Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Aiken Adventures- A Week in Review and Full Gallop

This has been a whirlwind week: lessons with Suzie, Eric, and Debbie; Joe came to town; a cross country school with Marissa, and three horses running at Full Gallop.  I'm also in the process of finding a new jump saddle and so have met with countless saddle reps, sitting in all the saddles that were "best" for me.  My lessons this week all went well, Debbie and I discovered that Beacon is rather sensitive with saddle fit and it directly relates how he jumps- one saddle that I loved he thought had too much pressure and started jumping defensively through his back- that one was tossed.  Ahh... the adventures of saddle searching.

Full Gallop was a bit of a rough outing.  Beacon's dressage was only average scoring a 37; he is so relaxed in the dressage arena these days that I am finding I really need to kick him to get forward.  Who ever thought that big pony would become a kick-a-long ride!  It's an adjustment that I need to make when competing him, but it shows he is more confident and relaxed in competition which is great.  Show jumping, however, was a bit of a disappointment.  He warmed up brilliantly; literally loping down to the big, airy 4' fences like a hunter and casually stretching into a lovely shape across the top.  He didn't come close to touching a rail and I was super pleased so we stopped and watched a couple trips in the arena, and then I went to just jump another fence or two right before our trip.  He stepped right up into a lovely working canter and loped down to the line.  We were about five strides out from a big oxer when a woman walked in front of it and he just completely shut down, slamming on the breaks.  His brain completely switched off and he went into manic mode, trying to race against the bridle and throw himself at the fences.  Unfortunately, this all happened with only one horse ahead of us, and so I didn't have time to really break the cycle with a walk break and start over at the cross rail (which is what he needed).  We went into the ring with him still panicky and took down more rails than stayed up I think.  Disappointing to say the least, but what really is bothersome is understanding why he shut down.  The woman that walked in front of the fence and stood at the corner of it, although distracting, should not have in any way fried his brain like it did.  Discussing the events with Debbie afterwards brought up an interesting observation.  In our lessons, the jumps that are consistently his worst are when she is standing in a close proximity to them, the ones he truly relaxes over are always where there are no people near.  We're not sure what this really means, but it is certainly worth making a mental note of, and we plan on experimenting with this a bit in our next session, just to try and understand a bit better the psychology behind it.

Cross country, on the other hand, he was a superstar, as always.  This horse is so completely confident out on course it is amazing.  The Intermediate division was a bloodbath on Sunday: countless falls, eliminations, retirements, and withdrawals.  Beacon rocked around a tricky track with ease, getting through all the hard elements effortlessly; it was just about a footwork perfect run.  We picked up a little bit of last-fence-itis in the final combination of the sunken road, however, (not a question I was anticipating would be problematic), and picked up an unlucky 20.  The question consisted of a house at the top of a hill, down the hill to a drop with a rolltop at the edge, land, one stride, turn 90 degrees right, and then a couple strides to a bank, one stride to a skinny.  My plan when walking was that the large house at the top of the hill would set him up and balance him back so that we could jump it softly and just pad down the hill and through the combination.  What I hadn't anticipated was that at that point in the course, after clocking through all the other hard stuff, the house at the top of the hill wouldn't back him off at all.  He locked onto that house and SOARED over it which left us flying downhill towards the sunken road.  I simply didn't react fast enough and he jumped the down portion of the sunken road boldly, too boldly, and the landing carried us past the turning line.  I glanced right at where I was supposed to be going, sighed because I knew it wasn't going to work, circled left instead and continued on.  In the future I need to remember that a simple large fence is not enough to back him off after such a stellar run and I need to do more a bit more.  What a shame to rack up 20 simply because he was TOO bold.  Regardless, I was very pleased with his xc outing.  And even with a horrible show jumping and a circle xc he still finished in third (that's how much of a bloodbath it was).  Now if I could just get all the pieces together on the same day....

Stew had a super first outing of the season, although his score doesn't really do him justice.  He started his dressage warm up brilliantly- all businesslike and confidently relaxed.  Then the warm up got a bit crazy and I thought I was going to lose him completely- we started doing piaffe and passage and couldn't simply halt or stand.  He was at least starting to breath again as we circled the arena, and put in a very accurate and obedient test, but it was a bit conservative which the judge really didn't like (but hello!  if I had told him to step a bit bigger he may have just stepped right up and out of the ring!)  Even though I played it a bit safe I was surprised by the score (a 40!), and thought that the judge scored him a bit harsher than necessary.  He was super and double clear show jumping, and very ride-able.  In the last combination he got just a touch flat and so I asked him to wait and add a stride instead and he did with ease- that's a huge improvement, as before he would just lock on and go big and long when he wasn't in that perfect distance.  Cross country (aka the Novice Olympics) he handled like a champ, although it did take him a few fences to get rolling in a confident rhythm.  Once he clicked into gear though he was a rockstar: negotiating two big water complexes, a coffin, offset houses, banks, and even a trekhener!  (See what I mean by the Novice Olympics?)  All in all, a great first outing for Stewart, he will need just another run or two at Novice to make sure he can start out of the box as confidently as he finished through the flags and then he is ready for his Training debut!

Diem had the best mental readiness that I have ever experienced with him in a warm up ring.  He started all business-like, soft, and obedient; and he was trying SO hard for me!  I was really pleased with him- he didn't even bat an eye when another horse in the warm up almost crashed into him.  Unfortunately, his physical readiness didn't match his mental state and he was just a bit stiff and even a touch unlevel at times.  We opted to play it safe, even though he wasn't unsound, and scratch him from the remainder of the competition.  For him, we know he can jump and do the flatwork- the biggest hurdle has been getting him mentally ready competition day and not tensing up in the warm up arenas- this he passed at Full Gallop with flying colors, even in a chaotic warm up!  I was very proud of him, and very appreciative that he was trying his little heart out for me.  Hopefully this state of mental readiness will carry through to his next competition.

So, not a bad weekend at all:  each horse had some really stellar, progressive moments.  This week has a lighter schedule for all with more specific focus on what each horse needs.  The next competition scheduled is two weeks away- plenty of time to dig deep into some homework and still have time to polish up for the show ring.

Spring is fast approaching, and with it our return north to the Valinor home base.  Stay warm and ride on!

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