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Show recap: MREC HT Training debut – day 2

This part of the review took a lot longer to write than previous ones, as it was really emotional for me to look back on, and it took a while for me to gather my feelings and thoughts on the day.

MREC has historically been my favourite local show park, because its facilities are beautiful, it is well-run and the XC has been very inviting for weenie Wheeler as she learns to overcome her jumping anxiety. I was really looking forward to our XC portion of this HT; Vesper is such a beast on the XC field and I knew that if the footing was good, we would probably storm our way around Training without a lot of hiccups. If we could get over the Weldon’s Wall.

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What I have nightmares about

Those of you who follow my IG know that I’ve been psyching myself up to this beast since I discovered it was not a Prelim fence as I imagined, and it is a permanent fixture in the MREC Training field. It’s not actually that tall from the takeoff point, but it’s prefaced by a ditch (and Vesper likes to pause and look into ditches which knocks me off balance) and it just looks frigging gigantic on foot. I felt that, if we were going to have problems on course, this would be where it was going to be at – and very likely my fault, if anything. You’ve probably seen my massively-ghetto version of this obstacle at home built out of a pallet ramp, weed mat for a ditch and a stadium fence to make it bigger.

Something that I knew in advance, but really noticed during the course walk was how much longer the Training course felt than Pretraining. A similar amount of elements perhaps, but it seemed to wind back and forth more, and the OT was almost the same as the recent PT rounds I have done. We were going to need a really forward pace in order to make OT; but Vesper is really good at that. Me? Less so.

I went into the course walk somehow expecting that the questions would be a bit like PT but maybe slightly beefier. I had read that they certainly tend to be wider, if not necessarily taller. Um. These were both wider, taller and skinnier. I went from worrying about just the Weldon’s Wall to worrying about almost everything in our path.

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They always use the nice, inviting logs to start every course at MREC ❤
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Ok yes, wider than PT but we’ve jumped this before
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A… rollback to a… skinny corner… I seem to have made an error in judgement
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This is the *B element* of a combo! How is this a Training fence?! It was about 3’7″ as husband measured it

This was where I started to sweat profusely and my stomach started tying itself in knots and I started imagining all of the ways this could go wrong. We haven’t practiced skinnies (although Vesper is such a unicorn that I figured it probably wouldn’t matter a ton?) and I was realizing that this move up was significantly more aggressive than I had imagined. I had to face down the acknowledgement that I have relied about 87% on my horse knowing what to do up until now and I was not actually as prepared for this level as I had thought.

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Pretty sure this belongs at Rolex, not at MREC
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A max height skinny 2 strides after a 90 degree left turn? Sure. Yeah. Fine.
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The biggest drop I’ve ever seen in my life
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“Just jump this here house, it’s about the same height as the Prelim one next door”

I walked onto that course feeling like a champion, and walked off feeling like a mouse. I was really nervous… I don’t remember being this nervous in the move up to PT? But the rain was expected to stay away, I was going to ride in our snaffle to prevent me pulling too much and we would have studs in for grip. I just told myself to push up to the fences instead of letting them intimidate me, and let Vesper handle the rest.

Go time was 10:54am, and we arrived back at the show grounds around 9:15am. Vesper didn’t want to get on the trailer to leave home and she seemed a bit tired, but I wasn’t surprised based on how physically demanding day 1 had been. I took the early arrival opportunity to go and have a peek to see how the Prelim riders were handling that ugly 8B element, and I’m so thankful that I did because I noticed that the dinosaur of a log that they had originally added to the up bank had been removed and replaced with a teeny little friendly-sized log!

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Much more appropriate

I was going to have a bit of a crowd cheering me on; mom, husband, friends, Vesper’s chiropractors… I usually tell people to watch the XC if they’re going to come to spectate since that is the most fun of the three events! I was starting to get excited again, although not with the same joyfulness that usually comes at PT; this time there was much more consideration placed on riding intelligently than just riding for the fun of it.

I had already decided that I would spend minimal time in the warm up, wanting to save whatever energy Vesper had for the course itself. In retrospect, I probably should have actually opted for a more thorough warm up, as she came out dead quiet and had absolutely no fire. I’m so used to seeking a quiet ride (left over from my hunter days and anxiety about high energy jumping) that instead of trying to wake her up and get her engine going, I just worked through the gaits and popped her over the fences a couple of times and left it at that. I won’t make that mistake again.

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Could she *look* any less excited?

She came out of the startbox with… nothing. Her MO is to lock on and pull me to fences, but right away I was pushing hard just to get her from a canter into a gallop. Luckily fence #1 was the easy log to get us sorted out, but I didn’t have the horse under me that I always have before. The table at #2 went okay – there was still a chip in but that’s pretty normal for us at the first few fences while I gather my nerve and she finds her stride. But the table at #3 came up totally weird – it was off a long gallop and I have a terrible time seeing the distance off such a long approach. We chipped again and Vesper barely made it over; I heard her scrape along it with her legs. Her confidence at that point went *poof*.

#4 was a simple rolltop that should have come up easily but she backed herself right off and came in really hesitantly. I could feel that her confidence was shaken and I did my best to switch over from passenger to confident rider in hopes of giving her confidence with my own strong support. This took some guts from me, as it has always been the other way around and I didn’t feel very qualified to be the rider that she needed in that moment.

We came in well to the ramp at #5 (although I had to push her the whole way), but between the rollback to the corner at #6 and the intimidating set up of the corner, we had our first run out ever at the corner. I think I felt my heart sink down into my bowel area at that moment. This horse has never stopped on XC, no matter how garbage I ride or how poorly I set her up. I remember coming to the corner thinking, “Gosh I’m glad she knows what she’s doing here!” and being so stunned when she said no. It was really hard to get my head back in the game at that moment, I was so thrown off and realizing that this run was really not going the way I had expected or hoped.

We circled around to the corner a second time, and once again Vesper put on the brakes, refusing a second time. Looking back on it, I have asked myself so many times if I shouldn’t have just withdrawn at that point; she clearly didn’t have her heart in it, and she’s experienced enough that this wasn’t just “greenness”, other than perhaps a lack of preparation or adequate riding on my part. But in the moment, quitting didn’t come to mind and so I set her up a third time, genuinely wondering if we were even going to make it over. Because she is a certified saint, she obliged me with a jump and we were able to continue on. But I was rattled. It was the first time that I have ever thought on course, “we might not be able to do this.”

#7 was a table that we cleared, but Vesper still wouldn’t lock on and was not enjoying herself as we always do. Instead of blasting around like fabulous rocket ships, I wanted very badly for the round to be over but knew we weren’t even halfway yet. It was a bit like that feeling of being trapped in a bad dream and not able to wake up…

#8 was an easy bench that looked more like a PT fence than Training and I was locked on to the skinny up bank B element of it trying to ride my butt off, but Vesper stopped at it anyway. Gutted. She actually reached down and grabbed a bite of the hay that was decorating it, so I knew it wasn’t a case of spooking at the dumb thing. I straight up had a moment of feeling pretty pissed at her right then. It’s not the time for eating! Of course, I shake my head at myself to think of it now. But at the time I was tired, frustrated, confused and riding a horse who was obviously feeling all of those things as well. We got over it the second time and I had no idea if we would make it up the B element; it wasn’t our most elegant combo, but she did get us over.

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Second effort at 8A

#9 was that absurd fish tail skinny before the water, which was a hard nope from V. I definitely didn’t have any gusto on the approach, and between both of us being uncommitted, she ran out on it and I got flagged down to leave the course with our fourth refusal and an elimination. It’s been over a week since then and typing that out still clogged up my throat and made my eyes sting. It happened right in front of the spectators, including everyone who had made the trek out to watch us, and the “walk of shame” back felt interminable. I briefly made eye contact with husband, who was giving me the smile of “I’m proud of you anyway”, and it took a lot of self-control not to burst into the tears that were bubbling up in my throat. I was completely at a loss… How could this happen? I was ready to handle time faults, maybe even a refusal at the very worst, but elimination? I had a pathetic moment where I almost wished that I had fallen off instead – at least that would have been a better excuse than “we couldn’t handle it”. Pity party doesn’t even do it justice.

