Monday, March 17, 2008

Red Hills - in which the season draws to a close and I reflect on lessons learned

Keebler arrived back at COM safely on Tuesday morning. I went out to see him and he looked very happy munching hay. He’ll be starting the dressage boot camp portion of our program this week. Meanwhile, I flew back down to Florida on Wednesday and rode Squire, then got everything packed up for Red Hills. We set out mid-day on Thursday and Hilda was recounting some of Squire’s previous experiences at Red Hills, most of them not very good. We did some flat work in the dressage warm-up Thursday evening (with daylight savings time, it is light until 7:30). Friday was dressage day. Our times were in the late afternoon, so there was time to walk the cross country course first. It looked somewhat easier than I remember the preliminary course being in 2002 and 2003, but I have a little more experience now also. There were some tough questions, but I figured we would be OK. I got on Squire and hacked over to warm up for dressage around 3:10 for my 3:47 test. We were in Arena D, over by the stadium jumping area. Hilda wasn’t there yet (her ride was at 3:15), but we have been doing a pretty standard warm-up, so I got started on it. We did the first twenty minutes, which went well, then as I was picking him up from a free walk, he spooked, then bucked, then bucked again with a little spin and I landed on the ground. Feet first, then rear end. As I stood up, Squire went galloping around the warm-up arena, at first in circles, so we thought we would be able to catch him. Werner Geven altertly headed over to stand by the opening at A, but after a few laps, Squire jumped out and pounded off an impressive gallop toward stabling. I took off after him at a run, asking Jenna Silliman to let the Steward know I would be back as soon as possible. I caught up with him at bit check, where someone had grabbed him. Cindy had seen him from her post and come down to help, so she gave me a leg up. I later heard that he quite impressively jumped over the roping on his way there. Once up, I trotted back over to the ring, immediately trotted around and after asking me if I had planned the escapade to use up extra energy, Wayne Quarles blew the duck call and in we went. Hilda arrived as I was making the initial turn after trotting up center line, so missed all the excitement. She hardly believed it when I told her. We put in quite a decent test, receiving a 42.5 and landing in 10th place. Lesson #1, there is no such thing as a bomb proof horse. Squire would be absolutely the last horse you would expect such behavior from. Being caught off guard may have been part of why I fell off. Rusty Lowe (safety coordinator) inquired as to my well-being and was happy to hear I was fine. We did go up and walk the cross country, this time with Hilda and she said we were to take the option at fence 5. This was an up bank, one stride across and down, then the straight route, 2 strides to a vertical pole (decorated like a cannon) or the option, 4 stride bending line to smaller, similar looking fence. It was going straight that Darren Chiacchia was injured on Saturday morning. Lesson #2, even the best riders can have a problem. It is important to take every fence seriously. Darren is in my thoughts and prayers and I’m sure in yours as well. Updates and information about donations are at There was a fairly long hold on course, so XC was running about 45 minutes late when I headed up. They removed the C portion of fence 5 from the course entirely. We warmed up in the upper warm up, working on pace. Squire felt both a little edgy and a little sticky and I managed to fall off (again!) when he stuck a little before jumping a table and I just got jumped loose. Lesson #3, it is worth working at staying in shape. Some luck was certainly also involved, but two falls off a moving horse and not a single sore spot to speak of. This time, we caught him without incident. I once again assured Rusty that I was fine, hopped on and headed off. We made it around, but had 3 stops. The first was at the ditch and wall. I was thinking so hard about the turn following it that I think I failed to ride (see lesson 2). Then, when we did it the second time, I thought, I’ll go to the bending 5 stride house without the planned circle. Lesson #4, stick to your plan. We had a run out there, totally my fault. We galloped on, jumped the next 2 without incident and then headed into the woods to the small skinny to skinny 3 stride obstacle. We came into the woods and Squire got very tense. As we rounded the corner to the fence, he saw it, slammed on the brakes and reared (see Lesson 1). I took him around to the option and we finished the rest of the course with no trouble, including brilliant jumping through the water complex. Lesson #5, perhaps horses do remember bad things. Squire’s prior experiences involved having trouble and getting at trouble in the woods at Red Hills (of course, that was when the question was a CIC*** corner, but it was the coming around a turn in the woods). We dropped from 10th place to 14, but several horses had penalties and/or didn’t finish even at preliminary. I spent much of the afternoon spectating up at cross country. Jonathan Holling’s Direct Merger collapsed and died of a suspected heart attack. I’m sure it was a stressful day for Jonathan as he also took over coaching Darren’s students. He did finish 9th on Lion King. Missy Miller’s lovely Rowdy fell at the water jump and was fatally injured. It was a fairly tough day all around, but there were also some very nice runs. Caitlin Silliman and Twain jumped well over the first 19 fences in the CIC**, then had an incident at the ditch and wall, that ended with Twain looking very the pony standing sideways in the ditch. Neither Twain nor Caitlin were injured and I’m sure they will go on to do more great things. I walked down to stabling with Twain after the vets checked him out and he seemed quite relaxed and happy, though very interested in the kettle korn I was carrying. The evening party was rather subdued. Sunday morning, we got ready for stadium jumping. After Rocking Horse Spring, I was a bit concerned, but warm up appeared to go well and I headed into the (really beautiful) stadium with the goal of keeping my shoulders back no matter what. Our stadium round was wonderful. Squire was just a little sticky to start, but got going at fence 6 and was just wonderful (Lynn captured it on video and I did keep my shoulders back). Lesson #6, it is hard to get everything together the same weekend, but that is part of what makes eventing so rewarding. This week’s stadium with last week’s dressage and cross-country would be the goal. I’ll have to keep aspiring to it. I did check in with Rusty to point out that I had made it through a phase without falling off in warm-up. I’m going to miss weekends in Florida and hanging out with the Ashmore crew. At the same time, I’m looking forward to time at home and hanging out with the Cairn O’Mount crew. Blogs will probably be less frequent, but I’ll keep you updated on Keebler’s dressage progress. His next event is planned for Fair Hill in May. I’ll also let you know about my TD training adventures. I’ll be at Galway with Malcolm Hook, checking out control and have some other apprenticeships planned. Thanks to all of you who have been interested in my doings during the winter season and to Susie and Hilda for all of their great support of my ongoing eventing adventures.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Rocking Horse Spring - in which the Sandhill Cranes bring luck and Hilda brings rain

