Sunday, November 14, 2010

Three times is a charm, right?

I'm going to be honest here: I'm feeling more than a bit frustrated right now. I've hit the ground three times in the last week... oh, wait, that would also be the last three times I rode. Granted, one of those times was not falling off a horse, but still, it's getting pretty old. I would be REALLY happy if this trend were to just END now.

Wednesday was really kind of a freak thing. As we were walking back down to the barn after a very good jump school, Sparky spooked at something near the upper barn, and I mean he really spooked. This was not some half-hearted-I'm-feeling-silly thing. And in the process of this spook, he knocked me down and pretty much ran me over. I hit the ground HARD - so hard, in fact, that my head hurt from the force... and I had on my helmet. Thank god I did, otherwise it would have been my bloody head, and not my torn helmet. New helmet and Advil needed? Check.

Saturday rolls around, and Star and Sparky are going to be used as horses at an IEA show. Cool. I knew Star would have/be no problem, so I went to the show before going to work in order to school Sparky. We walk once around the ring tracking left, turn around, walk once around tracking right, and then pick up a trot. Once around to the right, and turn around, rinse, repeat. Tracking left, Sparky spooks at the dog (which IS NOT supposed to be there, by the way), and scoots out from under me. Now this one, I could have saved it and stayed on, but I decided that I really did not have that much pride, and pretty much let myself fall.

Sunday. Riding a horse I'd never ridden before (but had met) for someone else at a show. Just on the flat, should be pretty easy. Sure, until the horse decides to spook, spin, rear a bit, causing the saddle to slip, and thereby dumping you on the ground. All because of scary horse-eating people walking by on the hill. And the show hasn't even started. Sweet.

To rub salt into my wounds (because, by this point, it was more than a bruised ego), I find that Sparky's first IEA rider didn't quite grasp the concept of how to ride him - after I had told her - and after a nearly disastrous round with said rider really pissing him off due to her lack of concept-grasping ability, and his subsequent grudge-holding against subsequent riders (much more tactful though they were), he was pulled from the rest of the show. I was told that 90% of the problem lay with the first kid - hell, I'll even cut her more slack and say 75%-80% - but it's hard to not take personally, thinking that you should have done a better job in terms of training your horse - ESPECIALLY when you know that there are other trainers, coaches, etc out there thinking, "Well, that was a crap horse."

Bah! So that all sucks, and I'm definitely ready for it to end, but it wasn't all bad. The horse I rode on Sunday did pretty well overall, and Sparky had actually done a really nice job with his warm-up on Saturday and had also done well on Wednesday. I am told Star was absolutely wonderful at the show on Saturday - one of Jen's kids drew her and won her class, so you can't complain about that. According to the kid, Star was perfect, got perfect distances, got her leads, everything. You can't ask for better. And Oren did make me feel better with his astonishment that the IEA kid couldn't ride Sparky: "Even I can ride Sparky!"

New helmet - purchased at a great price - should be on the way soon, and I might be coming closer to finding a saddle that is actually wide enough for my horses. Overall, that's life. More shit piled on shit is still just a pile of shit, so since it's all the same, I'd rather get it over and done with. And that seems to be the case, so moving on.

Now if I could just stop falling off horses!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

2010 Reserve World Champion Jumper

After the ribbons were presented for Jumper III, we were called back into the arena for the high point World Championship presentations. I had said to Joyce, "I think she's got it. I think Star is Reserve Champion," but I was so overwhelmed at that point that I wasn't sure.

MM and her mare, a very cute mare who reminds me of Star and also goes by "Star," took the World Championship, having won all three classes. Because I like her horse, and because MM is actually quite a nice person, I'm okay with that. My Star and I had come, having no expectations, having not competed in the jumpers in over a year (and over three years before that, and not at that height), and did the best we could.

And our best was damn good! Much to my delight, Star did, indeed, earn the title of 2010 Reserve World Champion Jumper! I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry, so I'm pretty sure I did some of both. We were awarded a big tri-color ribbon, floral neck sash, a red square cooler, a wooden plaque with a silver horsehead and engraved plate, and I will be receiving a little-ass check.

Our victory lap and jump in the sport horse arena were followed by a presentation in the main Colesium later that afternoon.

I could not possibly have been more proud of my horse, and I can honestly say that it was the proudest and happiest moment of my life. And I had done it on my own. I had set out to do my best, knowing that there is not another horse there that could touch my horse if I rode well. And this was absolutely the case. If I had ridden this --> <-- much better, Star would have been champion.

Guess we'll just have to go back next year!