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Well, we looked good heading to #9…

I managed to wave a brief goodbye to my wonderful friends who could tell I needed to be alone and didn’t force their condolences on me (bless them), water and untack my beautiful mare and give her carrots, and then I tucked myself into the trailer tack room and ugly sobbed for a couple of minutes. Husband held me and let me come apart. I cried for my expectations, my disappointment, my guilt for pushing my horse when she clearly didn’t want to keep going, the hard work that we had poured into, the shock of truth that (contrary to her track record) my horse actually can have bad days… It was difficult having to explain to my husband and mom that no, regardless of our amazing dressage score and decent jumping round, I would not place at all that weekend. We would be going home without that pretty rosette I was looking forward to hanging on my wall in memory of our first time at this level.

I did manage to pull myself together and go back to watch a few of the PT rounds. There was a teensy amount of consolation in knowing that I was not alone in having a difficult ride; 2 of the 4 of us in Training were eliminated in the XC and I watched one rider fall in PT (she was fine thankfully!) and another be eliminated as his horse was having none of the water. It was a tough course clearly. I’m just so accustomed to having no problems on course that I was living in an untouchable bubble, and the bursting of it was painful to my pride.

Full transparency: I wallowed all that night, and it took me days to screw my brain back on correctly. I would choke up with tears thinking about it at random moments, and it took days before I could look at the footage or photos. I doubted my skills as a rider; I doubted my horse’s ability and age and fitness; I doubted our future; I doubted my horsemanship; I doubted myself as an eventer even. By next season I might be pregnant, or Vesper might be too old to ever try that level again, or I might be too nervous to try that level again. Maybe we should stay at PT where it’s safe and easy! Maybe we should just do dressage! Maybe I should have withdrawn on course! Maybe I should have schooled more XC! Maybe I should have worked harder at her fitness! Maybe the change of bit threw her! Maybe the addition of the flash was limiting her air intake! Maybe the dressage warm up the day before was too draining!

Monday morning, I kid you not, I went online and Googled “my first elimination eventing” because I needed to know that the world was not ending and I was not the only person on the planet who had been eliminated with refusals in an event. Which is hilarious because DUH. Anyway, of course I ended up on CotH and reading threads about people’s elimination stories actually really helped me refocus; it turns out it has happened to most people in fact! What a shocker hey.

One of the young girls in the Prelim division at the show sent me a lovely message on IG to encourage me to be proud of our attempt, and to commiserate that she herself had fallen off last year in her first move up to Training. Considering how much I admire her riding (and her absurd stunner of a draftX mare), that went a really long way to helping me feel better.

Over the next week, I spent time disseminating my feelings and came to a few conclusions:

  • We did not actually fail, contrary to my initial feelings. As husband reminded me numerous times, we broke our dressage score record, jumped around a Training stadium course successfully and made it basically halfway around a Training XC course. That’s freaking amazing for weenie Wheeler!
  • Equal parts disappointed and relieved that we didn’t have to face that Weldon’s Wall lol.
  • Definitely disappointed that we couldn’t tackle some of those more intimidating jumps on a good day.
  • I actually rode XC with a snaffle for the first time in my life.
  • Vesper tried her heart out for me even when she clearly did not want to. What a unicorn. If she is maxed out at PT, then by golly we are going to have fun at that level for as long as we get to. She’s going to get a physical check up at the vet’s to make sure everything is okay, because I am hyper aware that stopping out can be an early sign of pain.
  • Placings, ribbons, results don’t matter to Vesper. She gives me what she’s got on a given day, and that is what I should be thankful for.
  • Even though it felt like this show was our One Chance™ to have a go at this level, I don’t need to treat it like it was. Sure, life may change plans, but in the meantime I am going to ride like we are aiming for our next Training event.
  • It was a horse show, not the apocalypse. There will be other horse shows, and very possibly (likely) other refusals.
  • We both came through with no injuries and I am so thankful for that.
  • We broke our dressage high score record!!!?!!!
  • I need to get more jumping and XC lessons if I am going to succeed at Training. It’s no longer “just for fun”, it will require skill and discipline to ride at this level.
  • Kids may not even happen right away. I’m not going to ease off riding until it actually becomes a reality.
  • I was literally telling my husband AT THE SHOW that I will never ride at Prelim and I never want to. While typing this whole thing out, I decided that right now, I want to go Prelim someday. Or maybe just 3’6″+ jumpers… Those XC fences look mental and I like being alive, thanks.

A week after the show, I took Vesper on the first drag hunt of the season just to check in with her; I wanted to know if she was still feeling “the spark”, because there was a tiny part of me that worried deeply that I had ruined her passion for this sport. I needn’t have worried apparently, as she almost pulled blisters through my gloves she was having such fun! There were no obstacles to jump at the hunt, but that’s okay because I need time to rebuild my own confidence. We can work on that this winter if both of us are up to it. She felt so strong and forward, which convinced me that she was really tired on XC day at the show and just didn’t have the energy we needed at that level.

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We have a visit back to the same show grounds scheduled for a couple of weeks away if the weather isn’t atrocious and the field stays open, and I have wormed my way into a lesson with a local trainer that I deeply respect and admire. I’m really looking forward to maybe schooling some elements that we struggled with this time – or at the very least bombing around some lower stuff just to rebuild our confidence. I’d love to have a go at some of the fences we never made it to on a day when Vesper is feeling fresh and strong.

Yes, it was really hard to end our season on an elimination in what is historically our strongest phase. But holy carp have we (I) come a long way! I still can’t wrap my head around it at times. I found this old photo, taken by the same friend Rachel at my very first 2 phase where we competed at Entry level back in 2016:

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Love her identical expression of “ugh” ❤

I can’t not cry looking at these side by side. This mare is my best girl, who made my dreams come true and gave me the confidence to chase new dreams that I had written off a long time ago. She’s almost 20 and I am so lucky to have the time with her that I have had. This is not the end for us, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds!

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Show recap: MREC HT Training debut – day 1

Man, the lead up to this show was intense. I felt at times like my entire equestrian existence was building up to this moment; which is obviously a bit silly, because it’s just a horse show, Em, settle down. But this show was unique in a few ways for me, beyond just being our first time out at Training level which meant a huge amount of preparation (both physical and mental). It is also the last show of the season for us (other than perhaps a jumper schooling show if the weather holds out) and there is the possibility that it may actually be my last event with Vesper… At least for a while. Oof, that was difficult to type out.

Nothing is set in stone yet obviously, but husband and I have plans to start a family soon and that is a major factor in planning my riding into next spring and summer. Things may not go as we hope or expect, but it’s an element that I have to consider and prepare for. Some people continue riding and competing well into their pregnancy or shortly thereafter, but I just can’t make those kinds of decisions until I am actually faced with them. The other important factor here is Vesper’s age; she’ll be 20 in March 2020 (special), and I am hyper aware of her capabilities as she ages. She has minor arthritis which so far has not impeded her in any way, but wear and tear on her body needs to be managed carefully.

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Almost 20, thinks she’s 7

All of that to say, this event held of lot of meaning for me and I had swings of major excitement to major anxiety leading up to it – happily I can confirm that it was mostly excitement!

The lead up to the weekend was composed of mostly dressage, focusing majorly on “forward hands”. I had an epiphany (not for the first time tbh) that I really ride “backwards” in our tests out of tension; Vesper gets stiff which triggers me to tense up and try and pull her into a frame, so she stays behind the leg and heavy in my hands. Not nice. So I spent our rides thinking about letting my arms drape nicely and pushing her forwards up to my hands, which seemed to be quite an effective strategy – what a shocker.

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I also made myself deal with the “Weldon’s Wall” I lie awake over at night. Here is my ghetto version

My dressage was scheduled for 9:15am on the Saturday, which was early enough to have me out of bed by 5am since I wake up around that time for work anyway. Dressage coach would be meeting me for 8:30am at the show grounds to help me warm up as I wanted to make a good impression our first time in a more complicated test, and you all know by now how our dressage tests tend to ride. We did a quick forelock braid, loaded into the trailer and off we rolled. I chose to play chill Enya tunes during the 30 minute drive to help me relax; usually I choose “pump up” music, but I already had extra nerves and didn’t want to end up really agitated.

Arrival time was about 7:30am and we had prime parking options for the trailer since the only other folks there were the Prelim and EV105 riders. I had time to go and check out which dressage ring I would be in (the large one for the first time – and the same judge as last time), take a quick walk through of the jump course and get ready without panicking. Side note: I made myself an impromptu stock tie pin at 9:30pm on the Friday evening which took me a whole 5 minutes; I glued a few purple crystals to a pin because for reasons I can’t comprehend, you can literally be DQ’d for not having a pin in your stock tie.

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Like, I have been successful at all of our shows up until this point without any pin, and I can promise you a pin will not improve my riding. Whatever, I made the pin, stuck the pin, wore the pin. Check out my pin, y’all.

