Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009 Reflections and 2010 Goals

2009 was an incredible year. We went to 5 different events and qualified for the AECs our very first year at beginner novice. Our lowest dressage score at an event to date is a 33.7, which we achieved at Briar Fox, also the event where we got our best placing to date: 3rd! Although we placed abysmally at the AECs, it was a fantastic experience and my riding was anything but abysmal that weekend. Overall, it was a wild, fantastic ride. My only goal was going to the AECs, and I am beyond glad that we accomplished that. We were so ready for that show, and my only regrets are about our cross country round. I would love to have a second chance at that course. Since that's not a possibility, I'll just have to go again next year! :)

So, for 2010, our goals are:

Complete our first novice

Get rid of my dressage nerves

Get our very first 1st place win at a horse trial

Start doing real conditioning with Val

Fine-tune jumping/galloping positions

Do First Level Test I at a recognized dressage show

Do all the "scary" jumps- size appropriate trakehners, ditches, ditch and brush; bigger downbanks...

Have a tri-fecta show- do the best we can do in all three phases!

And, maybe, go to the AECs?

I'm really unsure about that last one. The AEC course for beginner novice was definitely a challenge- max height, interesting jump combos, interesting turns, a technically illegal mini-coffin... but, fortunately, we were ready. The novice course there was definitely something I would not have been able to do. I don't know if we'll have enough experience at novice and be comfortable enough at that level to go to a championship-level show this year. Heck, we might not even be able to qualify! So, I have no idea what will happen. My main goal for this year is to get everything to come together- I want to have at least one show were we do the best we can do in all three phases. I'm more concerned about that than anything else.

So, happy 2010, everyone!

New Years Revolutions

2010 is just 3 days away. Looking back, it's great to see how far we've come as a pair, but what's almost more amazing is how far Val has come in his training.

At the beginning of this year, Val had just your basic training- he was good walk, trot, canter, could jump simple courses, could round up most of the time, and had some adjustability of stride. He could do okay leg-yields and shoulder-ins. He was hardly ever hot and he was the type of horse you had to push for every stride, unless he was on cross country.

Change was gradual the first four months or so of the year and gradually built up to the last month's crescendo. Although I (unfortunately) haven't been blogging about it, we've gone through some radical adjustments to Val's training.

The first lesson with some really "new" stuff in it was maybe a month and a half ago. We worked on lengthening and collecting the canter and the beginnings of his working, collected, and extended canter. Pinching knees are starting to mean, "collect!" and a slightly driving seat combined with light leg aids, "lengthen!" Val's becoming fine-tuned! The change just in the last month has been incredible.

With our move up to Novice probable sometime this show season, there's one big weakness we needed to explore and fix- Val's sluggishness. About a month ago, we had a lesson that focused on what I like to call Val's "rocket launcher." We were essentially teaching him to go from 0 to 60 as fast and balanced as possible. He's great at it- he really uses his hind end and comes up in front. But even more amazing to me, he maintains the speed. My sluggish Val has finally found his motor!

At BN, the fences are small (no more than 2'7") and the optimum times are pretty generous. Most horses can easily make the XC and show jumping times. Novice is a speed increase of 50-100 mpm, up to 350-400 mpm cross-country. It becomes even more important that the horse have drive and impulsion from the hind end. Although we've only had time penalties because of refusals and other difficulties (more to come on that later!), and only at two competitions, we've mostly been closer to the slow side. I definitely think we can make novice time XC now.

Our biggest speed problem has always been in showjumping, though. Even though we've only gotten time penalties twice during showjumping, we were still prone to crawling around our courses last year. When you consider that the slower we go, the more my position deteriorates, it's a big problem. You can't have a nice jump without impulsion, which we were lacking in most if not all of our showjumping rounds last year. So, that's probably where our new-found speed will help the most!

We've been practicing stadium jumping at faster speeds. Going back to the rocket launcher metaphor, I like to imagine that I'm aiming a missile at the jump. I lock him on, and then we go; no sluggish oozing over fences.

One of the most interesting lessons we had lately involved a fake Weldon's Wall-like jump. There was maybe a 2' wide fake ditch (created with the use of a handy sheet) in front of a 2'9" vertical, and we were expected to jump it the first time as a part of a combination. After it, there was one stride to an oxer of similar height, then two strides to a skinny vertical. This quadrupled the difficulty- in order to get the two strides to the skinny, Val would need a forward-reaching, fairly fast stride from the very first fence.

I'm not too ashamed to mention I was feeling very nervous of that fake Wall. Whenever I'm nervous about whether or not Val will jump a fence, my first instinct is to get a nice, collected, fairly slow canter. Sure, it probably doesn't have the impulsion it needs to make jumping whatever it is easy, but that kind of canter also doesn't have the impulsion to launch me off my horse if he stops! I'd rather knock it down the first time then get dumped on top of it at speed. Not really a good idea if you're cross-country, though, and a dangerous frame of mind to be in at all. Our instructions were to jump it like a cross-country fence and get the striding right the first time.

So, we went right to it- Val's "new canter" has a totally different feel, and although I was nervous, I could still tell that he wasn't. He hardly even blinked at the strange-looking fence, and we got over that and the oxer just fine. We got over the skinny, but we took three strides in between. We continued to do the line over and over again, but eventually both Val and I were tired and we still hadn't gotten the 2 strides. My trainer jumped on and got 2 strides the first time: the current hypothesis is that I'm landing slightly too early after the jumps and nicking him in the back, making him reluctant to step out like he needed to to get the distance. We've started work on that, but we haven't yet tried to get a two stride again.

Despite that minor failure of the day, it was still an amazing lesson and I got to really feel a forward horse. He was happy to be going at a good clip and happy to be jumping, and I was happy to not have to constantly nag at him with my leg.

That lesson started Valerius' personal revolution. He's become a completely different horse in the past month; his dressage has improved exponentially from the added impulsion. I'm able to apply my aids much more selectively when I don't constantly need to nagnagnag for more, smoothing out the communication between us.

We've started serious work on haunches in and out, as well as shoulder in and out. The half-pass has even been experimented with at the walk, and it's all looking good! I now understand the idea of riding forward to the bit a lot better and our connection is better for it, although he was getting really fussy about taking contact for a few days. That's been mostly resolved. I love his new-found responsiveness more than anything; I can't even explain how incredible it is that he's changed so quickly.

While Valerius has mostly finished his impulsion revolution, I'm just beginning a fitness one. My general lack of fitness is just not acceptable anymore; I can't demand fighting fitness of my horse and not of myself. Fitness has always been an off-and-on battle with me. Although it's probably the most important thing I could do for my riding, I've never really devoted myself to it for more than a month at a time. This is the end of the road for that; I've made a fitness pledge to myself and my horse for the very last time. This time it will be fulfilled.

See you in 2010!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Nate Chambers and Rolling Stone II

I have been huge fans of these guys ever since the AECs. I watched the upper level dressage tests, and so many of those horses were significantly behind the vertical for large portions of the test... but not this pair!

They are a stunning team, and I will always be a fan in the future :)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Back on Track... again!

Sorry I haven't updated lately; there hasn't been too much exciting going on. For the past few weeks, Val and I have continued to work on our stretchy, and we have that pretty well now, although I was beginning to feel like I'd lost my finesse for everything else. This Friday, I had a really terrible ride where I felt like I was asking for everything wrong and, deservedly, receiving nothing in return. After that atrocity, I expected my lesson to be terrible today. It was actually very good, and I ended feeling like I remembered how to ride again!