Friday, October 29, 2010

The BIG Day - Jumper III

A really fun (but not easy) course and potentially awesome jump-off... as long as I can remember the courses! (Are we noticing a trend here?) Thankfully, Wednesday's course was a Table 2IIa, which means everyone jumps the first course before anyone does the jump-off. Awesome - this means I really only have to remember one course at a time!

It's do or die time, figuratively speaking. By my rough calculation, Star is in the running for the reserve champion title... and currently in the lead for it. Annoying, however, is the fact that MM is again after me in the posted order of go... I really should be closer to the end, and she should be before me. Dammit.

Upon walking the course, we find that the combination at 3 is literally set on 2 1/2 strides. I walked it a couple times, came up with the same answer, and decided that I had walked it wrong (or calculated wrong), and decided I would resort to my usual strategy in this type of situation: let my horse find the distance. (Sometimes, you have to be willing and able to just sit back and let your horse do the thinking... and thankfully, I have a horse that can think). After walking the course, MM and I spoke briefly, and she mentioned that her horse could not do it in two strides; she was going to have to add. Hey, so I did walk it right! As MM said this to me, after first being excited that I was not an idiot (in this instance, anyway), I thought to myself, "Star can do it in two," and the game plan officially changed. We were going to do it in two strides. Sometimes I can think, too.

The time allowed for the first round was 72 seconds, but you're kind of all over the arena, so it's not as super-generous a time as it sounds. I decide that in the interest of leaving up rails, I'm going to try for a slightly less forward pace than the day before, but save time by jumping some things on a bit of an angle, having neat, tidy turns, and not adding the stride in the combination.
A few other horses go, and then it's our turn. Just before we enter the ring, Oren informs me that the time allowed has been adjusted... to 62 seconds. Great. Guess our pace is going to have to be a little more forward than I'd thought. We take the straight approach to fence 1 (vertical), large-ish right to fence 2 (vertical), and continue the bend to fence 3, the combination (vertical to oxer). We kept a nice, forward pace, balanced, and Star jumped through perfectly: up, over, one, two, out. Another large-ish right to fence 4, a vertical set on a diagonal, which was followed by a rollback to fence 5. We jumped 4 on an angle to make a smaller turn back to fence 5, which was a decent oxer. Started turning back to the left over 5 to cut between 4 and 8 and save time running back to 6, a Swedish oxer near the opposite end of the arena (also on an angle). Jump 6 on an angle as well, taking a straight path to go around 2, making a right turn to 7, another oxer. From 7, a bending line to 8, an oxer set right on the center line going home. Land, one stride and we're through the timers, clean and under time! Star gets a HUGE pat, and we exit the arena, and I start contemplating the jump-off course.

The jump-off course was 1-7-10-11-6-8. I had learned something else during the initial... the fences are NOT set exactly as they are laid out on the course diagram. In fact, fence 2/10 is set very close to fence 7. Hmmm... this could be interesting, as my jump-off plan had been to cut inside fence 2/10 to get to 7. Hmmm...

It's our turn for the jump-off, the time allowed for which has also been adjusted to 38 seconds. We approach fence 1 on an angle this time, to minimize the time between passing through the start timer and jumping the fence... and to set up for the turn to fence 7. I knew that it was taking a BIG risk, but I also knew that I have an amazing horse. We stuck with the plan, and Star perfectly made the super-tight inside turn to fence 7, perfectly jumping the oxer on an angle. And then I promptly forgot where I was going.

The plan had been to make a hard right and quick left back to 10, but that didn't happen. By the time I remembered where I needed to be going, we were somewhere down near fence 4. Oh, shit! So I do the only thing I can do at that point; I tell Star to GO!!! A sharp right to get turned around, somehow manage to not cross my track, gallop to 10, set-up, over, and gun it. Gallop for 11, taking the shortest path possible and start turning left in the air over 11 to make the turn inside the timer to go back to 6. I will admit, that one was close; I wasn't sure we were going to make it inside the timer. I'm pretty sure it was sheer determination that made it happen. No longer in danger of knocking down the timer, I tell Star to GO!! again, and we gallop up to 6, the Swedish oxer. Set-up, over at an angle, immediate roll-back to the right to finish with fence 8. I push Star about as hard as she can go, yelling, "Go, go, go, go, GO!!!" the whole way. Again, she gallops up the fence, we set-up briefly, and she flies over the fence. I am told that as Star landed from jump 8, she was landing even with the timer... which was set two strides out from the jump. The announcement came: "And she talks her way into first place with a time of 35 seconds." A chorus of, "Wow! Nice round!"s greeted us as we exited the ring. I was SO pleased with my horse... she absolutely rose to the occassion and stepped up to make up for my error; I could not have asked for better!

