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.

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