GAH!) so I right away got Ruby to work, jumping each of the three warm-up jumps in each direction. She was FINE, although, a bit sticky and behind my leg. But again, like in Lynn’s clinic and at the XC school the day before, this was the way I was riding and not typical. The hot day probably also contributed to sucking some of the natural energy out of Ruby, but I do know that I was somewhat unable to ride the nice, forward, balanced-with-leg-on pace that I usually can do. Again, I think this was both a physical (I was still incredibly sore) and a mental thing.

Anyway, it was time to enter the ring, regardless of how I was riding, and I can say that our first four fences were dreadful. Ruby was behind my leg and chipping in, I was jumping ahead (a bad habit that I had thought I had eliminated, for the most part). We had a couple of truly terrible jumps that would have stopped many other horses. Ruby bailed me out though, she saved my butt again and again. Finally, after the fourth jump I somehow managed to get our act together and we started moving forward. Probably by then Ruby was just warmed up enough, had forgotten about the hot weather and was focused on the jumping at hand, heaven knows that I had done nothing to help her up until that point. Anyway, we came into the two-stride combination quite crooked, but at least at a good, forward pace (finally) and we jumped in and out of there reasonably. From there on the second half of the course was fine, probably mostly because by then we were moving at a nice, forward pace and I somehow managed not to get too ahead, but I can not say that it was brilliant or all that balanced either. I ended the round so proud of Ruby for being the incredible mare that she is and feeling not at all deserving of the clear round that we had. The ring steward at the Out gate said to me, “good job”. But I feel that this one was all Ruby, I had very little to do with it.

The Groton House Summer Classic is one of those wonderful, wonderful events where you are expected to go to your cross-country directly from your stadium round. This cross-country start was pretty laid back, a couple of riders ahead of me, we all just circled around the area waiting for our turn. The day (as I mentioned before) was unbelievably hot, so none of us really did anything but walking here, but there was plenty of room had one wanted to trot or canter around some. Anyway, it was maybe about a ten minute to so wait for me before I could start and I was pretty amazed to find that I really wasn’t nervous. In fact, I found that for most of the day my nerves never really came much into play. I am thinking that having the early ride times was a major factor in this. I was probably also so dead tired from not having slept the night before that I just couldn’t get too amped up (that and the heat). I am sure the biggest factor was that my horse was absolutely perfectly behaved. No spooking, no crow-hopping or bucking, she was completely focused on me and on the job the entire day.

Soon enough it was our time over the start. The course began with a short run across a field and then a log oxer-type jump in the tree line into the next field. Jump #1 was apparently a very sticky one for many people that day and we were no different. A lot of the horses didn’t like jumping away with no real intro fence first (last year they had a simple log jump partway up the first field to get you rolling and then the tree-line fence was #2). In any case, this jump proved to be quite sticky for Ruby and me too. Again, I had the problem of not being able to get Ruby in front of my leg. I basically did everything wrong, no pace, jumped ahead, etc. It was an ugly, ugly jump. She jumped it very awkwardly, almost up & down like a deer, throwing me out of the tack somewhat. I almost fell off on the other side of the jump! Somehow I managed to stay on, slowed for a trot until I could get my stirrups back and then continued across the field. The next jump, a bunch of straw bales set up as a kind of rampy thing, was another very sticky, chipped in jump. I think at this point I said out loud to Ruby, “come ON Ruby, we can do this.” After that we managed to get rolling. #3 was a red house jump and then it was a sharp corner to the left and over a good-size red coop (#4). I had started to relax and felt more myself with those two jumps and we then had a nice bit of a gallop along the grassy path beside the woods after the coop. Then it was a turn into the woods and down a hill that was a bit rocky and steep. We trotted down this because the footing wasn’t fantastic and I knew that we had a funny turn at the bottom with a jump right after that awkward turn.