The weather was brisk but sunny, and the warm up ring wasn’t majorly crowded which was a delight. Coach helped me kick it into gear right away, getting warmed up correctly instead of sort of cheating my way through it like I do. Vesper and I both enjoy “long, low, chill” warm ups which isn’t very conducive to a structured dressage test. We worked for about 35 minutes with lots of transitions, leg yielding, forward gaits, imagining keeping Vesper’s four quarters in a “box” to prevent bulging, etc. I needed multiple walk breaks which made me laugh – nothing like a full scale dressage lesson to get you prepped for a test!

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We actually look like we know what we’re doing here

We were able to start a few minutes early, and I felt as prepared as I’ve ever been for a dressage test. We got 2 laps around the outside of the ring with some big, energetic trot to get us thinking “forward” before the bell rang us in. I had decided in advance that my main two points of focus were going to be forward hands and forward gaits – that’s all I wanted to worry about.

We came in strong and to avoid rambling, we nailed our test. The big ring provided way more time and space to prepare for each element, and I managed to avoid pulling on Vesper to put her into a frame. She was really polite in the contact, probably because I was trying my best to be polite with my hands (lol duh). I only had one very brief moment of panic when I couldn’t remember the next movement, but we had practiced enough that my body remembered and generally everything flowed nicely.

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I still struggle to keep my reins the same length through the test, and we didn’t ride our corners or circles completely accurately, but overall it was by far the nicest test we have ever ridden – nice enough to bag us our best dressage score yet and set us up in second place! I got a bit choked up when I looked online for the scores and realized how well we had done. Thanks times a million to coach for setting us up so strongly; I wish I’d known that Vesper would prefer a more difficult test! What a wonderful feeling to finally overcome some of our persistent stickiness in the sandbox. Coach of course suggests that we come join her full time in DQ world……

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Actually pushing from the hind end in the trot!

We had lots of time to kick back before stadium, but I have no concept of “too much time”, so we immediately trekked over to the jump ring and I had a more thorough walk of the course. It was set for Prelim and – get this – they didn’t actually look that huge anymore.

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Don’t get me wrong, I would need about a billion hours of riding lessons to ever have a go at that insanity, but if I scooped a ride on a schoolmaster who just needed me to steer? I’d probably have a go at 3’6! I’ve stopped asking “who is this person who isn’t afraid of jumping anymore” since apparently I’ve turned over a leaf? Or just planted an entirely new tree more like. One thing is certain: walking the Prelim course sure makes Training look manageable.

As per my usual M.O., I started warming up way too early and had to kill time before we actually went in for our round. I forgot how to ride a few times in warm up and chipped us in a ton, but Vesper always bailed me out. Unfortunately I think she’s starting to pick up that nasty habit from me, as she used to just manage our distances on her own and would often choose the long spot if I left her to it. Somewhere along our journey she decided to start allowing my input (probably a mistake, V) and at 3’3″, you can’t cheat your way through a ride anymore. She can manage us and tidy up after me easily at 3′, but that extra three inches really illuminates the holes in my riding.

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Clearly height isn’t really an issue anyway

I’m not very effective at warming us up because I don’t tend to push myself enough if I don’t have someone nicely yelling at me, so Vesper wasn’t as sharp going in as she should have been. I tried hard to push her forward to get a strong pace, which usually results in nice distances, but she really wanted to suck back more than normal and chip in; I think this was a result of our weak warm up and what amounted to almost a full dressage lesson that morning, since she didn’t give me any indication that she was sore. There were definitely a few fences where I totally abandoned her because I couldn’t see our striding. We had some ridiculously deep distances and she performed some legit aerial acrobatics to save our butts:

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We saw very different things here

We knocked one rail and rubbed another one really hard but it magically remained in the cups, so we came away with only 4 faults (which is sort of a miracle based on how crappy our distances were at like 50% of the fences).

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Absolutely pwned that combo though

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Generally though, I managed to sit up to our fences like an actual eventer, keep my leg on and ultimately get through our first Training level stadium round in one piece, which is a massively big deal!

I did walk away recognizing that, in order to continue at or be successful at this height, I would need to invest in more jumping lessons. This past year has been dressage-heavy, since I need to budget carefully for lessons, but I can’t continue to let her handle everything at this height by herself without becoming a stronger support to her. We can cruise around Pretraining without really working at it, but Training is a new league and it definitely shows. Seeing distances has always been my weakness, so it will have to become a major focus through our winter riding even if we are not jumping very much.

That was a wrap on day 1 of the weekend; I walked my XC course after the stadium, but I’ll leave that as part of the next recap to keep everything tidy and together. Vesper got to head home for the evening, since I avoid show stabling unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Friend Rachel (magnificent Rachel who came hunting with me after not riding for about a million years which is super badass) generously donated a large chunk of her weekend to come out and take photos of us; she was our photographer for my first ever event so it was pretty special that she could capture images of our first Training HT! All of the lovely images from this weekend are courtesy of her. ❤

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She’s so lucky to have me

 

 

 

Show recap, Uncategorized

Show recap: CVES 2 phase

I was tempted to skip over recapping the CVES 2 phase that we attended this past weekend, but decided that I would chronicle it for the sake of learning, and as a healthy reminder that things are not always going to go perfectly in this sport. In reflection, I recognize that my ego has become somewhat inflated by success over the past couple of years just due to our great track record; Vesper is such a stellar jumper and a true master at XC that I have become accustomed to a spotless record. You’ll conclude that we obviously did not come away from the event squeaky clean.

I attended this same event last year and did not recap it, as it was the most miserable of show days due to an absolute monsoon of rain, my new saddle bleeding dye everywhere and ruining my white gear, a very unexpected drug test, missing a portion of my course walk, being stressed to literal tears and really garbage footing. I wanted to erase it from my memory bank, which of course will never happen because it was traumatizing. I went looking for photos from that event and had forgotten that I also spilled scalding tea on my hand that morning which resulted in the burn below:

#Worst. Yeah, wearing my gloves was a thrill that day. I was almost thankful for the dumping rain as it actually helped cool it down a little. Going into the same event one year later had me a little apprehensive for obvious reasons, especially because the weather was shaping up to be similar to last time.

I barely slept the night before, as the regular intervals of downpour and thunder kept waking me up and had me asking myself multiple times through the night if I should just scratch, or would they cancel due to thunder? It would be my last time going Pretraining this year, and the course was almost identical to our recent horse trial at that location so I was just planning to have an enjoyable ride at something we excel in.

Thankfully the thunder stopped in the night, although the rain continued through the morning. I set it up so that I could walk my course before dressage, leaving us about 1.5 hours between dressage and XC and preventing a repeat of last year where I couldn’t walk the whole course due to the delay the drug test caused. As predicted, the course was exactly the same route as the last time we rode here, with one jump switched and a lot less decorations. The footing wasn’t as bad as I was expecting other than some muddy sections of track in the high traffic areas. I decided to stick with our Pelham bit instead of trying the snaffle since I didn’t want to end up in a bad situation with no brakes. It would have been a different story if things were dry and I wanted to encourage more “forward”, but as it was I felt that defensive would be the best route with my very strong and enthusiastic mare.

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“You ARE going to share that banana with me, correct?”

The last time that we were here, I started warming up for dressage about 50 minutes before our test, but I felt that it sort of burnt us both out too early. This time, I got us started about 30 minutes out so that we could be hitting our peak right around our test time. Thankfully the rain ceased as I was mounting up (raise a hallelujah) and stayed away for my whole morning ride, so I didn’t test out the waterproofing of my (other) new saddle which was 200% fine by me. I can’t afford to keep buying new white breeches after every autumn show in the PNW.

As usual, Vesper warmed up wonderfully, albeit a little stiff on her left side. I was trying her back in the Baucher snaffle and get the feeling that she’s actually softer laterally in the loose ring verbindend, but I didn’t bring that one with us. The warm up ring isn’t well set up to allow much circling, which is really what we need to spend the time on to encourage suppling. I’ll be very honest here: at this point, I was feeling a little bit of disillusionment based on our track record of dressage tests. She warms up great, and then locks me out once we step into the ring. I’m not effective enough yet to fix that, so we historically ride subpar tests that are not reflective of what she actually has to offer. I was already not super excited to be at this show; I’ve discovered that I am a fair weather show-er and the rain was just putting a huge dampener on my enthusiasm. Based on those factors, I didn’t push very much in our warm up; there was some sneaky, lingering thoughts of “what’s the point” prodding in the back of my head. I wasn’t even aware of them at the time, and it wasn’t until I was reflecting over the day that I realized that I had felt that way. We did some transitions to remind V not to bulldoze through my aids just because we have changed gaits, and I pushed to get some more open and forward paces since I tend to suck us back as V can get strung out easily.