I watched my cousin's lesson while on Val, which went very well for her, and then we moved from the outdoor to the indoor and I started our real warm-up. It started with the rather interesting mission of cantering Val basically no-reined around the arena while attempting to relax and sit the canter. There was no one else in the arena; although I kept having this feeling that I was going to run into the wall, which concerned me a bit. We finished with that pretty quick, though, and returned to the trot, working on achieving a steady, reaching connection over the topline while staying forward. Val has got that down really well!

We started by using a 3 loop serpentine the length of the arena and switching bend in the center while leg-yielding out a bit to the new bend. We focused on staying soft, forward, and connected, especially through the change of bend. We then moved to a circle, where I would get him round on the long reins, then let him stretch forward without throwing my hands at him. I could really feel him ask for a stretch and I think I was finally able to respond appropriately without just tossing the reins at him, which I am wont to do.

We switched direction a couple times, still working on the same thing, while throwing in a diagonal here and there. I don't remember where I read this, but for the last 3 or 4 months I've been following advice I read somewhere that has really helped. The idea is, when you plan to lengthen or go more forward across the diagonal, let go. Instead of pushing as soon as you get there, build up the round and collected on your way, then stop using the amount of hand you were using and let the horse go forward, with a few light taps of the heel if needed. More often then not, Val just surges forward as soon as I stop asking him for his more "working" trot. (It's definitely not a "collected" trot.) You still have to keep some connection, or else they get flat across the diagonal, but softening really lets Val move forward.

Then I shortened my reins gradually, with the instructions to make sure I didn't loose my outside connection. I have a habit of not following through with my outside and making the connection uneven, and I really felt like that was better today. My leg also seemed better-behaved than it has been in a while, and so I was given some small spurs to help with Val's lack of forward.

We did some trot-canter-trot transitions, keeping the amount of canter about 1/2-3/4 of a circle and focusing on the transitions; Val not "dying" in the canter-trot transition, and me not gripping (yet another bad habit!) in the trot-canter. The downs were very good, but I still tend to grip too much on the ups. There's always something more to fix!

After a very good canter-trot-stretchdown trot transition, we ended happily. It was the best ride I'd had in some time, barring a jumping lesson I had about a week and a half ago.

To briefly summarize that lesson, which was also very, very good, we focused on being forward over fences. Val's at the point where he needs to keep the same forward pace on the approach and he needs to go forward instead of dwelling after the landings. When he doesn't, my trainer says, "He's landing like a ton of bricks!" which isn't too far off from the truth. She had me ride several fences with the reins in one hand, with me really focusing on not checking him back on the way to the jump, then giving him a healthy smack on the landing if he dwelled. We're both secure enough that we don't need to go like snails anymore, and that's another of the goals for this winter- upping our jump speed. Anyhow, jumping one-handed is surprisingly secure-feeling, and the pace made jumping twice as fun as it's been in the past. Plus, he was really rounding up, and towards the end of that lesson he gave me one jump where I could just feel his knees tuck up! I don't think he's ever jumped that well and that round before.

So, that's a brief summary of the last two weeks. I am eagerly awaiting Thanksgiving break- we're out starting Wednesday! And Christmas isn't even that far away... I think we only have 2 1/2 weeks when we get back, then I loose one class after semester and gain a study hall, which should mean that I'm able to ride Val more. Fingers crossed!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Back on Track

We're finally getting everything back together. I had a pretty great 4-day weekend, where I managed to ride 3 times in 4 days. We had a lesson Thursday, I practiced on Saturday, and we had another, 10x better lesson today!

Val had been feeling odd recently. His transitions were getting lazy; he was moving sluggishly in all gates. In our lesson, our trainer was able to pinpoint the problem. I was doing too much collection and not allowing him to stretch; I was basically asking him to move forward, but then never letting him. So we spent the first lesson establishing a contact in a "stretch-down" frame and got him moving forward to the bit, then Saturday, I spent the day keeping the stretch connection through transitions and changes of bend, and I even played with shortening the reins back up and getting him to reach forward to the bit in his dressage-length reins.

Today, we put the finesse on the stretchy frame and went over some trot poles. The exercise was a square made up of 4 trot rails so that you could approach it from any direction. The idea was to get straight to it, not mess with him over the poles, then re-establish the stretchy connection before turning after going over the poles.

In the past, I've had difficulties getting him over poles without him tripping over them, but today he was right on and he hardly even nicked a pole once. That went very well, and we also got Val moving off my outside leg and softening on the left rein, which he sometimes gets stiff on.

We're supposed to start cantering over some poles to get a little more lift in his canter; my trainer says he is getting a bit flat.

Val has also, finally, been getting pieces of a bath. On Saturday, I did his legs and tail, and today, he got his mane and neck done. Eventually he'll have his face cleaned, and I'll have a 100% white horse! Of course, his main body is still fairly clean; he always has his blanket on when he rolls.

And that was my fantastic four-day weekend. I'm going to do my best to ride tomorrow; we'll see how that goes!

Friday, October 23, 2009

AEC Videos

Thought I ought to share these with you guys :)

Dressage at AEC's 2009
Stadium Round at AEC's 2009

Val is currently a very happy pony- he gets to go out to the pasture on days when it's not drizzling rain, and when it is, he gets to stay inside and munch on hay. He's not had much work recently, pretty much exclusively on weekends. What rides we have had, we've been working on dressage. The jumping we did was fun, but now that I know I'm not going to forget how to jump, it's more important for us to focus on dressage. :)

I am anxiously awaiting our "Halloween break" next week- we get Weds. and Thurs. off for teacher conferences! 4-day weekend for absolutely no reason, huzzah! Then we have Thanksgiving waiting in the wings, then Christmas. The next semester will be here before you know it, and I'll be able to devote more time to Val. Things will be back to normal at last.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Relaxing Trail Ride

Yesterday, I made an attempt at dressage with Val. I rode him for at least an hour, and we tried to remember all the things we used to know. We did lots of getting an even contact in the walk, and I did quite a bit of posting without stirrups (ouch) to get my leg where it belonged. We did change of bend in the trot, and I tried to work on my sitting the canter. When my trainer came in to give someone else a lesson, she gave me a few pointers, so I stayed for maybe another 15 minutes after that.

According to her, he was tight across the top line and not taking the right rein correctly, so we worked on that for a while until I felt like we'd made a little progress. I was a bit frustrated with how hard it was for me to keep my position decent and how I was having trouble getting Val to do what he needed to do, so I eventually said the heck with it and hit the trails.

We have a couple loops behind our barns, and Val and I followed one of my favorites. They probably take only 10 minutes to ride max, so they're not particularly long trails, but I still like them. We found this one place in the woods where there's this old, dead, tree that's twisted from the wind. We stopped there for a while and just listened. It was cool to hear the birds slowly gather their courage to start chattering again after Val and I disturbed the peace.

Then we followed the path until it comes out by the river/stream, and we realized that when it's been raining really hard there's a mini-rapid that you can see. Also, there's a path that goes straight down to the water, which might be worth investigating for this summer. I'd have to go in on foot and make sure it's safe, but it probably is. It might be too muddy, though.

So we had a little adventure and relaxed and forgot all about dressage for a little while. Just what we needed.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Good Hands?

Today we had another mini jumping lesson. I was a part of my cousin's lesson; I got to go through the line several more times and Val and I have really got that particular exercise down!

We did them a bit bigger today; when we finished, two were verticals and the cross rails were bigger than yesterday. Probably close to but not quite at the height we've jumped in the past. I'd guess they were 2'9", but I'm rotten with guessing height! Anyhow, the size is mostly unimportant. The good thing is that my hands were doing the right thing for once!

