Focus and Relaxation

I’ve had Pax just over a month now and it has been a really different experience. I didn’t set out to get a two-year-old – I would have preferred that he had been three going on four – but when I saw him, I got that feeling that he was the one. Age be damned. But not only is he two, for a thoroughbred, he’s a bit of a young two having been born in mid-May. And while I wouldn’t call him immature in the sense that he’s overly silly, you can tell he’s a baby and he mostly has the attention span of a gnat.

So all the ground work I am doing with him is imperative to teach Pax how to focus and how to relax.

The focus is coming along though we still have moments where he’ll forget and spook himself over a stationary object or the dogs that have been walking quietly beside us for the last ten minutes. Pax isn’t nasty about anything, he just doesn’t know how to handle himself yet. To date, he settles pretty quickly and forgets even quicker.

The relaxation though? That’s been more difficult. Now that Pax knows the basics of the groundwork we’re teaching him (how to send, how to turn his haunches, two eyes & two ears), we’re starting to use that to teach him to relax. In our lesson this week, LT had me wait to release the pressure until we saw at least a small sign of relaxation in his body. I had to see a lowered head, a cocked back foot, an exhale or sigh, something to show me that his mind was slowing down as much as his body was.

We’re still figuring each other out, and I can already tell that he will not be as easy as Gus has been, but I’m having a lot of fun learning right alongside.

Winter Wonderland

We got at least four but probably more like six inches of snow here in the heart of Georgia! I was shocked but thrilled. It made things feel like home for a small period of time.

Every solid surface was covered with snow. It looked like a scene straight out or Narnia.

So you know I dragged my husband out of bed to take photos.

And I am in love with these photos.

So thankful to my wonderful husband who took over a thousand photos of me struggling with two horses. He perfectly captured this magical moment.

Goodies

The only good part about buying a horse in the fall is that you can take advantage of all the great Black Friday sales to buy things you didn’t realize you’d need two of now that you have two horses.

Some of the more fun things are not pictured due to them bring custom. I can’t wait until they come!

But one thing I didn’t actually buy during Black Friday but that came shortly after has become my all time favorite purchase of 2017: the Arctic Horse Riding skirt.

I bought two, the wool Outlander and the Tongass rain skirt. I’ll do a more in depth review when I’ve actually had more time with them but I am in love with them.

We finally got a bit of a cold snap and I was able to wear the wool skirt to the barn. I stayed so warm! As soon as I took it off for my lesson, I started to freeze. Also, my trainer promptly stole it to put on under her big puffy long coat.

I can’t wait for it to rain so I can try out the rain skirt!

2017 Pine Top Thanksgiving HT – Day 2

You all already know how XC day started at Pine Top so I won’t go into detail but it was horrible and definitely left me feeling like I didn’t want to go out on XC at all. I spoke with Hillary a bit, my husband a bit, and LT a bit and ultimately decided that I would go out there and finish the weekend. It was not an easy to decision to make.

It was a completely different decision then when I was having a panic attack at FENCE. There I was honestly terrified of almost every single fence on course. I really believed I had moved up too soon. This time, while I was very nervous about two fences (a maxed table WITH MAXED BRUSH and a huge trakehner), I really thought we were more than capable of handling the course. I just didn’t know if I was in the mindset to do so.

The hold time had pushed everyone back about an hour and left things hectic and out of order. I didn’t really mind because even though I had tacked up and decided I was going to ride, I didn’t really feel like it. Combined with my nerves about the big brush table, I was starting to get a little weak. My trainer came back to warm-up after her ride and began putting me through the jumps. I had decided to ride confidently so that I could have a quick warm-up and get out on course and get it over with. And my plan was working. Everything was going great.

Then LT told me to pop over the ditch (it is both awesome and horrible that Pine Top has a ditch in warm-up). We just did a for real coffin at Poplar a few weeks earlier and I’ve never had a major problem with ditches so I wasn’t worried. LT told me to slow down and walk/trot it if I didn’t feel like we were getting a good approach to it but I thought we were so I cantered on. Gus promptly came to screeching halt at the base and I flew right into it.

I won’t get into my feelings about the stop because my trainer and I disagree a bit but I will say that she was 100% right that I wasn’t really riding. I got in front of him, I was weak in my leg, I was looking down into the ditch. It was my own fault I came off. But I was honestly too upset to really care at that point. I had landed weird on my ankle and twisted an old injury, so that was throbbing. I had fallen backwards into the poles (had even knocked the flag out of its holder) and my lower back was aching. I had tears streaming down my cheeks. Frankly, I was embarrassed.

But I got back on. I schooled that ditch until we were cantering over it like NBD. Then I told LT I was scratching. My head and my heart were not in the game. She was fine with that but she said I had to keep schooling until I was feeling confident about the jumps. And before I could trot over to the gate crew and let them know I wouldn’t be going out, she set me to work. We went back and jumped all of the tables and the coops and the log piles and the ditch. Pine Top has a lot of jumps in their warm-up. A LOT! By then there was no one really in the warm-up so I was really able to let go. I kept my heels down, my shoulders back, and my eyes up. When we came to a fence and he backed off, I used my leg and pony clubbed him up to the fence.

Then, sneaky trainer that she is, LT told me that I was going to go into that box and I was going to go out of the box and I was going to jump the first fence. It was just a little pile of logs. I could stop right after if I wanted. But I was feeling a little more confident and so I wanted to go out too. I wanted to prove to myself I could get over that stupid brush table (I was trying very hard not to think about the trakehner). As a little extra insurance, LT switched my little nub of a spur out for her 1 ¼ inch Prince of Wales, told me I got this, and out of the start box I went.

