Show Recap: Running Start BN Combined Training

Saturday, Jack and I (with the help of our amazing friend C) headed out to do a quick Combined Training event in Southern Pines. The goal was to get a little more exposure and get a confidence building round. Essentially we were to do our dressage test, go back to the trailer for a tack change, jump, and head home again.

Jack’s dressage test was okay. The next time I take him out I’ll be adding spurs, because I feel as though his tension translates into getting behind my leg, and I definitely was not able to be nearly as quiet as I am at home. Still, the judge liked him well enough, giving him an 8 on the following movements, as well as his gaits:

  • Trot circle right
  • Change rein KXM
  • Trot circle left
  • Change rein HXF
  • Downward transition to trot
  • Free walk
  • Upward trot transition + turn down centerline

We got dinged overall for our hollow moments which was not surprising- again I know that we are going to have hollow canter transitions for some time until we re-wire Jack to use his hind end instead of his massive shoulders to change gait. The test scored a 29 (71%) with plenty of room for improvement.

Our jump warm up was also just okay, and I needed a swift kick in the butt to hold to the base of the fence. Our jumping round was then the total opposite, as each fence impressed Jack more and more and we got ugly chippy distances and even a stop at the swedish oxer (which is fine- that’s a new question to him and no ground line). So after having cowboyed him through the course, I was not satisfied and quickly requested a schooling round, which is what you see below.

It’s amazing what change you can effect when you actually ride. I was really thrilled with the result and felt like Jack would have a very positive note to end on. The pony got lots of pats and stuffed full of treats and we were homeward bound.

Thanks to a brain fart on my part, we likely won’t be competing in October, but definitely lots of lessons and hopefully even a clinic with a certain former trainer of ours. The more miles the better!

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Show Recap: September War Horse Final Thoughts

Our only real goal for the War Horse Show was to end on a number and not a letter with Jack. With Riley, it was to show him off to potential buyers and just have fun. The other goal with Jack was just to experience our first overnight show together, which was exceptionally revealing in helping me understand my new horse’s brain.

Things I learned my horse will get anxious about:

  • Being left in his stall
  • Other horses whinnying
  • A random fence not on course in the showjumping ring
  • Footing, particularly going downhill
  • Leaving his buddies

Things I learned my horse will not get anxious about (even if I do):

  • Horses galloping toward him and away
  • Crazy horses in warmup
  • Tents/bikes/dogs
  • Being put to work

Things I learned/remembered about myself:

  • Seriously, I must walk my course 3 times. 3 TIMES!!!
  • My friends are the bomb-diggity
  • If I tell myself to dig deep, I can and will. No more excuses for riding like a sack of potatoes!
  • I really need to find my damn pinny holder
  • Porta-potty advertising is the best advertising (as a show that is)
  • I can ask more of Jack and expect him to rise to the occasion

There are so many things that I walked away from the show knowing that I can implement next time. The more exposure and miles we get together, the better off we are going to be!

Show Recap: September War Horse Cross Country

So after showjumping, somehow Jack was leading a large division of horses. The opportunities for messing that up were endless, and well, it only took one.

Unfortunately there is no GoPro video of the incident, so you’ll just have to trust my version of events. I won’t say that it was the absolute smoothest cross country run there ever was, but then again, I don’t think anyone expected it to be. We had a nice jump over 1, a long spot to the scary bright feeder at 2, and then I hemmed-and-hawed over trotting 3, which was a fence with a downhill away that Jack had worried about the footing for the day prior.

Fence 2

Fence 4 was a max (if not Novice sized) coop at the bottom of the hill, and from there we got in somewhat of a groove through fence 8. And then fence 9AB. Ughhh this combination. What the course designer was trying to accomplish, I have no idea. It couldn’t ride as an angled line because you would land in the trees, and it wasn’t set as a bending line either. Instead, it was a rolltop then a squiggly line to a small cabin, going downhill. The footing was already getting churned on the schooling day, and Jack would land and attempt to lurch into the trees where the footing was better. In any case, trainer agreed that trotting was the best idea for this solution, and so when I landed from fence 8 I cantered on and then slowed to the trot.

And proceeded to trot right past it.

For whatever reason, I had thought the combination existed in the second trail head, not the first. So when it caught my left eye I cursed myself and looped back around to the combination. Of course, making a somewhat big loop like this at the trot is bound to incur time faults, and our 8 time penalties moved us from 1st to 10th.

Still, the rest of the course rode just fine. Jack braved the water that Foster always found terrifying without question, and jumped the last 3 fences with confidence. I came through the finish flags with a huge smile on my face and having learned a ton about my horse and excited for our next outing. But more reflections for tomorrow!

