Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Tablet

Is this horse related? Not at all, but it's my blog, and I'm excited.

The tablet is back!

I'm sure Peyton has already spotted my new pen, but for now, I am back to doodling like a fiend and not hurting any trees in the process. It's a good time to draw, as there's about six inches of snow on the ground and more falling. The princess doesn't even have her winter shoes on yet, since we usually don't get snow until December, so it's time off for her until the white stuff melts. Hopefully it won't take long.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

I <3 NH

Dressage. n.
(1) The art of riding and training a horse in a manner that develops obedience, flexibility, and balance.
(2) The guiding of a horse through a series of complex maneuvers by slight movements of the rider's hands, legs, and weight.
(3) That phase where you go in circles in a sand box and, if you're riding a certain chestnut thoroughbred mare, you spend most of the ride managing her list of complaints.

All things considered, would you rather practice your dressage or hack out and see views like this?

The view from Woodmont Orchard in Hollis, NH

Yeah, that's what Fiona says, too. Stops to eat clover, apples right off the trees, and open spaces? Sign her up!

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am so lucky to ride in Hollis. Just a jaunt down the street puts us in the town forest and it's still commutable from the 495 loop. Hard to believe that this scene is just an hour away from the chaos of metro-Boston.

To my trainer, Fiona would like to convey a message:

Sorry about the dressage progress, but we'll get right on fixing that little . . . weight issue. A couple hours of riding a day should do the trick so much better than cutting back grain rations. Really, let's not do anything hasty. This is easily managed: More food, more galloping.

Love, the Princess.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What is that thing in the sky?

There is a large, bright, alien object floating around in the sky. It's making everything so easy to see, and it's warm, and I don't understand. Is it an alien invasion? Is it the apocalypse?

Wait . . . nope. That's just the sun. Been awhile since I've seen that.

Just when I was considering adding floats to my little Yaris and investing in a pair of oars, the rain has finally stopped. I am incredibly grateful for this, since we discovered during my trip to Maine that I'm not good with watercraft. It's a bad sign when you're out with a kayak for the first time and your husband has to tow you back because you just can't seem to get the damn thing to turn.

Fortunately it's off season for tourists in Maine, so there were no witnesses and no one has photographic evidence of my complete inability to handle a kayak. Thank goodness for the hubby planning ahead for his wife panicking, hanging on to the sides of the kayak, and refusing to move because she's absolutely positive the thing is going to roll. I got my revenge, though. Turns out I'm pretty darn good at starting fires, even out performing the former Eagle Scout. If my career as an analyst and lackluster eventer fails, I can always take up arson.

As for the princess, lots of pouring rain means lots of time off. And lots of time off in fall equals some charming shows of athleticism. It's been awhile since people had to clear the ring for our canter work. Ah, memories. A friend rode her in a jumping lesson while I was in Maine. I got the message that she had jumped Fiona, and that she was a very good girl! It took some work to figure out the timing, and getting her set up for the next fence was always interesting . . .

I'm so lucky to have friends that use the word 'interesting' rather than 'scary', 'alarming', or 'holy hell, where are the brakes on that thing?'. I know what my mare is like in fall, and I can only imagine what an 'interesting' ride she must have been. Tomorrow is the elegant Ladies' Ride on the Myopia Hunt grounds. I'm not betting on Fiona making a stunning impression.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fall is in the air

With the end of the competition season comes the off-season. All sports have an off season, a time of year for athletes to take a breather and give their bodies a break. For those of us eventing in New England, our off-season runs from about mid-October to January. It runs later for those that don't head south in the winter, out to about March.

So what do you do with the off-season? In theory, you get ready for the on-season, but that doesn't really seem to work out. There are no pressing goals, no looming competitions, no reasons to go out on conditioning sets or practice that stupid trot lengthening we'll need when we go Training. The weather is beautiful, the sun is actually out, and I have a serious case of 'off-season-itis'. Dressage? Nah, I'd rather not. Jump schooling? Do I have to? My interests seem to be entirely focused on trail rides and hunter paces right now. Our hectic schedule of the past six months has suddenly dropped off to nothing.