So, you basically came down the hill on this rocky trail and then you had to make a turn into the trees on this kind of rutted goat trail around a couple of trees and then approach the next jump (#5, a gate made out of logs), which by then was maybe only 3 or 4 strides away. Because of the footing and then how we had to turn for the approach so close the jump, I didn’t feel that there was enough time to fiddle around and try to get a good, forward canter, so I just let Ruby take it from a nice, strong trot. I think it was the right decision for us, she jumped it nicely, I didn’t get in her way trying to change the gait and pace, etc. With this jump, you basically were jumping out of the trees and into the next field. From here it was a short gallop to #6, a solid roll top. By now the heat of the day was getting to me a bit and I was feeling a little lightheaded. Having not really eaten since about 4 AM (yogurt) probably didn’t help much either, so I know I did some bits of trotting here and there. The next jump was all the way across the field and was a solid double, criss-crossing log (#7). And then it was a turn up the hill to a pile of cordwood (#8). I remember the hill after the cordwood jump, last year Ruby bucked her way up it -- ha ha! This year she was very well-behaved. We went up the hill a bit then then it was back across the field to a jump back into the woods (#9 -- I can’t remember what the jump was, I’m thinking that it was maybe a coop, but I’m not sure!). We were then on this nice trail through the woods and up a hill. By now we were rolling nicely and I could really feel how much Ruby was loving it, she was excited and focused with her ears pricked and looking for the next thing and I let her go! We topped the hill out of the woods into a field to a combination of two log jumps. I think maybe 5 or 6 strides between them? Anyway, it was no problem for us and we had a nice forward pace & balance to make each jump easy and comfortable (this was jump #10 & #11).

From there it was through an open gate and then down a steep hill to the water complex. I can’t say that I liked that hill much so I keep it slow and then let Ruby move forward again once we got to the water (#12). Through the narrow exit of the water and then up the hill on the other side. Ruby wanted to know “what’s next?!” as she galloped up the hill. It was turn through another open gate, new field to another house jump (#13) all the way across the field to another stack of straw bales, but with some pine brush on top (#14) and finally, a turn back across the field to one last jump in the tree-line, a a stone wall with a log on top (#15). A gallop through the finish and we were clear! The first two jumps of the course were ugly, ugly, ugly, but once we got rolling and I relaxed a bit, it all seemed to come together nicely, so I feel like I redeemed myself some in the end. Ruby was completely in her element on that cross-country course, it was almost like she was saying, “now, THAT is what I’m talking about!” The cross-country phase is what makes it all worth it to me, the sleepless night, the early, early morning. Enduring dressage coats and stock ties and nerves and scary warm-up situations. When you are on that course, just you and your horse, there is just nothing at all like it. And on a horse like Ruby who has that wonderful cross-country mind ... well, it’s just awesome. You’re in it and loving it together.

So, we ended with a good day, overall. The dressage I consider almost miraculous. The stadium was terrible (all me), but did improve later in the course. It just pisses me off because I know that I can do so much better! That stadium course also showed me just how much heart Ruby has. She would have been completely justified in stopping at a couple of those jumps, but she gutted it out and went way above & beyond the call of duty. The cross-country, after an awkward start, was wonderful. We were in sync and happy and I feel that I rode most of it well. It was a great experience for both of us. Even the warm-ups were great. After it was all said and done, I was happy to discover that I had actually earned a ribbon too -- 6th place.
Postscript: The Tale of the Evil Mounting Block.

The day was not without some casualty however. Because of my incredibly sore rear area, I was having some trouble moving and bending. I could not lean over the save my life, had to crouch down to pick anything up. And mounting was a serious problem. I couldn’t bend my leg to get it in the stirrup and mount the way one normally would do. I had to stick my leg out straight, which meant sort of cantilevering my butt out at an angle in order to get in the right position. Well. When I was preparing to get on for my stadium round, I was awkwardly trying to position myself in this way and somehow I managed to upset the balance of the mounting block! The thing tipped over and threw me to the ground, hard on my sore butt. I was embarrassed more than hurt -- two people riding past as this happened were doubled over hysterically laughing.

