We March On!

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It’s been quite a weekend! And perhaps not our most successful horse trial.

Saturday morning, we left Willie at the barn when we left for the show. Julia is usually fine when she leaves Willie behind (the two are very attached), but this time she was panicked and frantic to find Willie when we got to the show grounds. As a result, we weren’t able to produce the quality of work we have all week. We ended up with a 35 in dressage, which is at least five points higher than I would have liked. There were some beautiful parts of the dressage test, though; Julia was her beautiful self when I got her to slow and soften.

Cross country was exceptional, except that I jumped a novice fence instead of a training one. I thought it was a little strange that the jump judge at the fence was sitting so close to the fence – it was at this point (as I was jumping the novice fence) that I realized I was wrong. So, I circled around and jumped the training jump. The rest of the course was great, but we did have about ten time penalties.

When I went to bring Julia in to eat this morning, I realized she was stiff. I walked her out for a bit and then jogged her. I saw immediately that she was lame on her left hind (the previously injured leg). She was perfectly sound after cross country yesterday, but she must have torqued something.

So, unfortunately, we had to head home this morning (no show jumping.) It’s a bummer, but this is part of the sport of eventing. We can never know when a horse might come up lame. I love this sport so much because I get a partner. But that’s what makes it so challenging. You’re only as good as the horse under you.

Though the event this weekend has been a little disappointing, riding with Bobby Costello remains as one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had. My riding has advanced so much this week. Thank you Mom, Dad, Bobby, Leann, Besty, Angie, and Penny. This spectacular adventure wouldn’t have been possible without you.

We’ll do what we have to to make and keep Julia sound, and Willie is coming further along every day. We march on!

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Despite the never-ceasing rain today, we prepared for the event by running through the dressage test I will ride tomorrow a few times. The 2014 updated Training Test B is probably the most difficult I have ridden at a recognized event. Transitions are at letters, not in-between them, and movements come up quickly. For example, there is a stretchy trot circle immediately followed by a lengthening diagonal at the trot…I must be incredibly organized and proactive about executing the movements!

We ran through the test twice. In the first, the quality of gaits were up to par, but my execution and “geometry” weren’t quite accurate. Bobby made it very clear that I will not get scores in the twenties if I don’t have geometrically precise movements. Easy to fix, right?

Not exactly. Achieving accuracy on a large horse in a small space is a bit challenging – but as I learned earlier this week, proactive thinking (and riding) makes all the difference in the world. As I am finishing one movement, I have to prepare for the next.

In the afternoon, I prepared and cleaned tack for the event tomorrow. Then we fed and left to go walk the cross country course at the beautiful – yet submerged – Carolina Horse Park with Bobby.

The course seems pretty straight forward and looks like it’s going to be a great way to get our feet wet for the season (pun intended). I can’t wait to compete tomorrow. It’s been a long, hard winter, and this week with Bobby has given me a sharp competitive edge.

Judging by the absence of pitter patter on the roof, I think the rain is done. Fingers crossed that the XC course drains by tomorrow afternoon!

Dressage time: 1:50

Cross country time: 3:50

 

Trust, Valuable yet Difficult

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Another great lesson on Willie today! I decided to give Julia the day off to save her for the show this weekend, so Willie got to go cross country.

I was able to use a lot of the strategies we worked on yesterday in the show jumping lesson – we had a great time today.

Again, I softened before fences and committed at least five strides out for each fence. Also, we focused a lot on packaging Willie’s long stride and creating a forward, balanced canter to the jumps. As a result, Willie was confident – yet careful. We played in the water (jumping in and out) and over ditches and went up and down bank combinations.

I realized today that I can only do so much to get Willie over the jumps. He’s green and has been a little too cautious when jumping; I tend to override in an attempt to make it easier for him. However, my overriding has the opposite effect I want it to; it gets in the way and distorts communication between us. When I get busier, he gets confused. All I can do is set him up for the jumps by establishing tempo and balance. The rest is up to him. This approach clearly works, because Willie was so confident and calm out on the course today once I quieted my position and trusted him/held him accountable. Trusting the horse to step up and perform is a hard skill to learn, but it’s necessary. The rider isn’t carrying the weight, the horse is.

Breakthrough!

Two exceptional lessons today!

First, Julia and I jumped around cross country. Jules loves to get heavy out on XC, so Bobby and I focused on getting and maintaining balance – hands low and pressing into her neck, while my upper body draws away from my hands to regain balance. Once stabilized, I softened my hands to allow Julia to gain the forwardness she would need to clear the fences. Bobby stressed how important maintaining balance will be as we move up the levels for more complex combinations.

It was a perfect tune-up for the XC course Jules and I will face this weekend.
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Then Willie show jumped. Stadium has been Willie’s weakness, and we’ve had a frustrating year trying to work out the kinks. Stopping has been the obstacle, which is why I’m glad he refused once today; I wanted Bobby to diagnose and dissect the problem.
It turns out I haven’t been communicating with Willie very well; no wonder he’s been stopping! Bobby told me I wait too long to determine the striding at each fence. Instead of three strides out, I need to commit five strides out by either carrying what we have up to the base or adding leg to jump the fence with one fewer step.
Proactive thinking translates into better riding – Willie was the most confident I’ve ever seen him jump. I felt as though I was riding another horse. Willie has so much potential, and our breakthrough today was an important step in our development. It’s so cool to see how much he’s grown since we’ve had him.
Willie’s show jumping:

FREEZE

BRRR. It was a very cold day today in Southern Pines. Despite the frozen ground this morning, we were able to get in two fabulous lessons this afternoon.

