Monday, April 26, 2010

A Busy Day at the Loudoun Hunt PC Horse Trials

I was sure that Sunday would be a busy day with two horses in a division with ride times veryy close, but I had not ridden two horses in an event for quite some time! The day began at about 3:00am when I woke up from very limited sleep to get out to the barn and get on the road. I bathed and braided Zoomer and Zara the night before, covered them and hoped they would still be clean when I arrived; no such luck. Zoomer managed to get himself filthy! With manure stains in all sorts of locations, including his neck, braids, all four legs and a few other spots, I scrambled to scrub him clean before departing by 4:30. According to Google, my trip would take about 3 hours - I wanted to arrive early enough to walk the cross country and get both horses clean(again, since they always make a mess of themselves in the trailer) before dressage. With no traffic, I arrived earlier than my intended time and had plenty of time to walk the xc and prepare. The cross country was a well put-together course with a few nice questions and plenty of good size galloping fences. I had no worries for Zoomer, but figured Zara might take a look at some combinations she had not seen before, including a 3-jump combination for the water, an overhang(which never really makes problems but I thought it was worth noting) the roll top to the double drop and the two stride bending line at the treeline.
After returning, we(mom came to help out) unloaded Zoomer to prepare for dressage. It took some more scrubbing to make him look nice and white after the morning incident, but he got clean enough for the slightly damp ground that would surely get on his legs anyways. We tacked up and created the best image for turnout that we could and headed down with about 30 minutes to warm up. Zoomer was a little lazy in warm up, but with a little help from my dressage whip encouraging him to use himself, he began showing the fantastic horse he was over 6 months before when we were preparing for intermediate and bowed. We set the whip aside before entering the ring, which lead to a slightly weaker beginning, but with gradual push Zoomer was very submissive and showed great impulsion. He put in fantastic test and I expeceted a great score. He had very balanced, consistent canter work and really showed his best in the 20m stretching circle.
I returned to the trailer quickly to get Zara ready for her rides hoping she would be better behaved than our previous event (which I forgot to blog about, whoops!). Once ready, we headed down with about 25 minutes to warm up. She decided that it wasn't a good day after the speakers made horrendous, startling noises from the sound checks. She leaned heavily on my left hand from the start, and I gradually tried to move her off my left leg to put weight into my right instead of hanging, and for a few moments here and there, she seemed to improve, but she wouldn't hold it. As it came close to time to ride the test, I made a decision against my normal tactic of continuing to try and work her over throughout the test and chose instead to try to allow the hanging through the test if it might at least give us good work in one direction. Unfortunately, through the test she remained tense and hanging, and we did the best we could for what we had. Her trot work was mediocre, as I couldn't get her to bend left properly. Our canter work did improve over both previous tests we rode, as she showed better balance and collection. She also remained manageable through the canter lengthenings and the trot lengthening at the end. Our stretchy circle may have been even worse then before, as her tension was clearly visible in my attempt to convince her to relax and lower her poll. Hopefully, she will be in a better mindset next time!
After finishing dressage(whew.) it was time to see if Zoomer would be out of practice in jumping. I looked forward to see how he would behave, as he had not been away from the home barn more than once since the injury. He also had not schooled full courses yet this season. He certainly proved that he was ready! After a brief but concise warmup, we entered the ring ready to do our best. I worked hard to fight my old habit of being too picky with each stride and psuh forward through the course, as I practiced with Steuart Pittman extensively last Summer and Fall, and it paid off. Zoomer went around the course with beautiful spots to each fence, lightly rubbing two poles that thankfully didn't fall down. We trotted on down to cross country after a beautiful clean round, hoping for the same in this phase. I had not intended to push him for speed, but rather wanted to let him choose where he was comfortable. As we began the course, he powered through the first 8 jumps, taking the galloping fences perfectly in stride and collecting nicely for the first up bank - one stride - jump combination. He continued to show his finesse around the rest of the course, tactfully conquering the roll top to the double down banks, the water, and the two stride bending line. We finished in a slow cnater, with a time of 5:18 - nicely close to the 5:30 optimum time.
After two satisfying rides on Zoomer, I switched the tack to Zara and quickly made my way to the stadium ring. Zara warmed up nicely, responding well to my leg despite the troubles we had in dressage. We entered the ring and she put in a nice, clean(but fast) stadium ride. She made rather expressive leaps over most of the fences, with only a few small spots that required adjustment. We moved from clean round number 3 of the day on to cross country. Zara started the course beautifully, with only minor adjustments needed for the galloping fences on the course. We trotted into the up bank - one stride - jump combination to assure she understood the question, and did it perfectly. She probably wondered why I made her trot! As we moved on, we came to the roll top to double down banks - we cantered slowly over the roll top to assure a good spot to the banks. We had a slight miscommunication when I asked her to bend nicely to the banks, showeing that she still did not want to get her weight into my right hand, but we trotted to fix the line and nicely went down the banks. We continued with no issues through the water, big brush and overhang fences until the two stride bending line. Zara gave me slight hesitation to the fence, as she tried to process the question, but with a little encouragement, went over the first jump nicely. I gave her a slight tap with my whip in between the fences for extra encouragement to the second fence and it was as it the hesitation never happened. She continued through the final jumps of the course nicely, cantering across the finish line with a time a little over 5:00.
Finally after all rides and cooling of the horses, I headed up to look at scores, expecting the best for Zoomer and the worst for Zara -- and was slightly surprised. Zoomer's score was a 34.6, which tied us at 4th place. I was alightly disappointed that the judge was not seeing what I felt in Zoomer's ride. Zara received a 38.6, putting her in 11th of 14 after dressage, which was not surprising. With clean jumping rides for all of my mounts, they both moved up: Zoomer into 2nd place and Zara into 7th. I am very pleased with Zoomer's day and I believe that he deserved better scores in dressage -- I am positive that the judge favored Zara's body type over Zoomer's multi-colored slim body type. Zara received complimentary comments in her collective marks, while Zoomer did not. Had the judge been more objective in relation to horse type for the sport of dressage, I feel Zoomer would have been far more successful. I believe he would have lead the division after dressage with a different judge, as the scores were all very close. Hopefully the judge at MCTA this weekend can see how impressive Zoomer really is, especially for a disadvantaged horse in the area of conformation which makes expressive movement challenging for him.
Overall the busy weekend was a success, but we hope to be more fortunate in Zara's mood and Zoomer's prescence next time.

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