But apparently the mounting block was not finished with me. Later in the day, when I was all finished riding, I had changed into shorts and was packing some of my stuff up into the trailer to get it out of the way. Well, I stepped out of the dressing/tack room and onto the mounting block, but I guess I wasn’t paying enough attention as I somehow stepped onto it on the edge of it, again completely upsetting the balance of the thing. Only this time I was flung into the air and ended up crashing down on the mounting block, hard (front first). I did some serious damage to myself, I look and feel like someone beat me with a baseball bat. Huge purple bruise that covers my entire left thigh. A less dark, but more painful bruise that goes from knee all the way down my calf. A black-purple contusion on my stomach. But worst of all, I’ve done some damage to my ribs, my upper right ribcage is so painful that I can’t roll over, or sit up easily, or breath deeply, or cough, or sneeze, or even really touch the area without significant pain. I haven’t tried to ride yet, but have trouble imagining how I’m going to be able to. The damn mounting block seriously had it in for me that day. SHEESH. If I wasn’t so banged up, I’d find it funny. At least it did take my mind off of all my sore hind parts. That mounting block did far more damage than falling off the horse did, by a long shot.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Aiken Adult Eventing Camp: 2010

(Ruby, during our dressage test on 3.27.2010)

On March 20th I flew down to Aiken, SC where Ruby has been in training all Winter, to attend my trainer’s Adult Eventing Camp. It’s been a long few months without her and, while Ruby has been doing well and competing around the Aiken area, I had hardly been riding at all while she’s been gone. So, I was pretty nervous upon my arrival in Aiken. I knew that I was not in the best shape for this, and also, having not having ridden much while Ruby was gone, I felt that I might have lost some of the scant ability that I do have. I knew that it was possible that the week might be a bit grueling, not to mention embarrassing for me.

I arrived to beautiful, warm weather. And it was so nice to see Ruby again! I’ve really, really missed her. I could tell that she has been enjoying all the turnout and extra work that she’s been getting. Most of the horses down there have not seen much stall time, they have gotten to just be horses out in their big turnout areas. I would love to send Ruby down to SC every year for that reason alone (not sure if I want to be parted this long again though). No riding on this day though, we spent the time to get settled in and going out to dinner (Aiken Brewery, YAY!).

On Sunday Alison was hosting a schooling 2-Phase (dressage and stadium jumping) at her farm. She needed extra help so I volunteered to be both jump judge and jump crew which ended up being quite a workout as it had me running back & forth across the big jumping field (in the rain) for most of the day. It was interesting and educational and fun to watch all the riders though. I felt like I got a lot out of it and was glad to be able to have had the experience. A little later in the afternoon I finally took a ride on Ruby. I was pretty nervous, to be honest, but it was really like old times, a few spooks in a corner of the dressage ring and some high-spiritedness out in the field. She also hadn’t been ridden in a few days as recommended by the vet after a strenuous chiro appointment earlier in the week, so she was really raring to go. I rode her for a good hour to work the kinks out.

On Monday we started off the day with a barn lecture on horse first aid and then we had lessons on the longe in the round pen (which meant no reins & stirrups) and dressage lessons. After lunch we trailered over to the galloping track to do pace work. Knowing how strong and worked up Ruby had been in the field the day before, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from her at the track. The track can be a little bit overwhelming at first, especially after a season of riding around an indoor ring, but I felt pretty comfortable after the first time around. There was one stretch around the track where Ruby wanted to spook each time, but other than that, she was happy to just gallop away. The last time around Alison asked us to pace ourselves to 450 meters per minute. I had been holding Ruby back considerably on our other trips around the track, this time we started out easy, but once we rounded the turn I said to her, "you want to go? let's go then" and let her open up. It was pretty thrilling and I think we hit the marker maybe only a few seconds fast. Of course our trip around probably wasn't the even, consistent effort that Alison had had in mind, but it sure was fun!

On Tuesday morning we worked more on our dressage, this time actually performing the dressage tests for Alison in a kind of "Ride-Critique-Ride" type of thing. I did both BN Test A and Test B as I was to perform both at the 2-Phase competition the next day. Test A was for the competition and Test B to be practice for our competition at Pine Top on the weekend. After our dressage work we took a trail ride with Lindsay (a friend of Alison's) who is an endurance trail rider. After lunch it was finally time to jump, what I had been worried about. After warming up some we went to the top of the field and practiced a bit over the three jumps that had been set up as warm-up for the 2-Phase that had been held there on Sunday. After doing a few of those, I found that my heart was pounding with adrenalin like crazy! After we had warmed up there sufficiently, Alison brought us back down to the main part of the field and we first did the same jump course that she had had set up for the Sunday competition. It was great to actually jump it after watching and judging everyone else on Sunday. And I don't know what I had been worried about, because Ruby was wonderful. Willing and happy and adjustable and completely in her element.

