Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Nearing the Bend

Hello all!
Judging from the black circles around my eyes, various empty energy drinks stashed in the garbage, and course calluses building on the tips of my fingers, one could easy come to the conclusion that these past two weeks have been spent mostly on the road.  In all seriousness, the drive to Southern Pines for the horse show was a lot easier than expected.  When we left at two in the morning, both Jen and I were ready for the long trek ahead, well equipped with cases of Red Bulls and my favorite, Snickers Protein/Energy Bars.  However, because of the God-awful time we departed, and because no one else is crazy enough to be driving at the wee hours of the morning, we found out trip took a shorter time than anticipated.  We were very happy to arrive in sunny, yet quite brisk, North Carolina.  With that, we quickly unpacked and settled the horses in, while I lightly dressaged everyone as Jen washed.  Finally, we ended the day with my braiding everyone so that we were all prepared for the next day's activities of geometry (what I like to term as "dressage").  Friday was a day filled with highs and lows.  Seajack performed one of his personal best tests, although still was scored rough as I am constantly working on bringing his frame higher.  He is so willing to put his nose on the ground and after years of stretch work, I think he is a little confused and none too happy with this new "bringing the head and shoulders up" advanced frame.  However, I felt a vast amount of improvement this weekend in the dressage ring.  Alex however, was on his worst behavior for the first time this year, which I will say, is my fault.  As we entered the ring after having had the winning warm up, I halted and saluted to the judge eagerly, knowing my horse was really the one to beat in the class.  I suddenly became disoriented after I was never given a head-shake or nod or flick of the hand as a gesture to "carry on" with the test.  As I sat there, repetitivelysaluting the judge (still to no avail), Alex finally had HAD it and reared straight up in the air.  You must keep in mind that although he is an advanced level horse capable of beating any warmblood in the dressage ring, he still is a Thoroughbred who ABHORS standing still, especially in a dressage ring.  So, after circling him a few times to get his head put back on, we re-started our test, which surprisingly turned out quite well, and headed back to the barn.  You would think that after having ridden at three four stars, and multiple advanced level tests, that I would know that it is NOT a rule that the judge has to salute you back to proceed into your test.  This goes to show you that everyday we are learning and constantly being humbled.  I was especially proud of myself, given the situation, that I really rode Alex through his meltdown.  A few years prior to this, I would have taken my leg off and just hoped for the best.  This day, I thought to myself "OK well now we are just practicing so ride him like I would at home, really schooling him so he knows he cannot get away with being naughty in the ring." Although my scores with my first two rides were less than desirable, my last ride, Little Sorrow was the one I was most looking forward to.  Fancy is a cool mare, and those who know me also know that I have not had great experiences with mares and prefer to ride geldings.  However, whenever I hop into the saddle aboard Fancy, my face is illuminated with a smile.  I love her work ethic and her eagerness to please.  She is so happy to be given the chance to be a "show horse" and it is portrayed in her soft, kind eyes, and pointed forward ears.  She, of all, gave the best performance of the day in her second training level to place 9th out of an extremely competitive thirty horses in her division.  XC day was to follow.  Seajack went out of the box really well, and although gave me the same cautiousness into both waters I have come to expect, performed quite well given that it is his third time at the level and how much more difficult a course that Southern Pines is over Rocking Horse.  You have to remember that in Ocala, the terrain is primarily flat, so theXC questions can sometimes be easier because you don't have to worry about them falling on their forehand down a hill to coffin, etc.  Southern Pines is extremely mountainous and the course is extremely well built and inviting, and I am glad all of my horses agreed with me.  Alex performed his XC like the seasoned campaigner he is, which made me very happy and confident, especially following our disappointing round at the Ocala Derby the week prior.  Fancy did a superb double clean XC and I was greeted with wild cheers from my number one fan (mom) and Fancy's owner Yvette Joyce (my number two fan)!  The final day of show jumping was even better than the day before with all three of my horses adding zero penalties to their previous scores.  How the tables have turned! SJ used to be by far my hardest phase and now,because my horses help me so much, it has become one of the phases I look most forward to riding.  Go figure!