After the UNH trials, Fiona got most of a week off while I simply got caught up from spending five days completely focused on my horse life. Now I'm easing myself back into the swing of things, heading out to the barn to ride and enjoy time with my horse. I just don't have it in me to do a lot of drilling. We'll have plenty of time for that once the weather drives us indoors. I've been invited out for a fun day with the cowboys, so that should be great, and there's a big ladies' ride that I'm heading off to in another week. Toss in a couple hunter paces and I'm all set for the fall.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Richard Jeffrey

Conditions in stadium were less than ideal . . .

Before all of the excitement with my move up to Novice, I went to a clinic.

On September 30th, there was a course design clinic offered at UNH with Richard Jeffrey. For those that don't recognize the name, this was the man that designed the stadium courses for WEG, Rolex, and Burghley, just to name a few. His credentials are simply too many to list and if you want to learn from one of the best, he's the guy to listen to.

It was an all day clinic, running from 9:30am to 4:30pm and including lunch. The first half of the day took place in a lecture hall, going over theory and rules. We also discussed the process that Richard uses to design a course and some tricks that he's picked up along the way. He described course design as being similar to having 'feel' on a horse. You can't teach feel, you learn it during time in the saddle. The same can be applied to course design. He said that sometimes he'll move a fence and he's not even entirely sure why he did. It just felt like it needed to be moved.

There is a lot of theory to cover in stadium course design. We covered the different types of fences and their relative difficulty, the importance of lines, and striding. Some of the theory was more applicable to designing courses for something the size of Badminton, but much of the theory applied to lower level courses as well. I particularly liked the comment for designers to not try to be clever. The point in eventing is not to see who you can get to have a rail, the point is to give them a test in the specialized phase of show jumping.

There were a couple points that stirred up debate with his primarily eventing crowd. The most contested was the idea that each level should have their own course, rather than the common practice of having one course for all levels that is raised and lowered as needed. As he put it, you don't have a Novice rider ride the same dressage test as the Preliminary rides but with the first and last moves removed. A Preliminary combination should be given a more technical course and a Novice combination should have a simpler course. I personally agreed with the idea, but it was not a popular one, particularly with riders showing multiple horses and trainers with riders at multiple levels. It does make course walks more difficult, but since all of the fences were basically in the places where they would be I thought it was perfectly manageable. Of course, that could be my h/j background talking.

After lunch, we went outside to build the courses that would be used for the UNH horse trials. We went over selecting materials and how to lay out a course. With a ring crew of fifty people, it was pretty quick business to get the jumps built once the top rails were all in place and measured. We spent a couple hours getting the fences measured, squared, adding fill, and walking it until everyone was comfortable with what was being built. We also went over how courses are measured, walking along while the distances were wheeled. The courses were sweeping with inviting turns, making the most of the small arena. Richard mentioned that this was the smallest arena he had ever designed for, which put things in perspective when I looked at the arena and thought it was a good size.

In many ways the clinic was a great success. Having a process and theory to help build out courses that ride well can do nothing but help. I definitely feel better equipped to try my hand at course design for schooling shows or around the barn. It was interesting to get the perspective of someone that doesn't accept 'that's how it's done' for an answer and challenged us to look at the phase differently.

It wasn't a perfect clinic. It was a bit awkward at points when he was faced with the realities of a horse trial that doesn't have huge sponsors. Richard was uncomfortable with the heavier show jumping rails and even with the location and footing of the arena. The decision was made to make the fences at maximum height and width, due to the trial being at the end of the season. The TD and organizer were on board with this, and there were no protests logged by anyone. The actual courses were beautifully designed, but probably more challenging than most of the riders going to UNH were expecting. UNH is usually seen as more of a friendly move up event. Richard had no way to know that, or to know who was entered at the event.

Six horses were eliminated on the Preliminary stadium round between the Preliminary division and the Preliminary/Training division. I've never seen carnage like that in stadium. Zero eliminations in Training but a heck of a lot of rails. Four eliminations in Novice. By the time Beginner Novice went in the word was already out that Cross Country was being shut down due to the deteriorating conditions (non-stop rain all day) and it was now just a two phase. What caused the carnage, the rain or the courses? I think both. The actual courses seemed to ride well in terms of the turns, but maxed out was too much of a question for the riders that were there that day and in those conditions. I had two rails, which for Fiona is rather unusual. Was it the course? The line between 4 and 5 didn't ride well for anyone and with a square oxer at the end, she tipped the front rail with her back legs. That rail went for about half the rides, making me think something was up. The second rail was all me, overriding due to my concerns with the footing.

