Monday, June 30, 2008

Off to be a working student - Summer 2008

Today was my third day of being a working student for Gabriele Hooten, our dressage trainer. Octavian is settling in at her place nicely, and seems happy, he doesn't seem to miss his stable buddy of 15 years (they have rarely been apart, for a few months at the most) much at all, which is a relief to me. I was worried that he would become terribly depressed and we would have to bring him home.
So far I am really enjoying being a working student. We've already had two dressage lessons, the first we worked on bending (always!), and the second we applied what we had accomplished with bending and worked on getting him to really relax, come through, and use his back at the canter. We are taking steps back to work on basics that we seemed to have missed a couple of years ago. I love that Gabriele is honest enough, and knowledgable enough to realize this and make us take a step back and work on those sorts of things. I feel as if I am learning a lot, which is wonderful, because that is absolutely my favorite thing to do on a horse.
I really look forward to improving our dressage this summer and making it our main focus (we will still be trailering to Plain Dealing to take lessons with Molly and are of course working very hard on our fitness for the one star). Speaking of fitness, Molly has given me a new schedule to put Octavian on that is geared toward the CCI* in the fall. So far we've had great success with it, and I can tell that it is making a difference.
Hopefully soon I will return to post and have new pictures with a much improved Huxley and Octavian.

Rubicon HT - June 2008

Rubicon has been a rather large obstacle for me mentally for the past year. We were eleminated there in June 2007, and had a horrible event all around. We were pressed for time and had no warm up for dressage, leaving us with a score of 53. Stadium had gone fairly well, but we didn't make it past the first water on cross country. So, going back to Rubicon was a big deal for us. I had reserved stabing at Idyll Time Bed and Breakfast about 2 months in advance. Since Rubicon doesn't offer on site stabling, and we have to travel 5 hours to get there, I wanted to make sure that I had everything planned ahead of time. We arrived on time Friday afternoon and after getting Octavian settled in headed out to walk the cross country course. Molly was not at this event, so I was relying on myself to apply what I had learned in the past 3 months to get me through the event. The course was very similiar to the way it had been the year before, which only added to my nerves. However, after walking it, my biggest concern was the corner to table combination. A maxed out table was 3-4 strides after the corner at an offset to the left. I walked the combination several times and just couldn't seem to get the right line. I finally found one that I was comfortable with and moved onto the rest of the course.
Thankfully I had early ride times on Saturday, since there was a forecast for 100 degree weather. I didn't have as much time as I would have liked to have to warm up for dressage, but Octavian was being a wonderful boy and was listening (or trying to) to the best of his ability. I was a little worried about Preliminary test 'b', we had worked on shoulder-ins in a lesson with Gabriele, and they hadn't gone wonderfully. Unfortunately, at the time of that lesson, Octavian had a sore neck/mouth/jaw from getting vaccinations and having his teeth floated so not much work got done in that lesson, and then Gabriele was away in Germany. The next issue was the medium canter. We still didn't "have it" and our 20m medium canter circle always ended up being too strung out. On top of it all, the dressage judge was sitting in a horse trailer. Octavian didn't know what to think of that! Despite the fact that he rides in a horse trailer approximately 8-10 hours round trip for almost every event, he kept looking at the horse trailer like it would reach out and grab him at any given moment. Or maybe he was wondering what people were doing inside of one? Who knows. Thankfully we had lots of time to go around the ring, so we got to take a good look at the trailer from all angles except straight ahead of course. So, upon going up the centerline, he stared at the horse trailer with fear in his eyes. Infact, everytime we came near it, he stared like it would eat him! I really do feel sorry for him, poor guy! As I had feared, our shoulder-ins were not fantastic, but it turns out the rest of the test was not that bad. I wouldn't get a chance to look at my dressage score until I was finished with cross country, but we ended up scoring a 40.0, which was our best score yet! Still not great, but steady improvement! It left me in 14th after dressage.
As it heated up between dressage and stadium, I had thoughts of scratching and not going cross country. However, I decided that I would take it fence by fence, and if he felt tired or overheated I would retire. He was concentrating well during stadium warm up, but I kept it to a minimum because of the heat. I always love Rubicon's stadium course, especially the the hill right in the middle of it, I find it very fun! What Molly had been talking about finally clicked when I went in to do my round (the aforementioned "gallop"). I was really pleased with our round. I managed not to panick at all, and we got decent spots to every fence and had a double clear.
After stadium, they were looking for riders to go cross country, so I volunteered. I thought that it would be better for Octavian not to have much time in between, otherwise he would cool down, have to warm up again, and that would have been very taxing in the extreme heat. Before going into the start box, I briefly worked on getting him moving off of my leg by doing the canter-gallop-canter transitions. We danced around a bit before leaving the start box (he's really loving his job lately, he couldn't wait to go!), and he was pulling for his head approaching the first fence, he was being very strong. So far I had done well with spots, but for the first two fences on course, both very simple, we got two long spots. Nothing dangerous, and I guess 2 fences out of about 35-40 isn't bad, but I was hoping for perfection! After the first 2, we headed onto the big brush box oxer fence, and then down to 4 and 5. Fence number 6ab was two coops, covered by a white cloth material that had to be jumped at an angle (seems pretty common at preliminary lately), Octavian gave those a hard look (white cloth must be scary!), and I had to make sure to keep my leg on. The rest of the course was a blast, he was perfect at everything. Riding up to the corner to table combination, I found a line and kept my eye on it, and was very relieved to be through that combination! Because of the heat, I didn't push too hard for speed around the course. We came home clear, but with 12.4 time penalties.
I was so pleased with Rubicon, Octavian was absolutely wonderful, and I came away from the event very happy. We even came home with a 7th place ribbon! Our first ribbon in a long time.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Virginia HT - May 2008