One encouraging moment was discovering that our dressage judge was the owner of my very first riding stable back when I was 7 and started lessons. I got the chance to chat with her last year at a dressage show and introduce myself and thank her for being a part of my riding passion. She is so friendly and encouraging, and she has actually been my judge at a previous event. As I circle the ring before my test, she always stands up and wishes me a great ride and reminds me to have fun. I’m certain she does this for everyone as she couldn’t possibly recognize me, but it sure goes a long way to alleviating my tension as we go into the ring. You bet I’m going to try my best for a judge I feel is rooting for us!

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At least she looks fancy. Probably because we weren’t in the ring yet. My face sums up my feelings accurately. (KCR Natural Wonders Photography)

As usual, the test was subpar. The hog fuel footing was atrocious in spots due to the heavy rain and I’m not used to a slipping horse in a dressage ring! Some early trot work garnered us an 8 which was nice, but my lateral aids were often ignored, we still can’t figure out the loose-rein-back-to-contact thing (it is so hideous no matter what I try), I rode more from my hands than my seat and it all goes by at lightning speed so I feel like I don’t have time to deal with any issues that are arising. I also took some of the comments way too much to heart, possibly because I was already in a discouraged mood. We spend 90+% of our home rides doing some kind of dressage, so it’s frustrating to not be able to translate that into the test environment, and I’m not able to hit up any dressage shows this year to practice.

After our test I took Vesper over to one of the empty warm up rings on the way back to our trailer and just spent a couple more minutes asking her to move off my leg and respond softly to my transition aids. I’ve never actually done that before, but I figured it might help reinforce that the show ring isn’t necessarily different than a schooling area, and just because we’ve finished the test doesn’t mean it’s time to shut down. She was very polite (why can’t we just get it right in a test ugh) and who knows if it helped. It did help my mindset to finish on a better note than a stiff test.

No one pulled us for a drug test this time (although I was tempted to gallop back to the trailer just in case) so we had the full hour and a half to chill before XC. The moment I untacked from dressage it started pouring again, but I had brought 3 different changes of clothes and mostly huddled up in my trailer tack room while eyeing the many pop up tents at other trailers with envy. Vesper had her rain sheet on, but she also hates getting wet and started getting antsy. I would love to be able to turn her loose in the trailer to stay dry but she would definitely break something (probably herself) – she gets upset if she can’t see what’s going on and strongly dislikes confined spaces.

We were sitting tied for 8th out of 12 riders after dressage which wasn’t super unexpected, and I knew we’d have a decent shot of placing well since we kick ass in XC.

Husband showed up as I was changing into my XC gear, and Vesper started getting really fidgety between the rain and the knowledge of impeding XC. It (again) ceased to rain as I was mounting up, and we jigged our way down to the warm up area with about 20 minutes before my ride time. She was almost going sideways by the time we reached the warm up ring. The jumps were set up in a really snug space with very slick footing, so I avoided it as much as possible as some other horses were pretty strung out between the weather and the environment. There’s nothing like a high strung TB having a meltdown in a small and busy warm up area to get me out of Dodge. My new eventing friend Katie (she of the perfect Paint/Draft cross mare) went before we did and came over to report that the footing was not nearly as bad as we would expect and that she had a great run, so I felt a little less anxious about a mucky ride.

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Damp. (KCR Natural Wonders Photography)

Unfortunately Katie and I had very different experiences, because right away it was apparent to me that I probably could have used bigger studs and it was a really good thing I chose to ride with the Pelham. Perhaps if I had been braver and let her move out we may not have had as much slippage, but I was not comfortable with allowing her to stretch out into her big stride with how mucky things were. As a result, I rode super defensively which put us in some really ugly distances where I had to slip my reins or chip in. I’ve never actually gotten left behind so many times in one course.

#1 was a lovely, inviting ramp which of course I rode just hideously, because I’m perpetually trying to figure out our pace early on, but #2 wasn’t bad other than coming in semi-sideways and a little deep. She picked up the pace once we sort of figured out what we were doing, but I could tell that the footing was not going to be suitable to her big, rolling stride. I choked up on her a little bit to make sure that she wasn’t going to go blasting off and hit a mud patch at “dry” speed.

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Perfect day for 2 water splashes, pip pip.

Jump #3 was a white table with mud splashed across it and Katie had warned me that her horse got pretty looky at it on the approach. I could see and feel that the take off side was a mucky mess, so I rode pretty backwards but Vesper hesitated on her own to the point that I thought she was actually going to refuse for the first time ever, but she just got herself as deep as possible (I actually thought I heard her feet thump the base of it) and then spring loaded over it. It was very athletic actually, although not a confidence booster so early on.

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Why is my position so much better when I’m getting left behind?! (KCR Natural Wonders Photography)

#5 came up nicely for a change and Vesper hauled off towards #6A. I heard galloping off to my right side, and glanced over thinking it was odd that I would be able to hear another competitor so loudly since our paths shouldn’t be crossing closely. I had time to register a loose horse heading back towards the main area of the event, running on an angle to us and then saw the jump judges waving me to pull up before #6. I managed to circle and get V down to a trot (would not have been a thing in the snaffle) and hovered in the area for the short time it took for them to clear me. I stopped my watch once I got her under control and thankfully I had very recently read over the rules and procedure for being held up on course so I didn’t feel panicked at what I was supposed to do.

Eventually they hollered at me to continue, and I started my watch again as we picked up the canter. The fences from #6 through 13 rode pretty well, with no hesitation at the water elements. #14 was a backwards approach again and I got her in too deep, but we pulled I together for #15. I was very specific in my course walk to check the track to #16 since that was the one I almost missed last time and had to slice like crazy. This time around we approached it correctly with no issues. I took the short route to #17A and trotted the down bank at 17B this time which was a little more graceful. I hate drop banks.

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We may as well have just laid down in the water splash. (KCR Natural Wonders Photography)

Glancing at my watch I realized that we were going to cut it really tight to OT. I decided to gallop forward to the final 2 fences which I have little memory of actually riding, but I beeped out about 2-3 seconds away from the finish flags. I figured though that since we had been held on course and I stopped/started my watch on the late side, the final tally would probably have us under OT if they calculated it correctly.

V is obviously feeling fit, as it took only a very short time for her to get her breath back and settle down, and we weren’t super wet after all of that which was a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t particularly happy with my own riding; I felt like I mostly got in her way and was far too defensive. The loose horse situation really threw me mentally a bit, since the second half of the course just felt like a blur with very few details sticking out to me.

We had 2 rider falls and 1 withdrawal from our division, and a whole bunch of refusals and eliminations and scratches all down the levels, it was a massacre out there; the weather was doing a real number on everyone. I stuck around to wait for the results, but it took way longer than I expected would be normal; there was at least one lengthy delay part way through my division and it ended up being almost 2 hours before the results were posted.

Unfortunately the jump judges did not calculate my time correctly to include the delay from the loose horse, and we had been placed in 10th with a time of 6:12 and 28 time faults. The placing was less a concern for me than the faults – if we had not been stopped, I am certain that we would have gone double clear based on our pace. I disputed it, but was so tired and hungry and just done with the day by that point that I made the choice to take Vesper home and leave the results to themselves. I checked online later that evening and saw that they had modified our score to 16.8 faults, which I still felt wasn’t accurate but it was too late and I wasn’t going to be phoning in about it, that’s for sure.

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(KCR Natural Wonders Photography)

I stewed about it over a glass of wine and a bath, and double checked the EC rules regarding the situation:

7.5 The time during which the Competitor was stopped, from the moment he passed the Stopping Point until he re-passed that same Point after being given the order to restart, will be recorded by the Official. It will be deducted from the total time taken by the Competitor to complete the course. It is clearly intended that the time shall be taken as the Competitor gallops past the Stopping Point not after he halts nor after a start from a halt.

Yeah, they definitely didn’t time us correctly. We sure as hell were not 32 seconds over OT if our forced stopped had been accounted for correctly; this horse goes at Prelim speed most of the time and I actually mostly have a harder time preventing us from speed faults than time faults! So yes, I got quietly (and immaturely) mad about it. It was not a super encouraging day, and this was that sarcastic “icing on the cake”. I wallowed and grumped, mourning our “stained” record of pure white double clears.