Show Recap: September War Horse Jumping

After dressage was settled, the nerves started sinking in. This is my first time doing anything more than maiden since…2015? In any case, I was lucky to have friends there to tell me to take deep breaths. Jack, meanwhile, had finally settled and was miffed that I woke him up from his nap to tack him up. He warmed up feeling like a calm hunter horse, which, though great for the relaxation, needed more push and packaging to get around the course we had ahead of us. We both were tired, and I had to verbally remind myself to dig deep and ride every fence.

Our round wasn’t maybe as smooth as it had been in the schooling the day before, but it was clear. Jack went from tired and strung out to feeling looky and up. The chips we got were a combination of not being quite balanced/forward enough and him being a little more backed off of the fences. There’s still so much to improve, but I was impressed that he stayed rideable and attentive as we navigated the course, even if we didn’t quite make all the turns that we had hoped to accomplish. The clear round moved us up into 1st out of 19 and then it was off to XC! But that’s a tale for tomorrow.

… what face am I making?
PC: High Time Photography

Riley’s warm up for jumping was again short and sweet. Basically W/T/C and do a cross rail a couple times. I had realized that morning that he has schooled stadium fences all of twice in the last 18 months, but figured that since it was small and he is basically a point-and-shoot ride that we’d be fine. And we were.

Given that his fitness is still a work in progress, I determined that I would simply feel it out in regards to cantering vs trotting the course. It’s therefore pretty unremarkable, but since we went around clear Riley earned a lovely blue ribbon and lots of pats for being the best boy ever.

Tomorrow, XC recap for Jack!

Show Recap: September War Horse Dressage

Questions I ask myself this morning… Why do cats only barf on carpet instead of hardwoods? Why is the Dunkin Donuts closest to me 3 times slower than every other one? Why am I so sore?

Well, at least I can answer the last one. Riding 2 horses is hard work, y’all, but competing two horses is brutal. I now have so much more respect for Buck Davidson and his 10,384 string of horses that he competes. I took Jack (doing BN) and Riley (Green as Grass) to a schooling horse trial this weekend and my body is wrecked. But rather than whinge about my aches and pains, we’ll focus on dressage.

Jack did a cross country schooling the day before as well as a showjumping round, then proceeded to wear himself out by screaming and pacing his stall for an hour. So when he came out on Sunday for dressage, he was a very tired pony. I warmed him up away from the hustle and bustle of the warm up ring and tried to put some spring in his step, but overall he felt a little flat and not nearly as supple as I am used to.

This definitely translated into our test. While our upward canter transition is hollow at home as well (a training issue we are working through!), he’s not normally braced in the other changes between gaits. But in the test I was challenged to keep him soft through those movements. Jack earned an 8 on his free walk (awesome) and the judge nailed me for bracing my own legs into the downward transitions (a known issue for me, darn it). I walked out of the ring expecting to score a 34 or 35, and was pleasantly surprised to earn a 32, which shockingly put us in 2nd out of our division of 19 after dressage.

Riley handled the new atmosphere with his general aplomb, and spent Saturday toodling around at the walk checking out the sights. With energy conservation as the name of the game, he got a whopping 5 minute warm up before dressage. We practiced walk trot transitions and a few centerlines and headed over to the ring. My goal for the test was to ride with better geometry than the previous weekend, get straight centerlines and ride him more forward to my hand. Unfortunately my phone ran out of space just after the centerline, but I believe we accomplished all those goals.

Riley earned a 26 in dressage, a full 10 points ahead of the other (admittedly pint-sized, adorable) competitors in our GaG CT division. If you want to see a slightly less steady version of the test, you can watch this video from the previous weekend. Our free walk was hugely improved this time around, and Riley garnered sweet comments from the judge and even earned a 7.5 on gaits!

Riley’s ribbon and Jack’s test

To say I’m proud of both boys is an understatement- they were phenomenal and given how green they are they handled everything amazingly well (bar Jack’s screaming). Tomorrow, jumping recaps!

Show Recap: Maiden at Portofino Horse Trials

So Saturday was Jack and I’s first show together. I learned a lot about him, and he learned a lot about life, and I remembered just how many things you need for a horse trial (next time I’ll try to bring them all!).

The venue, Portofino, is a stunning facility just over an hour away, and while somewhat compact, it was well run with lots of supportive volunteers helping things go smoothly. But for Jack, who has little to no previous show experience, it was a lot to take in. There were food trucks, tents, horses and people everywhere, and judges blowing whistles from various directions. Jack’s expression in general was fairly bug eyed at the whole thing.

I managed to get him somewhat settled in the warmup, but when it came to walking around the arena for our dressage test, I knew we were in a bit of trouble. The judge’s stand is a large overhang at the end of the arena, standing at the precipice of a steep slope where horses and goats graze below. For whatever reason, Foster, who was normally brave, did not like this setup, and Jack was convinced it was going to eat him. I somehow managed to get him [unwillingly] down to that end of the arena, but we did not execute any of the movements in trot while down there. I’m fairly sure I laughed through the majority of my test at my giant green bean pony.