I always love VHT because it is so close to home! Despite that fact, we still got there after dark and I didn't get to walk the course with Molly, but the plan was to walk it and then talk to her about it. The course was relatively nice, it didn't seem to have anything too difficult. My biggest worry was the corner on course, which came after the barrels, down a steep hill, and required a right turn to the corner. Molly's instructions were to just make sure that I had him together going into the corner, even if it meant going to the bottom of the hill and nearly stopping before turning.
Dressage went okay for us, Octavian was acting distracted in warm up. The new warm up ring at the horse center is a huge improvement, I think Octavian was just surprised at the fact that he could peek over the fence and see the other dressage arena, so he did that a lot. Eventually he settled down though. We managed somehow not to be too distracted in arena 'C' (I always have to ride in that arena, the one by the woods, where you can also see the other dressage ring down the hill). We did however have another brief tantrum, right at C, I asked for a little more bend and he swung his haunches in, I corrected it and going into our lengthening we had a couple of canter strides in the corner, but we managed to recover to do the rest of our lengthening. The rest of the test wasn't bad, our canter was much improved which is a big deal because Octavian has such a difficult canter! As always, I wasn't sure what our score would be.
Octavian felt asbolutely wonderful warming up for cross country. At Difficult Run, Molly had suggested that I get him moving off of my leg by doing gallop-canter transitions. Those really seemed to help a lot, and I used them again while warming up for cross country. Octavian felt wonderful on course, he was listening so well it seemed like he could read my mind. On top of it all, we were having a lot of fun! I was still a litle worried about the corner, but thankfully Octavian was willing to listen. After the barrels, he was strong going down the hill, so I did head toward the trees and really collect him before turning torward the corner. The rest of the course went really well. I knew that I was going to have a few time penalties, but again that wasn't a big priority for us at the time.
I had only jumped in the coliseum once before, in the fall, and our round had not been all that great. I was naturally a little nervous about the coliseum. I walked my stadium course with Molly, who also helped us warm up before going in. She kept telling me to gallop, which I didn't understand completely at the time (but did it anyway), I could have kept more impulsion in my stadium course, but we only had one rail, a vertical at an offset to the ingate. We also had a few sticky spots, but toward the middle of the course they started to improve. We also ended up with 3 time penalties, our first time ever getting time penalties in stadium, however the time seemed really hard to make.
Once again, I was pretty happy coming away from the weekend and was becoming really excited about the new bond I was forming with Octavian. We were really starting to build new trust for each other in all phases. We had our sights set on Rubicon.

