The sound you hear is…

…the wreckage of a crash and burn.

Ah, the finals are now just a faint memory.  This could be either because I am choosing NOT to remember the carnage, or because I damaged too many brain cells at the Ribeye’s bar Friday night and Saturday night.

The big picture about the show in general was two huge thumbs up.  The footing was immaculate and perfect at all times, the rings ran largely on time, the management and volunteers were friendly and effective, and the competitors meals/parties EVERY night were awesome.  A huge thank you goes out to Martie Healy, her family, and her team for running the show; and to the town of Williamston and Martin County for their gracious hosting.

I had planned before the show to end this blog with a play-by-play of each class, but I’ll spare you the grim and overwhelmingly boring details.  I had 5 classes, and I basically chunked 4 of them.  Thursday there were Stakes classes–I entered First level and the Musical Freestyle–I got my lowest score ever with Bravo on the former, and a decent score for a 4th place (and no money) on the latter.  Friday were the MFS finals, which I will actually talk about below.  Saturday I had the Training level finals and didn’t place, even with 8 chances. By Sunday I was spent, exhausted, but finally feeling like I could get it done.  Er, no.  I had a mistake-ridden test with some high highs and lots of low lows.  Movement scores from 4 to 8, and a final number just above 60%. Amazingly, this was actually a 9th place score–the vast majority of the class was in the 50s.  Yikes. Overall, I would say we were just not consistent.  The connection was inconsistent.  Bravo’s attention was inconsistent.  My riding was inconsistent.

So, the best part of the weekend competitively was the MFS finals.  There were only 5 entries, so I knew I would place.  I didn’t ride until 6:15 pm, which was BRUTAL!  I just hung out and helped and watched all day, while most of my friends did their things, got showers, went to dinner, etc.  And I was still waiting…and waiting.  It wore on me.  I planned on a solid 30 minute warm up with Dawn.  As I began to get dressed and tack up, the anxiety started–not the good kind of stress–I actually joked that I was stroking out.  My hands were shaking, my heart was racing, and I had to walk up and down the aisles taking huge deep breaths so I wouldn’t puke or pass out. I managed not to pass out, but I did puke.  Seriously, what am I, 12?  I got myself under control once I was in the tack, and the warm up went fine.  I even actually went in a couple of minutes before my time as the ring was running ahead.

And I really enjoyed myself.  Bravo was a bit fresh and forward, but obedient, although we did have a little buck in the right canter.  About 1/3 of the way in, I realized I was hitting the music dead on (having had a slight problem with that the day before), and I started to breathe, smile, and enjoy myself.  As I picked up my right canter, I began to think…”Hmm…should I or shouldn’t I go for the ‘Yee Haw’ moment with one hand?”  Then Bravo gave me a little buck and the answer was obvious!  This actually drew some laughs and applause from the spectators (and NOT just my friends, although they were whooping it up for me!).  When I finished, I knew it was not the best I had ridden it–a lack of whip translated into a lack of leg yield, our best movement–but I had a great time.  I ended up 3rd by a minuscule fraction behind Evelyn Susol, and a percent or so behind winner Jeanne McDonald, both professionals.  Bravo behaved for the award ceremony and victory lap, even though he got a little scared, and honestly, I couldn’t have asked for much more from him in the behavior department in general all weekend.

Some consolation for not winning the freestyle came from WNC photographer/owner Bob Cieszenski, who told me that in his years and years of watching these things, he really enjoyed my freestyle because it was fun, the music was recognizable and energizing, and I put on a show!  He cracked up at my one handed wave, and even got it on film (which I have seen and coupled with my huge smile it makes a fantastic photo).  Kudos also came from veteran, well, everything–judge, TD, announcer–Charlie Musco who also commented to me how much he liked it, and that he hoped I created my future freestyles with the same feel and energy.

But enough about me, and lets move on to my friends!  It was a tough show for everyone on the aisle (and yes, we took up one entire section), and together we’ve definitely had better results.  I’m not sure, however, if we’ve ever had as much fun.  The weather was cool in the mornings, but sunny and generally nice all day.  The snacks and food were plentiful (I took almost everything except the chili back home, which has never happened before).  I brought a bottle of Dom Perignon I had received as a present a year or so ago and never opened–just waiting for the right occasion–which I uncorked and shared with the whole group on Saturday night (except Anne and Joe, who had to leave–we missed you!).   I wanted to celebrate the best part of these shows, regardless of the scoreboard–the friendship, camaraderie, and support we all give to each other.  Like a family, we feel it when someone isn’t there, or someone is having a tough time.  We find the positive in even the most disastrous of tests (“Your halt was good.”), we stay late or after we’re done to watch when we can, and we’re quick to lend a hand (requested or not).  I truly can’t think of another group of people I enjoy spending time with more than these guys.

