Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ups and Downs at FairHill

After a weekend off of showing for both horses to move back home from school, we had plenty of time to prepare for Fair Hill, the weekend of the 15th to 16th. Unfortunately, despite the fact that this time existed, I may have procrastinated a little on the activities. Settling back into the daily work at Dodon Farm, along with unpacking, seeing old friends, and riding the three at home proved to be a challenge to achieve. With a few good sessions with Steuart, we felt a little better about our one rail from the previous event and hopeful for Zara's behavior.
Day one was training level with Zara. This being her third or fourth training, you would think we would be finally improving, however, against a division of extremely competitive professionals, we did not do our best. Zara's dressage test was an improvement over our previous attempts(with help from Courtney Amritt0Johnson, who came out to help me warm up even though she was feeling poorly), showing more relaxation and calmness; though we sacrificed some of our through-ness and forward movement to get this result. The judge clearly was hoping for more forwardness in this training level test, and we ended up tailing the division with a 43. We didn't lose all hope (yet) since clear rounds can usually dramatically improve the placing from a poor dressage ride and we usually went clear. But apparently this was just not our day.
We warmed up for stadium with a perfect amount of time for our usual warm up but Zara was heavily leaning on my left side. I gave myself plenty of time to warm up on a normal day, but not enough to work out of a bad day. We fought through warm up and on both jumping courses, starting with stadium. As we went through the roomy course, some efforts were great, but some were very poor. Most of the fences that Zara took on her left lead were ugly since I couldn't get her off of my leg aids. We held ourselves together until the downhill line, oxer 5 strides to 2 stride in and out. We pulled the rail on the oxer(on our left lead), made an interesting bowed line to the in and out to pull the first element of the combination. With a little overriding, we managed to leave with only 2 rails, Zara's first rail of the season.
I know you should never be riding a horse if you're frustrated, but it was unavoidable at this point. Between both of our errors, I was feeling a little dismantled. We headed out onto cross country in a nice calm pace, but continued the leaning on the left problem. She jumped around beautifully, and I tried to keep her on her right lead more than her left. I was impressed with her behavior through the water combination, which she hadn't done before, and also with her bravery through the coffin and the bank to roll top. Unfortunately, after we jumped the bench in the treeline, approaching the foundation, Zara switched to her left lead(which I should have caught before it happened!) and was hanging up to the fence. She did not have the focus she normally shows as we got close to the first element of the foundation, and with her head turned to the left, refusing to pay attention to my aids, we had a stop at the log. We made a medium size circle on our RIGHT lead, and went over the log and down the bank perfectly. Ugh! First stop in at least 4 years. She finished the remainder of the course with no problems, but with the 20 faults plus a few time penalties due to the stop and circle we had no chance of redeeming ourselves in the placings. Everyone has a bad day, right?

Feeling slightly defeated, I began preparing Zoomer when I arrived home for my 9:00 preliminary ride on Sunday. Getting back in the house around 10 from preparing, I couldn't wait to sleep and try again! We were up nice and early, arrived at Fair Hill right on schedule and tacked up for dressage. Zoomer and I looked quite stunning if I may say so myself, and we were ready to put our best forth. With a good warm up but some slight questioning of the test just before entering, along with an impressive spook just as we were entering at A (Thanks to a person standing by the dressage ring with their horse grazing, which did something and itself, surprising Zoomer) we did what we could. It wasn't a spectacular test, but Zoomer was very obedient and forward. We rode very accurately and I thought that we certainly had a good test for us. We ended up in the middle of the JYOP group with a 37.7 -- slightly disappointing, but I've learned to accept that with a horse that isn't the real ideal look of a dressage horse, we have to put in a fantastic test to be really competitive.
We arrived for stadium warm up in perfect time, giving ourselves about 15 minutes to prepare. Zoomer was jumping well, though a little more forward in stride than usual. We entered stadium and he and I didn't get a great rhythm through the ride. Despite our miscommunication on a few take off spots, Zoomer jumped very well, and we pulled two rails -- the vertical on the long downhill ride and the first element of the one stride combination. Hopefully well communicate better next time. We both were looking forward to cross country. I think every rider should experience cross country at this level on a horse like Zoomer. He truly enjoys what he's doing, requires a confident and correct rider, but he doesn't have to be pushed to fences or over ridden. He is a joy to ride cross country. The ride was spectacular, he was great to every fence and through every combination. He navigated the water perfectly, had no issues at the tight distance in the coffin and showed his true honesty and athleticism through the foundation. The jump was a large roll top, one stride to a big drop and an awkward 4-stride bending line to a corner that just begged horses to run out. We jumped the first element a little sticky, making our drop a little messier than usual. On any other horse, I may have had difficulty with quickly collecting and focusing the horse on the tough corner, but Zoomer allows me to trust him through any distance or question. He went through the 4-stride bending line on a loose rein, being directed primarily with my body and legs and made a perfect four strides and a beautiful jump over the corner. We had just a few time penalties, but since it was our first preliminary level cross country ride in quite a while, I had no worries. When checking scores later, we discovered that we came in 4th of about 15 at the end, and all but one rider got time penalties in cross country -- and our time was the third fastest in the division! I do wish that I had rushed Zoomer just a few seconds faster to have just 2 points less, which would have had us 2nd. What a good boy! In the meantime, Zoomer and I will be working on our communication through stadium courses and practice those dressage movements a little more before Waredaca on the 29th to 30th of May.