Lesson - May 2008

After our stadium round at Difficult Run, it was clear that we needed to work on our stadium. After watching the video of our course, and watching us warm up, Molly determined that the problem was me panicking and asking for long spots. We worked on this throughout the lesson, and had a couple of rough spots where I still panicked and asked for the long spot, but by the end I was feeling better and knew what I needed to work on and how to fix it. After working for about half an hour in stadium, we went out on cross country and schooled. We worked more on corners, which went really well. I however had a near dismount coming down to a skinny, we got a funny spot causing Octavian to twist in the air. I somehow hung on. In the end we ended up doing that exercise well. I really enjoy lessons, because I always learn something and love applying what I've learned to my riding. Below is an informal blog entry after the lesson:

"We had a pretty good lesson, it had a few bumps, but I always come away from my lessons with Molly feeling more confident, which is great. We did half stadium and half cross country, it only rained a little bit when we were in the stadium ring, but thankfully it didn't pour like it did on the way down there! We started off by doing a cross rail to a plank on a circle, worked on turning, we were fine with it, however we did work on keeping a consistent rthym and not taking flyers. She then put it up and we did it from both directions, she had me really sit in more of a 3 point position and work on really following with my elbows. After that we did more turning work with a little red vertical to a white gate type of thing, mainly worked on the same things while thinking about really keeping his canter active but together. Next, we did the oxer to swedish oxer and worked on keeping an active canter, we also went throught the triple, then did the barrels, to the swedish oxer. We briefly went through the triple. We did the skinny twice by itself, once as it was, and then she put it up, and then she put it with the red vertical and we worked on going from skinny to vertical and vertical to skinny (with 1 stride in between), we ended working on the barrels, to swedish oxer, to the stone wall. After that, we headed out to do cross country. Started out with the water, cantered through, came back, did the little verticle, 2 strides to the drop, then went over the rolltop, down the drop and then 2 strides through the water to the log. I had issues getting him straight to the rolltop. Molly said that it's a common fault of teenagers' to not pay attention to detail, (so slow down thought process and ride stride by stride), but I'm pretty determined to change that with me. After the water, we moved onto the sunken road. I asked her if we could do the one stride side (I have a feeling that I will see something similiar to that at Rubicon, or at least jump two strides down a bank), because I had some nerves about it from Southern Pines. We warmed up over the two stride, then took the one stride and he was great. Next, we moved onto the roller coaster bank thingy, and had a few bumps here. The first time we lost impulsion and didn't make it over the coop, I rode more forward the second time and we were fine. Then, we were supposed to come back through it the other way and take the skinny. We came through, I didn't ride too well, we got a bad line to the skinny, but he still thought about going and twisted in the air really funkily, and I nearly fell off but didn't (very close though!), so then we took the skinny by itself and he was good, and then we came back and did the whole exercise and it went well. We then moved onto the corners, which surprisingly went perfectically. After that we did some work with the ditch to rolltop and then rolltop to ditch, that was easy. We ended on doing a combination of skinnys, the log rails ones with two strides on a slightly bending line. Afterwards I asked her about the one star in the fall, and about moving up to intermediate. She said that Morven was a good one star to do, that I probably shouldn't move up before the one star because if we have a bad time for some reason it will hurt our confidence, and it would be best to give him 3-4 weeks off after the one star. So, that would put us moving up in the spring with a couple of prelims to warm up with. I asked her for specific things we needed to work on in order to work toward that goal, and she said consistantly getting right lines in stadium, and being able to come back from a canter-gallop, gallop-canter and land and then gallop away. She said that my eye was good cross country, but that he just needs to be more rideable in stadium, and that can be something to work on over the winter. We're also planning to have him vet checked before moving up, and will actually probably do that before the one star (do a flexion test to see if he's okay with moving up), and then see if he needs any injections etc etc. I'm really excited though because I feel like I have an approved plan now!"