And then I thought about my wonderful, talented, burst-her-heart-for-me mare who, despite my best efforts to disrupt our smooth ride and some gnarly footing, carried me through safely and strongly and gave me her all. And I managed to pull my head out of Sad Land and find the joy in our sport that we both love so much, and the unparalleled feeling of riding a horse that just adores her job. Vesper doesn’t know anything about time faults, or ribbons, or standings. She knows the feeling of doing a great job at something she loves. Karla over at Muddy Mayhem really helped me with realigning my focus – she is honest about their shortcomings, but she always comes back to how amazing her gelding is and that is what matters.

How many eventers can even say they have a spotless record? It’s got to be next to impossible in this unpredictable sport! And I don’t want to get hung up on our “reputation”; I want to walk away from every competition with a heart brimming with gratitude.

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The face of a first-time eventer who is so thankful to ride her wondermare

I also read an article over on CotH about Sarah Williams-Echols and her recovery after a major accident, and there was a quote of hers that hit me right in the feels:

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My Olympics will never be the 1.6m classes. It’s certainly never going to be Burghley or Rolex. And I never want it to be “winning”. Can you imagine what it would feel like to compete in the Olympics? You certainly wouldn’t care if you won – you would just be thrilled and humbled to even compete! That’s what I want every competition to feel like.

Moving forwards, I’m so excited for our Training debut in just over a week at MREC; especially because I peeked at the forecast and HELLO SUNSHINE on the 2 days I’ll be riding! I really don’t want to go Training when it’s wet, so I will be praying in the meantime for fair skies and much dryness.

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Show recap, Uncategorized

That time I jumped 3’3″

Holy bike pants, Batman! We did a thing; a very big thing – big enough for me that it was definitely worth chronicling, so that when I’m old and crotchety I can look back and fondly remember the glory days. The condensed version is that I attended a derby jumper show and coursed 3’3″ for the very first time and it was awesome.

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I try to attend this lovely local show at least a few times per summer, although this year I was only able to make it out the one time. It’s about a 20-30 minute drive from my barn, and they offer derby classes (jumps are a mix of stadium fences and XC or “natural” obstacles) from “grasshopper” level up to Training. One of the best parts is that for each level, they offer a warm up round and a timed round; you can basically purchase as many warm up rounds as you like which is a great way to acclimate your horse to the mix of unusual fences. I use them to remember how to ride since Vesper never seems to care what we face as long as she can jump it.

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Except that one weird time that she slid under an oxer on her hocks for no apparent reason at this exact venue in 2017

Generally I’ll sign up for the warm up and timed rounds at the level below where I am competing to get us confident and geared up, as this really helps me mentally, and then a warm up and timed round at our current competition level. The last time I was at this location, 2’9″ (Entry) was my confident “cruisey” level and 3′ (Pretraining) was my stretcher, but in this past year I have come extraordinary leaps in my courage to the point where we have been strolling around the 3′ level and I’ve been itching for the challenge of 3’3″ (Training). Those extra 3 inches have always psyched me out at every single level I’ve jumped at since I started in the 2′ hunter ring with Chester, but Vesper isn’t even working hard at the PT level. I have such faith in her that, somewhere along the line, I stopped being scared to push my limits.

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Perpetually saving my poor distances

I made the decision to enter our final horse trial of the year at Training level and it worked out perfectly to attend the derby show as a prep day. Unfortunately they have not had the necessary number of riders in their Training classes so they actually cut that level this season. However they were willing to offer the warm up round for it, probably because I hassled them incessantly about it, which was just as good – if not better – for me to school the height in a competition atmosphere.

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I can’t believe this is going down

The weather went to pot by the time I arrived at our barn to pick up Vesper, and I seriously considered just not going. A schooling show in the pouring rain? Ugh. Gone are the days when I was willing to stand for hours in the rain for a jumper show. I’d already paid and prepped though, and I really needed to get this under my belt before September’s event.

Now, I’m probably risking being torched alive by the equestrian community here, but for the sake of full disclosure I will admit that I do not follow the recommendation of showing one level below what you are schooling. Do I see the value in it? Absolutely. However I personally have a very hard time pushing myself unless there is some level of pressure involved – ie a show. A big element that I factor in as well is that Vesper used to compete at Prelim and/or Intermediate in her younger days and has absolutely no problem navigating the stuff we face in competition, so the only limits we are currently pushing are my own. I need to be cautious at how much we are loading Vesper’s joints as well since she is now 19 and has some arthritis, so most jumping days are small grids or schooling exercises to help me work on my distances and equitation.

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Remember this from last time? It’s about 2’9 and at least 2 feet wide and she basically trotted over it. We’ll be fine.

That all being said, I’m not an idiot and I don’t test out a new height at a show. I have jumped 3’3″ at home a handful of times, but I had yet to put it all together into a full course. The derby show was going to be a chill opportunity to see where we were at, as well as being much nicer footing than our deep sand area at home.

I signed up for the derby show with a PT warm up round, a PT timed class and a T warm up round. It still boggles my mind that we are now using 3′ to “warm up”, I can’t fathom when this happened. Unfortunately the only other gal in the Training class (many of you know Shelby at Milestone Equestrian) had to scratch due to her boys injuring themselves in the previous night’s lightning storm, so when I arrived I discovered that I would have the T round to myself! My first thought was concern at being the only one for others to watch, but then I realized that everyone would have left by then once the lower classes were all finished. Excellent, no audience to some potentially really gross riding.

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My favourite face. (KCR Natural Wonders Photography)

We arrived in ideal time to get warmed up without rushing (my favourite thing), and since I was flying solo I did the whole “skip the course walk” thing because I’m an introvert with social anxiety who feels uncomfortable asking someone random to hold my horse. I am aware that it’s dumb, I’m at a horse show for crying out loud – everyone there loves horses and would probably thoroughly enjoy holding my majestic beast. REGARDLESS. I memorized it visually from the sidelines and started with my PT warm up round.

It actually rode pretty great, I was happy with our striding for the most part and Vesper was on fire right away. It wasn’t until we went in for our timed round that I forgot how to ride, resulting in some very ugly chips and a rail down (gasp!) which were 200,000% my fault. There were only 2 of us in that class, so we placed second and got some lovely home baked horse cookies for V and a “reserve champion” rosette which made me laugh a bit.

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(KCR Natural Wonders Photography)

Everyone left over from the show cleared out at that point, leaving me by myself to play with the bigger fences. The lovely girls raised the rails for me and sent me in with the instructions, “It’s just you, so take as much time as you want! However you want!” Every jumper’s dream.

The XC fences all remained the same height (no larger than 2’9″ I think), but it was the stadium fences I was there to focus on. I didn’t linger to think much about the change in height so as to avoid psyching myself out, and basically just rode them as if they were still 3′.

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We look like we’re actually jumping for once! (KCR Natural Wonders Photography)

It was, as mentioned above, awesome. We had our usual couple of blips because I am perpetually totally awful at distances, but other than that I didn’t even notice the 3″ difference in fence height. I made sure to allow the more forward pace so I wouldn’t bury her at every fence, and I felt confident even in those moments where I couldn’t see our distance and had to just wing it.

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(KCR Natural Wonders Photography)

After our first full round, the girls reset one of our knocked rails and encouraged us to have another go since I was the only one riding. They were so encouraging and complimentary, and I decided that we could use another go at the combinations since those really seem to throw my eye for whatever reason. I opted to skip the XC fences the second time around, since they were entirely uneventful and under height for us both and I didn’t want to over jump her, so we rode through the stadium combos again with great success. That darned 8A oxer managed to screw me over for distances every single time, but Vesper made easy work of it regardless.

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At least my leg isn’t back by her flanks anymore. (KCR Natural Wonders Photography)

It was phenomenal to feel strong and sure and safe in an environment that was so friendly and welcoming, without the pressure of an audience. The gals could have decided to cancel my level with only one rider and booted me out in order to get cleaned up early, but instead they offered me as much time as I needed (which wasn’t much). As tempting as it was to stick around and school some more, Vesper had already jumped two rounds at 3′ and two at 3’3″, so I decided to end it on an excellent note. Vesper got stuffed full of the prize cookies and I walked away practically floating from delight. Our Training horse trial at the end of the month is going to be a blast, with a hint of challenge that I relish instead of fear.

Tomorrow is a local 2 phase at Campbell Valley Park again, where we will revisit our PT dressage test and XC course and hopefully ride a better test than last time we were there. It will be my last PT of this year, and I’m looking forward to just having a good time. That is unless we drown, because the weather looks just like the monsoon we had at this same event last year.