Now I just had to wait for MM to go. I didn't watch her round, but I heard a HARD knock of rails, and I prayed they would fall. I am also told that MM almost fell off as well at another jump. Neither the rails nor MM fell. Nor did MM get lost. With a jump-off time of 29 seconds, MM won the class, and Star and I finished second... but NO ONE else, not even MM, attempted the inside turn from 1 to 7 that Star and I had made. Apparently, when others saw what we were doing, they were in absolute shock and disbelief - "No, no she's not!" "She's not making that turn!" "Omigod, she is!" - afraid to watch and fascinated at the same time and absolutely amazed that we successfully did it.

I was very pleased that we made the difficult turn successfully, but I can't say I was amazed... but then, I already knew that I had an amazing horse, and for an amazing horse, amazing things are the norm.

Ribbon Tally:
Hunters: 2-4th, 1-7th, 5th Overall High Point
Jumpers: 2-2nds, 1-4th

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The BIG Day - Working Hunter II and Working Hunter Under Saddle

So after a not-so-great-but-better-than-I-expected-once-our-course-was-done round on Tuesday in our Working Hunter I class, I had decided to change my approach a bit for Wednesday's Working Hunter II. After Star, being a mare, decided that she had never been the ring (that she had already jumped around twice) before, I decided that today's plan was to enter the ring at a nice, strong trot and pick up the canter immediately so that Star didn't have time to look around and find all the monsters on our long approach to the first jump, a left lead single on the diagonal coming home.


Star would not pick up her canter, because the plants were too scary. And then once she did, she broke. We finally got it, but we were not off to a good start. Way to make a good impression, horse. We got around the course, and overall it felt better than our course the day before, but I'm pretty sure we missed a lead. And we had a rotten start. And the fences were only set at like 2'6" - maybe 2'9". *Sigh* So much for a great comeback from the day before.

I would just like to take a moment here to say that my entire reason for entering Star in the Working Hunter division instead of the Low Working Hunter division was because the classes were to run at 3'3", not at 2'6", as was the case for the Low Hunters. Star is not impressed enough by 2'6" to make any real effort or have any real style over the jumps. So having jumps set at 2'6" instead of 3'3" was a definite disadvantage for us.

I was actually surprised a bit by the order for the jog, at first: Star was called back in seventh... out of seven horses. Retrospectively, with a missed lead, rotten start, and low fences, it's exactly where she should have placed. And I'll admit: I was furious with my horse. Not that I started beating her or anything like that kind of furious, but I was really upset with her behavior and performance, because I know she's a much better horse than that.

Alright, time to pull the martingale and go back for the hack. The goal was steady, ground-covering paces with nice, light contact. This one we actually kind of managed. At one point during the left lead canter, as another horse pulled alongside Star, she decided for a minute that it was a race and picked up her pace, but settled back in fairly well. We also had a sticky transition into the right lead canter, but other than that, she was perfect. When all was said and done, I was very pleased with the class, and Star placed exactly where she should have, in fourth. I think she might have been a bit higher were it not for the "Oh, we're racing!" moment and the sticky transition, but I really can't complain.
After the conclusion of the under saddle, all the competitors were called back into the ring for the World Championship Working Hunter awards. Despite two pretty crappy over fences rounds, Star ended up 5th overall in the division. Again, I really can't complain. While I know that she could have done better, our hearts don't really lie in the hunters. And honestly, my big goal was just to be able to ride at Nationals under Bill Moroney's judging. We did just that, and even made a reasonable showing. Who can really ask for more?
Ribbon Tally:
Hunters: 2- 4ths, 1-7th, 5th place overall in high point awards
Jumpers: 1-2nd, 1-4th... in the running for a world championship title!

The BIG Day - Hunter II, Hunter U/S, Jumper III... and hopefully a World Championship Awards Presentation

Wednesday was a BIG day - the last jumper class of the division, the second hunter over fences and the hunter under saddle... and hopefully a World Championship presentation in the Coliseum - so this is getting broken up into several smaller posts. *nods*

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jumper II and Working Hunter I

Tuesday morning, and significantly less nervous. In other words, I'm not almost in tears and about to puke. I feel like there is no way I'll be able to remember my course, once again, but honestly, I can't think of ONE time I haven't thought that!

The day started with Jumper II. Having learned my lesson from the day before, I made sure to inquire about the time allowed today. After only half the riders the day before making the time allowed, the course designer decided to extend the time allowed to 64 seconds instead of 60. MM apparently had another class in another arena that she needed to get to, so she actually jumped the course before the rest of us walked the course (so no, she did not walk the course). Apparently, she was almost double-clean, but with time faults in the jump-off... but then it became double-clean, because it was then decided to extend the time allowed in the jump-off, as well. Alrighty, then.