When I first started riding, my release was really not so good. I had the tendency to not release very much, which was pretty quickly replaced with the tendency to throw my hands to my horse's ears; as my trainer calls it, "punching my horse in the eye". That has been slowly replaced with a good crest release. Today, I finally had something good going on with my hands. I did not accidentally grab Val in the mouth once; I did not punch him in the eye.

It was funny, it didn't take a huge amount of effort, it was more like allowing my hands to do what they wanted to all along. When we were going over the ground poles without jumps, I was just squeezing really lightly in rhythm with him; I just started doing that without really thinking about it. When I said this to my trainer, she said that that was what she'd been trying to accomplish! When we started actually jumping, she said my hands were as good as they've ever been. Instead of concentrating on them, I just followed Val's motion; my release wasn't over-dramatic, just enough to give him his head. Now if only I can keep doing it this way!

I think my leg was bit better than yesterday too, although when I finally have free time to ride outside of a lesson, I want to work on a lot of two point and posting without stirrups. That's always so much fun!

Near the end of lesson, my cousin and I switched horses. She got to have fun with the trained horse that actually did walk-to-canters, and I got to play around with Stewie, a fairly green, beautiful appendix buckskin. I've got to say, I like Val better! I have seen Stewie ridden a lot by one of my trainer's really good students, and she can make him look like a jumper and get him around a whole course. I discovered that this was not as easy at it looked. Stewie turns like an absolute tank! I didn't get the chance to jump him but I did get to take him through the ground poles, and that went fairly well. He just feels so different from Val. I want to ride him more in the future; I'm really getting too accustomed to Val. Stewie felt down-right uncomfortable after riding my horse.

One particularly interesting part of that ride was when I asked him, twice, for a canter and he ignored me. I reached back with my crop and gave him a fairly moderate slap, and he blasted forward like a bullet! Laughing, my trainer informed me that he took the whip very seriously. However, he readily cantered the next time I asked! Silly horses.A picture taken on Thursday at the AECs while we were having a dressage lesson. A friend took this picture and I absolutely love it! Val looks so intense. Plus she did some cool editing.

Mini Jumping Lesson

It has gotten very cold here! I'm not really surprised, though. We never really had hot summer weather, and I predicted that because of our mild/cold summer, we will have a very long and cold winter. As our first freezing temperatures occurred last night (October 10th! The 10th of October!) and we had a chance of snow, I'm thinking I might be right... It's a good thing I like cold weather, I suppose!

I went out to the barn yesterday around noon and grabbed Val out of his stall. After I yanked his blanket off, we went out to our sand outdoor and I let him run off the steam he accumulated the last few weeks. Surprisingly, despite the cold wind and the fact that he hadn't been worked in over two weeks, he didn't really run very fast or buck at all. So, after convincing him to trot/canter from one end of the arena to the other a few times, we went inside and got tacked up. I ran the whip I'd borrowed to encourage him to run back to where it belonged and saw my trainer, who said that if I put my jumping saddle on Val I could use the same exercise she was going to do with another student who was having a lesson. I agreed.

When I put Val in the cross ties and came back with his saddle and accouterments, he looked at me with his ears pricked forward and a happy expression on his face. "We riding, mom? We riding? Let's go let'sgolet'sGO!" It was great to see. With Val all suited up for battle, we went back to the outdoor.

It was so cold and windy that I took my helmet off, put the hood of my hoodie on my head, and then put the helmet back on top! I was incredibly happy it fit; my ears would have frozen off otherwise. Then I got on Val, who felt energetic, but not crazily so. We started trotting around to warm-up, then cantered a bit.

In the middle of the arena, my trainer had set up a series of what would become one-strides with poles in the middle. Before they became jumps, we cantered over them, getting the proper stride length and drive that would allow Val and Stewie, the other horse, to "fit" in them nicely. Val tends to be short-strided, and Stewie has the tendency to go long, so we both had work to do. After a few tries, both of us could do the poles without trouble.

Then, the ground poles became small cross-rails one at a time, until we had 5 altogether with poles in the middle. I was definitely a little rusty, and my position was not the best. I have one particularly awful run when two cross-rails were set up where I got poor Val in the mouth pretty bad on the first one, then landed on his back, and then jumped too far ahead of him on the next cross rail. Fortunately, Val did not dump me on my head as I deserved. Oh, what they put up with from us humans!

Our last 3-4 runs went very smoothly. Val tried the whole time to trot between the first ground poles and the first cross rail, so I had to really push him forward to that, and we got it the last two times through. What was really fun was after the line, making the sharp turn (since the line took up most of the long side of the arena) to the left or right, depending on the lead you were on, and letting Val have a bit of speed, then setting him back on his haunches for another turn to go down the line again.

Although I've definitely lost some of my polish in the past month or so, it was really nice to see that I haven't regressed to an absolute pleb. Writing this, I keep thinking about when I first got Val. He used to not want to canter for me because he felt that I was unbalanced, and now this horse does walk-to-canters happily and gallops cross country exuberantly in my hands. Definitely makes me happy looking at how far we've come.
Val and I before our dressage at Briar Fox Farm, where we took 3rd place. Heh, perhaps this blog should be called sleepy-eyed eventers!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Riding Tomorrow; Pictures

For the first time since... I think the Sunday before last? E-gads, how terrible! We were out of town last weekend, though, which makes me feel slightly better.

I think my instructor wants me to have a lesson this weekend, but I'm thinking it might not be so successful, since I haven't ridden since the last one. That would not be fun!

Anyhow, some more pictures, just for the heck of it:
I like this dressage picture. Not behind the vertical, not awful position for me, Val tracking up as much as he ever does...
Good boy!
We have the same expression! I've heard of people who look like their dogs; what about people who look like their horses?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wide Open Spaces

Well, school has been kicking my butt lately. Val is having a well-deserved break. Ideally, I thought I'd still be able to ride every other day of the week, but I've been lucky to get one ride in during the school week.

Obviously, Val is fairly fit. He just came off nearly a year's worth of daily work and a long eventing season. He was only getting 2 or 3 hours of turnout from his stall, and I just wasn't having the time to ride the extra off. It wasn't fair to him, so he was introduced to the herd today.

I know it's best for him, but I feel like I'm giving up on doing my best for him, in some way. On the good side, he gets to stay out during the week, but he can still stay in his stall on the weekends. I know he'll love eating nearly 24/7 and having less work, and I know the rest will be good for his joints. I just hate having to admit that I can't ride my horse 6 days a week and get good grades in my classes. I hate being the person that just goes out to feed her horse every day. I want to be able to spend time with him like I always have, and I really hate having to choose between him and school.

Plus, I'm fully capable of admitting it: I'm scared of what will happen to my riding. Just this first month or so with me not riding him consistently has already affected me negatively. In January, when he's supposed to come back into regular work, how far back will I have slipped?

So, I'm pretty sure he'll be happy as a clam. I just wish I was as chuffed with the situation. I think the best thing to do is just keep a positive attitude the next few months. Whatever I lose in the interim, I can get back. And no matter what, we're going to keep chugging after the 1st of the year. At semester, one of my classes that was only for my first semester is replaced by a study hall, so I should have more school time to work on homework. Hopefully, that means less time spent at home doing acres and acres of homework, and more time spent riding and gearing up for the next eventing season.

I'll still be taking lessons on weekends, but it will be odd having only 1 or, best case scenario, 2 days to practice what I've learned in between them. I'm sure we can adjust.