Difficult Run HT - May 2008

Last fall, I was eleminated at Difficult Run. The rolling irish bank had caught us off guard. The weekend after the fall horse trial, we had gone out and schooled the bank, which turned out to be lots of fun. I remember thinking that the course seemed big and daunting in August of 2007. We had three stops at the bank and were eleminated. So, coming back to Difficult Run was a little bit nerve racking. I felt more confident about our abilities this spring then I had in the fall, but I was just hoping we could use them well for this event.
We were having trouble warming up for dressage. Unfortunately the dressage ring is right by the cross country course, and Octavian was consistently glancing over at the jumps instead of concentrating. We went into the ring tense, but thankfully had no tantrums. Once again, I was not expecting a decent score at all, I wasn't pleased with our ride, we had made lots of improvements at home in weekly dressage lessons with Gabriele Hooten, and I was a little dissapointed that we were instead too tense to put in the test that we were capable of.
I walked my course with Molly later that afternoon, and was pleasently surprised to find that the course seemed small to me and the combinations seemed straightforward. The course looked like a lot of fun with plenty of chances to develop a really nice galloping rhthym. I wasn't too worried about anything, not even the irish bank. I was really looking forward to riding the course the next day. My dressage score turned out to be a 43, which was not as bad I was expecting.
The next day we warmed up for stadium, and I didn't feel as if Octavian was listening very well, once again, the warm up ring for stadium was by the cross country course which proved to be a distraction for us. Our stadium course did not go very well, I rode badly, panicked and asked for a couple of early spots which were quite ugly and resulted in 2 rails down. It was clear that our stadium needed work.
Octavian was feeling much better warming up for cross country. We had an amazing cross country round, he was listening super well, and the galloping did prove to be lots of fun. It was our first clear cross country round in a long time, and upon crossing the finish line I was absolutely thrilled. Octavian felt like a completely different horse! He didn't hesitate anywhere on course and seemed to have an absolute blast. We did have a few time penalties, but that didn't matter to me so much.
After this event, I was really starting to feel the effects of learning becoming more educated in all areas of my riding. It was a great feeling.