There's really not a whole lot I can say about the course... honestly, I think it was an easier course than the first class. The bending line from 5ab to 6 was pretty fun, and then there was a trip down the middle of the arena going away to fence 7. I don't know what it was about fence 7... everything about it seemed perfectly straightforward, but almost everyone hit it, and unfortunately for us, it came down. 4 faults... bummer. It did make me glad, however, that I had decided to be more forward in the first round in this class than I had the day before, because it meant that we could still lay down the fastest 4-fault round. And we did. Still disappointing to pull a rail, but we still got 4th in class.

Following Jumper II, we had our first hunter class, the aptly named "Working Hunter I." Being as this was a hunter course, I was MUCH less worried about remembering the course. The course started with a right lead coming home. No reason to make any big issue of it... trot in, pick up the canter near the far end of arena, establish a nice pace, and go for it, right? Apparently not. For whatever reason, Star a) decided that she didn't want to back in the arena (so a "helpful" bystander led her in), and b) decided that she had NEVER been in that arena before, and OMIGOD!!! everything was going to eat her alive, can't you tell?!?! Riiiight.

Trotted to the end, tried about three times to pick up the canter, and finally got it at about the last minute. A few bulging turns to avoid monsters, a couple rough-ish lead changes ("But I don't WANT to change my lead!" and "Are you telling me what to do?!?"), and being very "looky" in general, but we got around, had a fairly decent (steady, hunter) pace, made the lines and made the changes. When we jogged back, I was absolutely SHOCKED to be called back in fourth! Way to go, horse - I don't know how you pulled that off!

Game plan for Wednesday:

Hunter II: Trot right into the ring and pick up a canter immediately, so Star doesn't have time to look at all the scary stuff.
Hunter Under Saddle: Just have a nice ride, letting Star stretch down and forward for a little more of the hunter "nose poke" than is dersirable in the hunter pleasure ring, and work for a nice, ground-covering pace with light rein contact.
Jumper III: Don't pull any rails. Remaining strategy to follow upon learning the course.

Ribbon Tally:
Jumpers: 1-2nd; 1-4th
Hunter: 1-4th

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rockin' It Old-Skool - Jumper I

Rust breeches - check. Green coat - check. Scallop braids - check.

For turnout in our first jumper class (Jumper I... creative, right?) at the Morgan Grand National, Star and I totally rocked it old-skool, with me sporting rust breeches and a greenish-tannish-sageish coat, and Star sporting scallop braids. We looked pretty awesome, if I do say so myself. The only things that could have made it better would have been brown field boots and a brown helmet. *nods*

So on to the course... well, back up a bit. Before the class, I was so nervous I was literally sick to my stomach and near tears. Yes, you read that right. I don't remember the last time I was so nervous. The course wasn't terribly difficult, but it wasn't exactly easy (not that it should have been, given that this was the Grand National and World Champion show). It was also Table II)2.b, so that meant that I had to have not only my first round memorized, but also the jump-off course. Oh! AND I was second in the order of go.

Did I mention that it's been over a year since we last did the jumpers? And before that, it had been at least two years since we had done the jumpers? Yeah...

We go in for our first round, wait for the whistle, and then develop a nice canter. Nothing fast or crazy - in the first round, the main point is to go clean. Star had a pretty good rub on fence number one. Of course, I had to look back to see if the rail came down... there's not much more disappointing than the very first rail coming down, except maybe the last rail coming down. Regardless, pulling the very first rail sets a rather disheartening tone. The rail stayed up, and Star figured out that hitting rails probably wasn't the best plan of action. Bending line from 1 (going away) to 2, big left turn around 5 to 3, rollback to 4, bending line to 5, and fairly long run heading back home to 6a and b, an in-and-out. Now those of you who know something about distances and strides will know that for an "average" 12-foot stride, a one-stride combination (an in-and-out) would be set with 24' between the jumps. I have seen in the past at Morgan shows one-stride combinations set at 21', to accommodate a breed that is sometimes shorter-strided than "average." And 21' is still reasonable. In this course, the distance between 6a and 6b was 18 feet. Yes, you read that right, too. So a long run heading home to an 18' in-and-out. Sounds like a recipe for a rail down. And there were rails down... just not for my horse! A left turn back to 7 and a right turn to 8, and we were across the timer in about 59 seconds with a clean round. Turns out the time allowed was 60 seconds. Oops. Maybe I should have bothered to know that before going in the ring! Making the time allowed had never been a problem before, so I never gave it a second thought, and though we made it, it did teach me a valuable lesson.