The weekend started as they do with the plane flight down from PA to FL. This trip was different in that sitting beside me on the flight was Karen O’Connor. She had been in PA for the sad occasion of Vita Thompson’s funeral, but I did get to hear about a lot of the super horses (including Biko) that Karen has ridden for the Thompsons since she began with them 24 years ago. Once I arrived in Orlando, I headed to Ashmore, where I did a group lesson with some of Hilda’s other students. I rode Keebler and we did both flat and jumping. He was quite good. I then did a similar private lesson on Squire, which was great. Once that was done, Hilda and I headed up to Rocking Horse with Squire. Due to acquiring a couple of last minute rides, Hilda had more horses than trailer spots, so Squire went up a day early along with the “girls” (Isabelle and Serendipity). We set up stalls, walked the training course and headed back. While I was walking, I saw Sandhill Cranes standing in the trailer parking area. They are very cool birds By the time tack was loaded and horses braided, it was almost 9:00, so no yoga or Urban Flats this week. Friday, we headed up early for dressage day. All went very well on Squire and for the first time in my eventing history, I broke 40 on a preliminary dressage test (39.6 with an error – cantered at C instead of M). We were in 3rd place, and let me tell you, that has never happened to me before! I warmed Keebler up for dressage in his jumping bridle, causing some consternation for the volunteers, but all went well and one horse before me, switched and headed in. He was more rideable for at least the first half of the test and we ended up with a 47.6, so I was pleased. Just as I reached stabling, the skies opened up. This coincided with Hilda entering the ring on Venny, the young horse she was riding at his first event. After RH III and the monsoon during Isabelle’s XC, we’ve decided the rain is Hilda’s fault. It continued on and off, very heavy at times through the day and into the evening. We headed out and had dinner at Luigi’s in Eustis, as grilling didn’t seem a great option. Andre arrived with the coach as we were getting back after dinner, set for our nice onsite digs. Saturday morning was clear, but really windy. I’m sure many of you heard about the winds. Nonetheless, everything went off well (all the stadium jumps blew down at one point, but they put them back up with the standards weighted with sawdust bags). Squire jumped stadium in the morning. He was a little sticky to the first couple and then did well until fence 8 where something (not the jump startled him) and we missed our (5 stride bending) line. Circled around and were fine, though we took the rail at 9, so finished with 8 jump and 7 time, dropping us into 7th place. Keebler went XC in the afternoon. He did not like the wind. While he was willing to jump everything he was pointed at, he was unwilling to gallop into the wind or with the wind blowing up his tail or across his body, meaning there was no galloping and several time faults, added to as I decided on the option at the water jump as the drop down was another question he had never seen schooling and it was BIG. It was really nice to hear from the fence judge the next morning when I was walking the Preliminary XC that our version of the option looked the best planned and tidiest of any the entire day. I apparently have some hex with the number 18, as I almost failed to jump fence 18 again. Luckily it was directly on the route to 19, so no actual failure. Got to spend some time in the late afternoon with the Colliers and the Collier ponies (Hilda rode Pandamonium BN – HC and Charlotte Collier rode Brilliant Blue Girl BNR). Saturday evening, stopped by the competitors party and got to chat with Jeff Kibbie and Steph Butts, then walked prelim XC again followed by grilling at the coach and star gazing. The stars were out and very bright, especially Orion. Sunday morning, it was cold – actually frost on the ground, and on the trailer ramp - as I discovered when I attempted to walk up it to retrieve the breakfast buckets. Keebler did SJ in the morning and jumped double clear, thus finishing his Florida season with 5 double clear SJ rounds and 5 jumping clear XC rounds (if you don’t count entirely missing the dratted fence 18 at RH I). Dressage boot camp, here we come. At around 2:30, Squire went xc and just totally rocked my world!! We went clean with a little time, mostly due to the conscious decision to make a circle between 4 and 5 (sharp bending line to skinny) and the mistake of thinking so hard about that I forgot to turn to 4 in the first place and had to make a circle to approach it. Still, jumped everything clean and this was not an easy preliminary course, though I’m sure Squire found it a piece of cake. We ended up in 5th place. Yeah, Squire! Keebler is now back in PA and I’ll head down for the final weekend and Red Hills with Squire.

