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.