Scoring a 42 in dressage (richly deserved, with comments of obvious tension- uh, yes!) meant that the rest of the day was more about schooling and getting a positive experience in than competing. I had signed up for one Beginner Novice schooling round which was 50% acceptable, 50% disastrous, but that allowed me to make a game plan for an extra happy Maiden show jumping round about 30 minutes later. Knowing that he had just spooked hard at the plank fence down the long side, I made a plan to trot it, and use my bat to remind him that forward was the only option. Though it’s not perfect, our maiden showjumping ended up being the highlight of the day.

The Maiden cross country course was interesting, ranging from fair-to-undersized all the way up to BEEFY (if a beefy maiden course is even a thing). Fences 4 and 9 gave me the most pause- 4 being a legit BN sized fence in the shadow of a tree and fence 9 being a tiger-trap leading up to the water.

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My plan was to canter everything except 3 and 9. Fence 3 because it was pretty skinny (for Maiden) and 9 to give him time to read the question. Well, in the end we ended up trotting almost all the fences, since each one was somehow a surprise for Jack, as you’ll see in the video (thanks J for the video of fence 3, and C for every other video present!). But he tried very hard to be a good boy, and came in a hilarious 8 seconds over time but clear.

We amazingly didn’t place last, but definitely at the bottom of the pack, and I couldn’t care less. It was an incredibly fun day, and I feel confident that with more exposure my golden green bean will become a super star event horse.

Raleigh Dressage Show II Recap: Day 2

Sunday at the show was an exciting day, as TC and I moved up to First Level in an Opportunity class. I felt like despite not really working at that level for very long, TC was more than able to handle it. After all, 10 meter circles are a lot easier on a 14.2 1/2 hony than on a 16.3 gigantor palomino. His trot lengthenings might be so-so, but they are there, and the canter lengthenings were quite good for this pony with a motor.

TC warmed up a little quietly, and I worried that we wouldn’t have enough gas in the tank to make for exciting lengthenings. Though he did wake up once we got into the arena and were surrounded by more of the show environment. In hind sight I should have slowed his tempo down slightly in the trot in order to show more of a difference in the lengthenings, but that’s a learning experience for me. We score 6’s on all the lengthening movements (bummer), but an 8 on the stretchy circle and a good smattering of 7’s. I was surprised to see the judge give him less than a 7 on his gaits, but rewarded me slightly more. Overall we earned a 65% and another blue ribbon for our efforts.

The weekend in general was a great success, and a huge feather in the cap for TC who is becoming a star of a show horse. I can only hope that Jack will settle into the fray just as quickly, but then again, TC has that ponytude to give him an edge in that area. I’m glad to have wrapped up my time riding TC on such a high note- I think his next rider will do an even better job with him and honestly am excited for the little guy’s future!

Raleigh Dressage Show Recap: Day 1

Since buying Jack, I knew that eventually I would need to give up the ride on TC, since riding 3 horses (with Riley back in Raleigh) is more than I can manage longterm. Because I also wanted to compete him one more time and improve on the last show’s experience, we determined that the Raleigh I/II dressage show would be our last hurrah before handing the reins over to someone else.

On Saturday, we competed in Training 2 and 3, tests that we also competed in at the prior show. TC’s entire demeanor was that of a well-traveled show horse, not the 7 yr old at his second competition, and he was the consummate professional.

Training 3 was our first test (why, oh why do they do the higher tests first?) and he warmed up beautifully. The test itself was fairly good, barring some spooking/looking at the water in one of the corners that turned into us almost leaving the arena in the next. Our only real bobble was in the canter, where for the first time TC did this fun thing where he got disunited, so I brought him back to a trot and picked up the lead again in time for the next movement, which was the downward trot transition across the diagonal. We got an unfortunate 4 for the break in canter, but that’s fair.

Our test scored a 67%, earning us 4th out of 16 competitors. It’s of course frustrating to think that if we hadn’t broke in the canter that we could have maybe even won the class, but overall I was really pleased and surprised to earn that score.

Training 2 was our afternoon ride, and even the in-laws turned out to witness dressage brilliance (kidding- Training 2 is a boring test at best). Luckily there was enough time to read the same judge’s comments from the morning, and learn from that feedback to make a plan for our second visit. Barring a little lookiness at the continuing standing water in the corner at A and scooting into the downward walk transition in the next corner, I am really happy with how the test went. The judge thought so too, and we finally broke 70% with a 72 for a pretty blue ribbon.