     When we finally returned home from NC, the horses were given a few days to relax and enjoy the sunshine.  Meanwhile, both Jen and I caught up on some much needed sleep and enjoyed one too many burritos at Taco Pepes (my favorite Mexican restaurant in Ocala).  This week, we are now preparing for the Fork, where I will be competing Alex in his first advanced this year and Seajack intermediate.  Fancy is opting to stay home as training level is not being offered at this week's horse trials.  Because Buck has been away at other shows, I have had the privilege of riding with dressage instructor, Gerd Zuther, who has been extremely beneficial in our dressage training this weekend!  So, with that, we have our eyes set on the familiar state of North Carolina, and the pedal is to the medal.  Keep your fingers crossed that everyone has a safe and steady ride!  Until then, see ya on Highway 95!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Preparation is Paramount

     The week long break between Rocking Horse III and Rocking Horse Spring horse trials seemed to come and go with the blink of an eye.  It also turned out to be one of the most informative weeks of lessons I will ever have and never forget.  I had all three ponies entered in the spring horse trials at Rocking Horse and because they had a long relaxation period, I decided that the idea to go XC schooling a few times would be a smart one to get their feet wet...in every sense of the phrase.  XC schooling is one of my favorite pastimes as Buck usually takes a large group consisting of all levels, and everyone doing their own course makes for an extremely exciting time.  However, this time was different.  Instead of the large group, it was only my three horses, my amazing groom and friend, Jennifer Curley, and myself.  I should say that it is awesome to get all of Buck's undivided attention, however, with this prize comes the consequences because he was able to find small yet important flaws in my riding.  In just two days, Buck had to teach me how to ride my advanced mount, Anthony Patch, in a much softer way than I had before.  Alex is such a careful and sensitive horse, sometimes my driving and more defensive xc seat becomes more of a hindrance than a helpful one.  In addition, we changed Alex over into a new, slightly easier bit for xc to encourage him to gallop rounder which would allow me to have more connection and control in between the obstacles.  Needless to say, I was a bit nervous before the horseshow that weekend as my style of riding had been drastically changed to suit one horse.  This means that I would have to reformat my riding for Al, and then go back to the defensive riding for my young, more green horses Seajack and Fancy.  
     The two days of practice certainly worked out well for the show on the weekend.  Al took home the blue again with a fantastic run around the intermediate course.  I truly feel that after this run, he is prepared and eager for his progression to Advanced next weekend at Southern Pines.  Seajack jumped superbly in the show jumping and although showed some greenish tendencies around the xc with a stop at the water, I feel that he is more than ready for what Intermediate questions throw at him and just needs some more practice at "diving into" them with more tenacity.  Fancy was a star as she put in a lovely dressage test and had a beautiful double clean xc.  In just three shows and about a month down in Ocala, this little mare is really showing that she is enjoying her job because of her astounding progression in both the dressage and jumping rings.  
     So, although we all learned a ton from the previous week, it was a necessary evil to change my format for Alex in order to improve myself as a horseman and rider.  Not all horses go the same way nor should they have to.  In the past I have been accustomed to riding keen and courageous horses across the country and now I am learning how to ride a careful horse positively without scaring him.  I guess I can say with the more horses I ride, my learning curve will forever endure...which to me is a good thing.  Anyhow, this week I am preparing for our pilgrimage up north to the Carolina Horse Park where all three will be showing off their stuff! In the meantime, I will be playing host as my amazing mother and grandparents are enjoying a week in the sun in addition to competing in a $5,000 Derby held at Overlook Farm with my boys.  Hey, we could all use some of that purse in these tough times!!!  Keep your fingers crossed that everything goes as planned...and if it doesn't, that we have our Plans B, C, and D carefully mapped out!!!  Take care and until next time, heels down, shoulders back, and kick on!!!