Posted by: shannonc | February 24, 2009

Event report

I flunked out of typing in high school.  Well, strictly speaking, I didn’t so much flunk out as stop attending class after totaling my Ford Fiesta on the way there one night.  Got sandwiched between a carpet cleaning truck after it rear ended me and I in turn rear ended one of those 1950-esque station wagons, the kind with the side-hinged rear door.  Tuna fish can car = epic fail in the sandwiching category.  After crawling out the passenger side window (the only thing that would open) and blotting my bleeding nose on the polo shirt of a good Samaritan passerby I decided – well, if this isn’t a divine signal to give up the quest for typing excellence, what is?

I put typing behind me and it resided there quite happily until I began my romance with email.  Over the course of some years a few of us, who’d met up and bonded eventing across Area I, developed a sort of round robin reporting tradition over email.  Necessity being the mother of invention and all that, I figured out where most of the keys are.  I still hit “b” with the wrong finger, but I did become efficient enough to pound out a small novel on the occasion of what would become my favorite Preliminary outing with Blue, at Groton House Farm I.


Subject: the little grey horse who could…and DID!

Blue started his P effort at Groton House very grumpy.  His stall flooded in the rain Thursday night and he didn’t get to go down to sleep (a plus in the grey horse cleaning column, but a definite minus in the good mood for dressage column).  Dressage had its good and bad moments – the good ones were steady rather than brilliant (which was nice in the 5 second halt, but not so nice for the sitting trot lengthening), and the bad ones were totally blown – a wrong lead on the left canter depart, which made for a pretty awful 10m half circle! – the judge’s comment was “unclear geometry” – I thought that was pretty funny!  Janet was nice enough to watch our test and observed that I didn’t do myself any favors anticipating bad left canter work – apparently I goosed him getting really tense in my seat, and need yet another reminder to “ride the horse you want to have, and not the one you are afraid of having”…which doesn’t go so well with the “fix the problem before you have it” philosophy, but let’s face it, I find dressage pretty hard.  I think I have something nailed down and then I find yet another new way to make a mistake in the test!  But on the upside, Blue was not belligerent.  He did listen to my half halts, and we were actually able to resurrect our test after the left canter work and get nice right canter work – his jump in the lengthening was awesome!  On the whole I have decided that for us, the canter transitions off the rail make test C more difficult than test D.  On the collectives our comment was “nice effort, well ridden, keep working on the basics” (do not pass Go, do not collect $200, return to Beginner Novice?).  Thank goodness for Lynne (who should be very proud to hear that we made a nice down transition from canter before X, and only blew the up transition after…since the last time we practiced this she risked life and limb standing at X to make sure we got any down transition at all)!
Our dressage score put us in 20th, which was not stellar.  However, it was better than 50% marks…that means it’s a one star qualifying score, right?!
On to cross country, the test we were really there to face.  I was nervous.  Oh, was I nervous!  I had several moments of stark terror in which I asked myself, “what am I doing here?  What was I thinking?!  I can’t do this!”  (Note to self – the advantage of leaving your tack cleaning till the last minute is that you have something to keep yourself busy with when you’re at the barn at 6 to feed but don’t actually ride until 2:57).  Thank you Vicki for showing up to hold my hand (and she really did have to)!  The course was on the big side with at least 2 maximum P drop questions (5’+!), 3 down steps (the third of which had a d-i-t-c-h in front of it), a drop over a log into water after a stone wall drop entry into the famously busy water complex, a sunken road, some good turning questions, and of course…the dreaded COFFIN.  Let’s see – 26 efforts total I think, and 2500+ meters.  It was bigger and more technical than GHF I P last year, and I found myself pretty busy making mental adjustments…
My goal was to see the finish flags – at a gallop please, not a walk.  Coming off two Es at ditches, we went to boot camp, I made a new, awkward commitment to being tough, and we’ve been schooling every ditch we can find.  Blue came out pretty reasonable considering how chaotic the warmup was – little did I know at the time that Vicki and Janet had an apparently very influential discussion with him, the gist of which was something like “if you dump your mother, we’ll take you out behind the barn afterwards…” and I admit I also threatened that if we had to leave Saturday night, only I was leaving, and he was staying there where he could take his chances finding a ride back.  I think we terrorized my horse, but hey, I’m all for the fear factor when it works!
I wanted to leave the box better than at GMHA, and we did.  We had the right engine to #1 and a good distance and it was a nice start to the course.  Then I did a scary thing for the very first time…I let Blue open up.  I haven’t been able to do this in the past because small scale experiments have shown he would either pull us both into the ground or get short strided and panicky, like he just doesn’t have that gear yet.  I think he does now.  What a great experience – when I got in cruising position, he cruised, and when I picked my shoulders up, so did he.  I felt like we were a team out there (me, Blue and Myler bits ;))!