On the plus side, senior year is going to be a cake walk compared to this year. I can't hardly wait!

My favorite picture of Val and I from Champagne Run this summer:

ETA: I also wanted to add that I am rather absurdly pleased that you can see my saddle shine a bit in that picture. If this was submitted to PH for George Morris' column, he would obviously point out that my feet are pointing out like a duck's and my heels are definitely up in the air. However, we have very conservative turn-out (for eventing!) and my saddle is clean. Bonus point for sure, I would imagine. And because of my awful leg position, he can't see the bottom of my boots! (It always kills me when he scolds people for having dirt on the bottom of their boots.)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

First Dressage Lesson in Ages

Oh, and were we ever rusty! But that's to be expected. Val felt pretty good, but he was stiff through his top line and locking his jaw on the right. My trainer got on him for about 10 minutes and presto-change-o, his back was swinging again and he was even in my hands when I got back on. We continued to work on asking him to come up to the outside rein, but he started locking his jaw on me again, which of course means it's something funky I'm doing him that's making him stiff.

We worked on a new exercise in shoulder-in that's very nifty. I will draw up a diagram when I have time, but a description will have to suffice for now. We would do shoulder-in down the long side from F to B, then do a trot lengthening from B to M. To sum up, shoulder-in from corner to middle letter, middle letter to opposite wall letter. My trainer says it really helps to get them to stay "together" in their lengthenings.

I also was nagging at the poor guy constantly with my heels, especially at the trot. Nag, nag, nag. My trainer "vocalizing" each nag helped me to stop, but the only way I was able to keep it from happening was to brace on my toe. I need more work on my foot position, but I did find a thought/image that helps me get my weight off the outside of my foot and more towards the inside: I imagined I was squishing a bug with my big toes! Gross, but it helped. Although that was causing my feet to want to make like flippers and stick straight out to the sides. Big sigh. With much finessing and straining, I could get my toes to point forward-ish and have my weight on my big toes. Yay! And now my heels need to go down more. Oh, the never-ending cycle!

So, my "homework" for the next few rides is:

1. Don't nag.
2. Keep him forward!
3. Re-establish bend. (We've gone from having way too much to having too little. Whoops!)
4. Make sure he's reaching forward to the contact and is even.
5. Start trying to react to what exactly he is doing and what needs fixing every day, instead of just following instructions.

Number 5 is definitely a long-term goal. The reason we went from having too much bend to having too little is because I was just following directions: asking for less bend every day, instead of realizing that Val was learning that I wanted a little less bend and was giving it. Oops!

So, lots of little things to work on. We also need to work on sitting trot if I'm going to do 1st level in the spring. I was also told that 3' jumpers is probably not quite do-able this winter; so I'll have to be happy with 2'6". I wish they had a 2'9" jumper class! Ah, well. Finally, I was informed that snow actually makes good footing, so long as there isn't ice underneath. The snowy trail-ride plan is a-go! Now we just need some snow...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Relaxing Day/ Winter Contemplations

Val had another day off today. I went out this evening, and when I whistled to him while I was walking to his stall, he absolutely screamed at me, like, "Please come over here and feed me!" Silly boy. To his disappointment, I took him to one of the dry lots. I stayed in there with him, and just watched him for a while.

I think it's so interesting how they choose just the right spot to roll in. It can't be just any spot- it's got to be that one spot with the dirtiest dirt of all. I love that now that he's fit he can actually roll himself over- when we got him, he was too fat to get both sides!

When he was done rolling, he shook off the dirt, and I whistled to him. He walked over to me, poked me with his nose, and I rubbed his face a bit. Sweet boy. Then I went and cleaned his stall. When I was done, he got put back inside, and finally he got his dinner! He lives for that grain, I'm here to tell you. I wish I'd brought him an apple, though. I don't think I've filled the apple quotient for this week yet!

I'm really not sure how long he's going to be on this "reduced" schedule. I'm thinking at least two weeks, but I really hate to not ride every day for such a long period of time. I know he deserves his rest, though. He hasn't had a long break since we bought him; sure, he always gets at least one day a week off, but I think he needs the time to unwind a bit. So that's to be determined.

I've been thinking about this winter, and what I want my goals to be. My summer goal was to go to the AECs, and we managed that! I think I want to aim for doing a 3' jumper class, and getting him ready to go 1st level in the spring. Last winter, we did go to a few jumper shows, and we did the 2' and 2'6 class. I remember one trip where he was so charged up, it was hilarious. He was bouncing up and down with energy, practically. That didn't go so well!

There's two dressage shows in the spring, and we'll probably go to at least one. He's definitely ready to move out of training level, but we're not quite ready to show 1st level yet. We could probably do 1st 1 without make ourselves look foolish, but we'd massacre 1st 4! I think we can make a good push in our dressage over the winter.

I also need to practice braiding and pulling his mane. This should be more of a fall goal, though; that way I won't completely freeze my fingers off!

Finally, I want to take him on at least one trail ride in the snow. We did a very short one last year, but this time I want to go back on the actual trails. I think it'd be fun! Of course, we'd either take a cell phone or a friend with us. I love the snow, and he's always happy to go on a trail ride, so that should be fun. :)

Ahh, winter. I can't wait until the first snowfall! The first snow day where I get to go out and ride my horse on a school day. The first time the ponies get to go out and play in the snow. And of course, riding bareback to keep my bum warm! Winter is such a fun time of year.

Friday, September 18, 2009


I finally have time to write about the AEC's! I have to say that my trip to Lamp Light was probably the best possible way to end the season for Val and I. Although our final score was 109.9, and we were, quite obviously, in dead last, it was actually a phenomenal weekend. Yes, really!

We arrived Wednesday evening around 6, unloaded the boys, and got them settled in to their stalls. We unloaded everything from the trailer, including our trunks, saddles, and other junk, and got everything situated in to the tack stall. We had a great spot; we were in the permanent stalls, so we were very close to the water, and our stalls were literally right across from the muck pile.

After everything was organized, we got Val and my instructor's horse, Strider, out for a walk. We ran in to Andrea and GoGo from Eventing-a-GoGo in one of the dressage warm-up arenas. We talked for a while, but a piece of caution tape was spooking GoGo a bit, and she became a bit disturbed when it got caught on her ear. She started backing up rather quickly, so Val and I made haste to get out of her way! She stopped before she ran into us, thankfully. We talked a bit more, then went on our separate ways.

The next day, we spent the morning watching the advanced dressage. Sadly, nearly all of the horses were noticeably behind the vertical for large portions of their tests. One horse and rider who were not, Nate Chambers on Rolling Stone II, instantly became my favorite pair, although Rolling Stone did not have the flashy movement of the other horses. They ended up in 3rd overall!

Later in the evening, when the arenas we would be riding in the next day were open for schooling, I saddled up Val and got on for a lesson ride. We started in the dressage warm up arena, and it was absolutely the most phenomenal ride I've ever had. It was like everything my trainer had been telling me for the past year finally sunk in! We had a stellar warm up, then rode over to the competition ring and pretended just like it was our test, although there were others schooling in the ring too. We went around it once, then rode down center line and did an improvised version of the test, so that Val wouldn't memorize it.

It was excellent! With very little input from my trainer, I managed to do the best test I'd ever ridden in my entire life. When Val was finished, I got off in the arena, loosened his girth, and gave him a big pat. We left, and my trainer said that we looked like the best pair out there! I couldn't have been happier.

