Considering I haven’t updated this blog in exactly a year, I think of it more as a competition diary now than a useful update to my life’s goings on. Incidentally, I’ve ridden in two competitions since my last report on the 2015 Hillcrest Spring schooling show.
Willow and Ketchen Place Farm’s Fairfax went back to Hillcrest in the fall. Fairfax competed in the three-phase starter division. Her show jumping was perfect, with everyone commenting on how cute and scopey she is, and the cross country was a great learning experience, with her really starting to “get it” and enjoy herself by the end. She’s going to be such a fun partner for someone!
At the same show, I moved Willow up to Beginner Novice and it was not a good day. We weren’t on the same page at all and I was feeling pretty discouraged and concerned.
I can’t remember if I had already entered Willow in the Adult Team Challenge at the Virginia Horse Trials, but at some point I withdrew her and decided to take Bailey, who would be with me for several months while Mom was particularly busy with work.
Our team won the Beginner Novice team challenge, I had a fantastic and fun return to recognized eventing and we even brought Fairfax for her first overnight trip. She took in the sights of the busy show grounds and even worked a bit in an indoor and a covered ring. I’m looking forward to going on more adventures with her this year!
Bailey is back with mom now, and another Team Challenge opportunity at FENCE, one of my all-time favorite venues, inspired me to get serious about moving Willow up to Beginner Novice, which has been a long time coming. She’s an extremely capable little pony, but it always seemed like my crazy work schedule, untimely injuries and several moves kept us from making it happen. Starter levels are little and low key and you don’t need a whole lot of preparation for them. It has been easy to stick with that.
Sometime late last year I finally broke down and bought a new saddle. The County I had been using didn’t fit Willow particularly well, nor was it especially comfortable to me and it was starting to affect our work. My friend Patty Merli worked with us to find a great Black Country Tex Eventer that fits both Willow and myself (plus, it’s gorgeous!). It was an expensive investment but 100% worth it as I feel like our flatwork really started to progress after this purchase and our jumping improved as a result also.
In the past I’ve been hasty to enter horse trials on the opening date, and twice now I’ve had to withdraw Willow before closing, so I figured this time I would “prepare, prepare, prepare” and then enter at the last minute. I started raising the fences at home and went off site several times to cross country school, once with Dana Cooke at Kingfisher Equestrian and another time with Mary at Windridge. The week before the event I shipped up to Mooresville for a show jumping lesson with Dana just to get another opportunity to jump around some bigger, unfamiliar jumps.
Dana was a huge help for me getting more in sync with Willow over fences. I’ve been unconsciously trying to ride Willow like I rode Sam, staying more or less in a half seat when jumping. This style clearly doesn’t work for Willow and Dana helped me get more comfortable with sitting down and putting my hands forward in front of the fences instead of trying to place her at what I thought was the best distance.
Willow is a great jumper, but sometimes, especially on cross country, she likes to get close to the fence and get a look at it. This can be disconcerting because in my mind I feel like I should be constantly lifting her neck and shoulder since she’s built a little heavy on the forehand.
In the end, Willow is much happier if I sit back and stay out of her way. Once she realized I wasn’t going to bother her, she starting getting more comfortable with longer distances and jumping out of stride instead of driving all her momentum downward in front of the fence. It was a huge revelation for us, but I still have to tell myself to sit up and glue my bum to the saddle in front of each fence. The minute I panic and lean forward, she will stop or overjump.
So we had a good prep and I entered FENCE feeling only a little apprehensive. Three-phase schooling shows are usually $100 and a fun day trip. The entry and stabling for this event was $340. Since it’s a relatively local event, I used less than a tank of diesel there and back again, and I slept in the gooseneck of my trailer (and froze!). The event fed us Friday and Saturday night and had a coffee/donut stall in the mornings, so I didn’t spend any money on food.
My point is, even though this event was relatively inexpensive as far as recognized events go, it’s still a lot of money and I didn’t want to screw up or have something silly go wrong.
In the end, the competition was a huge success. Willow finished on her dressage score of 35.8 for sixth place in a division of 19 starters. We both enjoyed ourselves tremendously and I’m already perusing the calendars to try and figure out when I can get to her out to another event, hopefully one that her owner Amy can come watch. I’m beyond thrilled. I love this little pony more than I can say and I’m so proud of her.
I finally have a handle on Willow’s dressage warm-up. She knows now when we’re showing and she wants to be sure everyone is looking at her (she whinnies constantly just to be sure). So she works really hard in the warm up and then is worn out by the time she gets to the ring, no matter if I give her lots of walk breaks and stretchy time.