We had a stop at the sunken road.  Blue gave me plenty of notice, but I didn’t react quickly enough.  I wasn’t expecting him to be quite so backed off the question quite so early.  My whip was tangled in the curb rein coming from the drop out of the road crossing, and by the time I figured that out and went to plan B it was too late.  We made a ridiculous circle (not enough planning on how to re-approach a sunken road) and he jumped right up, got the long 2 strides to the log up the hill and the bending line to #10 felt easy.  We galloped across the field into the woods and my little horse had fun doing tempi changes down the hill at every turn in the path (where is the dressage judge when you need her?).  The big log at the bottom rode really well.  Then gallop up to the steps!  I got my trot with only a minor argument and showed him the line – he jumped down the first and second then balked a little at the third (like hell he didn’t see the ditch) and I gave a good kick and he went.  MAJOR GALLOP TO THE COFFIN.  We got there and the coop in was perfect with lots of power and then – in spite of all my commitment to be determined – I was not quite strong enough saying “GO” to the ditch element (which was wide but not deep or tricky) and he stopped.  He acted surprised.  He stopped very politely and didn’t even try to dump me, and boy did he know he was in trouble when he quit.  I growled “naughty!” at him (which made the spectators snicker…apparently, when I am REALLY mad at my horse, I use the word “naughty”!  How’s that for overboard?) and he threw his head in the air and tried to find an escape route.  Whack, whack, whack (the maximum number of Groton House whacks – I actually thought of this at the time – weird what gets into your head), turn and GO and he was so reasonable that we made the distance to element C without getting buried, which tells me my horse was just looking for better leadership.  That’s one stop – count ’em, ONE! – at the ditch – that was something I could swallow!
More galloping (which by now I have decided is really fun) and then we showjump over the rolltop into the water complex and turn 90 degrees left, then roll back to a stone wall drop and re-enter the complex.  I was slightly confused about how to ride this, because I know Blue likes to bubble over this kind of fence, get serious airtime, and put me on the buckle.  I wanted to jump it soft so I could keep control but I had getting into the water to worry about and needed to be coming forward.  Actually the turn really helped us and he got a good distance, and I stayed behind him, which came in handy when he immediately began to prop on landing.  I had to shut down the right exit, then the left one, then power plain forward (and the autowhack worked here – I learned the only way for me to be able to do this is to do it without thinking about it), and he went (gee, if I’d ridden the sunken road and the coffin like that, we wouldn’t have picked up the 40).  He did the old crouch-and-leap in and I  collapsed when we hit the water.  What a good boy, he didn’t go anywhere while I reorganized myself.  He jumped right up the small out bank and turned left 90 degrees to the run back in – at which point I was saying “ok, you can just trot” – it was very deep water in this second level – but he locked onto the out jump in the fenceline and said, “nope, I’m all over it” and took me right out of there (I’m sure he had a vested interest).  The last 2 jumps were easy, he only felt the littlest bit tired, and the photo proofs show he was still jumping well.  He cooled out great in spite of the heavy air and his legs were clean the next morning – thank you Christine for being the best conditioning buddy!
What’s more, we only had 30 penalties for time.  I was expecting that much on a clean round, and since I easily wasted a minute on the stops plus at the water, I think we were right in there on the pace most people had for the rest of our course.  Only 7 out of about 70 starts made the time.  I think we’re on our way, nice and safe and reasonable – what a huge happy surprise!
As we (yes!) galloped through the finish flags I heard Janet yell, “I’m really glad to be seeing you here” (I think she was talking to Blue) and Vicki, Teri and Stephie were all there to congratulate us!  It was such a great moment.  It only took four and a half seasons and the help or support of practically the entire population of Area I but we did it!  The competitor’s party was that night and we got some generous comments, including a couple that we look better at P than we did at Training.  It’s strange how, when you’re out there, it’s just you and the horse and the jumps in the universe, and then you find out later that all these people saw you and noticed things.
Stephie made a really good correction in the xc warmup that turned into one of the best learning points of the weekend.  I’d made a short turn to the vertical, Blue was surprised and she said, “you need to TELL HIM WHERE YOU’RE GOING, Shannon!”  Using my eye better was the top priority I took into stadium today and it really worked.  The course was fairly big and twisty over rolling terrain (I am told the USEA course inspectors have arrived in Area I and there is no longer any such animal as a recognized “P move up course”), with a max oxer first fence, a triple (vertical-one-oxer-one-vertical) off a forward 5 strides, a two-stride in an S-turn, a very wide square oxer, and a final fence on flat cups with no ground line – after a triple bar entry.  I was there when the course was reset from T to P and they did some interesting things – one of which was to widen the standards so the top rails all had more wobble.  One fence even had a false groundline between the first and second oxer rails. 