Of course I am disappointed to not only not win a jacket, but just to not really bring my “A” game at all.  But honestly, I was really OK with it, which surprises no one more than me.  I think it’s because I’m seeing the big picture, and realizing that this show was just simply not our show–and there are many more to come.  Bravo behaved, by and large, with minimal outbursts even with no longing, while a year ago he had to be longed an hour before each test to be rideable.  And receiving a call from the Dressage Foundation congratulating me for winning the Carol Lavell Gifted Fund scholarship grant gives me 1000 more reasons to ease the sting.

You may notice I haven’t even mentioned the frivolity and after-parties.  That’s because what happens in Williamston…stays in Williamston!

 

As a side note, for me this blog was almost a continuation of the training journal I had already been keeping for myself at www.bravodressage.wordpress.com.  Feel free to check in there to see how we’re doing, how my funded week of training with Jules Nyssen fares, and how next season goes!

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Goodbye for this year!

The Region 1 GAIG’s are now history for 2010. I had a great time, I had fun doing the blog and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

Martie Healy did a GREAT job of organizing and putting on the show. The footing was great, the warm up areas were wonderful and plentiful enough that none of them got really crowded at any given time. The food every night was great and I heard a lot of good comments about that as well as the whole facility.

My mare was awesome for the whole show. No, we didn’t win the jacket, not even close, but that’s okay. We had fun and she was wonderful and we did get some nice scores and ribbons and even won one class. She was the horse of my dreams during the whole show and any errors we made were mostly pilot errors. And that is what it’s all about!

Thanks everybody! Hope the GAIG’s will come back to North Carolina again soon!

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Ready or not, here we come!

Ruby and Bravo (er, Santonio Holmes and Troy Polamalu)

This last blog post pre-championships has, of course, been in my schedule for tonight for several days.  Those of you who know me, even a little bit, know that I am just a wee bit of a control freak.  (Seriously, guys, I used to be worse–I’m a Zen Master compared to just 4 or 5 years ago.)  Regardless, I’m still a scheduler–I’m not good at soft deadlines and spontaneity.  So my lists have been made, cross-referenced, and are being checked off, and I’m right on schedule.

Bravo, however, is another story.  Animals and children really humble us adult humans.  They don’t care about schedules, or your “big” plans, and live in the moment.  Right now.  No list, no planning out the details.

This has never been more apparent to me than today.  Yesterday I had–bar none–one of the nicest rides EVAH on Bravo.  He was soft, pushing into the contact, reacting to my seat and legs without snarkiness, and rideable every single step.  WOW!  I didn’t do any test movements–just circles, serpentines, and diagonals with very frequent changes of gait and gear–it was literally intoxicating. “WOO HOO!  We’re READY!”, I thought.

And then, I had a lesson today with Dawn Weniger.  I’ve been going once or twice a week to her place for about 3 weeks now.  We’ve been doing a little “classical–let’s get to the root and fix that” and a little “slap the bandaid on the hemorrhage to get through the show”, pretty much in equal measure.  We’ve made a lot of headway in Bravo’s topline, which had gotten too curled from my defensive riding, and the lengthenings are coming along, albeit hit-or-miss.  But, often his first reaction to the half halt is to stiffen, he still is hollowing in the trot to canter transitions, and all of a sudden I can’t ride a straight line to save my life. Bottom line has been that the overall picture is greatly improved, but the details (ah, the devil) are clearly still lacking.

I could tell from the moment my butt hit the tack today that this was not going to be pretty.  The boy was wound TIGHT!  His back was tight, his neck was short and tight, and his focus was not on me.  We started out warming up to the “opposite” as I like to call it–if they want to put their head down, you ride it up; if they want to be pokey you kick ‘em on, etc.  So we started out under powered and under tempo–think Western jog–just trying to loosen the back, supple the neck, and regain the focus.  Intermittently there was an “outta here” stage left in one of the corners, and a few “hopping and dancing” moments–nothing that escalated, so it could have been worse–but where was my soldier, my “yes man”, my partner, my worker bee that I had been gleefully enjoying for the last 2 weeks?

