Sunday, January 10, 2010

My Riding Year in Review

Riding Camp:
In March, 2009 I travelled to Aiken, SC to the adult training camp that my trainer hosts every year.That trip proved to be a kind of bootcamp back into my riding life. We had intensive riding lessons in Dressage, Stadium Jumping and Cross-Country. We trailered to some of the big cross-country courses in the area for schooling. We did pacing work on the galloping track and also competed in a two-phase (Dressage and Stadium Jumping). During the course of the week I caught the “bug” and looked at a couple of horses to buy.

Buying a Horse:
While in Aiken, I found a nice horse who unfortunately failed the pre-purchase vet exam. During the tryout ride, however, my trainer Alison had had me riding over various of the jumps on the Full Gallop Farm cross-country course which started to give me a hint that maybe I was going to be able to do this riding and competing thing. Granted, they were all Beginner Novice obstacles, but they were a step up from what I had been doing up until that point.

Once back in New Hampshire, I started my horse search online. Communicating with both Ann (Alison’s assistant trainer) and Alison (who was still down in SC). What appeared at first glance to be many horses available in my price range, narrowed down very quickly with Alison and Ann’s experience and knowledge. Either the horse in question was merely an eventing prospect (meaning that they had never done anything before, and thus you really had no idea whether it was going to be suited for the job) or, worse, the horse had a record of not even being able to get around a BN XC course without being eliminated, or Alison or Ann knew the horse and knew that it was a complete pill, had a habit of dumping his rider or some other unsatisfactory or scary habit.

There was one horse that belonged to a former student of Alison’s. I was going to take him on trial, but the owner changed her mind at the last moment -- decided that they were going to be able to get more money for him (apparently that sale fell through). But then Alison, in her last week in Aiken, found a horse that seemed perfect. “BeBe”, an Irish Sport Horse pinto, was only 5, had done some fox hunting previously and then had competed successfully at BN level around Aiken that season. Best of all, she was exactly in my price range. Alison tried her out and then took her for a couple of days trial back at her farm. For a green horse, she was very willing and steady. She seemed especially naturally suited for jumping.

Alison’s very picky vet in Aiken passed her with flying colors, so I decided to move forward with the purchase. This was a bit of a leap of faith for me because I did not go down to SC to try her out! But I felt that it was extremely unlikely that I was going to hate the horse in one ride (I can’t remember the last time that happened). It was also pretty unlikely that I was going to completely be head-over-heels in love after one ride either. I needed to make as unemotional a decision as possible and decided to completely trust Alison’s instincts and her experience. The horse came North when Alison did and I decided to re-name her “Ruby” (show name, “Ruby Slippers”).


King Oak Spring Horse Trial, May 9th, 2009:

Ruby had only been in NH and with me for a couple of weeks before the King Oak Spring Horse Trial. Alison rode her in the BN division and they came in fourth!

Groton Pony Club Schooling 3-Phase, May 17th, 2009:

My first competition with Ruby. Groton Pony Club is a local schooling event that offers divisions from mere inches off the ground (and walk-trot dressage tests) up to Novice (fences of 2’11”). Since Ruby and I were new to each other, both of us were pretty green and because I hadn’t really competed in something like 30 years (yes, really), I entered in the 2-foot division. We came in third! I still think that judge was extremely generous with the dressage scoring though.

Apple Tree Farm 2-Phase, May 25th, 2009:

Apple Tree Farm 2-Phase Schooling show. This is our barn 2-Phase, they run a few of them throughout the year. I again entered in the 2-foot division and we came in second. I think that I should have entered the division above, however. I was being conservative.

Groton House Summer Classic, June 21st, 2009:

A schooling event that happened to coincide with a crazy nor’easter. We bumped up to the “Elementary Division” (2‘3” jumps) for this event. I remember walking the cross-country course in the morning and wishing that I was entered in the division above (Beginner Novice - 2’7” jumps). It ended up being both a terrible and a positive experience, Ruby did a fantastic impression of a bucking (and spooking and bolting) bronco for the entire day. I don’t know how I stayed on and got through it. And I don’t know how I managed to restrain myself from scratching our entry, although I was extremely tempted to do so throughout the day. We even ended up with a decent (for us) dressage score and clear jumping rounds for both stadium and cross-country. I was very happy to end the day in one piece, but wasn’t looking forward to repeating that crazy experience any time soon.

UNH Summer Horse Trial, July 19th, 2009:

My first sanctioned event and (of course) a bump up to Beginner Novice (2’7” jumps). I remember walking both the stadium and the cross-country courses in the morning and feeling absolutely terrified. Our dressage test was unfortunate, but we redeemed ourselves in the jumping phases. I decided to get over my fear and hesitation and my former insistence on trotting almost everything and went for it. We had one rail in stadium, but went clear for cross-country -- having a lovely and bold round. I ended the day thrilled and so happy with Ruby and very excited for our future together. Oh and we managed to pull off 8th place too!

King Oak Fall Horse Trial, September 12th, 2009:

This event was most notable for me because I feel like we redeemed ourselves a bit with our dressage test. It was not wonderful by most standards, but it felt so much better to ME. Almost as if we had maybe turned a corner and were headed in the right direction. I feel like we also had a pretty good stadium round, but our cross-country round was so-so, since I managed to incur significant time faults (we were otherwise clear, however).

UNH Fall Horse Trial, October 3rd, 2009:

Dressage Day


Stadium & Cross-Country Day

Our final competition of the season and what I felt was our best performance. The dressage test was SO much better. Our stadium was clear, but I managed to incur a couple (2.8) of time faults on cross-country. Even though I had the time faults, I feel like this cross-country round was so much smoother and more even than any of the other XC courses we had done previously. If I had been slightly less conservative and had been willing to canter through the water obstacle (which Ruby had wanted to do) we would have been fine with time, I was kicking myself afterwards. Anyway, we managed to pull in 7th place and I was very satisfied with our performance.

All-in-all I am very happy with how I progressed with my riding over the past year. I did everything I had hoped to do and more. I think one of my goals was to MAYBE do a sanctioned event at Beginner Novice level -- and I managed to do three of them, so I was quite happy with my progress, with Ruby’s progress and with our performance overall. Additionally, I feel like over the past months we have been building a solid partnership and that I’ve gotten a bit braver and bolder and (hopefully) a little more solid in my skills. I have so many things that I need to work on and improve, but I feel like I have a much better idea of what these specific things are. I feel like I have a more defined idea of where my weaknesses are and am more focused than I was this time last year. I have some ideas of what my goals are for 2010, but will write them up in another blog post.

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