My plan was look in the air, 4 feet on the ground, shoulders up, interrupt if I had to, then outside aids, quiet hands, and forward (if you didn’t have your outside aids on this course, it got ugly – I was really pleased with Blue, who turned from the shoulder like a jumper this time around).  We had an interesting trip.  We had to ride right at some banners on jumps in the fenceline to turn to #1 and I swear Blue was wondering if this was xc, part 2.  I said, “let me show you where we’re going,” and got his focus back after having to rattle him up a bit (I am starting to get used to needing to do this – in the xc start box, it was all I could do to lug his attention away from the water complex, which was in entirely the opposite direction from fence #1).  I did use my eye and he got every single lead on landing, which tells me he appreciates it and I need to keep doing it.  He did not run off – he was extremely pleasant, and didn’t put me on the buckle either.  I think I rode a little *too* quietly and got a little bit underpowered (another new challenge).  I’m still getting used to the new pace and height and what that means on the distances – specifically, sometimes it feels too long but it’s really not, and waiting for the deep distance makes it too deep and interrupts your forward.  I sat up and tried to ride the balance forward and let him decide where to put his feet.  He made a couple of awkward decisions and I think it was partly my fault for not giving him enough engine and partly his own learning process, but the course did get better and better as we went along, and ended well.  We had a rail at #4, a downhill vertical off a rollback, it’s the first rail he’s had in a year and a half, and I think it was a good thing.  He’s athletic enough that he’s gotten a little complacent about being able to make it all happen no matter where he puts himself.  Better for both of us to learn now that it isn’t quite so easy to fudge things when you’re a 15.1 hand horse jumping 3’7″.  I can say I don’t think the possibility that he couldn’t do this once crossed his mind.  He really took on the challenge and seemed to have fun at it.  When we came out (without having to circle 35 times to find brakes, thank you very much – pats for Blue), Pam from Hoofpix gave us the thumbs-up (“we got some good, BIG pix!”) and Stephie was pleased and said it was much better than our round at GMHA.  I had to laugh – she said, “I don’t think I’ve…ever…seen a horse that jumps the way he does, but you stay in the middle of him and neither of you got distracted fighting up front.”  We worked together on this one.  May more courses be like it, only better.
Before stadium, I had extra time – it was running more than an hour late – so I started stripping my stall.  I went to dump the bucket and left Blue’s stall guard up.  Well, I guess he wanted some extra warmup because he slipped underneath and followed me across the tent and down the aisle between the two stabling areas.  All of a sudden I look up and a familiar horse is galloping in my direction!  I put out my arms and told him “whoa” and he realized the gig was up, turned around, and let Millie Moon, my stabling neighbor, put a halter on him.  How lucky am I to be around all these people who are great at handling horses.  It was very funny.  What would an event be without Blue antics?
So – I learned an absolute ton and had a fantastic weekend.  Most of all I realized that we are solid.  I’ve had those courses where I (along with the spectators) start cringing at the first jump and you just know it’s going to be bad all the way around and something needs fixing.  This wasn’t that – it was right.  It needs a healthy amount of fine-tuning but it was not scraping by.  I’m thrilled.  I’m also really psyched that not only is Blue now accepting the stick as punishment, he seems to be responding well to it as encouragement.  I don’t know who brought whom along on this ride, since Blue and I are both green – maybe it was a little of both – and we have a lot of work to do at this level, but we are so lucky – and most of all, having a blast.  I thought we would drop back to T this season and I know now that’s not the right thing to do.  We’re going to try to work out the kinks at P for the rest of the year and hopefully, with more luck and hard work and good fortune than I think I’m really entitled to, start to accumulate our one-star qualifiers next season.


TLDR?  Haha…the one star plan didn’t happen – but it was still a fantastic weekend to remember!



  1. More lovin’ it!

  2. I remember the ORIGINAL version of this post!!!!

    I’m glad you learned to type better :D

  3. PS. The subscribing didn’t work :(

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