Probably us tomorrow
Show recap, Uncategorized

Show recap: CVES Horse Trials, Day 3

This took far longer to post than usual, as I got to see the raws of my show photos the other day and I was holding my breath in hopes of receiving them in time to use here. As I don’t know how long it will take for the edits, I decided to just go ahead and post without in the interest of “keeping up my steam”.

The final day of showing had me up quite early as usual; my division was expected to begin our stadium rounds at approximately 10:00am, so I aimed to arrive around 8:00am because we all know by now how I feel about being rushed. I was one of only a couple of trailers on site that early, since the higher divisions had very few riders, but arriving at that time meant that I got to watch “the big kids” jump which is such a pleasure.

We had moved up from 16th place to 13th after XC, so I was feeling pretty confident that we wouldn’t be going home with a ribbon (or swag, the good stuff) after the weekend. By that point I didn’t care much; we’d had such a wonderful XC run and I was just looking for a really nice stadium round that would leave me feeling like we could tackle more the next time.

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The first thing I did upon arriving was put Vesper’s studs in, all by myself this time, to get that out of the way and allow husband to sleep in a bit longer. I started to become quite anxious when I realized that I hadn’t walked the course the night before, as I heard over the radio that the 2 upper divisions “should have done it last night” and they wouldn’t be opening it up between divisions for a walk. I checked my course at the in gate, but I was still quite nervous about not having the opportunity to walk it. I spent a decent amount of time watching the other riders and “practicing” my course in my head. Could I have just asked one of the volunteers if I would have a course walk later? Definitely. However, I won’t even ask the employees in a grocery store what aisle a certain item is in – I will literally go to an entirely different grocery store to find what I need if I have to ask for help.

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You bet I use these

I alternated between tacking Vesper up and returning to the arena to keep an eye on where things were at, and breathed a massive sigh of relief when they announced that the Training course was open for walking. Instead of waiting for the PT division walk through, I just joined the T riders since they only had 1 extra jump and I could just ignore it in the course walk. I was paranoid that they would get through the T division before I had time to finish tacking up and then I wouldn’t have time for a warm up in the saddle. This is an irrational fear that has always plagued me for as long as I have shown… Dressage and XC are much less stressful since you are given a specific ride time, but not stadium! I felt like a secret agent, walking the course with a different division. Sneaky me. It also came in handy because I wanted to get up close and personal with those fences to know what I could be facing in September.

It turns out that I did not need to rush, or worry, because they had a senior and junior division in both the Training and Pretraining levels with loads of riders. My round didn’t go until sometime around 11:00am or later. However, it left me loads of time to watch the other riders both at T and PT, which is actually how I learn my course the best.

It was a difficult course; lots of colourful jumps with angles and sloped footing galore. The most intimidating was the oxer that was painted into a Canadian flag, angled so that the landing was towards the busy in gate and designed so that the takeoff side was a skinny. There were dropped rails left, right and centre in all of the divisions.

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Super cool until you actually have to jump it

I warmed up way too early as usual, but Vesper was on fire right away. We did lots of stretchy walk and trot, got in a few fences and then basically just hung out for like 45 minutes or something. I can’t track time at horse shows. She almost dozed off a few times so I had to walk her off to keep her from totally falling asleep under me (which she will very happily do, and has done in the past), but I got a chance to watch tons of riders in our division go ahead of us which I find soothing. I do get the most butterflies before stadium though which isn’t helped by waiting around.

Once we were notified to be on deck, we popped into a brief trot to get the muscles ready to go and in we went. “Heels down, eyes up” is my mantra I quietly singsong to myself as we go into the jumper ring.

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I’m not in fetal position, so far so good

Right away we were on stride and in sync. It felt strong and forward, although the video playback looks way quieter than it always feels. Either way, I didn’t interfere with her at all which must be some kind of record for me. It was the most “beautiful” and effective round we’ve shared, hitting our strides really nicely. She is such a marvel to jump with, I seriously wish that everyone could have the chance to enjoy her like I do! We didn’t touch any rails, one of only 7 out of 25 riders in our division to jump clear.

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Super mare wasn’t intimidated by nationalism

I had a big grin on my face by the last fence and was positively fluffy with confidence. Normally I wouldn’t post a “raw” show photo, but since I already purchased this one and am just waiting for the final version to be sent, I figured it’s okay to show you how we ended that stellar round:

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Biggest “heart eyes” ever for this mare. This one will be huge on my wall at home

Husband, because he’s an A-type personality, promptly reminded me that, based on the way scoring was looking, there was actually potential for us to end up placing after all. He loves numbers and tracking (and winning), so he was carefully watching each stadium round and calculating their faults against their scores to determine who would be moving up or down. By that logic, I decided to keep Vesper tacked up just in case we could squeak in to the placings, since they were awarding the prizes for each division shortly after they each finished.

During our rest, a group of young men who had been watching the event approached us and asked if they could pet Vesper and even get a photo with her. Apparently they had just started taking riding lessons down the road and came to enjoy and admire the event. “Of course you may take a photo with my excellent horse! Oh yes, she is magnificent-looking, isn’t she?!” No one can fangirl over my horse like I can, but I managed to play it cool. They asked a bit about horse riding and ownership, as well as how long I expected it could take for someone to compete at an event like this. I had no idea how to answer that, since I’ve been riding for the majority of my life and it took that long to get here, haha. “It’s an individual journey,” I say, nodding wisely. Jokes aside though, I thought it was wonderful that they have really taken an interest in the sport and seem to really appreciate the beauty of the horses and the bond we get to share with them.

We also gave my 4 year old nephew the customary “pony ride” because it is my goal to make sure that everyone in my family loves horses. Vesper was so careful with him; I swear horses (most animals in general actually) have an extra sense when it comes to offspring.

Shortly before they announced the results for our division, husband came to me with the math and informed me that it was looking like I would be coming in 7th. How on earth he figures that out in his head I have no idea, but he was right! We climbed from 16th to 7th because my mare loves to jump so much and is so darned careful. I was super chuffed in the end, because I know how phenomenal she is and I always want her to be recognized for that! To be able to say “always in the placings” about her makes my heart swell with pride. She’s just the coolest. Even my dressage coach, who watched our XC rounds, told me that out of all the horses she saw on course, Vesper would have been her first choice if she had to pick one to go XC on!

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When you just want one nice “prize” photo but your horse is so done with the standing still thing

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It turns out that the 7th place ribbon is purple, which, as you know, is our primary competition colour and that is super fabulous. For swag (I LOVE swag) there was a purple dandy brush and a bag of pelleted vitamins which turned out to be Vesper’s favourite thing ever. She loathes every vitamin supplement I’ve tried to give her, except this stuff? K. Whatever, I’m not going to be the one to tell her it’s Actually Healthy™. She scarfs that stuff down like it’s pure sugar. I went out and bought a tub of it a few days later because it’s way too hard to get this horse to eat her vitamins.

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It was a bit of an unexpected end to the weekend, but very welcome! After how confidently we handled both XC and stadium, it was an easy decision for me to submit the details to EC to get Vesper a horse recording number which is required to compete at Training and higher.

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Officially official

Now I get to face down the stomach-churning anxiety of jumping 3’3″ at the end of September. With further introspection, I recognize that it’s actually the idea of jumping what I once considered to be completely unobtainable instead of a true reflection of our capabilities. I felt this same way about Pretraining once upon a time, and now it’s just a fun ol’ adventure to cruise around 3′; I just have to keep reminding myself of that. In the meantime, I get to hit up CVP again in 2 weeks to run their PT 2 phase, which is the same dressage test and XC course as this last one was. Hopefully we’ll be able to redeem our dressage scores! I’ll have my legit game face on this time.

I will also be trying to learn this absurd Training dressage test for the end of September, which has 15m circles (what happened to the good old 20m, hmm?!) and way too many changes of direction. I swear it looked like this in my head the first time I read through it:

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Pray for us.

Show recap, Uncategorized

Show recap: CVES Horse trials, Day 2

Tucking right in behind the recap from day 1 ‘s rather disappointing dressage, we’ll get straight into XC. I’d like to take a moment to slow clap for everyone who has ever done a course walk on foot, because rolling hills and trees and uneven terrain may only take 5 minutes at a gallop on horseback but you can basically multiply that by about 1000% when it’s just our own little bipedal selves hiking back and forth trying to find obscure jumps. Not to mention you’ve usually just ridden a dressage or stadium test prior to walking said course, so you’ve already expended huge amounts of energy for the day. My Fitbit was vibrating like crazy to congratulate me on all these step achievements, when all I wanted to do was hitch a ride with the volunteers on golf carts whizzing by. Is it just me who is super tempted to just spot your jump in the distance and then take a shortcut to find the next one? 0/10 would actually recommend this though because SPOILER ALERT you will pay for it during your actual ride.