The Fork HT - April 2008

The Fork II - April 2008
I was super excited about going to The Fork - I had been keeping up with the US eventing blog information on it the weekend before, and the facility and event both sounded wonderful. I had also decided that I really like North Carolina, especially the nice, sandy ground (although, I has I had found out at SP I, it hurts just as much when you fall off, sand or no sand!). Upon arriving at The Fork, it was obvious how lovely the facility was. I especially liked the duck pond near stabling! Octavian thoroughly enjoyed dragging me all over the trails during our walks, and was actually disappointed when I wouldn’t take him walking on them; he wanted nothing to do with grass, but really loved walking on the trails. Upon arriving home, I was sore from the fast pace that I had to walk - or be dragged around at. No kidding!
Let me just say how much I LOVE three day events. I love the downtime and how you can really focus on your one phase for the day. We had a very nice dressage warm up, and I was looking forward to going in for our test. Our test was not bad, it was very much improved, however "we" had a brief tantrum during a canter circle. Coming out of the ring I was not expecting good scores at all. Nevertheless, I had felt the improvement in the test and was really pleased with it.
Later in the day after looking at the scores, I was pleasantly surprised to find that we had scored a 41.1 - nearly 10 points better then our last dressage test at Southern Pines. I still wasn't sure how we had pulled it off, especially because of the tantrum. However, I knew that I would be able to figure it out after looking at my test. Octavian had felt more rideable then he ever had before, especially in warm up, which left me feeling confident upon going into the ring. 41.1, even though it's not the best score, was our personal best at the preliminary level.
I walked my cross country course with Molly Bull Friday afternoon. The course was beautiful and was looking like lots of fun. The first fence, a simple log type jump with flowers was followed by two, solid and large tables. I had never seen the maxed out tables come so early on course and was a little bit worried about how they would ride. After the tables, there was a mushroom skinny which was my next concern. Earlier in the month, in a lesson with Molly, we had jumped our first mushroom skinny, and at first we had a couple of run outs that were due to my riding, but by sitting a bit more, and being very supportive going
into the fence, we had successfully jumped the mushroom. The mushroom on course required you to make a left hand turn torward it. To ensure that Octavian's shoulders were straight during our approach, and to give me plenty of time to prepare and support him, Molly suggested that we go all the way to the galloping lane rope and then make our turn. After the mushroom, we had a vertical to corn feeder combination, with about 3-4 strides in between, the corn feeder being on just a bit of a bending line. After that, we headed down to a green wine bottle (very realistic looking!), and then down a hill, to the right, and over another table type of fence. We then headed off torward (yet another) table, that was followed by a trakehner. I had never seen trakehners like these, the trakehner sat diagnolly over the ditch, and in order to not take it at an angle, you had to plan your approach and turn very well. We walked the best line, and headed on to the next fence, another table before the first water. The first water was a jump in, 3-4 strides through the water, and out over a canadian goose log jump. I was really excited about jumping the goose. After the water, there was another table, and then you had to turn left immediately for an up bank and corner combination. The corner was to the left of the bank. Because corners are not our best fence, we had to walk this line several times. I originally walked a bad line, and Molly showed me a better approach (which I walked 3 times to make sure that I rode correctly the next day!). After the corner, there was a rolltop, 2 strides, down bank combination. I was a little anxious about this because of my fall at Southern Pines, but my instructions were to keep my shoulders back and my leg on. The next combination was a ditch to a chevron, and then we were to head up the hill, over a brush oxer, another table type fence and then head into the second water. The second water was a vertical log, two strides to a drop, then about 4-6 strides in the water to a turtle jump, and then the last two fences before the finish line.
Upon warming up on Saturday, Octavian was feeling a bit strong, so we worked on the show jumping canter transition to try and get him listening. I was nervous, but excited, about riding the course. Upon coming out of the start box, we had a sticky first fence, Octavian was behind my leg. Thankfully in between the first and second fences, we had a nice long gallop so he was no longer behind my leg. The tables were a nice beginning to the course, I felt like they really got Octavian jumping well and paying attention to me. The mushroom, to my relief, rode well, and we were feeling really great. When we got to the table to trakehner area, we got in a little tight to the trakehner but otherwise it rode well. Octavian was wonderful through the water, and thought nothing of the goose. We then headed onto the table before the bank and corner combination. The table and bank rode well, but I did not give him a good ride to the corner and didn't ride the line I was supposed to. I sort of froze after the bank and became completely useless, and therefore we had a runout. I quickly took the option and we were off again. The rest of the course rode well and Octavian was wonderful. I was definitely kicking myself for my bad riding at the corner though.
Stadium at The Fork was very exciting. The course was well put together and had a very nice overall appearance. We had an okay round, we pulled two rails, both of which were preventable.
We headed home feeling more confident. I was overall happy with the weekend, and was pleased about how Octavian seemed to enjoy himself and the new "skills" we were learning together. I was learning how to ride better to skinnys (corners still needed more work), and dressage was becoming something that I didn't have to dread. I was looking forward to our next event at Difficult Run the first weekend in May.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