Me and Fiona hitting the infamous green oxer, fence #5

I liked the courses, I enjoyed riding mine. I saw some mistakes and rough rides that came from people not used to seeing the questions asked. People cutting inside of an island and giving themselves a terrible line to a fence and then having the rail. The questions weren't difficult in and of themselves, but I think it was something the eventers weren't used to seeing. With all of the rain I wish they had dropped the fences a hole just due to the footing, but I did sign up for Novice and that means I have to be prepared to jump a 3' course.

What next? Will this have any kind of influence on designs in the area? Will there be a movement toward having individual courses for levels? I'm thinking there won't be any significant change. It's a case of bad timing, but after the carnage I don't think anyone will be jumping on board with the new ideas. It's a pity since I'd like to see more courses like what I rode. The questions were straight forward, they just took a rider that knew how to handle them. I didn't get stuck in any corners, I always felt like I was being presented for my next fence. The courses were probably more demanding than most of the riders were expecting, and combined with the height and conditions, they took their toll.

Richard made a comment that the USA is losing their medals in the stadium phase and fixing that had to start at the grass roots level. I agree completely, we need to stop lowering the fences and making the courses easier. We need well designed, challenging courses to make us more savvy in that phase. Hopefully the organizers took notes on what was said and we'll see courses that ask those questions again next year and hopefully the competitors won't be caught off guard this time.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The finale

There are all sorts of sayings about persevering through adversity. The weather today gave us the adversity, Fiona provided the perseverance.

Heading out of dressage, sans airs above the ground!

But I don't want to get ahead of myself. First I went to the Richard Jeffrey clinic. I'll do a full writeup on that later, but I learned a lot from one of the best course designers in the world. After that was dressage day. Now we've been working super hard on our dressage all summer. It's been a challenge to handle my nerves and Fiona's tension, but after the Beland dressage show I thought we were on track to get below 40. I was so excited when I was walking toward ring three, seeing that it was far from the trailers and had a quieter warm-up and it was just perfect and . . .

Was that a marching band warming up?

Oh yeah. It was. There was a football game across the street, complete with tailgating and vending and a marching band and a cannon. You know it's going to be an interesting dressage test when a cannon goes off during your warm up. The horses in turn out next to the ring were also jumping and bucking. There's a certain point when you just accept that it's going to be a rough test and you just try to hold it together. We managed a 42.5, which is actually progress for us, but was 14th out of 15. It's dispiriting to have one of your better dressage tests and be completely out of reach of a placing, but there are somethings you just can't school for. Like marching bands.

Today was stadium and cross country. And rain. Oh, did it rain. It rained all day, piling up on top of a really wet end to summer. The stadium jump course was riding very, very rough with eliminations in Preliminary and rails flying in Training. Being my first Novice, those maxed out Novice fences made me a bit nauseous. The footing looked dicey to me. The ride two ahead of me was eliminated, the next one had a stop and slid into a fence. I went in and told myself to just jump around because I was already at the bottom of the standings. It wasn't like I could go down any further. The course rode just as rough for Novice as the other divisions and after pulling two rails (rider error due to nerves over the footing), I actually moved up one place.

Fences 11 and 12 for Novice, water to the log

Cross country was one big water obstacle. Fortunately there were a lot of paths on raised dirt that could take a lot of water. I unleashed Fiona on the stretches where the footing was good, asking her to stretch and really gallop out for me and she loved it. I felt like I was riding a finished horse rather than my green bean when she locked on to fences and just took me to them with little management from me. Sections of the footing were coming apart, so we trotted those, but she was able to more than make up for those sections when the footing was good. She roared over the finish line with thirty seconds to spare. That moved us up to eighth place and got her yet another pretty ribbon.

So as to my question about whether or not she's ready to be a Novice horse? The answer is an unequivocal YES. Her dressage was tense, but that's the same score she got at Beginner Novice so the level isn't the issue. Her stadium had a mature, controlled feel to it that she has only picked up in the last two months. The height clearly was not an issue. The cross country was where she truly shined. She never hesitated and dragged me over the one fence that had me unnerved even though I wasn't particularly sure this was a good idea.

I have a Novice horse now.

My cheeks hurt from grinning this much.