On to the jump-off. The jump-off course was 1-2-3-5-6a-6b. NOW I was going to ride for time... especially having come so close to the time allowed in the first round! I am told that you could see quite a marked change in our pace between round one and the jump-off. Fence 1 and 2, pretty much same as before, but with less bend in the line. My plan had been to cut on the inside of 5 to come to 3 this time, but landing off fence 2, I just wasn't prepared enough, and opted to go around. Over 3, tight right back to 5, and the same long run from 5 to 6a and b. Got a bit of a gallop, set up, over, tiny stride, out and through the timer. Time allowed: 30 seconds. Our time: 26 seconds. Good enough for first at that point.

A couple more riders went who didn't make time and/or had rails. And then it was MM's turn. MM was reserve champion last year and champion the year before with the same horse (who I actually quite like and reminds me quite a bit of my Star) she was riding this year, and is pretty much the "local favorite," and the rider that everyone knows. There was talk that she would probably have a first round time of 45 seconds. Well, that's nice, but what's the point? Anyway, MM went clear in her first round. Time for the jump-off. MM apparently had the same jump-off plan as I, and nearly fell off at fence 2 trying to make the turn. Now, normally, I don't hope someone falls off, but I would be lying if I said that I wasn't hoping she fell (as long as no one got hurt, that is). Well, unfortunately for me, she did not fall and successfully made the inside turn to fence 3. The rest of her round was clean... dammit! Time: 23 seconds. Beat by 3 seconds, and all because I didn't prepare well enough and stick to my plan (I know it took us more than 3 seconds to go around fence 5). Well, shit!

However, all cursing aside, I can't complain. Star and I ended up second, with which I was thrilled. For not having competed in the jumpers in over a year, being so nervous I was about to puke and cry, for being the underdog, and, well, everything else taken into consideration, my horse was AMAZING, and I could not be more pleased with her performance! And to take second place, to boot, is just icing on the cake (or cookie... I like cookies better).

And we looked damn good doing it!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Reason Sparky's Event Hony Debut Has Been Postponed

So back in June, I had thought that Sparky would make his eventing debut in the Beginner Novice division at the Oct Chattahoochee Hills Horse Trial. Had I more time and resources, this may have worked, but the simple fact is that he's just not ready.

We went cross country schooling for the first time in July (Happy Birthday to me!), and he was an absolute rockstar! However, since it was his very first outing, we took it pretty easy, and only jumped one "big" fence - a triangular stack of "Lincoln Logs"... and to be honest, I was pretty sure it wasn't happening. It didn't happen the first time, but on the second attempt, Sparky said, "Okay, I got this!" and leapt over the logs like it was nothing. THAT, in and of itself, made the whole day worthwhile.

In August, we had the opportunity to school the course at Chatt Hills, so naturally, I jumped at the chance. I went with Jen (and Tiki), Becca (and Captain), and Marissa (and The $700 Pony... who is awesome, by the way). The three (six) of them took part in the hunter pace held in the morning, and in the afternoon, Jen, Marissa, one of Jen's students, and I went schooling.

There was nothing. small. on. that. course. Nothing. Almost everything was max height (~2'6"), and Sparky had never jumped that high "cold" before. Poor Sparky was overwhelmed, and did the best he could... but it was kind of rough. We had a stop (or two) at almost every fence before he went over, and eventually (after a string of a couple GREAT fences with no stops!) he just said, "No, I'm done." And he was done. There is NO ONE in this world who could have made him go over that fence.

I overfaced him, plain and simple.

We did do a few more fences (bank and ditch on XC, a few in the arena) to restore confidence and end on a (somewhat) positive note, but I realized that with the little time I had and the other commitments I had, I was not going to be able to have him ready for the horse trial in October (unless we were to school XC many more times before then, which just wasn't going to happen). So we nixed it.

So Sparky is backing up a couple steps, and we're going to work very hard on square oxers, things that look solid (thanks to a brown tarp), and removing the word "no" from his vocabulary. I can't really think of a way to re-inforce the idea of "forward," because this is a one-off event... Sparky is naturally a forward horse, so me asking him to go forward has never been so much me asking or telling him - it's really always been me allowing him. So I think if I build up his confidence to the point that "no" never crosses his mind, we'll be good to go, and I will have one hella awesome Morgan Sport Pony eventer.

So what all of this really means is that Jen gets to use my dressage saddle when she and Tiki do go to the horse trial at the end of the month!

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Strangest Thing...