New Trainers - Post Southern Pines I

After Southern Pines, it was clear that something needed to change. I had my first lesson with Gabriele Hooten ( the Tuesday after Southern Pines. We saw immediate in improvement and the first lesson went really well. Our immediate homework was to work on building Octavian’s topline for correct muscle development in order to ask him to hold the frame that he needs for our dressage tests, as well as to transfer the weight back to his haunches.
A few weeks after Southern Pines, we also had our first lesson with Molly Bull. Upon having a stop at a bounce on cross country (an all too common stop for us), the problem was immediately addressed. I wasn’t shortening Octavian’s stride enough, and as a result, he was going strung out into combinations and fences. We also worked on my position coming up to combinations, skinnies, and corners. I was needing to “take the backseat”, to continue balancing and supporting Octavian to the jump. It’s amazing how fixing these two things made such a big difference. I came away from that lesson feeling more confident than I had in a long, long time.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Southern Pines I - March 2008

This is one event that could have gone a lot better. Most first events of the season are supposed to be rough, but maybe not this rough. We were loosely planning to get to the Carolina Horse Park before dark, I was supposed to walk the course with Caroline Dowd and it was our first time going to CHP, so getting there before dark would have helped us find stabling assignments, water, and parking. However, we ended up getting a late start and did not arrive at the horse park before dark. We managed to find everything we needed and get to bed on time for the early morning ahead of us.
I ended up walking the course alone with next morning. I had an early dressage ride time, and in March, the times aren’t quite as nice as they are in say, June. In March, it gets dark between 6:30-7:00 and doesn’t get light until about 7:00-7:30. I managed to get a quick course walk in and felt thankful for the arrows pointing in the correct direction at certain points on course.
After riding a dressage test that could have used some improvement, the day was not off to the best start. However, I recognized the importance of staying positive and accepted the fact that we still had quite a bit of homework to do. Of course I was disappointed, but I had cross country to look forward to and had not yet seen my dressage score.
Upon warming up for cross country, Octavian felt very “controlled”. While for most other horses this would be a good thing, Octavian’s good control is basically controlled energy. On this particular day, he seemed to be lacking the energy part. However, upon coming out of the start box we had improved that factor. The first few fences went wonderfully, and galloping between 3 and 4 he felt strong and exhilarated. We negotiated the down bank to the log pile well, and were off to tackle whatever lay ahead. When we got to the next fence, he started to back off a bit. The first warning sign. Upon coming to the first major combination on course, a log, one stride to a down bank, it seemed that I forgot how to ride and became more of a passenger than anything else. We had a stop at the bank, and because I was a passenger, I took the drop by myself. It is said that when you fall off and get back on, your adrenaline starts going. This is very true. We made it through the combination on the second attempt, and headed off to the trakehner which rode well. The rest of the course went okay; we had a sticky moment through the coffin, which was rumored to have been on the intermediate AEC course a couple of years before. Upon coming to the water combination, Octavian seemed much more interested in what was going on around him then the combination itself. We had a sticky ride through the water, but made it through and were off to the big galloping field. After the field, and a rolltop to corner combination, we headed off to the second water. We had another sticky moment, and upon landing in the water I thought about retiring. However, Octavian picked up a gallop by himself letting me know that he was not tired as I feared. I did not ride well to the next fence, a corner, and we had a stop at it. We were clear on the second attempt and crossed the finish line.
After looking at the scoreboard that evening, I would say I was a little disappointed, but it was about what I expected after having such a rough day. We were in last place, on a score of 200 and something. We had 2 stops on cross country, as well as my fall, and about 46 time penalties, combined with a dressage score of 50. So far, it was definitely not our event.
Sunday morning it was freezing. It had been in the 70’s the day before, but it seemed that a cool front had moved in over night. Because the stadium order of go was in reverse order of standing, I was scheduled to go first. Unfortunately, no exact times were posted, and I came to the stadium ring late. Thankfully everyone was super nice about it. It seemed that our stadium round was the only good part of our weekend, we were double clear.
Needless to say, we returned home from Southern Pines recognizing the need for change.