Warm-up the next day was almost as good; it wasn't quite on the same level as the previous one, but still a lot better than in the past. When it was finally our turn to go around the arena, I felt so confident and prepared, although I was a bit nervous. As I was riding around, waiting for the bell, the announcer, who is also the announcer for some local shows and knows my trainer, was reading what I had written on the information sheet I sent in. He read my thanks to my trainer and my mom for me; I almost teared up a little, and after the test, I found out that they had too.

When I went in, I could feel that Val had gained some extra energy from my nerves. We did our test, but we did have 2 breaks to the canter from the trot, which stemmed from my nerves. The rest of the test was very good, and on the movements where we didn't have breaks, we had higher scores than we ever had in the past. We were nailed for the breaks as expected, so we were tied for 47th with several other horses with our 41.5. I was still estatic; it was a great test where it wasn't bad!

The next day was cross country. I was incredibly excited; I'd walked it the night before and earlier that morning and was pleased with the course. There were lots of difficult things that I knew my horse and I could handle, and I felt very prepared.

We had a pretty good warm up, and both Val and my form felt very good. We got down there very early, and although we had plenty of time, we worked Val pretty lightly because my trainer and I were concerned that Val might get tired towards the end of the course. I was feeling a bit nervous, but I tried to ignore that. When it was time to head over to the start box, we jumped one warm-up fence and galloped over to it. We waited until the person in front of me had been gone for 2 minutes, then we walked into the box for our countdown. With a 3, 2, 1, go!, we were off.

I felt just a hint of hesitation at the first fence, but it jumped fairly well. As we made our way to fence 2, a coop decorated with wooden chevrons, Val spooked a bit at a light patch of gravel on the dirt, and he was still unsure of himself as we came to the jump. He actually refused; he just slid to a stop. I smacked him a bit on the shoulder and turned him around to try again. This time he went, and we galloped our way to fence 3, a small-bench shaped jump called "The Seat of Power." I was feeling pretty nervous at this point; worse than I ever have before. I was a little surprised; cross country has always been my favorite and our best phase. My nervousness in warm up had definitely followed us onto the course and it certainly affected Val's confidence.

When I lost my stirrup on the way to fence 3, I had a mini panic-attack. I have no idea what happened; I've jumped without stirrups before, and a lot higher than that fence was! Instead of just heading to the fence, I circled in front of fence 3. As I tried desperately to get it back, Val was going faster and faster. I realized I was accidentally asking him for more speed with my other leg. When I finally reassessed, I pulled my leg off, stopped the "circle of doom", and got myself back together. We jumped fences 3 and 4, a little cabin before the water, with no problem.

As we approached the water, Val ran out his shoulder over to the edge of the sand so he didn't have to touch the water. I tried to correct him, but I only got one foot in before we jumped out over fence 5, a log painted like a snake, and were on our way to 6, the sawmill jump. I felt very out of control at this point, and my goal was to simply finish cross country. I was determined to not get eliminated and not fall off. Val was hardly listening at all at this point; he was resistant to any input I tried to give him. When I tried to harness his forward and turn it in to a balanced gallop, his butt went sideways and he continued at a pace that was a good deal faster than I was happy with.

I focused on keeping my upper body back at the fences and my lower leg locked forward. I did the best I could to collect Val before the fences, and I rode every one. Fence 6 rode well, as did the in and out that came after it. We then went down a forest path to a sharp turn to fence 7, a roll top; while on the path, he switched his lead behind, so I had him trot and fix it. The sharp turn to the roll top rode well, but I couldn't get him as collected as I'd wanted before the next jumps, a mini-coffin, and we ended up jumping the first part, a simple flower stand, too far to the left; which nearly ran us into a tree. I over-corrected to the right, so instead of barreling at the ditch at an angle, I just circled to the right and got him together before we went over it.

The next fence, a simple cabin, was easy. As we approached the second water, I felt misgivings on his part. I slowed him to a walk, and he went in without hesitation, immediately picking up a trot, and then a canter. We were out over jump 11, a log, heading to a neat log that was set up with two logs. It could be jumped on the left, where the logs were right on top of each other and made a vertical jump and you had to go around a tree, or you could angle it and jump it on the right side, where it was an oxer and you could go straight to the up bank. We jumped it at an angle like I had planned, went up the bank nicely, and then down a hill. We made a tight right turn at the bottom to 16, a stair step fence, and were over the last fence fairly easy.

I was a bit disappointed with our run, but I still felt like I accomplished something by riding through my nerves and finishing the course, plus handling Val's little "out-of-control"ness. Fortunately, my horse's "out-of-control" isn't too terrible! My trainer is also specualting that he may have gotten his toungue over the bit, which would have caused some of my difficulties in slowing him.

The day before, we heard a girl bawling her eyes off because her dressage test hadn't gone as planned. Apparently her horse had an allergy attack and sneezed through the whole thing. And instead of laughing it off,(because really, it wasn't her or the horse's fault) she was crying so loud the entire barn could hear her, for over 15 minutes- "But I wanted it to be perfect!"

When we got back to the stalls, I put on my best teary-voice and said, "But I wanted it to be perfect!" Not a one of us could stop laughing for quite some time.

So, after that, we were in dead last. The person who is last goes first in show-jumping. My goal was simple: to go out there and make people wonder what on earth we were doing in dead last. The course was very, very simple. 1 jump on the long side, then diagonal, diagonal, diagonal, outside line, final jump. For those ambitiously minded, or for those with nothing to lose, there were two ways to get to jump 2. You could go around the final fence, or you could make a 90-angle turn right after you landed after the first fence and go between two other fences. My goal was making this turn.

As Val was being a tad inattentive the day before, we spent the warm up making sure he was listening. We warmed up on a loose rein as usual, then we started doing some really fun stuff. Walk to canter, canter to trot to halt, walk to canter in a different direction serpentines (we can't do canter-halt yet). These really got him pushing off his hind end, and he was being incredibly well-behaved. We started jumping, and after we'd jumped the vertical a couple of times, we halted a few strides out from the vertical, then jumped it, just to check and make sure that he was listening. His jump improved tremendously with these; especially when we did this at the oxer. He was really pushing over the fences.

So, that was the horse I took out into the jumping arena. Val will occasionally lengthen his stride on the way to fences, but I really held him to a spot on our first fence. We landed, made the turn look easy, and continued on to do a near-perfect course. We didn't touch one rail! It was the best round I have ever had, and I couldn't have been more proud of him. The announcer was saying my thanks to my mom and trainer again. I wrote, "My trainer deserves a huge kudos as well, for all the long hours she's spent trying to make me a rider," and after he read it, he said that it looked like she'd succeeded! It was such a cool thing to hear.

As we came out of the arena, we were handed our AEC Completion ribbon. I stuck it on Val's breast collar, and felt like I had won first place rather than ended in last. I jumped off, loosened his girth, and told him what a good boy he was. Then we packed up and came home.

And that was my AEC adventure! Although things didn't go as planned, I had a great time and wouldn't have changed my experience for the world. Val's having a bit of a break after all this hard work; we're scaling back to only a few rides a week for a while to give him a rest. I rode him today for the first time since we've been back and he was great! We did dressage and some more of those neat canter serpentines. He felt really engaged in his work and happy to be being ridden; he was in such a good mood when I saddled him up! He has even asked for some attention while in his stall the last few days. That is pretty odd for him; he's never been one of those horses that wants to be in your lap.

And even after our AEC "flop", the thing I love the most about my horse is that he doesn't care that our ribbon was purple and maroon. He still nickers at me when I whistle to him, and that's all that really matters.