<-- See this bit? This is a Korsteel JP Oval Mouth dee ring snaffle... basically, one of likely the "softest" bits you can put in a horse's mouth.

See this bit? -->

This is a Mikmar Pelham... otherwise, generally known as a "Whoa, Dammit!" bit.

What's the point of this mini-lesson on bits? Well, let me tell you a little story:

About 6 years ago, Star and I competed at the Circle J Regional Morgan Horse Show, and Star did pretty well - Reserve Champion Hunter, Reserve Champion Jumper (by default), Reserve Eq Over Fences. Can't really complain too much about that, right? Well, at one point in between classes, the judge saw me and called out, "Hey, you, #blah-blah-blah - tighten up your horse's noseband!" Star likes to hang her mouth open (no matter what bit), and basically, the judge was telling me that was affecting our placings. So I tighten up her noseband. And then I bought a figure-8. And for the past 6 years, I have almost NEVER ridden Star without a flash or figure-8 noseband on her to keep her mouth closed.

Let me tell you another story:

Star is fast. She likes to get fast to the jumps. And up until this year, really, we hadn't done a whole lot of jumping in the three years she has been in Georgia, and there was a whole year prior to that I didn't jump really at all, because I lived in Georgia, and she was still in Iowa. So I figured that Star being fast to the jumps was partly due to bad habits and partly due to inconsistency of work over fences, because she hasn't always been like this. In an effort to get Star to slow down a bit, I have progressed through many bits, ultimately using the "Whoa, dammit!" bit pictured above. And it didn't do a damn thing, really.

So now for the final story:

I'm at the barn a couple weeks ago, a day or two after the PWF schooling show, where things didn't go perfectly, but I accomplished what I intended. I had come to the determination that I was not going to be able to change Star's style (fast) in the month I had until Nationals, so I was just going to have to do what I could with what I had. Anyway, so I'm at the barn, and of course, I had forgotten all my "normal" tack at home: figure-8 bridle, rolly-ball spurs, flash noseband attachment (no, I do not use it at the same time as a figure-8), and the "Whoa, dammit!" bit. So I pull a regular bridle with no keep-your-mouth-closed strap, put my Happy Mouth loose ring elevator on it (thoroughly expecting Star to run through it, as she has done in the past), put a running martingale on Star, and put my long dressage spurs on myself. I had set a couple jumps with plenty of room to circle between them and before and after them, in an attempt to maintain a decent rhythm and pace.

And Star was perfect.

Well, holy shit. What changed?

So over the next several rides, I changed things one at a time, to see if it was the bit, the martingale, the spurs, or the jump set-up... and she was still perfect, and has stayed perfect. She lopes up to the jumps (solid 3' - 3'3" jumps) in a Happy Mouth snaffle.

It's the strangest thing... it turns out, for the past six years, my poor horse has just been pissed that I've been strapping her mouth shut. That's a mare for you, I guess.

Oh, and the first bit pictured? Yeah, that's what she jumped around in the other. Still perfect.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Wow. I'm really bad at this.

So it turns out that I'm really bad at keeping up with this whole blogging thing. Oops. Lots of things have happened since my last post... and I means LOTS... so I'll just go over them quickly and then (maybe) post in more detail about them later.

Probably the most exciting thing since the last post is that I am officially taking Star to Morgan Nationals this year. She did really well (with the exception of our first class - she was just being a snot) at the Dixie Cup Classic in May, and all the pieces just kind of fell into place, so we will be competing in the Regular Working Hunters, the Jumpers, and the Hunter Pleasure Amateur Mare. If she does well enough, we'll show back in the World Championship Hunter Pleasure Amateur, but I'm really not expecting great things. Not that I expect to do terribly (far from it!), but I am trying to not set expectations. I just want to go and have fun and do the best we can. =)

Sparky has also gone XC schooling a couple of times. He was GREAT the first time, and overall good on the second time, but I have had to re-evaluate my plans for him. We had planned on competing in a horse trial at the end of October, but I have decided that it is not in our best interests to do so at this time. Sparky is young and still learning, so there will be plenty of time to compete in the future.

Another pretty cool thing is that I have a new job. I was faced with the very real possibility of having at least a month's vacation (read: unemployed), but a great new job pretty much fell into my lap. The short of it is that I am back in the lab, doing work I enjoy. I was also asked for a minimum two-year commitment to the position... this is awesome, because it means I'll a) not be looking for a job again in 6 months (which has really been my pretty standard MO for a while now), and b) I'll be staying in Atlanta! I've finally really settled in here, and I am finally really happy, so I am excited to be staying.

