Cross Country Schooling at the Horse Park

This weekend, Jack and I made our first ‘big’ outing together, heading all the way to the Carolina Horse Park to school the cross country course ahead of their War Horse Show. While we’ve been off property quite a bit at this point, we haven’t been anywhere that would have a show-like atmosphere. Schooling at the horse park allowed me to see how Jack would be in a place with lots of other horses [literally] running around, trailers, tents, flowers, etc. And I was so impressed!

Jack is officially self-loading at this point, and hopped on the trailer for the 2 hour trek to the horse park. I loved that he actually was eating his hay on the way down, something he hasn’t done so far on shorter jaunts. Since we were running late we tacked up in a hurry and got out to the cross country field where we got straight to work, trotting around and hopping over a green-as-grass jump. Jack was super in listening to me and focusing on the tack at hand, but for the first several jumps (green-as-grass followed by Maiden questions alternately) he would give the fence a hard look before lift-off. There was never a thought of refusing, more just a lack of confidence that slowly disappeared as the schooling continued. Eventually we started introducing cantering the fences and wrapped up the cross country with a Beginner Novice fence that felt so great we did it twice!

Since the horse under me after cross country had lots of gas left in the tank, we then moseyed over to the showjumping, where we walked the maiden course in the tack, then proceeded to do two schooling rounds. For the first we just trotted all the fences, knowing that Jack is more likely to look at showjumping filler than natural fences. Then we picked up the canter and did the course properly.

To say I’m happy with how it went is an understatement, even though I see so many things that need fixing on my part. I now have the confidence in my new pony to go out and do all the things, knowing that he can handle the atmosphere as long as I am there to give him a positive ride. Next time we’ll be schooling beginner novice fences instead of maiden, and that vote of confidence from the trainer feels like a feather in the cap after feeling out of the game for so long. Barbie dream horse indeed!

The Rotational Fall at the Eventing Showcase

They say that money is the root of all evil. But in equestrian sport, money is essential to funding the endless supply of bills that go hand-in-hand with horses- vet bills, shipping, show fees, and of course the everyday costs of simply owning a horse.

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So in theory, something like the Wellington Eventing Showcase provides a rare opportunity to put our sport in front of an audience that is well known to shell out dollars for equestrianism. It’s been discussed many a time how we need to be able to educate future fans, inspire potential patrons, and draw new upper-level owners to eventing, and the showcase’s intention seems to be just that.

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But there are some differences between the polish and ponce of the Wellington event and your typical event. Instead of thousands of people lining the gallop lanes at Rolex, instead there was a sparsely populated hillock lining one of the sides of the derby field. And there were other differences, too. What I want to discuss today is the falls and near-falls of the cross country field.

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Watching the cross country, it was clear that the bogey fences were not the gimmicky, entertaining obstacles like the tent jump, or the fence at the top of the Land Rover embankment. Instead it was a massive corner coming out of the water combination, a skinny at the base of a hill, and a pair of brush fences that could either be angled or, being numbered separately, could include a circle in between to allow for a straight approach to the second element. There were some run outs, to be expected for a course of this level, and that was okay.

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What was strange to me was the difference in the way the couple falls were treated after the fact. I include the above fall sequence only as a result of both horse and rider walking away fine. The miraculous recovery of Woodge Fulton garnered the cheering and applause of a typical eventing audience. But the rotational fall of Marilyn Little and RF Demeter has been oddly swept under the rug from a media standpoint.

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The pair jumped beautifully over the cabin in front of us, out and over the water combination with the corner, and then proceeded to the angled brushes like a bat out of hell- I mean this lady was hell-bent for leather on making time, and was easily moving faster than anyone else was at that stage on course. I cannot say for sure what happened at that next combination, as it was at the opposite end of the course from me, but there was no denying seeing 4 legs in the air and a definite rotational fall. Luckily Demeter trotted away, and an ambulance came over for Marilyn, who we could see was having trouble sitting up. In the end she opted for a ride on a golf cart rather than the ambulance, all the while the announcer attempted to assure the spectators that all was well between awkward pauses.

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Trying to understand exactly what happened, my friends and I scoured the internet looking for some mention of the fall. And, nothing. The impression to us was that the fall was a stain on the showcase, and so nary to be mentioned, nor discussed, in public. The only mention I’ve seen so far of the fall has been in this article by the COTH.