Monday, March 3, 2008

a weekend in which there is more driving than riding, but still good fun!

Headed down on Wednesday night late this week (the vagaries of airline ticket pricing determined much of my schedule). Thursday, I had to make a quick run to the VW dealer to get a new tire put on (too much road construction on the way from the airport, apparently), then headed to Ashmore to ride. We took Squire over to Class Act, Jennie Jarnstrom’s farm to do some jumping. We had a bit of an issue with a line that we hadn’t realized was set at 5 and ½ strides, but otherwise an excellent school, then headed back and did a dressage lesson on Keebler. In the side reins (ok, don’t tell anyone from pony club, but it seems to work really well and Marina Genn once had me do it, so I don’t think it is totally verboten), he was really good, but as soon as we took them off he got up to his usual tricks. Still the walk work is a lot better and the downward transitions, especially from trot to walk are quite good, even when he is fussing at the trot. Thursday evening, I did a bunch of packing up and then Friday morning did a quick flat school on Keebler and a lesson on Squire, which were both quite good. It was actually chilly (well, in Florida speak) just under 40 degrees when I got on at 7:30. After riding, I packed up some barn stuff and in my loaded up car, headed for Aiken. The drive was uneventful, other than some construction on I-95 that slowed things down a bit. Mapquest took me on an interesting (in a good way) route that included driving through Waynesboro, GA, the hunting dog capital of the United States. Who knew? I arrived in Aiken just before 7:00 and headed over to the Susie/Lesley & Company house. It is quite nice and in a quiet neighborhood close to Whiskey Road. Henry had already done a grocery run and a bunch of unpacking, so Lesley, Henry and I headed for dinner at Cuizine. It included a very nice bottle of wine (no surprise, Henry was with us) and a mixed review on the food. My salad was excellent as was Henry’s steak. The calamari, my risotto and Lesley’s tuna were more on the fine, but uninspired page. Saturday morning, I did yoga at I always like finding new gyms and yoga studios when traveling. We then headed to the house to begin party preparations. With Amanda’s excellent help (Amanda is Susie’s 8 year old daughter and she squeezed all 60 pieces of citrus for the margaritas), we were able to complete pre-party preparations by around 3:30, so repaired to the Wilcox for a nap. The Wilcox is really a lovely old inn, a nice treat for the weekend when Henry is in Aiken. I recommend that you all consider a weekend in Aiken next year. It is great fun. The party appeared to be a success. The margaritas were a lovely shade of red, thanks to the blood oranges in them. Many bottles of red wine also were drunk and especially appreciated by Kevin Keane, Auggie Vettorino, Phillip Dutton and Jenna’s dad, Tom. The food was Henry’s usual spectacular litany of muscovy duck breast, portabella mushrooms with aged gruyere, lamb chops, grilled asparagus, wonderful cheese, etc. We headed back to the Willcox and then Sunday morning, got up (not as early as T, Susie and Lesley had to for T’s advanced cross country at Pine Top) and headed for Philadelphia. Meanwhile, T had a couple of glance-offs, but successfully completed her first advanced horse trial. Caitlin had an excellent intermediate run, and Choo also did well. We reached home without event Sunday evening. I’ll be stuck with a rental car the last two weekends down south, but it was great to be able to break up the drive home. Looking forward to both Squire and Keebler at Rocking Horse Spring next weekend.