Anyway, as mentioned previously, a friend had warned me that the course was looking very technical this year. I was a bit wary about what I would find on the walk, but things didn’t end up being as intimidating as I expected. I didn’t take many photos as I was busy chatting with my mom.

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All of the elements were ones that we have faced before, but there were a couple of really fun combos that I definitely cackled over.

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Angled line combo!

#6A-B were set on opposing angles which could either ride as an S-shaped bending line or as a really fun straight line if you took each fence on the angle (as in the photo above). I have no idea what is so attractive to me about this type of combination; maybe it’s the knowledge that my horse is really badass and seems to enjoy this type of challenge to the point where she makes it feel easy? Anyway, I’m pretty sure I got a big grin on my face at this point.

#8 & #9 were another combo that was like eventing Christmas.

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Water splash, bank up, one stride to angled brush?! Technical and fun!

#16 was a basic log pile but well hidden (this will come up later during our ride) and I actually walked completely by it without realizing until I came up to #17. I had to retrace my steps to find the darned thing, and instead of going back to check my track on the approach*, I just eyeballed it from the landing side so I didn’t have to do all that extra walking. (*This was a poor choice.)

I had a ride time of the Saturday of about 11:30am which is perfect; enough time to come and watch the bigger levels go before me and early enough that I’d still have the afternoon free. Vesper tried to pull her “I don’t want to stay on the trailer” move again, but this time I was way ahead of her and clipped her in right away. We arrived about 1.5 hours early again, since I remembered last year the absolute drama that was me trying to put her studs in while being rushed for time and exhausted all at once. NEVER AGAIN. Husband promised to meet me around 10:00am to help with the studs, and I’d already managed to put 2 of the 4 in by myself when he arrived.

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Me
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She’s so rarely in a snuggly mood, so I lap that stuff up every opportunity she offers

I got to enjoy watching the Training riders have a go, some that I follow on Instagram which was fun to recognize pairs that I admire. Tacking up was a nice, chill affair, and I tried not to go out too early to warm up and kill our “buzz”. Vesper only needs like 3 successful jumps to get her brain in the game – okay she only needs 1, I need 3. My plan was to ride as lightly as possible on the brakes, knowing that we will have to get used to really going forward to the fences in Training.

We strolled out of the starting box unlike many of the other horses who blasted out, looking way cooler than us. That’s okay, Vesper’s casual canter is huge and ground-eating and if we stormed around we would be going at Prelim speed. Chipping in to #1 is like our “thing” now, as it always takes me a jump or two to figure out our stride. Everything came up smoothly and easily, and we worked phenomenally as a team. I let her find the best pace through our initial few jumps, and I think we were both enjoying the winding course right away. We pinged through that fun line at #6AB, and the crazy water-up bank-brush fence was easy-peasy for my wonderful mare. We squished in 2 strides between the step up and the brush, but we came in pretty quietly to it and I was happy to let her figure out the leg work. She locked on without hesitation and I was so freaking chuffed.

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There was a minor bobble as I expected going over #11 which only had one stride before the watersplash when V hesitated on the landing side, but other than needing to slip my reins a bit, I remembered to sit back and we rode through it fine. There was a little crowd of people at the top of the hill which was kind of fun – I do love showing off my queen.

Now, the absolute best part is going to be at the 4:00 mark of the helmet cam video when I realized that I had blown by my track for #16 entirely and had less than 4 seconds to decide what to do. You’ll remember that I didn’t check my track fully during the walk, so I took the wrong route around the bushes and came up to it on the most absurd angle that I wouldn’t even attempt in the stadium ring.

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Oh NO

I cannot express the level of “help me” that occurred in the space of microseconds. Was this what death looks like? (I can be very dramatic in moments of stress.) My brain stopped functioning at this point but Vesper happily locked on and didn’t indicate that she had any issues with my absolute idiocy so I kind of just kept riding and held my breath? This unicorn, I tell you. She eased herself off to the base of it but never once did she hesitate; she probably just figured that I had finally grown the balls to give us something a little challenging. She popped us right over and galloped on looking for the next one. As if it was all… on purpose. ????

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I don’t know if you can hear on the footage, but I laughed out loud on the other side and just kept praising her; I couldn’t believe we pulled that off successfully. I could have circled like a sane person, but my brain doesn’t make decisions well under pressure like that. It’s a good thing my horse more than makes up for me!

I was only semi-conscious after that Grand Prix jump off debacle. #17A was a ramp on an angle (is anyone else seeing a pattern here) that just kind of happened without any assistance from me. A few strides to B which was a down bank with a log at the top. I already hate down banks because a) it feels like we’re launching into an abyss and b) 2 sets of reins is way harder to slip and regather appropriately. Adding a log on top to increase the launch capacity? Gee, thanks. During the course walk I figured I’d just trot in and ease down it, but I clearly had left my brain back at the approach to #16 so we just came in at our usual forward pace and launched pinged off it.

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What a drop bank feels like

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The video footage makes it look like a minor bobble, but I will admit that I said a bad word as I basically rebounded off her back on the landing. Have I ever schooled a drop with an obstacle at the top? No, because I hate drops and adding something at the top to make it bigger is just unnecessary torture. So yeah, that was my first ride over a log off a ledge lol. Picking up my reins from that was a hoot.

I managed to get a glimpse at my watch and we were way under time; of course I was trying to do math in my head (hard enough on a good day) to figure out if we were anywhere near speed faults, all while trying to gather up all my reins and still figure out our last 2 jumps. We came into our last 2 fences at a quiet canter to balance out the “short cuts” we ended up taking (intentionally or otherwise) to finish on a double clear round.

It was a phenomenal run for us as a team, and we were both quite a bit fitter than usual. I felt so confident and even when I got us into a tight spot, I completely trusted Vesper to get us through and I actually enjoyed the challenges it presented! As planned, I didn’t need our “e-brake” a single time and I don’t remember ever needing to whoah… We seemed to really be in sync as far as pace and approach. You can watch the helmet cam footage here:

And/or the footage that husband got from the sidelines:

This all left me with 2 thoughts:

  1. We are definitely going to have a go at Training level. We are ready for the challenge and more than capable of working through it as a team.
  2. I am going to try our next XC in the snaffle; we’ll be doing this exact course again in a couple of weeks for a 2 phase event at this venue. If I can get away with only needing one set of reins, especially facing the bigger Training obstacles, I’m definitely going to do so. Once upon a time I couldn’t fathom jumping this horse without a pelham, but we’ve been using the snaffle consistently in stadium this whole year; it turns out I didn’t need brakes, I needed to feel safe going forwards!
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I need to add some more gold trim to our outfit… I’m not quite ready for the pom pom club yet though

After that amazing run, I didn’t give a lick what our placing on the board was. Dressage shmessage. Vesper absolutely shone out in the field doing what she loves best, and no ribbons or lack thereof can ever change that. I couldn’t stop grinning.

Stay tuned for stadium day, up next!

Show recap, Uncategorized

Show recap: CVES Horse trials, Day 1

Boy, does it ever take me ages to put together a show recap after the weekend! This time was made worse because I started a new position at work on the Monday after the show (sucking most of my brain power down the drain), started rehearsals for the next theatre show on the same night, aaaand I’ve been waiting (im)patiently for the show photos to become available to have some nice media, but they haven’t posted anything yet. Womp womp. Plus I was flying solo, so I have limited media from dressage day. So without ado-ing anymore, welcome to the recap of my first 3 day horse trial!

I realized about 2 weeks out that I would actually need to book the Friday off work, which I’ve never done before since all my HTs have been over 2 days of the weekend. But skipping work to go to a horse show?! That’s every girl’s dream if she has read the Thoroughbred or Saddle Club series. I felt simultaneously very naughty (adult brain) and utterly gleeful (horse/child brain) at the idea. I had all my appendages crossed hoping that my boss would approve a day off on such short notice, but thankfully she is basically the most chill person ever and there was no issue in giving me the vacation time. We are local to an international H/J show park and I often see/know folks who take 2 weeks off  from work or school to compete there, and I always think how badass that is. I can barely stay awake on the drive home from a 1 day show, let alone go hard for 10 days.

