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!


  1. How exciting! "But I wanted it to be perfect!" I would've been laughing my butt off if Greta was sneezing all over the place. The judges shouldn't count off for an allergy attack, unless they get snot on them! Mmm... projectile snottage.......... lol

    You guys sounded like you totally kicked butt, even if you didn't get first place. You showed them what you could do, you felt it was your best performance, it was great learning experience, and you had fun! That's what counts! Give Val a big hug for me.

  2. Thank you! I can't wait to see videos and pictures from the AECs. It was so much fun!

  3. Sounds like loads of fun! Good job on the very successful bits of your ride - it sounds like you have a good attitude about the parts that weren't so perfect, too! Having fun is so much more important than "wanting it to be perfect". Sounds like your sj course was awesome!

  4. I did have tons of fun! It was a stellar week all around. I definitely try to not get down whenever I don't do well, because really, there's nothing to be done about it. You get what you get, and that's that. No use crying over spilt milk, or something like that. :) Plus you can always do better the next time if you know what went wrong!

    SJ was so, so awesome. I can't even explain how good it felt to go out there and just show everyone how awesome my boy can be :) I have never been happier with him!

  5. AEC flop it was NOT! You got your completion ribbon and you came home with a sound and happy horse. AEC flop is when your horse breaks on XC :-/ I dunno about you though, I had a serious BLAST right up until the moment I saw her big legs. Everything else was amazing. I saw that snake on your course, that thing was SCARY! Almost as scary as our FISH!

  6. PS - sorry I tried to kill you guys by putting horse-eating tape on Gogo's ears XD

  7. Thank you! Poor Gogo, she has all my wishes for a speedy recovery. I think the definition of an "AEC flop" is a horse/rider pair who go, although they are unprepared, do poorly, and complain about it at the top of their lungs while treating their horse poorly. Now that's a flop! You and Gogo definitely didn't have a flop, just an unfortunate accident.

    Ha ha, Val was more concerned about the water than the snake! On our video, you can see him do very crafty things with his legs to not step in the water; he had no problem with the snake (which was, oddly enough, upside down)! I'm sure he would've looked at that pesky fish, though.

    Horse-eating tape happens! No big deal :)