Since we arrived a day early, I went to ride on Friday and set my stopwatch. After warming up for 10 minutes I felt like she would be ready to go in the ring. At 15 minutes, I could feel her tire. Don’t get me wrong, she’s really fit, but she works extra hard when she’s away from home. My girl is a competitor!
So I had a plan for dressage. I walked her a lot Saturday morning to make sure she was loose and limber after being in a stall overnight. I braided her mane and tail, which she totally loved as I figured she would. I’ve never braided her before and she hates for her mane to be pulled, but she let me sew braids in without even wearing a halter; she stood like a stone, watched the world go by and took a nap.
After a ten-ish minute warmup we went to the ring and she turned on the charm as we circled. There were lots of people there to watch her including some of our stall mates and my mom and her friend Joanie, who was in town to visit. She had a good test and watching it later on video I was still really pleased (we’re trying to get that video uploaded!). Our judge, Jodi Lees, is very good and I appreciate the score and useful comments.
It was far from Willow’s best work and I had to give her a little reminder about the meaning of my leg a couple times. Even though she warms up really well, when she actually goes in the ring, she tends to get a little behind my leg and lacks some lateral suppleness as she is somewhat spooky at the boards and letters, but she improves every time out and I think this is a matter of confidence and education.
I walked the cross country course one more time with mom and Joanie accompanying me. They planned to stand at the water jump and cheer and shout “Ponnyyyyyy!” My mom is a great cheerleader, but those two together are like a high school pep squad.
The first two fences on course were not inviting at all. When we walked, I said if we make it past the first two jumps – a big rolltop on an incline adjacent to the warmup and a vertical type skinny-ish fence on the treeline around a blind turn – then we would be golden. She warmed up really well and I let Willow make all the decisions at the first two jumps. I just sat back and stayed out of her way. She got deep to them but jumped with confidence. We picked up the pace to number three, and she jumped out of stride, looking for the next.
Many of the fences on course were like nothing she had seen before, and there were several questions that took some thinking and confidence on her part. She powered up the huge hill, jumped the bank and ditch without a second glance, did a really difficult turn near the end beautifully, and crossed the finish with energy to spare.
The only time I had to work for it was coming up to the water, which you couldn’t see until you were right on top of it and there was a line of people standing on the hill beyond. I think she was looking at the spectators so she went a little sideways on the approach, but I just kept my hands wide and sat back and she went in, then focused right away on the next obstacle, which had not been jumping well for everyone that day. I was thrilled and exhilarated with our run and felt like all the preparation and time we took to get to this point was well worth it!
I pampered Willow that evening, giving her a nice bath, soaking her bare feet and poulticing and wrapping her legs. I didn’t want to risk any soreness the next day. I kept her out of the stall for a long time Sunday morning, and we had to wait to jump after 1:00 in the afternoon.
I have always been a nervous show jumper and that hasn’t changed in the eight years since I’ve been an active Preliminary level competitor. I was ill and a little agitated while getting ready. I was nearing the end of my coping rope! Willow warmed up really well though, and I reminded myself that we did the cross country, we can do this bit too.
There were two warm up rings and I went to the second warm up with just two riders to go before me. The footing was very deep in front of the fences and she had two bad jumps. I said “forget it!” and went to the ring. I had a planned path to let her see most of the fences before we picked up the canter to head for the first jump.
There was a lot to look at and she was really distracted at first. She spooked at the first jump, got close to the second and made an unbalanced turn to three, then suddenly she got down to business. We jumped in quiet to the two-stride in-and-out and she put in a tidy three strides. She kept a perfect rhythm between seven and eight, which had been causing some problems throughout the day. Turning for nine, I nearly took out the start flag and she was staring down fence 1 again, but we recovered and had a clever jump over the last to finish clear. We moved up two places and got a pretty green ribbon.
I wish we had been able to do a victory gallop as the morning divisions had done, but in the interest of time they were giving out ribbons by the announcer’s stand, which was somewhat anti-climactic. Speaking of the announcer, she loved Willow’s show name, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, and it was fun to hear her announce it with a smile!
I dearly love the FENCE horse trials as I’ve been going there since I was small. It was a great return trip and I couldn’t have asked for it to go any better at Willow’s and my recognized debut. It was especially wonderful to have my mom and Joanie there to cheer me on Saturday and the Ketchen Place Farm family came too. Mary also had a successful return to eventing with her horse Rey and I’m so excited for her!
My friends Liz, Mark, Eileen and Carla were photographers that weekend and it was a special thing for my friends to be taking my picture. I ordered the whole photo CD and can’t wait to post some of my favorites. Meanwhile, here is the link to the gallery. How cute it that pony?!