Full Gallop January 2018 HT

The only thing I regret about Full Gallop’s January HT is that I have almost no media. Especially considering we kicked butt and took names. But between me allowing my wonderful husband to skip the show and the rain, well… pictures were hard to come by.

After having such beautiful weather for our XC schooling on Friday and our Ride a Test on Saturday, it was a little disappointing to watch the rain clouds come in for Sunday. But come they did and it started raining steadily by the time we were pulling into Full Gallop. Thankfully we didn’t have super early ride times for dressage and were able to relax a little bit. Gus was not thrilled about waiting on the trailer but I wasn’t thrilled about having a completely soaked horse before we even rode.

I don’t want to jinx it, but I think we are finally starting to get a hold of this whole dressage thing. If you count the ride a test we did on Saturday, we had two beautiful, quiet, and obedient tests. Gus maybe wasn’t brilliant or overly bold but they led to my best test yet. We got three 8s including one for our entry and one for our halt. I was thrilled when I got the scores. I was expecting to score somewhere in the 34 range but instead we got a 31! I may have let out a little squeal. If we can just clean up a few more things (like the canter) I could definitely be scoring in the high 20s.

After dressage it was time for our XC walk. I already knew there was a ditch on course and I was nervous. Until Pine Top, I’ve never had a real problem with ditches. Down banks? Yes. Oh lordy, yes. But honestly, I never thought we were ditchy which is why I just cantered straight towards the ditch in Pine Top’s warm-up and expected Gus to soar over. He didn’t and I ended up on the ground. That issue carried forward into our XC schooling on Friday and, while I got over everything, I was just a little bit nervous. LT told me to lean back, leg on, and let him trot it. I said okay and tried not to think about it too hard.

The rest of the course was fairly straight forward and not terribly big. At least it didn’t feel big since we had been jumping training size fences just a few days ago. The only other thing besides the ditch that I had to take a second glance at was the corner option for jump 14. We had the option of a fairly straight forward corner or a big upright bench thing. LT had us walk the corner. Gus and I have done all of one corner. Granted, we had no issue, but still… ONE corner! But since there was a very real possibility that we wouldn’t even get that far, I really wasn’t worried.

But first was stadium.

I was really happy with this stadium round. It wasn’t hunter pretty by any means but I felt like it wasn’t scary crazy either. Instead of getting crazy to the fences I was able to ride with more leg and more adjustability. There’s still a lot to work on with my posture but I think it’s starting to come together. The best part about it all was that we left all the bars up this time.

It’s the little things right?

We went straight to XC where I had time to jump a handful of fences before we headed out on course. LT wanted me riding really forward to the fences as Gus was still a little backed off. But once we were out on XC, Gus kicked into another gear. He was flying.

Gus ate up the ground and jumped boldly over everything. He did peak at the ditch but didn’t hesitate. By the time we hit the water, I knew we were going to come home clean and on time. It was just one of those rides. Even the corner felt like we jumped those all the time (though I’ll admit I didn’t get a good life and we ended up jumping the widest part of the fence). I don’t think I could have been happier crossing the finish line.

This was the perfect start to our 2018 season and it was just what we needed as a confidence boost after Pine Top. As a bonus, we finished on our dressage score and came in third out of eleven.

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.

November Poplar Place HT 2017 – Stadium

For as much as I hate Poplar’s Schooling Show stadium courses, their recognized courses are always a lot of fun and tend to really suit Gus. When there are big open spaces between the fences I tend to let him get long and strung out and we pull rails. Twisty courses are much more our style and this course was all about the turns and the approach.

That being said, stadium is still my weak point. I’m getting better, and I was pleased to see that the Novice sized fences looked normal sized, but I still struggle with confidence issues. Especially when things start getting hectic in warm-up. There were more falls then there should have been at this level. The icky weather might have had something to do with it but I was still surprised at the carnage both in the warm-up and the ring.

Even with a refusal at the oxer in warm up (I hope we’re not developing a complex!) I felt pretty good when we got into the ring and I rode hard to every jump. We may have gotten a little crazy to some of the fences and Gus wasn’t really willing to be soft, but we made it through with only one rail. Jump 7 was an oxer set on its own with a long approach, see above but I let Gus get long and we pulled it down. Darn.

Coming into the two stride, Gus wanted to refuse and we got right up to the base as I pushed him over it and then kicked my way out of it. I know we knocked the rail there two but it did stay up and that’s all that matters!

After we finished, I took care of Gus and high tailed it down to watch a couple of team mates ride the Beginner Novice course. I was stunned at how little the fences looked. And I say that not take away from their accomplishments or anybody riding at that level but rather as a marker for how far I’ve come. Just a few weeks ago I thought those fences were huge and scary. Now they look like speed bumps.

This sport continues to surprise me in how much of a mental game it really is.

November Poplar Place HT 2017 – Dressage

I only had one goal for Poplar: end with a number and get another qualification ride for the Heart of the Carolinas N3D.

Between work and Pax I had been so busy leading up to Poplar that I didn’t feel prepared in any sense of the word. Even arriving ended up being a mess after getting stuck on the freeway in bumper to bumper traffic and almost run off the road by a semi who hadn’t left himself enough room to stop and thought veering into my lane was a good idea. It was not. But thankfully we made it thru okay.

So you see, I was pretty sure this was going to be a shit show and I had decided to just not care.

It was definitely a surprise then that I got in the ring on Saturday morning for warm-up and had a compliant and obedient horse under me. The temperatures had dropped with a bitter breeze blowing through and usually Gus needs a warm-up the day before to get all the crazy out oh him but he got right to work. Was there maybe a chance that I wasn’t going to blow this show?

Turns out, no, there was not. As soon as we got into the ring, Gus went back to his old spooky self. It wasn’t an awful test but it was not fluid and it was not connected. I was battling pretty hard to maintain any sort of connection though I felt pretty good about the canter transitions and the down centerlines.

But Gus was looky and he was not with me. I knew we weren’t going to score well. We left the ring and I shrugged my shoulders. Sometimes it’s just not your day, right?

LT was pretty positive though. She had seen some good moments and was proud of how I rode to get through the sticky stuff. It wasn’t going to be my best score ever, but she still seemed hopeful.

I was the only one not surprised when I picked it up to find a 40.0. Basically 6’s across the board. Oh well, can’t please every dressage judge.