Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wake-Up Call!

There are two types of people in this world: Those who do as they’re told, and those who just have to learn things the hard way. I, my friends, am CLEARLY a member of the latter group of hard-headed characters. As many of you have probably noticed by now, my results at the Fork did not quite go as planned, but isn’t that what eventing is about after all: Knowing all of your alternate routes in case the direct line doesn’t seem to pan out? I guess it’s not only an eventing lesson, but a life lesson no doubt!

Dressage day at the Fork was one of mixed reactions for me. I had a wonderful warmup on Al, an even better dressage test, followed by one of the most memorable moments of my life when CMP gave me the coveted “high five,” then I was brought down to earth when Brian O’Connor announced my score of 33.0. Ahhh such is life! When you think you’re up, you’re down and vice versa. Upon later review of my test, I was ecstatic that EVERY flying lead change was clean and my corners were used and movements well executed. Whether the judge saw it the same way as I felt it is obsolete at this point: My lessons are finally starting to register! To date I believe it is the best test Al and I have ridden...the key words here being, “TO DATE.” That’s right folks, we are saving our best efforts for two weeks down the road...

Cross country day brought a few clouds looming overhead scattering some rain here and there but the footing held up for the horses throughout the day. I had a phenomenal round in the morning aboard my sale horse Rising Spirit, who laughed her way around the intermediate course clocking in precisely on optimum time. Being that May is such a “forward thinking” horse, she really encourages me to “settle” in my riding early in the course, as her rhythm rarely changes. When I set out on Al, I pressed myself to parallel the same feeling I had earlier aboard May.

As Al cantered down to the first fence, I felt nothing but confidence and wind between my Heritage gloves and Al’s webbed reins. In fact, the whole course went so brilliantly that at the final double corner combination, I softened just a bit too much to the second, thus giving Al an open door for the run out. Being that our nearly PERFECT advanced cross country record was now marred due to my overconfidence, the walk back to the barn was a very, VERY long one (Valerie Ashker can certainly attest to this)!

For the rest of the evening and throughout the night I replayed the run out over and over, wondering what I could have done better and why I could have let this happen? When all of my responses came back insignificant and somewhat inane, I decided to listen to my mom tell me the answer I did not want to hear. “WAKE UP CALL!” Truth be told it has been a long time since I have had a refusal on a cross country course and perhaps the Fork was the ideal time for me to learn yet another, difficult lesson: Never get too comfortable. Being that my round felt so confident and easy aboard Al, I let my guard down and softened the reins ASSUMING he would hold the straight line that I placed him on for the double corners. Tisk tisk Lainey Evion! One should NEVER soften to a corner, let alone an advanced level one! What was I thinking?! And to this I would refer my students to the old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do!”

The point being here is that we are all human beings. We all make mistakes. Although my mistake cost me a twenty penalty markup to my dressage score, I hope it will give me that added encouragement when the next set of double corners present themselves in Kentucky! Consider this a lesson learned!

The final day at the Fork was a tough one for some, including me. Although my intermediate horse jumped a flawless round to finish second in the class, I was unable to show jump Alex due to a twisted shoe on course the day prior (probably a result of my misgiving...or lack thereof). The farrier fixed the shoe just fine, but I just couldn't risk an injury being that Rolex is now so close, so I figured I would save the Phenom for another day...preferably two weeks from now.

I am happy to write that the horses have all been moved in and are settling in superbly to my new barn at Rockville Equestrian Center. Lynn Woychick and her lovely daughter Caitlynn have been overtly hospitable which has made the whole moving process an enjoyable one. As the clock keeps ticking my focus now turns to maintaining Alex’s fitness while snagging some last minute lessons from Kim to perfect those tiny 8 meter circles! Until then folks, tighten up those shoulder in angles and perfect that 5-loop canter serpentine! We’ve got a four star to win!


Monday, April 4, 2011

Mind Over Matter

This week’s Katie Prudant clinic was an extremely informative experience albeit a humbling one. To be quite honest, I can’t say I remember being so nervous to ride for an instructor since Buck freaked me out in Hong Kong 2007 upon the looming arrival of the infamous George Morris. After polishing my bits and bleaching my saddle pads (and my teeth), both Al and May (and their pilot) were poised to show their stuff! Thus, Day One of lessons with the Queen of the Poles began!