There is no explanation of what happened, no mentioning that the horse went ass over teacups and landed on its human rider, who fortunately seems unscathed by the accident. Just a casual shout-out to sponsors, a week off in a paddock, and a lamentation of not being able to run the other horse.

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While I am not trying to point fingers, I must admit that for me, the whole situation leaves me wanting. Wanting to be able to understand why something as scary and dangerous to both horse and human life as a rotational fall happened at a showcase event, with one of our top riders. Wanting to be able to learn from the scenario so that the sport is made a safer discipline for future generations. And wanting to be left feeling like the showcase really is a great way to bring in the support that the sport so desperately needs.

Let’s Discuss: Would you Event if Eventing were different?

So here I am, getting tucked into bed the evening of my first day at the American Eventing Championships. This is a wholly new experience for me, never having been to a championship event, and a new experience for the US Eventing Association. Not only is this a new, unseasoned eventing venue in general, coming attached to the pursestrings of some much discussed political characters, but it also happens to be a record setting debut- at over 700 competitors, this event marks the biggest in US Eventing history.

Because of all this novelty, both personally and as an organization, it’s a little difficult to compare to AECs of the past. But one thing is exceptionally obvious, and that is that this event is very…. pretty.

The new lens was a great big fail. Here's Karen and Mr. Medicott again, Rolex 2012

Karen and Mr. Medicott, Rolex 2012

Don’t get me wrong, pretty is nice. Dressage is pretty. Hunters are pretty. But something about seeing an event be so gosh-darned-beautiful is just… odd. The fences are beautiful works of art, the lawns manicured to the nth degree. The water complex sports a jumbotron as its centerpiece. Hell, they served baked brie and beef wellington at the welcome party.

Rolex XC shot

Rolex 2012

But when I think of this sport, I tend to think of the grit, and the sweat, and the tears, and the adrenaline of two hearts pumping as they race across the country. I think eventers are known for embracing a Get ‘Er Done attitude that sometimes doesn’t come across with the grace the other disciplines so easily assume.

Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive, Rolex 2012

Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive, Rolex 2012

Does this AEC version of eventing still jive with the “eventing culture” (described from my own biased view)? Can eventing be made pretty like some of the more popular [sponsored] disciplines and still retain its heart and soul? For those non-eventers, would you consider eventing if it more resembled the format (cross country derby style) presented in the Wellington eventing showcase? For the eventers out there- would you stay if cross country took on a slightly more technical, and less sprawling and terrain inspired approach? Weigh in!

 

 

 

Let’s Discuss: Olympic Eventing

In the face of those that doubt Eventing’s place in the Olympics, that say it doesn’t require skill or strength or whatever that X factor is that apparently makes you worthy of being deemed an Olympic athlete… I say watch this.

http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/ever-wonder-which-summer-olympic-sport-most-dangerous

No one enjoys watching falls, and I admit my stomach lurched multiple times watching this video. But the fact of the matter is that eventers lay everything on the line when they leave the start box, every time. It boggles the mind to try and understand how every 4 years we have to defend ourselves on two different fronts to the “unhorsey” public.

The first front being that we find ourselves insisting it’s not easy to be a 4* eventer, which is most easily demonstrated by showing those naysayers how quickly things go wrong if you are not at the top of your game. The second front being the constant battle to make our sport safer and yet still retain the essence of what it means to run across the country.

The eventing community itself has been having a lot of internal dialogue about our place in the Olympics. Does the IOC’s dictates hurt our sport? Do they neuter our ability to keep the essence of the sport alive? Some would say yes, and that the final castration came in the adoption of the short format several years ago. From the other side of the coin, does our place in the Olympics offer us a platform for public viewing that gives us an opportunity we so desperately need- to get financial and other support from those not in the trenches of the sport- and does that make some of the IOC’s constraints worthwhile?

I certainly don’t have the answer, but would love to hear your opinion- what do you think? Is the Olympics the right venue as the pinnacle of International Eventing? If so, how do we use that opportunity to garner public support for the sport? If you think we should abandon our tenuous position in the Olympics, what do you think the sport would gain from being free of the IOC’s constraints and rules?

Drawing the Bigger Picture: Part I

3 trainers, 8 days. Information overload? Just a little.

venndiagram

In many ways though, the lessons do overlap, even though each trainer had different ways of communicating the same things. Here are some of the theories that I’ve noticed transcend two or more of the lessons in just a short time period.

