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. :)