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.

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