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Bobby got to see Willie go for the first time today. And I think he was pleasantly surprised! “Oh, he’s fancy!” Bobby exclaimed when we finally got a quality working trot.

We worked on my being more assertive with my aids and getting Willie forward without losing impulsion in corners and on circles.

After flat, we took Willie out to the show jumping field and popped a few fences. He was a little worked up, as there was a group lesson going on nearby. But he was super forward and careful over the fences, which is something we’ve been struggling with for a while. The lesson exceeded my expectations.

Check out a bit of Willie’s jumping: http://youtu.be/jR5RiuUBR90

 

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Our work with Jules today was superb as well. We worked on elements from the dressage test (Training B) I will be riding this weekend at the event, such as the 15-meter figure eight at X.

But Bobby also worked with me to keep from “freezing” when Jules loses her balance. Instead of correcting the balance (she likes to get heavy on the forehand…) with a half halt and a release, I tend to lock and get stuck in riding limbo. Bobby said to identify the loss of balance immediately, fix it, and move on.

Also, we built on our Sunday flat lesson by making both the trot and canter more lively. Jules and I are technically “correct,” but to get big scores on movements, we need to add more energy, and more spark – Bobby even shouted, “Booooring!” a few times, jokingly, during the lesson. “I’m bored! Liven it up!”

A snippet of Jules (and sorry it’s sideways): http://youtu.be/k9n3MpKkUfI

Gray Matter

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The New Oxford American Dictionary‘s definition of gray matter is a bit different than mine.

Today, I confronted what I think to be my gray matter, the obscure use of aids, particularly leg and hand.

In my stadium lesson with Bobby today, I learned to make a distinction between half halts (to regain balance and tempo) and allowing forward energy. In an attempt to balance after fences without losing energy and impulsion, I tend to get busy with my upper body and hands. As a result, the message I’m trying to get across to my horse (balance and tempo) gets distorted, and I end up sending mixed messages. And the tug-of-war match begins.

Bobby helped me today to be deliberate and clear. Half halt and then soften hands, to allow forward, balanced energy. When I separated these requests for balance/tempo and forwardness, we jumped the best we have in a very long time.

The other gray matter I tackled today was that falling from the sky; it rained all day. That, by the way, is why there is no footage from the lesson today. The volunteer photographer, my mother, was much more comfortable in the heated truck by the ring. I don’t blame her!

Because it started to sleet this afternoon, Bobby cancelled my lesson with Willie, my mom’s young Hanoverian. Rain check! We’ll squeeze it in later, hopefully tomorrow.

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Flat lesson with Julia scheduled tomorrow.

Sunday, March 2nd: Flat

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It’s finally here! The lesson I’ve been waiting for for months. It was a great ride and gave us a good starting point for the week.

Immediately following my warm up, Bobby had a few critiques. FIrst, he pointed out the incorrect position of my left arm. I tend to bring my left hand closer to my hip and stick my elbow out like a wing, losing contact with the horse’s mouth and, unfortunately, eventually leading to a deterioration of the rest of my position.  I’ve heard this before, so it was a quick fix. However, Bobby seemed satisfied with my overall position.

Second, Bobby reminded me that, instead of dictating the tempo myself, I tend to let Julia do so. And if you have met my horse, you know that this is a poor decision on my part; Jules is incredibly forward and eager!

Lastly, there was one major take-home lesson: Jules and I are technically “correct,” but we need more forward reach and step from hind to front. I tend to focus on containing Julia’s forwardness. Instead, I should be creating steady tempo and balance and allowing forward reach and impulsion.

The lesson was fantastic. I’m very much looking forward to jump schoolings on both horses tomorrow.

Check out a tidbit of the lesson posted on YouTube: http://youtu.be/VuWzoHBTPII.

We’ve Arrived!

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It’s not called Southern Pines for nothing. There are pines everywhere! And is that sand under my feet?

We arrived at the lovely Gilchrist farm early this afternoon. We unpacked, set up a feed and tack stall, and immediately took the horses out for a hack on the wide, sandy trails of the Walthour-Moss Foundation. What a beautiful place!

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Looking forward to our flat lesson tomorrow.

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Southern Pines Bound

IMG_1558 As we head south on I-85, I must admit I’m a little relieved. We managed to leave home at a reasonable hour with minimal trauma! Both horses are in shipping gear and are tucked away in back with lots of hay. We’re off!IMG_1572 IMG_1575

Our goodbye committee bid us safe travels.IMG_1577

Clipped, Cleaned, Packed

Horses are clipped, tack is clean, and all is packed into truck and trailer. What a day!

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I feel as though I’m bringing twenty of everything; it’s a bit warmer in Southern Pines during the day, but still quite cold at night. Plus, they’re expecting a few days of rain down in North Carolina next week. So, in go coats, rain jackets, horse blankets, boots – it’s a lot.

I’m used to this, though. An extensive career of competing at horse trials and Pony Club rallies has prepared me well and has instilled in me a few useful obsessive-compulsive tendencies…everything has been double cleaned, all has been triple checked.

I’m excited and nervous to leave tomorrow. It’s a haul, and my hands are cracking from cleaning practically every piece of tack I own, but it’s so worth it.