On Wednesday morning we trailered over to Sporting Days Farm for their schooling 2-Phase. I remember this same competition last year, I was so incredibly nervous that my stomach was physically upset for most of the day! This time I didn't get too terribly nervous. I was a bit edgy, but not really too bad, I thought. Our dressage (both tests) were rather unfortunate, but we completely redeemed ourselves with a wonderful, wonderful jumping round (after a nice big spook while heading to the starting line). After all was said and done we got a 6th place ribbon. Too bad about the crummy dressage. In the afternoon we headed to Hitchcock Woods to first have a picnic lunch and then we had a nice long trail ride through the park.

On Thursday we returned to Sporting Days Farm for cross-country schooling. We were very lucky to have the entire place to ourselves so, after schooling many of the jumps throughout the farm in combinations of twos and threes, Alison put together an entire course for us, using the whole facility. For me this was the highlight of the week, Ruby was completely brilliant and I managed to work through breathlessness and adrenalin and plucked up some courage to boldly ride everything the way it was meant to be ridden. I think the most thrilling part was coming through the section where you jump the "shark" it's a stride or two and then through the water and then up the hill to the bank, up to the top of the field and around the big coop and table jumps at the top and back down the hill jumping some big rolltops along the way. I finished all of that completely thrilled and with a big grin on my face. Alison let us know later that a few of the jumps and combinations had actually been N level. It was nice to find out at the end so it was something I didn't worry or obsess about before riding. Anyway, I felt like it was one of the best cross-country courses that Ruby and I have done together, so I finished the day feeling great.

Because we all had such a great time and such positive experiences cross-country schooling on Thursday, we decided to do it again on Friday, this time at Full Gallop Farm. By now I was beginning to feel the strain of the week and did not feel quite as sharp as I had the day before. Still, Alison had us ride a good number of big combinations in numerous fields at Full Gallop which included some huge (to me!) jumps, banks, water and other stuff. Ruby was once again a total star and I actually came through pretty well in the end. It was great to get my fill of cross-country since I don't get to do it much otherwise. This is exactly what I wanted out of my week in Aiken!

On Saturday we travelled to Georgia to compete in the Pine Top Horse Trials. Because there were only three of us competing and we all had late ride times, we had a nice leisurely start to the day, arriving at the show around noon or so. Quite a change to the marathon show days I experienced over the Summer! I was surprisingly not all that nervous, even through our dressage warm-up and test. The test itself I felt was much better than the tests we had performed on Wednesday. I felt that Ruby was more consistently round and on the bit, forward and responsive to aids, even her canter to the right was not the total horror show it had been on Wednesday (although not fantastic). Still, our score was a poor one. Since that ride however, I've been able to look beyond the score and focus on the positive parts we had in the test. With Ruby and dressage I always come away feeling that there were some great parts and some terrible parts, so the great pieces give me hope for our future someday. I know that dressage will never be our strongest phase, but I do have faith that it will get better with time.

As is typical for me at these events, I was incredibly nervous for the stadium jumping phase. I'm not sure what about stadium freaks me out so much, but my nerves seem to reach the apex for this warm-up. Ruby either felt the same way, or fed off of my nerves because she decided to throw some freakazoid behavior at me in the warm-up field. She did a bit of her buck/jump/small bolt routine (which was thankfully only a shade of the craziness I experienced at Groton House last year), but it was enough to make me a good bit of a wreck. It was right around this time that a big freight train (complete with loud whistle) decided to pass through the edge of the property and our warm-up was pretty much done! Luckily I was able to go into the ring shortly after that. Once we got started, however, our stadium round was pretty good. We were double clear (no time faults), but I didn't feel that the round was quite as smooth or consistent as we are capable of. Still, we got through it and I was relieved! Once out of the ring, I dismounted right away as Ruby was being a snorty beast and I was a bit mentally fried. But for all my worry, we actually ended up with a pretty good day.