Most of our in between time was spent dressaging, as per usual. I have ridden this test a couple of times before, so I felt confident as far as remembering all of the elements once we set foot in the ring and everything I know about riding exits stage left of my brain. I also found myself a Regal dressage saddle to replace mine with the broken tree (that weeping you hear in the background is my soul) exactly 1 week out which was exciting! We can’t wear our custom blingy show browband to a show without the black saddle to match I tell you. #DQ

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Blingin’ purple & gold

Now, somewhere in recent days I decided that I was maybe going to actually move up to Training level this season – there was some waffling about it previously due to my knee surgery and delayed comeback. Pretraining is a great level for us to cruise around at with only minimal challenge (all of it on my part, Vesper used to compete at Prelim before she met Weenie Wheeler over here), and I’d really love to at least have a go at something a little more demanding while we’re going strong. I decided to use this HT to gauge if I was really feeling ready for a move up, since it’s the most challenging local course around; I figured if we could be confident at a difficult PT, a “softer” T location could be a good decision.

This HT was at Campbell Valley Equestrian Society, the main horse park in our area, which is a delightful 15 minute drive from the barn. This meant that I didn’t need to think about stabling, or tons of driving over 3 days, or getting up at stupid o’clock in the morning to get there on time (spoiler alert: I can only wake up at stupid o’clock on horse show days because anxiety). I like to keep things as natural as possible for Vesper, so taking her home to her field and boyfriend every afternoon makes me feel like a good horsemum. Since this is one of the biggest HTs in our area, with levels up to Intermediate/Prelim, we had some of the local BNTs competing – one of whom has been in the Olympics and entered MY division with a youngster. *cue profuse sweating* All that stress aside, I absolutely love to be able to watch the upper level riders compete; nothing gets my heart going like an athletic horse and rider doing their favourite thing.

Dressage day dawned on Friday, with a ride time of 9:30am. I got up really early to allow myself exorbitant amounts of time before I had to be in the saddle because I turn into a vicious, unfriendly being if I am short on time at a horse show. I was also still working through some PTSD from our last show at this venue (I somehow forgot to recap that 2 phase which is probably for the best, as it was the worst show day of my life and we somehow came in 2nd place but I still don’t know if it was worth it) which involved almost missing my XC ride due to a drug test and ensuing absurdities. I was also flying solo since everyone else in my life works like a normal human on Fridays. So yeah, extra time for getting ready? Not negotiable.

Everything was pre-packed into the trailer, all I needed to do was braid V’s forelock and load her up. I loathe braiding, but she looks too cute with a forelock to completely roach it off. I’ll have to just deal with the one braid instead of 20 that used to be her mane. Have I mentioned roaching her changed my life? Unfortunately the braiding alerted her to “SHOW DAY” and she decided that, yes she would get ON the trailer, but she was not going to stay there because anxiety. We spent extra time schooling this on/off thing until I decided that I had babied her long enough and I set up a clip tie to hold her in place while I closed the centre partition. I am cautious with trailer loading due to her panicking in the past and injuring me, so this was not stress I wanted on our way to a show. It all ended up just fine (thanks for the ulcer though, mare) but I think I had sweated through my shirt by that point.

We arrived at the park about 2 hours before ride time, which was exactly what I wanted; loads of time to collect my show package from the office, use the “facilities”, no need to rush tacking up, etc. Our next door neighbour from Southlands parked next to us which was awesome to catch up with a new eventing friend. Not only is she hilarious and nice, but her mare is also a draft cross – a gorgeous paint with the most perfect way of going and conformation. Team drafties.

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It was so lovely to just chill for almost an hour before even needing to start tacking up. I decided to get in the saddle pretty early and spend extra time getting loosened up, which maybe ended up working against us. As usual, she warmed up really focused and moving lovely, and although we took our time, we went through most of our paces and I realized we still had something like 30 minutes until our ride time. Oops. We chilled out and watched other riders for a short while, and then my mom, barn manager and dressage coach all showed up to cheer me on which was the sweetest! Coach offered me some direction and we ended up doing a bit of a second warm up shortly before going in to the ring for our test. The footing there is hogfuel and the horses just float across it with so much spring, I love it.

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We boing

I was feeling pretty stoked for this test, considering how well our last one went at Southlands (in my jump saddle to boot), but the moment we entered the little white fence, Vesper went into her old tension-lockdown-mode and ignored all of my aids other than basic steering. I had pasted this awkward half-smile on my face (because I won my first ever ribbon in a leadline walk class at the age of 8 simply because I was the only one smiling like a dork so I figure any advantage I can take in dressage right? Plus maybe it’s supposed to help you be less tense?) which become more and more fake with every step we took lol. I think eventually it was just a rictus as I desperately tried to half halt without alerting the judge, unsuccessfully of course. We did a lot of the test “above the bit” (who wants to guess the number of times that or similar comments came up on our score sheet) with very little bending or lateral movement.

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“YOU GAVE ME A LONG REIN THAT MEANS WE’RE DONE STOP TOUCHING MY MOUTH”

Our test at Southlands in June was bang-on for accuracy which I was super proud of and hoped to replicate, but the ignoring of my leg aids prevented that from happening this time. There was a lot of falling in and skimping on the corners. By the time we finished our first canter circle I just wanted to be done with the whole thing because it wasn’t really improving.

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A decent transition actually

The major saving grace was that I fricking nailed our final centreline for the salute instead of weaving all over the place like a drunk.

nailedit

I was extra disappointed because my coach was there to see us bumble, and I really did want to impress her or at least show her that her coaching has not been in vain. The hardest part is probably just that we poured so much time, money and energy into dressage lessons since that is our weakest element, and it came out as if we hadn’t bothered. Our lessons and even our warm ups are so nice… we just need to translate that into the test ring. I also know how talented Vesper is and always want her to show off her abilities to their best extent, which wasn’t happening in that little white box. However my coach filmed the ride and on camera it doesn’t actually look as bad as it felt, unless you’re the judge and she didn’t miss a thing. You can watch it below:

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I didn’t realize how much her canter had improved until I watched this video… She’s way more uphill than she ever used to be!

Once I was done mildly grieving, I focused instead on getting to spend the rest of the weekend doing all of “the fun stuff”, which is probably the best part of doing dressage first… You can forget about it once you’re done and just have all the fun.

Vesper got to hang out at the trailer and eat while I walked my XC course, accompanied by my momma. It’s the first time that I have done XC before stadium, since everywhere else has always set it up to go D > S > XC. XC is our best element of the 3, so it was nice going from a lukewarm dressage test into something we kick ass at.

I had been warned by a friend in a different division, who had walked her course the previous night, that this one was really technical, which seems to be the norm for this location. It historically has been the most difficult of courses that I have ridden around our area. This year was definitely technical, but looked really, really fun. Oh boy.

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Sneak preview of my second favourite combo in the entire course

After walking the course (which takes about a million years on foot PS), I hung around for about an hour waiting for our test score sheet, but it never did arrive and I was falling asleep on my feet. The energy output on show day is enormous, yo. We were sitting in 16th of 25 riders on our dressage score; ouch much, considering at our last show we walked away with senior dressage high score. But whatever, it was over and done with.

We headed home on our lovely 15 minute drive and Vesper was tossed out to be the usual plough beast in her field while I swapped tack in the trailer for the next day’s jump necessities. By the time I got home it was really early afternoon, and I crashed in bed for a 2 hour nap which was so much better than going to work.

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Me after a horse show, even just dressage

I picked up my score sheet the next day, and those of you who guessed “lots” to the comments on my score sheet would be correct. This judge is apparently on the tougher side though so it’s really to be expected, although I really appreciated her tips in the comments section on how we could improve.

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I don’t know if we’ve ever had 5’s on anything before… BOOM check that 8 at the bottom though
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I’m fairly certain that every single score sheet I have has “nice pair” as the first comment lol. That’s something!

I think in future, if (lol) half halts are needed in the test, I’m just going to go for it even if it’s not pretty or subtle. I’ve had this idea in my head that you can’t correct the horse in the test for fear of… I don’t even know, not looking pretty? Disrupting the flow? Being considered a horse abuser? I’d rather help Vesper focus even if it means interrupting us for a moment so that we can proceed forward stronger.

Honestly though, watching the test back has helped me see it in a more positive light, and we’re just going to keep practicing as usual. Next up, XC day! Stay tuned for the hairy situation where I tried to pull a Beezie-esque slice at a 3′ log pile.