Clearly Bravo does not realize that we are on a SCHEDULE!

Honestly, I’m not worried (yet).  It’s still 4 days until my first finals class, and there are many miles to go before then.  I’m blessed with a talented (if opinionated) horse, and will do my best to make sure I get my “yes man” back when it counts.  But if not, we’ll have fun, we’ll learn, and we’ll keep practicing until we do peak at the right time.  The jacket would be a welcome “destination”, but deep down I’m in it for the journey!

 

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Final preparation time!

Well it is now almost show time! Funny thing is I have been feeling less nervous the closer it gets. I have decided that at this point I need to just treat it like any other show and go in and do my best and let the chips fall where they may. Of course I always get a bit nervous about any show and a small amount of nerves are a good thing. One thing that is making me nervous though is that I have been assigned an early ride time for my championship class. I really like riding in the late morning or early afternoon best if I have a choice. But on the plus side I will be done early since either way I probably won’t be able to sleep very well the night before anyway!

Tiara has been doing very well at home. We had a clinic last weekend with Brendan and worked on fine tuning our right lead canter departures which have gotten a bit rough lately. She was actually a bit lazy starting out. She can be like the energizer bunny that keeps going and going so sometimes it is better if she starts out a bit on the lazy side.

I have been told that it gets more difficult to teach flying lead changes to horses after they turn 8. Tiara is 7 so I have had this on my mind, but haven’t felt like we were anywhere near ready to tackle this issue just yet. We have barely begun working counter canter so planned to try and work on flying changes MAYBE by spring. I sure wasn’t planning on working on these before the championships as we have plenty of stuff we need to polish up for our training and first level tests. So of course we had one of those training moments my friend Kathy likes to call a “happy accident”. We were cantering on the right lead and Brendan asked me to come across the diagonal and trot at X and then pick up the left lead. Well I came across the diagonal, half halted before X, changed her to a slight left bend, half halted again and then put my left leg on to push her over a bit and get a better left bend, and next thing I knew she gave this little grunt and did a beautiful clean flying change. I was laughing so hard and it was so smooth I just let her canter on the new lead for a few minutes. I sure wasn’t going to punish her for it as on hindsight I gave her all the cues for a lead change even if unintentionally. Even though that wasn’t my intent, it gives me hope that learning the lead changes won’t be as difficult as I was anticipating. Of course going from left to right will probably be harder as she much prefers the left lead when given a choice. Hopefully she doesn’t decide this is so much fun that she throws them in during my training and first level tests!
She did that when she first got the idea of trot lengthening. She decided they were so much fun she was offering them to me all over the place.

Last week we had a big discussion on not breaking at the canter. I have usually given her the benefit of the doubt when she breaks but decided that it is time to put a stop to this behavior when there doesn’t appear to be a good reason. So one day I really got after her for breaking, after first ensuring that she wasn’t unbalanced or that anything seemed to be giving her a good reason to break. After that she got really strong at the canter and wouldn’t come back to trot at all. She is very smart and does try really hard to please most of the time, so I guess she decided that if I wanted to canter, then by golly canter we would! I finally put her on a smaller circle and kept her going until I gave her a very definite cue to come back to trot. For a couple of days we had to work really hard at getting good downward transitions again but now I feel they are even better than before. Sometimes you just have to push something to polish it up in the long run. Those are the times I just hope I’m doing the right thing.

This weekend we are going to work with Anne Aloi. It is supposed to be quite cold but so far the weather report for the show week is looking pretty good. At this point I feel we are as ready as we can be and we are showing at a level we are thoroughly proficient in, so we will see. The main thing I am telling myself is to remember something I learned during my Marine Corps days. Attention to detail. Everything, no matter how small, can have a huge affect on the outcome.