Response to the Aids
Foster should always be listening (ideally), and always waiting for the next cue. We’ve been together so long that sometimes I fall into being repetitive or allowing him to be ho-hum, which makes communication when I really need him a challenge. In our June jump lesson, the trainer had us do canter walk or canter halt transitions and incorporate turn on the haunches or turn on the forehand to keep him thinking about balance and reactiveness. In Bobby’s showjumping lesson, we focused on halting after fences or a line, to keep him coming back to me as the source of instruction. Both accomplish a horse that is listening and reacting quickly to my aids.

My [mental] picture of the right canter

My [mental] picture of the right canter

Focus on the Canter
The quality of the canter in showjumping is everything, and Bobby stressed that he be balanced and active when approaching fences. Similarly, in our dressage lessons we have been working on increasing the activity of the canter, which teaches Foster to sit while engaging his hind legs. Even though the truly collected canter is not a gait that you would use through a showjumping course, the idea of increasing engagement certainly translates.

[From the Clinic] Bobby Costello shows us how to use both hands and outside aids to make a turn to 9

[From the Clinic] Bobby Costello shows us how to use both hands and outside aids to make a turn to 9

Following with the Hands
All three instructors have now said something to this effect, which is saying something. In my June jump lesson, she reverberated pretty much word for word what BC said in the February clinic– push your elbows to the fence. With dressage, this really comes into getting the most out of the free walk by actively following the bit with my hands- even if there is slack in the reins, the horse can feel it and likely take that room to stretch down. With the collected canter, this comes as making sure that I am not constantly holding, which would make him heavier and heavier in my hands.

 

Tomorrow- 3 more things that have been beaten into me this week…

This.

If you haven’t picked up on it yet- I tend to be that person that has something stupid happen to her in public. I’m pretty sure there’s an award out there with my name on it for people who have ripped their pants in public the most amount of times. And on a horse? The opportunity for disaster is exponential.

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Case in evidence? This, this, and this.

I like to try and take it all in stride, and maintaining a sense of humor in the wake of your latest embarrassment is something I get to practice a lot. Humility, y’all. If you don’t have it, your horse will be happy to teach it to you.

doug-lesson-trot

So this article written by Kristin Carpenter really spoke to me. Not only does she describe perfectly what it’s like to be that person, but she also encapsulates all the things that I love most about eventing- the rush, the horses, and the comradery.

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I may look like a dummy sometimes doing it, but this is eventing, and this is my sport.

Carolina International 3*

The weather could not have been more perfect for the fun day spent at the Carolina Horse Park. We arrived just in time to see the start of the 3* division go. This meant I had missed Mr. Medicott in the 2* (one of my favorite horses everrr) but it was hard to be disappointed when Olympic level riders immediately started leaving the gate.

The new lens was a great big fail. Here's Karen and Mr. Medicott again, Rolex 2012

The new lens was a great big fail. Here’s Karen and Mr. Medicott again, Rolex 2012

After enjoying a mimosa (or two) at the water complex, which was riding really well sans one rider fall at the corner out (the horse hit the corner with its knee and the rider just popped over the handle bars, no harm done), we meandered over to the Stonehenge complex. After a while a gentleman wearing the staff badge came over to see how the complex (a vertical through the ‘stones’ then three strides to a corner) was riding. It was soon clear that it was none other than Hugh Lochure, the course designer himself.

Boyd Martin and Remington, Rolex 2012

Boyd Martin and Remington, Rolex 2012

Happily, Hugh was more than willing to chat with me about the current miasma of finger-pointing that is going on in eventing at the moment. He also shared a few fun facts regarding his course and some of the riders running it. For instance, the famous Stonehenge complex was originally meant to represent a different set of standing stones from Scotland (his native country). When the inaugural 3* was planned, a sponsor came forward with a farm called Stonehenge, and the decision was made then to arrange the fences in honor of that sponsor.

We also talked about some of the safety aspects currently being developed in the sport. Frangible pins, collapsing tables, and air vests are all becoming common sights to see at the higher levels. But not all riders and venues adopt these changes. It turns out that Michael Pollard doesn’t like the way the air vest feels, and so he rides without, even at the 3* level. Hugh also compared the adoption of ‘safety fences’ (my term) in Europe versus the US. It seems that across the ocean, frangible pin and collapsable fences are more common than over here, where venues are not as likely to invest in them.

Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive, Rolex 2012

Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugitive, Rolex 2012

Local hero Kelsey Briggs (whose horse, The Gentleman Pirate, has made a miraculous recovery from a broken neck and just ran the Intermediate course) also came over for a bit and we all regaled her with memories of local eventing. It was a good day for Kelsey, who came second in her division with Pirate, and a great day for Phillip Dutton, who walked away with $35,000 after winning with I’m Sew Ready to end on his dressage score.

After the 3* completed, we watched some of the Advanced group warm up (seeing the riders take a huge rolltop at an angle was a kick in the pants reminder to school this at home!) and then peeked through the shopping tents before departing for home. I snagged myself a new pair of mesh Roeckl gloves and a whole new set of fun memories- can’t wait to return to this exciting new event next year!

The Skull Cap Debate

As I briefly mentioned in my Competitor’s Toolbox: Equipment post, the British Eventing Association has banned fixed-peak helmets from cross country. [Read EN’s post with the news here]

Frequent image contributor J (rocking a skull cap) and the handsome Jasper / PC: High Time Photography

Frequent image contributor J (rocking a skull cap) and the handsome Jasper / PC: High Time Photography

Many US eventers are already wearing skull caps, and some like myself, are not. Besides my vanity thinking that peaked helmets are slightly more attractive, I just don’t have the dollars right now to dole out on a new helmet. Especially when I just walked a hole into my paddock boots. (Durn it)

PC: High Time Photography

PC: High Time Photography

I used to have a skull cap at one point, but never used it, and now the padding is so deteriorated that the thing wobbles on my head. I’m not saying I won’t make the move to a skull cap, but it’s not going to happen in the next couple months for sure.

But I’m curious, what do you guys think? Eventers- what are you using/plan to use this season? And for non-eventers, let’s pretend- if you were about to go cross country, what would you don?

Case of the Closing Date Blues

Not for the first time in my life, I have been taken advantage of by someone in the horse industry. It’s been on my mind on and off (but more on) for the last several months since this incident, so it’s probably worth writing about, at least now that it appears to be finally on its way to being resolved.

Last August I signed up for the Virginia Horse Trials, a schooling event that takes place at the Virginia Horse Center. I had only heard good things about the facilities, and looked forward to trying out a new and promising venue. Then, a week before the competition, I got sick. Sick enough that I couldn’t work even at my desk job, making the 4 hour drive and subsequent cross country riding look like a really daunting prospect. I noticed that VHT had already cashed my checks, so I gave them a ring and confirmed that if I scratched on the closing date that I would get a full refund. They assured me I would, and so the next day, still no better, I both sent an email and left a voicemail with my decision to scratch. The ride times were posted the next day, without my name on the list- good, they’d gotten my messages.

J rocking the Novice course at VHT last year / PC: Brant Gamma Photos

J rocking around the Novice course at VHT last year / PC: Brant Gamma Photos

Fast forward another few weeks. I started checking the mail with an eye for a letter from Virginia, but none came. I emailed VHT once again, asking about my refund (almost $200, by the way), and no response. Called and left a voicemail, and no response. Repeating this process every 1-2 weeks became an exercise in my patience. I became incensed- if a venue promises a refund on their website by a certain date, they should honor it. Or, don’t promise refunds, in which case I would have loaded up on Red Bull and dragged my sorry behind to the event. My resentment eventually led me to social media.

Virginia Horse Trial’s website

I tried the venue’s facebook page, and again, nothing. Then I cast further, to the broader Virginia eventing association, and found out that I was not alone in my refund pleas.

Virginia Horse Trail’s facebook page

 

None of my leads followed through. I continued calling every month or so, noting that VHT’s voicemail message had changed- how could they not have received my messages? Friends signing up for their current shows similiarly assured me that their emails were responded to in a timely manner, convincing me that I was purposely being ignored. Around December, I started to give up hope that I would ever get my money back, and vowed to never give this venue money again. I started debating if it was worth having the lawyer husband write them a strongly worded missive as a last ditch effort, and to soothe both of our frustrations on the subject.

J and the VHT Trakehner again (this fence makes me pee my pants) / PC: Brant Gamma Photos

J and the VHT Trakehner again (this fence makes me pee my pants) / PC: Brant Gamma Photos

The finally, last month, I had one more brain wave. I emailed Eventing Nation, that hub of all things eventing, thinking that if they didn’t know someone directly maybe they would write a post about it. You know, go all whistle-blower with the business. To my surprise, they forwarded my email to the new owners of VHT, and I got a response the next day.