I have always been an advocate of visual learning. Lucky for me I got to watch my group partners Phillip Dutton, Will Faudree and Doug Payne tackle Katie’s tough yet educational SJ exercises. In both lessons we started with about thirty minutes of flat work, perfecting (or trying to in some cases) the flying changes from the SEAT, collection to extension work, and finding a distance over a series of poles placed on the ground. Surprisingly enough, when we began having to fit a certain number of strides in between two lonesome poles on the ground, that’s when the hard work began! Allow me to tell you from experience that it makes the exercise a whole lot harder when your horse (ahem...Al) tends to jump the inanimate pole on the ground as if it were a four foot oxer! However, after a few test runs Al finally realized that the pole really wasn't a trick question and that it was indeed just a pole lying flatly on the ground...doing absolutely nothing.

After we conquered the evil pole drill, we swiftly moved onto our course work. In one particular exercise, Katie set up a line of three fences across a crooked diagonal that rode in a variety of steps, which (here comes the hard part) we had to decide BEFORE riding the line. Knowing that I need to work on balancing from my seat without allowing my horses to fall behind my leg, I took on the line in a steady five strides to five strides, bending it out if I needed more room. Wallah! My plan of attack worked wonders and both my horses jumped like rockstars!

Day Two with KP met us with a deluge of rain! Fortunately, the wonderful Peter Barry was generous enough to donate his breathtaking farm and convenient covered arena to avoid any jumps and/or trainers floating away. My first lesson with May went spectacularly as we honed in on grid work and depth perception. My second lesson was equally as informative but was constantly being interrupted by random downpours and violent bouts of lightening and thunder. At one point in my lesson I remember adjusting my gaze outside of the indoor and seeing Matt Flynn, who also happens to board at Peter’s barn, doing a trot set aboard a talented and unsuspecting young horse literally in the midst of a downpour. Matt’s eyes squinted trying to dodge the angry rain that pelleted down on his helmet as his horse obediently kept the buoyant rhythm and frame despite the weather. I came to the realization from Matt’s act of determination and fortitude against Mother Nature of why I love this sport so much: We eventers are simply resilient...

Looking back on both days’ lessons, the common reminder that Katie would unhesitatingly shout was “THINK through your course.” There is never any excuse to miss a distance or approach a fence unbalanced and that although we have the tools to execute a clean show jumping round, eventers (or other normal human beings) lack the actual PERCEPTION to deliver. It’s what I keep reading over and over in Mind Gym people, MIND over MATTER. Perhaps Mrs. Prudant owns a copy of this irreplaceable competitor’s bible? Speculate as you wish for the world may never know...

And thus April is upon us. Which can only mean one thing...or two...or three rather. For one, April plays host to two of my favorite events, the Fork and Rolex. And finally, my time in Wagener is up. I will miss hearing the constant bickering of the hens in the morning over the premiere sun-bathing spot. Or watching Sarah feed the baby lamb his daily formula, which he is happy to remind you about once every five minutes. I will miss driving into the barn and watching all of my beautiful horses poke their heads out of their stalls one by one to greet me with nickers and neighs alike while awaiting for the start of the work day eagerly and happily. I will miss the sand roads, the random fox hunt of about ten riders who boisterously would traverse the property...I will miss my beloved Guppy toy... and so it’s safe to say guys, I will miss Shadow Lane Farm. I will miss Wagener.

So as I bid adieu to South Carolina, both mom and I are excited to enter the North for the Fork. The horses and I will arrive a few days prior to competition for some helpful “ringmanship” sessions with the Captain, who I am hoping will see a trend of progression in both Alex and myself. This weekend Al is set to run in the Advanced class and May in the Intermediate. Until then folks, elbows in and heels down! Here’s to some floaty trot extensions and immaculate show jumping rounds!

-Lainey Ashker

***Above photos courtesy of Pamela Eckelbarger of Thank you to Pamela for capturing some great moments at not only the KP clinic, but many of the other Aiken Training Sessions as well!