Tiara is so much fun and has taught me so much in the three years I have owned her. Although the first year she wasn’t so much fun to ride as she was very green and was very easily distracted by anything she perceived as a threat to her safety. We spent a lot of time that first year just trying to get her to listen to me and trust me. When she isn’t distracted she is the easiest horse to ride that I have probably ever owned in my whole life. By that I mean that she has a great work ethic and catches onto things very quickly. That coupled with the fact that for the first time since I was very young and single, I have been able to really devote a lot of time and energy to furthering my riding and it has really been paying off in so many ways. The first year I showed her at Intro I didn’t think I would ever be able to get her to settle down in the show atmosphere. The second year we ventured into training level at some small schooling shows and finally took the plunge into showing in a recognized show in Pinehurst in the fall. This year we have done training and started First level. Labor of Love in Raleigh reminded me of just how far we have come and reminded me that she still has the ability to become very distracted and worried about her surroundings at times. Riding and showing horses is full of small victories and sometimes small to major setbacks, but overall it is a very rewarding and fun endeavor. And now my journey with her has brought us to the USDF Region 1 championships which is something I never would of dreamed we would be able to enter and show in just a short year ago. So we’re going to give it our best shot and hope it is one of those days she isn’t worried or distracted about something in the area and we are able to put in our best effort and hope for a great outcome! But win or lose it will be a great show with all of my show friends. I am just hoping for a great ride on my awesome little mare and let the outcome be whatever it will be.

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NCDCTA Scholarship

This year I was lucky enough to receive the NCDCTA $500 scholarship, in the youth division.  I planned on using the money for my trip up to Scott Hassler’s, for the Lendon Gray clinic.

Last Thursday, the day before departure, we were all rushing to pack the four-horse head to head for four horses and a three-day trip.  Having to leave by 7:00 am left us in a pinch for time.  The next morning we loaded everyone up, and headed off for the 6 hour journey.  We had a total of 4 horses and 7 humans, so our caravan was quite a sight to behold on the trip up. 

For those of you who have recently been to Hassler Dressage, you understand just how unbelievable it is up there.  Scott and Susanne are phenomenal people and the facilities are amazing.  Riveredge West, the older facility is where we were stabled, with beautiful indoor and outdoor arenas, great paddocks, and a handy guest house, where we roomed.  Then, on the other side of the thousands-of-acres property, is Riveredge East. 

There are no words to describe this new, state-of-the-art facility, all I can suggest is for everyone to take a weekend, and try to get up there to see it.  Many have ventured to call it the “Greatest facility in the US” and some have even ventured, in the world. 

The clinic began with Lendon on Saturday morning, with a group lesson in the morning focusing on position, and an individual in the afternoon.  My group lesson was really fun, Lendon wanted to see us “leave the horse alone, like a hunter pony”.  In other words, she didn’t care what frame the horse was in, just that it was capable of continuing to go forward without any interference.  Most of the kids in my group had a hard time, and I had my own struggles as well.

My individual lesson on Saturday was very educational.  Lendon knew Roc and I were planning on trying for the 2011 NAJYRC’s at Young Riders, so we immediately started with the PSG work.  In our right pirouettes, Roc tends to get too small, so we mainly did schooling pirouettes, with a lot of focus on the adjustability.  To the left, however, Roc tends to take over, so the exercise was very flexible.  Instead of starting a pirouette and doing a half or full, Lendon suggested I not “ride a pattern”.  We would come into the pirouette, but the second I felt any loss of “access” to Roc’s body, I would stop jumping around and do a few jumps forward.  Lendon did stress the importance of keeping the same canter, and not going more than 3 strides forward before coming around again.  It looked really funky, but by the end of the session, I had fluid, adjustable pirouettes. 

Day two consisted of our second and final individual lesson.  This time we worked on the canter zigzag and tempi’s.  Roc is usually great in the tempis, his only fault is getting the hang of whatever line we were doing.  Say I started on a long side doing fours, but half way through, I wanted to change to threes.   Roc only knew how to do one line consistently, again, without adjustability.  Lendon had me ride a 20m circle, and at each quarter of the circle, do a flying change.  Very difficult for a horse who is only used to doing changes on the straight away, but by the end of the day, Roc knew the meaning of being on the aids in the changes. 

Overall this experience was AMAZING and I would recommend Lendon (and Scott of course) to everyone.  Both are amazing teachers, but Lendon really forces you to bring your A Game to her clinics.  Any time I have an educational opportunity, I take it.  Courtney King-Dye came to see Lendon while we were all there, and in her words “Whenever you get an opportunity, say yes.  If it is to go to dinner, say yes.  If it is to ride a cow, say yes.  And you know what?  Even that cow will teach you something.”  When you are surrounded by greatness, inspiration is not hard to come by.  This past weekend not only made me grateful for what I already know, but also for what is to come.

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Crunch time!