IEA season is coming up as well. I have offered up use of BOTH horses this year, so it will be fun to see how they do, should Jen choose to use them both. =)

I'll post more detailed things later about specific events, but I think that's a pretty good general run-down!

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Flying Sofa

ß Meet Star. She was nicknamed "The Flying Sofa" during the 2009-2010 Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) show season because (at least to my understanding): A) Sitting on her is pretty much like sitting on a sofa (though back in Iowa, we usually call them couches) and she is very comfortable to ride; and B) Point her to a jump, and she pretty much does the rest, flying over it. Now part B) can be a good thing, or it can be a bad thing – it depends on the situation. For the intents and purposes of IEA, it's pretty much a good thing (I think. I will be corrected if I'm wrong). The riders just have to remember to STEER!

There are two ways to ride Star: you can ride her, or you can RIDE her. If you ride her (small r), she'll pretty much take care of you, but she won't go out of her way to really use herself. She is, by nature, a bit – okay, QUITE – lazy, so will generally do the least amount of work necessary. This means that she will just kind of hack around in no semblance of a frame with a pokey walk, a jog-trot, and the occasional "tranter" instead of an actual canter. Tracking up? What's that? She'll like to get on her forehand and pretend that her front end isn't *really* attached to the back end. She'll look more like a random "school horse" than what she really is. She's lazy, lazy, lazy – until you point her at a jump. Then she'll use that neck and shoulder, truck along on her forehand - but she'll take care of you (but of course, being a mare who knows EXACTLY who she has on her back, she'll also let you know if you offend her), and take you right to and over the jump. She's a good jumper, but not particularly impressed by anything much under 3'. That's the first way to ride (small r) Star.

If you RIDE (capital R) Star, keeping your leg on her and asking her to flex at the poll and actually engage her hind end, you're much more likely to be told by her highness that you've offended her (What? A queen having to WORK?!?), but holy crap! she starts to look like the well-bred Morgan that she really is, resembling almost a mini-warmblood. She still likes to get on her forehand, but she'll start actually bending and tracking up (a little bit, anyway). When she comes up to a jump, she'll actually round over it a bit, rather than "Superman-ing" it. I have seen only two IEA riders come close to RIDING (capital R) Star – and both did well in their classes. The only other person I have seen RIDE (capital R) Star recently has been Jen, when I gave her a no-stirrups "lesson." It's pretty neat to see just how cute my mare can be.

Now the thing about RIDING Star (I'm tired of the "capital R" "little r") is that it's not particularly easy. She has a very round barrel and broad back, which make it difficult to really put your leg on and keep it. That, paired with her strong (heavy) front end and opinionated mare mind (backed up with several years of bad habits) means that convincing her to rock back and work off her hind end (especially when jumping) is sometimes, uhh, well, it just plain doesn't happen.

So I enlisted the help of Jen (my honorary big sister) to be my eyes on the ground and kick my butt (I also have a bit a leaning habit that I am trying to combat) a couple of weeks ago. It was of course, ungodly hot out, which made the whole experience even more fun. The main principles addressed were:

-Make Nicole work in all three seats, not just her [favorite] full-seat (amazingly enough, I re-remembered that two-point is MUCH easier with shorter stirrups!)

-Work to obtain PROMPT transitions with Star

-Get Star working off her hind end

Of course, all of this involved RIDING her. When it came to jumping, the emphasis was on not letting Star just canter along on her forehand and get over the jump in the easiest way possible. We worked on actually getting a nice, bouncy canter and coming in to the base of the jump to make her rock back and really use herself (again, having to really RIDE her). Overall, Star did pretty well – some of our jumps felt REALLY good. But there is always more work to be done. With that in mind, over the past couple weeks, Star and I have done the following:

-Leg means forward NOW, not five minutes from now, maybe. (Holy crap, turns out that horse really CAN work off her hind end)

-Bounces. Lots of bounces. Set at anywhere from 2'6" to 3'0". This was actually pretty fun; she felt as round as a rubber ball by the last jump.

-Walking jumps. This helps on two fronts: it encourages Star to have a much better walk with more impulsion (like a tiger getting ready to pounce, I think is how Linda Allen put it) AND to encourage her to use her hind end to jump. Can't jump from a walk without impulsion and not trip (which DID happen, and Star learned her lesson).

And as for me, it's the same laundry list as it always is, but the biggie right now is to not lean left. It's getting better, but it's definitely going to take a while. Years of bad habits and inherent weaknesses and all. One big goal is to develop a lovely auto release like Jen's. Even my actual crest release could be better: though Jen did compliment me on it once, I have to say that I actually disagreed with her on that – it was too high on the neck and too far forward. So that's definitely another thing.