Edit: Thought I'd put up this picture too, even if my expression is rather interesting. Look at those perfect knees! Those happy, pricked-forward ears!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Jumping on Terrain

Yesterday we put together a dressage arena back in the area next to the pond to school in today, and set up some jumps back there that we schooled over yesterday. Man, was it a lot of (icky!) work hauling the standards and jumps, completely covered in mud, goop, and spiders, into the back of mom's truck, then unloading them and carrying them around the hills until we got everything set up.

And how many jumps did we make? 4. 5, if you count the one that was a pole wedged into a small split tree, held at the other end by a human "standard". We had a combination that could be ridden either uphill or down, a jump in the woods augmented with some real logs, and a plank-jump by a large tree.

We warmed up in the field by the pond, then walked over to the jumping area. We had some barrels set up just before you crossed a small trough made by two equally small hills, and we jumped those a few times before we moved over to where the real jumps were. We started with the plank fence by the tree, which was a just a cross-rail for warm up.

Our first approach to it, Val spooked and actually ran out to the left, and I didn't do as much as I could have to stop it. I did reach back and smack him, but I didn't pull the right rein like I should have to redirect him to the right. So, I got a bit of a talking-to about not riding every fence. My trainer pointed out that since I most likely could have gotten him over it the first time, I should have, because if the same thing happens at nationals, we won't want the points that come with a run out if we can help it! On the plus side, though, I wasn't even vaguely put off balance by his refusal, which is definitely an improvement. In the past, refusals would at the very least put me very off-balance and only half-on my horse, and at the worst, I would fall. That's a good improvement, anyhow.

We approached the plank-jump again, and this time got over it, although I was a bit tight on his face because I wanted to prevent another run-out. He jumped pretty happily over it, although I didn't release the way I should have. A third attempt had him jumping it like it was no big deal, and me releasing well. It turns out that we use a crest release, which we do probably 98% of the time, the place where his mane switches from white to black is where my hands belong. How convenient!

We then jumped the second piece of the downhill as part of a circle with the plank jump going the other direction. Once we had that well, we did the downhill. We trotted it the first time, because the approach to the first part of the downhill is a pretty sharp turn, and we weren't quite as balanced as we should have been. We then tried it again at a canter, this time with instructions to go to the "natural" fence with the logs in the trees if things went well. They did, and as we approached the jump, Val hesitated and dropped to a trot, but I added leg and smacked him on the shoulder with the bat and he jumped it gamely enough. Then we were instructed to ride the natural fence the opposite way, and do the uphill combination, which we did.

After all these uphills and downhills, I was really starting to like the influence terrain had on my horse's stride. This is probably the first time I've really jumped uphill and down besides banks in our XC schooling, and it's quite a bit different. We practiced getting a good, balanced canter going downhill and keeping our impulsion going uphill, both of which were fun.

Finally, we jumped the jump in the split trees. Val had absolutely no apprehensions about it, and although we did take a few small branches with us, he jumped it well. We ended on that and went back to the barn feeling pretty good. Another of my trainer's students, an older woman who primarily does endurance, was waiting in the dressage arena for us to get done, and assumed the lead on the path to the barn, which is very long and straight. Val is always ansy about being behind other horses, so I always try to make him deal with it.

He got exceptionally displeased when Elmer began to trot, and we began leg yielding to the right and then back to the left. When he broke to a very prancy trot, my trainer told me that he could either walk, or he could piaffe back to the barn. So, although we obviously couldn't produce it under normal circumstances, we got to do a few steps of what was apparently a fairly decent piaffe as Val threw a fit that he wasn't allowed to trot after Elmer. It was a very, very cool feeling. I'd never really realized just how much they shifted their weight back to their haunches when they did a piaffe, and you could really feel that shift while Val was doing it. He finally calmed down and was allowed to walk back to the barn on a loose rain, happy as a clam.

Today we're back to dressage, and I'm going to drop my whip before going in to the arena we set up yesterday to simulate the conditions of the test on Friday. I am doing lots of mental "prep" for the AECs; every time I think about them, I try to imagine myself setting in front of the dressage arena waiting for the person before me to finish, and then I try to push away my nerves and exchange them for a very calm, sedated feeling. This year, we had a couple of dressage tests that started with us cantering center line because of my nerves, so I'm doing everything I can to make sure that doesn't happen at the AECs! I have no idea if this well help or not, but it certainly can't hurt!

Finally, Val got his tail and mane washed last night, and for the rest of the days leading up to the AECs, his legs will get washed every night to help get out any embedded stains, so that they'll shine nice and white for the competition! His tail turned out especially nice; it's even in a fairly decent braid to keep it as clean as possible until Tuesday evening when he gets his final bath.

So, the schedule until we leave:
Today- Dressage lesson. Wash white. Bring all tack home.
Monday- Val's day off. Wash white. Clean tack/boots. Wash sheet.
Tuesday- Bring tack back. Dressage lesson. Wash Val completely. Pack trailer.
Wednesday- Wrap legs. Leave! (Wash legs in morning if necessary.)

We leave early Wednesday morning. 3 days. Here we come!

Friday, September 4, 2009

"I stand on the outside, would die to get in..."

"I stand on the outside/ would die to get in/ I crawl inside just to begin again." -Shinedown, "Begin Again"

I think I'm really beginning to understand the extent of what I don't know about dressage. We've been focusing pretty heard on it for the last week and a half, and although we've improved, I feel like I've finally reached the top of a really big hill, and now I can finally see most of everything in "DressageLand". And 90% looks foreign and compeltely difficult!

Today, my trainer rode Val before my lesson and I got to watch. She was explaining how she wanted me to work on keeping the contact even. After having my trainer on him for an hour, Val started to look really, really good. He was really reaching with his hind end and he was taking a soft and steady connection to the bit. It was so great to see!

Then I got on and could feel just how much she had changed. It was a huge difference; it was like riding a school master dressage horse. I asked, and he just did. It was a great feeling, but it just makes me wish more and more that I could get him that way myself! She said that I had been ignoring or not pushing him on lots of little tiny thing, like him not taking a strong enough contact to the right reign here, or him throwing his haunches or shoulders a bit here... obviously I can't catch these tiny flaws yet. My trainer points out that she's been riding dressage/eventing for over 12 years, and she still can't feel every minute imperfection he produces.

She says that being able to make those changes will come in time, and while we'll work on it in our next lessons, it's difficult for me to try to make those changes when I don't know exactly what I'm asking for.

All of this is true, but it just serves to make me feel very, very humble. Humble, introspective... all good adjectives to describe how I feel at the moment.

I also got to see Breeze work. He's an old horse of my trainer's trainer, and he went all the way to Intermediate eventing! Which, to me, mean's he's practically a god. He did canter pirouettes, and tempi changes, and canter half-passes, and even piaffe (although he doesn't have the greatest piaffe). He's a paint, so he doesn't have the most spectacular movement on the face of the planet, but he still looks great for being nearly 25! The idea of a horse with huge, sweeping gates doing what Breeze did just leaves my jaw completely dropped. I'm trying to imagine multiplying the amazing things he did x 5 or so. It should be lots of fun to watch the upper level dressage at the AECs!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I'm alive when I'm vulnerable...

"I'm alive when I'm vulnerable/ I'm out of control, I'm losing my soul."
-"Alive" Papa Roach

Our schooling show went very well last Sunday! In dressage, we put in one of the best, most forward tests we have the entire year and ended up with a score in the low 30's. He needed to be rounder through parts, and there was one trot circle where he almost broke to a canter, but other than that, that's the test I want at nationals! We got all 6's and 7's :)

Then, we went and did stadium, where we had one refusal at this brick wall. I didn't realize fast enough to swat him and get him over, but I did realize in time to shove my lower leg forward so I didn't come off! Then we went right to the XC box, walked around for a few minutes, then went.