On Sunday we had another leisurely start to the day (again we all had late ride times) and arrived with ample time to walk the cross-country course. Because some severe thunderstorms were due to come through, they were trying to hustle everyone through and the ride times had all been moved up. So, once we had walked our cross-country course and bolted down lunch, we pretty much just started getting ready. Of course, the moment I got on the horse, the hard rain started! Although, I can't complain really, because we had been blessed with perfect weather all week long. It was rather odd weather, we would have these bursts of torrential rain and then the sun would come out. Then it would rain again, all in relatively short periods of time.

I don't know if it was the weather, or the set-up or what, but I found the warm-up a little wild. I was not feeling very brave there (as is usually the case in a jumping warm-up area for me) and just wanted to get to the start box and ride my ride. I did a little bit of warm-up and very soon the steward said that I could make my way up to the start. Once through the count-down and off, I felt much better, even though Ruby was quite squirrely. The first section required that you ride adjacent to and then away from the warm-up field and most of the horses really hated this. Ruby was no exception. She came down to the first fence at a good pace, but obviously thinking about the field of horses behind her, so I was very firm with my leg and balanced her and I felt like we ended up with a nice fence. Second fence, more or less the same, still a little distracted by the field of horses we were leaving, but less so, I concentrated on balancing her and being firm with my leg and we ended up with a nice and steady fence. Third jump was a jump up a decent bank into the next field, Ruby was getting down to business and starting to focus on the task at hand. But something happened, we took a bad spot, or maybe I didn't have her balanced enough, but Ruby stumbled up the bank, scrambled, but just could not get her feet under her in time. As we started to go down, I knew there was nothing I could do as we were going down together. One of my biggest first thoughts was, "crap. I'm going to be eliminated". Very soon after that it was, "crap. I'm under the horse!" Ruby kind of skidded and then pushed off from me. I lay there for a moment feeling hurt, but not really injured, rolled over on my side, propping myself up on one elbow and watched Ruby first cantering and then (once she realized she was free) galloping up the field. Apparently she had a lovely mad gallop past the warm-up field and down the dirt access road (picking up a friend along the way who managed to get loose and join her) before someone was able to shoo and corral her into a paddock.

Relatively quickly the jump judge, or someone (not sure who he was), drove up to me in the field to see if I was okay. I made the mistake of mentioning that the horse had fallen on me and they immediately announced for an ambulance. I think at this point Ruby was pretty much running past Alison sans rider and so she took off at a run for the field where I was sitting. Surprisingly though, when all was said and done, I was pretty much okay. It could have been a lot worse. I am more upset about Ruby and feel like I failed her somehow. I failed to keep her safe. I also feel disappointed and somewhat embarrassed, but mostly I'm upset for Ruby. She is so honest and bold and willing and basically just MADE for cross-country, I am seriously worried that I've now tarnished that good attitude of hers. Alison said later that she will be fine. That she IS fine. A good horse usually remains a good horse and that it would take a whole lot more than an accident such as this to change that good brain of hers. So, I've been reliving that jump in my head ever since. Thinking it through, trying to figure out what I did wrong. I honestly don't think we were too fast. I actually remember thinking that our pace was nice and steady and conservative over the first two jumps The third was not so far enough away from those to have been able to get up much of a head of steam. Maybe I didn't have her balanced enough. I think I remember that she perhaps did a little bit of a stutter step before the jump, like she almost changed her mind about her spot, but I'm not entirely sure. In any case, she tripped, and just didn't find her feet quickly enough. I'm sure I'll be thinking about this for quite a while to come.

So the week was fantastic and I felt that it was really a shame to end on such a negative note! Part of me wonders if I was just pushing my luck by adding this competition onto the end of the week. Perhaps I should have been happy with the week and left well enough alone. Oh well, hindsight is 20/20 and all that. Immediately after the fall I was thinking that no way will I do an event like this at the end of a camp week again. But now part of me would also like to redeem myself at Pine Top, so I don't know. In any case, I have a year to think about it.