Hopefully both horses will be on their best behavior, and no more all-phase bad days!

Monday, May 10, 2010

A HOT Day at the MCTA Horse Trials

Due to our recent troubles with dressage in the past few events, I decided that it would be better off for all of us if I switched my original entry for MCTA with Zara to Zoomer. The decision ended up being a very good one! After multiple washes and the chaos of going home the night before, Zoomer was clean and well braided in the morning before the event. The day started out chilly, but quickly grew to nearly 90 degrees be the time I rode around 1. We had a great warmup for dressage, moving nicely through, perfectly round and well balanced in transitions. We went through the test a little more tense than usual, which I thought would be a damper on our score, but luckily, our tension must not have shown through as much as I thought it would. We ended up 6th of 21 with a dressage score of 30.9, just a few tenths of a point shy of the 2nd place score of 29.6. With scores so close together, I knew that it would be a close finish after the jumping phases.
Our stadium warm up went as usual, with a nice, forward strides to each warm up fence. Unfortunately, due to a lack of organization, riders were not riding at their times, leading to a lot of standing around. We waited probably a half hour after our original 15 minutes we set out for warm up, in the brutal heat. Many riders were disgruntled, but we all tried to wait patiently for our turns to ride. Many rails came down, and even a few stops and a fall happened during our wait, and when it was finally our turn, Zoomer performed very well, but not with the precision he normally has. We ended up rubbing a few rails, and with luck, only one came down, adding 4 points to our score. We moved on to cross country, getting some good walking time in between to help with the heat, and headed out on course. As usual, Zoomer was a stellar competitor in the cross country phase. He jumped every fence beautifully, in stride, and very carefully. He tactfully negotiated the fences that may cause complications for training level horses and riders, including the short two strides between the stone boxes, the water, the trakehner and a few others. I allowed him to choose his own pace through the course, since he may have been tired from the hot day but he proved otherwise. We went at a comfortable speed around the course, slowing down for the more challenging fences, and came in almost a full minute early. We made a large circle at the canter between fences 17 and 18 to delay time, which I should have kept better track of, but at least he proved to me that he is prepared to move back to preliminary level.
After the long, hot day, we ended up in 5th place, at a score of 34.9. Overall, I am very happy with Zoomer's performance at this event -- I am not too worried about the rail, as both the horse and myself were a little frazzled from the timing. Hopefully well be more together for the next time and keep our connection throughout the stadium course as well as the dressage test. I did notice that had we not pulled that one rail, we would have been a very close 2nd place!
With one weekend off to move back into home from college, we continue our eventing the next weekend at FairHill. Zara will be going training level on Saturday, hopefully we have imporved some of our skills for the dressage test; we have been working heavily on acheiving the relaxation and lowered poll that will earn us better scores in training level tests. In the meantime, she will no longer be wearing my dressage saddle, which seems to be pinching her and she had a few stray chunks of wolf tooth removed from her left side. With these factors removed, we hope to have much more effetive training sessions. Zoomer will be going preliminary level on Sunday, the first time in over 7 months since his injury. We feel very prepared for all phases, although we have not yet practiced the new 2010 prelim dressage tests. We better get on that!