EN to the rescue

EN to the rescue

While it seems I won’t be getting my precious dollars back, the new owner has offered me a compromise- a free entry to the Recognized horse trials this May, a $200 value. This gesture, though it requires me to spend money on gas and a renewed USEA membership, goes a long way in feeling like the right thing. Before they can back out of it, I’ve accepted. We’ll see if they follow through or not, but I’m hopeful that the event will be a happy ending to this extremely trying tale! While I didn’t plan on any recognized shows this year- maybe this (and my new USEA membership) will open up other recognized opportunities later this season!

Fingers crossed!

 

Looking back at the Season – Part 2

The second half of the year we continued with our busy schedule, and threw in both a Hunter/Jumper and Recognized show for fun.

Hunter/Jumper Show, August 2014

Hunter/Jumper Show, August 2014

July – Hunter/Jumper Show
We went to a Hunter/Jumper show for a change of pace and with the goal of getting in jumping rounds in a low pressure environment. Leading up to the show, a series of crap schoolings and trying to fix things instead of leaving them alone left me with a super tired pony who just wasn’t up for what I asked of him. He tried very hard though, and still earned us two 4th place ribbons in a couple classes. I learned a lot about show prep for my horse and about the world of H/J.

FENCE, September 2014

FENCE, September 2014

September – Recognized Horse Trials at FENCE
Foster’s first Recognized show, and my first one in about 10 years had me pretty nervous leading up to it. I did my damned best to prepare my horse for it, and overall it was a success. What felt like a fairly good test earned us our all-time low of 30 for dressage, and we debuted the helmet cam with a rockin’ cross country course up a small mountain and coming in well under time. I made a mishap of not getting to the start box as soon as I should, which looks bad on paper, but oh well. Foster was tired on showjumping day and took out 2 poles, which was pretty good considering I was almost concussed in the warmup.

CHP, October 2014

CHP, October 2014

October – Carolina Horse Park Horse Trials
Another show at the Horse Park. Although an unrecognized event, they reused the course from the Recognized show prior, which meant I finally had to jump the dreaded trakehner and brush fences. The footing was super sloppy, which was a first for Foster, but he handled it well. We had a slightly tense test for a 31.7, and added 1 time fault in showjumping with a scrappy round. I thought I was going to puke with nerves before cross country after watching multiple refusals, but Foster came through brilliantly and went double clear. We got ourselves another 4th place ribbon.

CHP, November 2014

CHP, November 2014

November – Carolina Horse Park Horse Trials
… and yet another at the Horse Park. A more forward dressage test and a harsh judge gave us a 35.7, but left us tied for second place. This followed by our most fluid showjumping round, though I made turns way too way big and Foster accidently dropped 2 poles. I then went out to cross country preparing for a fun run around, which I was having when I forgot a fence and was pulled up 3 fences from home. Ended on a Technical Elimination.

Our Season By the Numbers
Total Shows: 10
Number of Horse Trials: 5
Average Dressage Score: 32.65 (67.35%)
Average Number of Poles Down: .85
Double-clear cross country runs: 3 (4 if you count that we probably would have gone clear without my TE, regarding pace and jumping faults)
Number of Ribbons: 6
Color of Ribbons (Placings): 2nd, 4th, 3rd, 4th, 4th, 4th
Times I Forgot Part of Course: 2
Times I dyed Foster’s tail purple: 2

As the numbers show, our tendency is to be at the top of the pack after dressage, then for me to mess things up in the jumping phases. From now on I am holding myself to a mandatory second course walk. But, looking at the positives- we learned a TON. Foster’s confidence at the level has come in leaps and bounds, which in turn has made me more confident. Pace has not been an issue at Novice, though admittedly, there are other venues that run Novice faster than the few I attended. We had one run-out this year, and that was mostly due to my being a passenger instead of kicking on. Since then, my mantra of ride every fence (other than being ironic at the last show) has been a helpful attitude and keeps me from getting too laid back about seemingly easy fences. I should tattoo it on my arm, right next to where my cross country watch goes.

Next year’s calendar will be interesting, depending on how long it takes for us to feel ready to move up to Training. There’s another Running Start Horse Trials in February, and then we would wait until May to do another unrecognized event. Combined Training shows will help us dip our toes into the Training test and battle some showjumping courses, which may be just the ticket. I’ll be spending the winter thinking about our goals and what is the right path for the spring, and hoping the season goes just as well as 2014!