For just a few minutes, I’m gonna focus on how much I enjoy the whole EXPERIENCE of going to horse shows.  What’s not to love, really?  The Williamston venue is well planned, the barns are bright and airy, and I will be surrounded by some of my very favorite people!  Collectively, we will have some of the best rides at the show, no doubt in my mind.

This time–because of the sheer length of the show (I will be there Wednesday through Sunday), because I am bringing my dog, and because I am camping–I am going to have to make a few lists of “don’t forget” items.  My saddle trunk holds all the necessities for the actual show (tack, sundries, coats, etc.), and one other duffle will hold all the necessities for stabling (grain, buckets, feed pan, etc.).  I’ll need to pack a dog crate and bed, and Hamish’s food.  I’m reasonably sure he will just hang out secured to the stall front or in my living quarters and chill–he’s a good boy.  Of course, I need my clothes, breakfast and snack foods, COFFEE, and toiletries since I’ll be living on site for the duration.  The portable heater is already packed in the trailer!

But wait, there’s more.  There’s the stuff I need to remember that makes this FUN, that makes this an EXPERIENCE, and which will make any outcome in the ring worthwhile.

  • 1 complete master list of everyone in the group’s rides–I strive to see AT LEAST one ride from everyone.
  • 1 new set of white polos, because I have about 6 sets and can find none of them.
  • 1 video tape to return to Lisa Graff’s awesome husband, Terri, in hopes that he’ll tape a couple of my rides.
  • 1 dozen sparkly pink tiaras, bearing the “Williamston/Wedaho Equestrian Gig” aka WEG insignia
  • 1 sparkly “special surprise” for Anne Aloi (for thanks and congratulations on her recent 3rd level BLM championship!)
  • 1 large pot of my White Chili
  • Mike’s Hard Lemonade–it’s technically not Gluten Free, but a little malt liquor never hurts (until the next morning).
  • 1 bottle of Dom Perignon for a special occasion, should one arise.

Unfortunately, many of my friends and I are competing against each other.  Lisa, Cathy, and I in the Training Championship; Karen and I in the First Level MFS Championships and again in the First level Championship.  So, in each of my Championship classes, if they win there will be no jacket for me.  The converse is also true, and it makes me sad that we can’t all be winners.  My goal is to ride the best I can each day–lay it all out on the court given the warm up and attitude of the horse below me.  My goal is to come out of each test happy with my riding, and happy with Bravo’s response.  And then just let the chips fall where they may.

Although Karen might find me in her closet late one night petting and drooling on her jacket.

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Starting the countdown!

Okay, I’m with Robyn now and hitting the panic button big time! Only a couple of weeks now until the Region 1 Championships and I am starting to get nervous big time! Sometimes I wonder why on earth I do this to myself. Showing is fun right? Yes it is and no it isn’t. I think the anticipation is the most nerve wracking part. Once I get there and get in the saddle I usually get concentrating hard enough to get over the nerves for the most part.

But until I get there, everything makes me worry. What if I forget something, what if I forget my test, what if my horse decides that everything is super scary? The what if’s can go on and on and on if you let them.

I usually have a hard time falling asleep at night. I have so many things running thru my mind, like did I remember to shut the barn door, do I have everything ready for work in the morning, did I lock the back door? My husband does not seem to have this problem, he is usually snoring by the time his head hits the pillow. I have found one sure fire way to fall asleep though, and it is better than counting sheep. I decided before one of my shows recently to run through my tests as I’m falling asleep to make sure I know them. Funny thing is that I rarely even get to the canter departs before I’m sound asleep. Wonder if I can market that idea? Last night was one of those nights I was not falling asleep so I came up with a new strategy. I decided to envision my self riding the perfect test! I thought for sure I would get thru the whole test that way and help my nerves, but guess what? Yep, I fell asleep before I got past the first canter depart.

On another note though I took Tiara to a schooling show this past weekend and she was wonderful! Our first test was not as good as the second one as I just didn’t quite have my head totally together, but our second test, First level test 2, went very well indeed and we got a 68.1%. That was a great confidence booster coming into the championships.

It also gave me an idea of the things I need to concentrate on in the next two weeks while schooling. Our homework is to work on always getting an energetic walk, keep polishing the transitions, both up and down. And continue working on improving her left bend. It has gotten better but still needs work. Overall she has been schooling really well so hopefully everything will fall into place at the right time.

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