On the COTH forums, someone posted a question about when a horse is considered "finished." My thought is that there is always something upon which can be improved, so a horse is never really "finished;" I feel that the work I've been doing with Star lately illustrates this point. She's a go-anywhere and do-anything kind of horse that some might consider to be finished, but to me, it is a lifelong process… it's not about the destination, it's about the journey.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Napolean Dynamite

<-- Meet Sparky. Sparky is a 6 year old (though he's actually 2 in this picture) unregistered Morgan gelding made up entirely of bravery, character, spunk, and cuteness. He is EXACTLY like a little kid - always trying to push the envelope to see *just* how far he can go and *just* how much he can get away with! He is extremely friendly and inquisitive... really, everybody loves him. He's definitely a "little big man," - or maybe a "big little man" - so though his "official show name" is Sucha Special Spark, I'm pretty sure he will show at least a couple times as Napolean Dynamite. (That's part of the beauty of an unregistered and unrecorded horse - you can show them under just about any name on a whim).

Sparky stands just over pony size, so we briefly dabbled in the idea of becoming a large pony hunter/jumper, but then we decided to nix that idea (though it was totally do-able) as: A) I'm an adult (by age, anyway), and would therefore we would not be able to team up for pony classes, as they are restricted to children; and B) I'm not planning on selling him; so C) What would be the point?

So Sparky has decided to embark on a career as an event hony (that would be a just-over pony-sized horse). I think this is a good idea. *nods* Maybe eventing will help occupy those overly large brains of his! He has decided to refer to himself as a "Morgan Sport Pony"... there's not really any such thing as a Morgan Sport Pony, so I figure I'll humour him.

Now, for those of you who don't already know Sparky, there is a pretty significant piece of history to him. In August of 2008, Sparky suffered severe injuries to his left butt cheek and legs by getting caught in some fencing, ultimately being impaled on a T-post and getting cut up the the wire. We are very lucky he even survived, so the fact that he is doing all that he is and has decided to be an event hony is all the more impressive and all the more special. His comeback, though slow, has ultimately been phenomenal! We have set the goal of competing at Beginner Novice at the Chattahoochee Hills horse trial at the end of October.

With this goal in mind, Sparky had his first dressage lesson last week. It was split into two parts due to a pop-up thunderstorm, but the overall assessment is that Sparky is a NICE horse (of course, I knew that, but it's always nice to hear!). Turns out that the things that need the most work are... wait for it... the rider! Haha! Why am I not surprised?

Last night, Sparky had a little jump school. He hadn't jumped in a couple of weeks, and I thought that hopping over a couple oxers might be a good thing, since they're still fairly new to him. So we started off with a couple of crossrails going down the center and an 18"cavaletti-vertical set on the diagonal. After successfully hopping over those a few times, I raised one crossrail to a vertical, and turned the second one into a little oxer. Sparky hopped right over the vertical and cantered right down to the oxer. He didn't even blink at it, and went right over. (An aside here, this was only Sparky's second day jumping an oxer... day one started off rough, but ended well). We came through the line again, and this time added in the cavaletti-vertical set on the diagonal... so yes, a bending line. Sparky was a little surprised by this (Wait! That one, too?!? I haven't had to do that before!), but went right over. He had knocked down the vertical, so as I re-set the pole, I also raised it a hole. We went back through the line - Sparky didn't even look at the higher vertical - did our bending line, and then made a big left turn to two cavaletti set close together to make another little oxer. This was a square oxer, so he didn't see that there were two rails until we were almost right on top of it, but he just stretched out and cleared it with no hesitation! He was absolutely PERFECT! A big pat and a "Good boy!" and we were done. After cooling him out and hosing him off, I went back up to the arena to measure the jumps; the oxer measured 2'1" and the vertical measured 2'4"! Wow!

I am SO impressed my Sparkplug! =D XC schooling: here we come!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Laughing Down the Lines

Sometimes it's centerline, sometimes it's a bending line, and sometimes it's an outside line. Sometimes it's outright laughter, sometimes it's actually a grimace, and occasionally, it's a four-letter word (and I don't mean "pony", though that's a four-letter word in both senses, too!). Sometimes it's due to something truly hilarious, sometimes it's pure joy, and sometimes it's because it's all one really can do. But wherever we are, and whatever the cause, I find that I almost always go laughing down the lines.

This is basically the story of the adventures (and misadventures!) of Gratis Park Sport Morgans, better known as me (Nicole), Star, and Sparky, with cameo appearances by many of our friends.

So come along for the ride - or drive, depending on the day - and you'll probably be laughing (with us or at us; we don't judge) at some point, too!