First fence, no problem. It was simple, it was inviting. But the second fence was a big roll top with brush and it was now completely in the shadows. Gus backed off when he saw it but I put my leg in and galloped him up to it. It wasn’t super smooth, but it got the job done.

Fence 3 was our first real test: the big brush table. Again, we galloped up to it. Again, Gus backed off his pace, hesitating as we approached. I pushed my heels down and forward, dug my spurs in and tapped him with the whip. We were going over that fence.

And when we did, I was so incredibly excited and happy with my horse.

But there wasn’t really a lot of time for celebrating yet, we still had 12 more jumps! While Gus spooked at a hay bale on the fourth jump, jumps four through 6 actually rode very smoothly and we didn’t have a problem. I was happy that those fences were more straight forward and allowed us to build on the confidence of going over the biggest fence on course.

Fence 7 was a little house/coop thing going from a wooded lane into a big field. Because of the tightness and the dark/light issue, Gus was a little unsure but he was game to pop over. The problem was though, that because of where it was situated, there was a bit of a drop on the far end. LT had mentioned this on our course walk but it hadn’t looked like much to me so I didn’t give it as much thought as I should have. Gus didn’t care about the drop, but since I wasn’t riding for it, I almost came off over his neck. Oops. Learned my lesson! Listen to your trainer when she tells you to sit back in the seat down a drop.

I managed to regain my seat and stirrups and rode fences 8 – 11 fairly well. We had a bit of a pukey distance to fence 9 but thankfully it was little and Gus recovered. The combo at 10 rode well too.

Then, it was into the woods for the trakehner. I remember riding to it, thinking, eyes up, eyes up, eyes up but if you watch the helmet cam video, I definitely looked down. Tattle tale! That is probably why Gus was riding so boldly to the fence and then, at the very last second, saw the ditch and hesitated. I popped him with my spurs and we jumped over. I screamed YES so loudly that you can hear it in the video someone was taking of me. That wouldn’t be so surprising except they were standing 100 yds. away at the water complex.

Which thankfully ended up not being an issue, even with the colored water.

The second to last fence was the last real big effort, a table between the fences. After getting over everything else in that course, I wasn’t worried but I still had to make sure I was riding him to the fence. It was probably our best effort of the day. We hit it in stride and sailed over. I checked my watch before going over the last fence and thought I was coming in a little fast. This wasn’t surprising to me because it was a very gallopy course and Gus is a thoroughbred. His natural pace is just not made for BN/N speeds. But, you know, I was already in ninth place and I had it in my head that they were only doing ribbons to sixth. So who cared if we came in a few seconds too fast?

And when we did go over that last fence, a huge smile broke out on my face. And tears of relief, I’m sorry to say. This wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had going XC but I still feel proud that I got back on, I started, and I finished.

2017 Pine Top Thanksgiving HT – Day 1

I was super excited for Pine Top. Everything I had heard from people was that it was a great event and that they loved competing there. I’ll admit, I was a little over whelmed when driving up. The facilities, while perfectly fine, do not have the same sort of gravitas that a place like Chatt Hills does. Still, the scenery was beautiful and we got lucky with wonderful weather. Especially considering I do sleep in my open aired trailer!

My dressage time was mid morning which I was happy about. We had a good warm up where Gus felt light and on the aids. When our turn was up we began circling the dressage court. I was ready to go, Gus was ready to go. The horn sounded and I turned Gus into the gravel court and suddenly, Gus felt like he was going to fall down.

It was as if the life got sucked out of us. It took half the test and way too much work to get Gus going forward and supple again and, by the then, it was really too late. We did have some moments that I was proud of and I got both canter transitions so I was pleased with that. Gus was also willing and not overly distracted like he was at Poplar.

All in all, I wasn’t thrilled with our dressage test, but I wasn’t displeased either. There was nothing egregiously wrong with it. I figured we would score decently but not particularly low and I was right. We got a 37.

My trainer had never ridden at Pine Top either but she experienced the same loss of forward momentum going into the dressage courts. She had thought it was just her boy being a bit tough. But that sudden change from grass to gravel really sucks the forward momentum out of the horses. I wish we had known that going in so I could have ridden for it, but that’s part of the game I suppose!

At least there was stadium to look forward too. I thought that the stadium fences were set pretty soft, which surprised me after everything I had heard about Pine Top, but the course was trickier than it looked. There were a lot of rails coming down due to the smaller ring and a few tricky turns. I felt confident though after having a great warm up… sound familiar?

The first three fences rode well. We had a good forward pace to the first fence but I was very surprised that Gus felt like he wanted to back off. I kept my leg on and road the pace through the first tight turn to the second fence, the biggest oxer on course. But as we took a slightly bending line to the third fence I could feel the power waning.

Fence four and five were on a related line and my trainer had specifically told me to ride it in a forward, bold, seven… DO NOT GO FOR THE EIGHT. But we had lost all of our pace coming into four. As we landed I knew there was absolutely no way we were going to get the seven. So I decided I was just going to go for a nice quiet hunter-ish eight strides.

But Gus was so incredibly backed off and he was not listening to my leg. I had forgotten my spurs and Gus was taking full advantage of that. I should have gone to my stick but I wasn’t thinking. So we got to fence five not in seven and not in eight. Instead we put in a really puke of a half step and brought the fence down.

We got through rest of the course though I really had to sit and kick out of the two stride combination at 8. I do feel like I managed to get things together for the last fence which was something and we only had one rail which was kind of a miracle.

More than anything, I was surprised with how backed off Gus was. These fences were not high and were not overly decorated. They were really quite plan all things considered. But that’s where I have to be more aware and quicker to respond. I need to be proactive instead of reactive. I am a better rider than that and, more importantly, I want to be a better rider.

Sadly the rail moved me down from 7th to 9th but it did take the pressure off for XC since I figured I was firmly out of the ribbons.