The refusal in stadium rattled me a bit, so I was nervous and really pushing him to all the jumps and riding defensively, but that wasn't exactly a bad thing! We did everything at a really good pace, with a pretty controlled gallop, and even cantered through the water with zero hesitation. We got 2 strides in this one combination, which I was happy with. He's short-strided, so we have a tendency to put 3 strides in that combination and get a bleh spot to the second jump. It rode well, though. We ended in 3rd place! So a very good weekend. Without the refusal, we'd have been in first!

This week, my trainer has called to my attention the we've been making some holes in our dressage. Of course we have! He's started to carry his haunches to the inside in the canter, and we can't have that. He's also started to go a bit above the bit, so we spent the lesson on Friday working on making the contact even in my hands.

We did a pretty simple test: give one rein forward 2 inches. Does he reach forward and take the contact? If he does, squeeze the rein you've given and take the contact up a bit (you did the right thing!) and release the other rein for a step (good boy!). If he doesn't, ask with the leg on the side of the rein you've given to encourage him to do so. You can do it with both reins going either direction, and it really helps them to understand, "Yes, you need to hold the contact like this."

I've apparently been really lax with what I've been accepting in our dressage works as far as roundness goes. I can't really feel the difference between what he's been giving me and what he needs to be giving me. So we're trying to always ride under the eyes of my trainer and really make sure we're doing everything right on the way to nationals. Since dressage is the most important part of the score, we really need to do well.

Nationals in 12 days! Yikes. Yikes, yikes, yikes.

I'm so excited.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Banks, Riders, and Falls, oh my!

We had our cross country schooling today in preparation for tomorrow's one-day. It actually went very well, except for some rather significant lows- both my trainer and I fell off, and there was at least 1 scarily incompetent horse/rider combo.

We actually went to a concert last night, Shinedown/Rev Theory at the State Fair (which was awesome!) so we were all really tired for cross country this morning, although we perked up after we set up the dressage arena for the show tomorrow and ate lunch. Then, we tacked up the boys and headed out.

My trainer went first, and except for a fall/slight mishap at a trakehner, was very pleased with her horse. It was my turn. Things started out just so-so; after the first few jumps we did a bit of gallop-collect because he was dwelling a bit. Once I had a more forward horse, things started going pretty awesome. At the first jump, we were cut off by this one rider, who I'm fairly sure has been rude/stuck up at other shows I've been to. A long way away from the fence I was jumping, I called, "Novice!". Then, as I saw her going in the same general direction, I called it twice as loud, and she said, "That's where I'm going too!" Really? Did you ever think about maybe calling it?!

At the warm up area, I also saw this one crazy out-of-control horse and rider. They were having major steering/stopping difficulties, and the rider looked completely out of shape and overfaced with this horse. The scariest thing? She was teaching others! She'll come in to play later.

So, we continued on, jumping the next roll top twice and then heading through the trees. There is this one fence that's just plain rails on either side of a large brush, but I've always thought it was a bit freaky. Today, we jumped it! My trainer told me to go a bit far away in the field, gallop for a while until the fence, then really get his "dressage" canter and make him jump it well. So, we did exactly that. A few strides out, I felt, "Eh, I don't know about this, mom" but I was able to change his mind with my handy stick. Then we came back and did it again with less hesitation and more "go" on landing.

We were going to jump a large grey ramp to the novice rails combination, but out-of-control lady comes barreling towards it, has a really violent run-out from her horse, and falls off, apparently injuring her ankle. It was a complete non-surprise. That she even pointed that horse at a fence the way he was going is beyond unbelievable. The horse looked like a really fantastic guy that, under the right hands, could be amazing. He ran off to the trailers with, oddly, one of her students chasing him on horseback! Really, who doesn't know that it's a bad idea to chase after a loose horse? They only run faster. (The lady was fine except for a sprained ankle.)

So, instead of doing the grey ramp, we just came straight to the rails combo, did that twice, then headed down to the water. There, we jumped the cordwood very nicely and I finally cantered through the water! We usually trot through it and pick up a canter in the middle, but this time we cantered all the way. We also did a tiny bank up out of the water a few times, and that went fine.

We headed out to the remainder of the novice course, did another in and out, and then received our assignment- go jump the novice log to the bank down, come around and jump the red coup, then jump the red roll top.

Well, I had a mite of a problem with the bank down. Two, actually. We hopped over the log easy, and I was attempting to get a nice, slow canter to approach the bank down. Well, apparently I forgot to add more leg with my hand, and Val thought, "Stop? Okay." Problem number 1. Then, I remember actually weighing my options- reaching back and smacking him, which would probably cause him to jump way out off the bank, or just letting him stop. I didn't smack him. Problem number 2. So, I did a rather painful tumble down the bank. I've got to tell you, looking at the ground from the particular angle I was at in the air was a bit disturbing. I was really lucky I didn't land straight on my head; I tucked at the last minute and rolled on my shoulders.

Val, being the good boy he is, was just on the top of the bank staring down at me. He seemed to be saying, "Well, that was dumb." I agreed. I'd had the breath knocked out of me and had hurt both my shoulder and thumb minorly. So, my trainer told me to hand my horse off to my mom and walk around a bit and drink some water. Once I could actually breathe again, I got back on, and trotted off the bank several times until we had it down. Then, we ended up just doing a real simple coup a few times.

Except for that mishap, it was a very successful day for my horse and I. At out last event, where we got third, I felt like I was lacking speed control on cross country. I was very close to pulling up and retiring on course, but I didn't. Why? Because the jumps were coming great- we had a great ride to every one. He even saved my butt on a bank up that I got him to on a ridiculous angle. He was like, "S'okay mom, I'll fix it!" He just hopped right up. My trainer pointed out the obvious- jumps always ride better when you actually have impulsion.

Turns out, that's very nearly the feeling I want. I'd just never gotten up to that speed before, and it felt uncomfortable to me. So, today we practiced on kicking it up a notch to real XC speed, and not trying to maintain our show-jumping canter around the whole course. It worked much better. I've also been having a bit of a problem lately with getting the spot different from my horse; either jumping ahead of or behind him. That was much better today.

It helps that XC is really my comfort zone; I have complete faith in my and Val's abilities. Sure, we still fall off every once in a while, (that's actually only my second XC fall) but going out there with any uncertainty is always a bad idea. It translates so easily to the horse, and can lead to ugly things. XC is all about being confident. If you can't put your nerves in a steel-tight box or find a horse that can deal with a rider's nerves, you don't belong out there. It is so much better to go out believing things will be great then feeling that you know they'll go wrong.

So, that's my bit of wisdom for the day. I'm thinking tomorrow will go well, and we'll prove that we really are ready for nationals. I'm still so excited!

(Dang- I can't believe I have to add a "falls" label already!)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Back to Regular Riding!

So I went three whole days without riding. Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, I focused exclusively on homework, and I just barely managed to get it finished for Tuesday! (Yes, it was entirely my fault for putting off until that late in the first place.) Fortunately, I got to go back to actually riding on Tuesday. Thank goodness!

We did just simple dressage on Tuesday. He was surprisingly good; I really thought he'd act up more than he did, considering it was very windy and threatening to rain. He was a really good boy! We did lots of quality work in the walk especially. I did one of his least favorite exercises; where we turn in to the rail suddenly and his haunches follow my seat until he makes a 90 degree angle with the rail. Then, I ask for a few steps of leg yield. He's best going right (off the left leg), so I tried to do a bit more going left (off the right leg).