Some big goals (for us) were met in this test. I was finally able to show off his good stretchy trot and get an 8 on that movement (where’s my coefficient at- boo!). One of the goals I stated to my trainer before the show was also improving my rider score in the collection marks. Depending on where we are, I generally get a 6.5 or 7. So a 7.5 was a definitely step in the right direction, as I am finally getting the feel for where my elbows should live and keeping my hands closer together.

Tomorrow, we look at TC’s first First level test!

Show Recap: Capital Dressage Classic Day 2

When we left off last week with TC and I’s recognized dressage show debut, we chronicled the ups and downs (as in, downs- falling off a pony at a dressage show, and ups, as in blue satin) that always follows horses.

Day 2 was a little more subtle in general. We were only doing 1 test, Training 3, which was the test I had practiced most before the show. The arena we were to compete in was in a different part of the showgrounds than TC had seen before, so I spent lots of time hanging out near the ring so he could see the busier side of the facility. We decided to stick with our plan of not cantering in the warmup, and instead focused on extreme relaxation and throughness. For myself, I made sure to stay very quiet with my hands and focus on moving him off of my right leg to keep him straight.

Heading down centlerline like 🙂

Really truly, we had the best warmup yet. He was attentive, obedient, relaxed- all the things I wanted and more. We went into the dressage court feeling super confident and ready to eek every possible point out of the test.

Overall, I am thrilled to pieces with the test. Sure there are things to fix- him staring off into the distance in our free walk because Oh! vendors! and Oh! Ponies! and Oh! bleachers!. That bogey right lead canter (earned my first ‘2’ for that one!). Some moments where I lost his attention after the last downward canter transition.

But for me, there’s a lot to love. I love how swingy he is through his back and his forward but balanced tempo. I love how despite some blips, he was [mostly] obedient and focused on me throughout the test. I love that he was able to stretch and release tension through the stretchy circle, and how prompt our first canter depart was. And for the first time, I was able to focus on not hollowing my lower back and keeping my elbows from expressing their inner chicken! For me, despite scoring a 62% on the test (4th place in a biggish class- judge was harsh!), I felt like this was a huge breakthrough for TC and I, especially at his/our first show!

We are now discussing taking TC back to the fairgrounds for the show at the end of July. It may be hotter than blazes, but I would love the opportunity to improve upon this first experience!

Show Recap: Capital Dressage Classic Day 1

So in and amongst the activities involved in exploring the qualities of a future next horse, I also competed in my first recognized dressage show.

Just to recap, I have been riding TC, a 14.2h Paint gelding, for the last few months, imparting my admittedly limited knowledge to him along the way. Not to puff myself up (don’t worry, my ego gets thoroughly deflated if you keep reading), but I’m exceptionally proud of his progress- he has literally changed shape, become consistent in the bridle, and in general become a fairly solid little dressage pony [hony]. We took him to one clinic, which was my first off-property adventure with him, and promptly signed him up for his first show- and a big one- a recognized dressage show at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh.

So we arrived at the fairgrounds the day before, and I had a beautiful schooling in a fairly quiet atmosphere, running through our tests and feeling like the 70% I was shooting for was there in sight. Our first test was bright and early Saturday morning, and the atmosphere was definitely more electric. For the first time since high school, I luckily had a coach to get through warm up, and things were going swimmingly until I asked for the right lead canter. Now I should caveat this with saying that TC has been fairly reactive to my left leg of late, but that morning he simply wasn’t game to pick up the canter. So I tapped him with the whip. Which induced a series of bucks and crop hops, almost running into another horse, and between steering, sitting, and pulling out a braid in my effort to grab mane, I ended up in the dirt. Cue 5 people who were sweetly concerned about my fall from on-high, and after assuring them that it wasn’t far to fall and thank goodness for good footing, my adult-amateur self girded my loins and got back on the damn pony.

We schooled the right canter a couple more times, which continued to induce drama, and I determined to sit way back in the transition and let the chips fall as they would. Our test, as you can see in the 2 photos above, was a little high and tight, and my position a bit defensive and hollow itself. We scored a 64% and a fourth place ribbon for Training 2.

After chatting with the trainer, we decided to leave canter out of our warmup for the second test (Training 1) and focus on relation and suppleness, and getting him off my right leg which he was bracing against. The warmup then was much more pleasant, and I went in to the arena and determined to ride the shit out of every movement.

Overall I am really pleased with the transformation here. We earned ourselves a 69.78% with a tough judge and a blue ribbon, which felt like redemption after the morning’s damage-control type of ride. I actually felt like the free walk maybe even deserved a little more credit than was given, but after trainer said we could round that up to 70%, I felt like it wasn’t worth nit-picking over.

Pony got lots of praise and cookies and we washed him down while avoiding getting nipped (a fun new habit of TC’s). 2 ribbons, and roll in the dirt, and our first day at a recognized dressage show was in the books!