We also worked some more on our shoulder-in in both the walk and trot, and that's starting to get better. Funny how things do that when you actually work on them! He was also really responsive to my leg aids when I asked for lengthenings. We did a lot of work on the rail, since there were tons of lesson kids who were also using the arena and jumping a course!

Today, we did just a little bit of jumping. I was planning on riding for at least an hour, but we jumped everything that was set up out there at least 5 or so times, and completed the one really tight turn that was set up well several times, so I decided to cut it short. Oddly enough, he gave me two wrong leads on his walk-to-canters. I must have been doing something wrong; he usually never gives me wrong leads on those! Both times I just brought him back down to a walk, made sure his haunches weren't to the outside, and asked again, and he got it. Walk-to-canters really give him the impulsion and drive he needs for jumping, so we do a lot of them.

I've actually been schooling him over jumps in his elevator gag, but on the snaffle ring, so it's basically just a snaffle with no gag action. He's been great! In dressage, he goes in a fat, double-jointed snaffle. I'm glad we've been able to back off on his bits; it makes me worry much less about my hands! When I first got him, he was in a plain snaffle for dressage, then we moved up to a Dr. Bristol, then we just used the Dr. Bristol for shows and the snaffle for at home, and now we just use our double-jointed all the time. Progress! :)

We're supposed to have a XC schooling on Saturday followed by a one-day schooling show on Sunday, but I'm not sure it'll be held with all this rain we're having. If it gets too muddy, the footing can be dangerous for XC and the course can get really chewed up by the horses. Maybe they'll just make it a combined test? Fingers crossed, because we really need the schooling before nationals.

I also borrowed a meter wheel today so that I can wheel the perimeter and finally start working on figuring out our speeds- probably just 350 mpm to start with, since that's BN speed. I hope I can get out and do that tomorrow. I have to figure out what I'm going to mark the distances with, though!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sunshine Rain

I always think it looks so bizarre when it's absolutely pouring down rain but the sun is shining. When I went out last night to take care of Val, I was feeding him an apple when it just started pouring, but I could see the bright sun reflecting off the covering of the hitching post for the lesson kids. Very strange.

Because of the homework, I did not get to ride yesterday, but Val got turned out after the rain stopped and promptly rolled in the mud! That's my boy ;) He actually had pep in his step; he almost trotted away from me. I can always measure his energy level by what he does when I take off the halter. Usually, he just walks away.

About a week ago, I hopped on bareback in the evening, so it was kind of cool out and he kept asking, "Run Buck Play?!" and after I said no several times, he quit asking. Thank goodness he usually asks! After I got off, I turned him out and he trotted away, rolled in the dirt, then he thought really, really hard about bucking/rearing right then. However, he realized he needed to shake off the dirt first, so he did, then he reared once, bucked exactly twice, then came trotting back up to the gate! Is that really all you had in you, silly boy? I love watching him rear; he is incredibly balanced up there. I certainly don't want to encourage him to do it when he's near me or I'm on him, but if he does it voluntarily, it's beautiful to watch.

Here's hoping I can finish my homework today and ride!

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Beautiful but Tiring Day

Today looked like it was going to be real hot, but it leveled out real nice in the evening, and it was beautiful when I got to the barn around 7. I put him out in one of the dirt turnouts while I did his stall and got him new shavings, then I tacked him up and rode outdoors. The sun was setting while I was riding, so there was plenty of light but virtually no heat.

I've been working lately on not getting stuck in a rut and doing the same exercises over and over again. I have a tendency to just focus on the newest thing I've learned in my lessons (or worse, just ride the same 20m circle over and over!), and not do some of the older exercises that are still very important. So, I dug out an old one I remembered that actually incorporated what we did last lesson, just in a different pattern.

The "Bow Tie" Pattern
It's just a figure 8-ish shape that touches the long side of an arena, such as at B. You ride from B to M in a working trot, make about a 15 m turn off the rail, and come back to B at an lengthened trot. Then, B to F, you can ride shoulder in. Another 15 m turn off the rail, and come back to B by leg-yielding. There are tons of variations you can do, but we worked on a lengthening / shoulder-in and leg yield bow tie. We don't really have a true lengthening yet, but we're working in that direction. He did really well with it, especially the leg yields.

We set up a course in the outdoor on Wednesday, and the jumps were still set up today, so we had to get a little creative in our bow tie, but it worked just the same. The hardest part for us is definitely the shoulder-in, so we schooled a lot of that at the walk before we started the bow tie exercise. His lengthenings were getting better at the end, too.

Since we're currently planning on going to nationals, where you can't use whips in dressage, my instructor said I should ride without it every once in a while, and today was the first day I tried it. He was really good in the "forward" aspect of the things, but I just didn't feel like I had the same control in our lateral movements like the leg yields, and especially the shoulder-in. I ended up picking it back up about half-way through the ride. I definitely want to school some more without it. Makes me glad our test doesn't have any shoulder-ins!

After the ride, I cooled him off and was thinking about just leaving when I got really motivated, for some odd reason, and decided to do my instructor's two stalls, too. So I lugged two more loads of shavings to their respective stalls, and got completely covered in the itchy stuff. Thank goodness it comes off easy!

I wish I could ride tomorrow, but I am completely swamped with summer homework that needs to be done by Tuesday, and I have to help clean house in the morning, plus we have company in the afternoon. I'm thinking he'll just have his day off tomorrow instead of Monday for a change. Although I might apparently be taking said company out to the barn to meet pony. We'll see!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Mandatory Intro Post

I've been thinking about opening up shop on my own blog for a while now, so here goes! You've come across the blog of a soon-to-be 17 year old girl and her 13 year old horse. "Blue Eyed Eventers" comes from the fact that we both have blue eyes, and are, shockingly, both eventers. It also abbreviates nicely to BEE, which I think is catchy. Anywho.

The four legged blue eyed critter is Valerius Magnus, who goes by Val. He's a 15.3 hand bay paint who started life as a western do-everything horse, and I first met him in somebody's front yard. The old man that had taken him from start to 12 years old had sadly passed away, and it was time for "Sunday" to find a new home. He found that home with me. He went from getting close to 4lbs a grain daily and living with an apple tree in his pasture (that no one actually knew was an apple tree until he left!) to getting considerably less grain, and a lot more work! He's flourished in the year I've had him, and he's become a very fancy boy. Although I might be a tad biased.

The two legged blue eyed girl is me, Sam. I've been riding for about 3 years, but the the first year and a half were extremely basic years of little more than stay on the horse, trot the horse, canter the horse! When I passed in to my current instructor's hands with a rather exaggerated reputation from my previous instructor, she was a little bit surprised! Fortunately, I improved from not even being able to trot her first level dressage and novice level event horse to a fairly functional rider, but there's always more to fix and more to learn.

This summer has been an amazing one for me and Val- we've competed at 5 different events at the beginner novice level, and we've had a great time doing it! There have been plenty of bumps along the way, such as a terrible case of "canter center line" for a few dressage tests (pure nerves on my part!), but we've learned a lot. We're qualified for the AEC's, or American Eventing Championships, and it's looking like we're going to be able to go. I am extremely psyched, and even if we do poorly, it'll be a great experience and a great way to end our first year.

So, that's the tip of the iceberg for Val and I, and for the blog itself. I could extend the lovely iceberg metaphor some more, but I think I'll just leave it at that. :)