Show recap, Uncategorized

Day 2: XC recap

Let’s get to the really fun part!

Saturday afternoon post-stadium was the course walk, which was quite enjoyable as I had the run of the field almost to myself. I took a brief detour on my route to have my photo taken with the jump I played over a couple of weeks ago (see below video) – turns out it’s a prelim one! I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time.

It did not look this big from horseback. Someone lock me away for my own safety

My own (much more reasonably-sized) course consisted of lovely ramps, barns and logs that were inviting with just a hint of a challenge.

#6 was one of the more intimidating ones as it was wider to the left than on the right side, and we both drift left

Now, I had a bit of a brain fart when I came to jump #16:

What I didn’t notice was that it was labeled on the other side as Training’s #14 (I discovered this 2 days later, derp) – all I saw at the time was this absurd reverse-angled ramp that made no sense, with the world’s biggest ditch on what would have been the landing side for me. Thanks to this jump, I spent the rest of the evening rather stressed, worrying that we wouldn’t have enough stamina to navigate this one so deep into our course, not to mention the expected rain all evening and on Sunday. I went to bed with the decision that, as we were sitting at 12th place, I would have a nice safe XC ride and just enjoy it at a bit of a slower pace. I figured that, even if we nailed our optimum time (4:33), we’d never come anywhere near a ribbon, so I made my peace with that.

Sunday dawned without the dreaded rain. In fact, the sun slid in and out of the clouds as I loaded Vesper up after a nice sleep in, and I felt a little more hopeful for our day. Unfortunately, I slept in a little too long, and arrived with only 40 minutes until my ride; and, inevitably, they were running ahead of schedule. Nothing stresses me out quite like being strapped for time.

My mom showed up to cheer me on, and I feel awful because I was in such a rush to tack up and get warmed up that she definitely didn’t receive a lot of welcome from me (I’m really sorry Mom, you’re the best <3). I literally stepped into the warm up ring, got called over for tack check, they recommended I head to the starting gate ASAP and I got 1 lap of canter and 1 jump each direction. 0/10 recommend doing it this way. Did I mention unicorn? She knows her job; she knows how to XC better than the pros; I just steer.

I had exactly zero seconds of prep before they counted down from 15 and we were off!

The first thing I noticed was that Vesper was really responsive – I wouldn’t quite use the word “quiet”, but she’s never been so easy to rate on the XC field before. I expected her to launch out and grab the bit which is sort of her usual state of affairs, but this time I actually had to ask her to step out in her stride a bit, as I wanted to attack the first log. After that, I tested my brakes a bit and she came back to me immediately. She was shockingly easy to rate, and so from that point on we settled into a nice, light gallop that was easy to adjust as needed. None of this “dang where did I put that e-brake” like we usually have. Either she has way more confidence in my abilities these days, or she was tired from day 1.

It was a delight to go forward to our jumps and I felt like we were really meshed as a team. Each fence was confident and almost (dare I say it) easy. The mildly-worrisome #6 came nicely in stride, resulting in another boost of confidence. The grass was not as slick as I was concerned about, and around jump #5 the sun came out completely! I’m pretty sure I really started grinning then.

#7 lead us over the dyke (and past a very large, very random, very dead fish – you’ll hear me exclaim about it in the video if your sound is up!) and down a sandy track which I planned to trot through; it would give Vesper a breather and reduce our slipping hazard on such a sharp turn and descent. We probably eased back a bit too much at this point, but the ground was mucky and I don’t regret playing it safe.

A couple more jumps to a fun little up/down combo, a long angled line to a big log which lead us almost straight into the water splash. Vesper loves the water and plows right in. Except this time, apparently! They chemically treat the water to make it a striking blue/green colour, and I think it threw her a bit, because she hit the brakes pretty hard and almost unseated me before she took her sweet time at jogging through the giant puddle. I was embarrassed on her behalf.

Up over the dyke we had to go again, and the dreaded jump #16 was on the other side. I was gritting my teeth, gathering all my bravery as we crested the dyke, ready to kick forward to that monster fence that didn’t belong in my division… I glanced over to check my line, and lo and behold! They had removed the ramp. Jump #16 was now: simply a ditch. Talk about deflated balloon. I wanted to laugh but I was too busy trying to keep breathing. Guess who hit the pause button again at the ditch. Guess who never pauses at ditches. Guess who almost fell off because she was in jumper seat, not eventer seat. That would have been embarrassing on my behalf.

After overcoming such a letdown of a fence, the rest of the course was peanuts. #17 was a basic drop bank, bending line to the last 2 fences. We hit our OT (4:33) between the last 2 jumps, so I knew we would get time penalties, but I was so happy with our safe and successful ride that I didn’t even mind. Even playing it super safe with way more trotting than I ever planned, we clocked in at about 5 seconds over OT. Vesper was barely puffed, which was awesome and means that all our recent conditioning paid off.

2 of my best friends had shown up right as I was starting the course, so I had another little cheering squad for the day. Vesper got all the pats, treats and hay and I tried not to collapse while wrapping her legs. I did lie down on the grass for a minute when I was finished, my legs felt like jello. 5 minute wall squat on a running, jumping animal, yo.


I wanted to grab my dressage breakdown from the office and see if any final results were available, so we wandered over to take a look. Based on the results sheet, they had listed my time at 5:38. Hold up. That’s an entire minute slower than what I clocked myself at. It had me at 26 time penalties and second-from-last place. Nuh-uh. I mentioned it to the girls at the desk, who agreed that for a clear round it was way off, unless I had been trotting the entire thing. They told me to check back once they had a chance to confer with the time marshals on the field.

We hung out for a bit, and came back in time to see the office manager posting new results for my division: my updated time was 4:38, a much more appropriate 2 time penalties and 8th place! That was quite a jump from 12th. I was fairly certain that ribbons only went up to 6th, but when I checked, the office manager corrected me that ribbons were given up to 8th place! Insert many exclamation marks. I was floored. I may have almost cried. Almost.

Look at this massive beautiful rosette
What a poser

Placing at my very first full event was really the cherry on the top for the weekend. Part of me wished I had pushed our XC time a bit more, but overall I’m really glad I chose the safe route. I know now for the future about how V handles that type of footing, and I’ll be better prepared for our next one.

Queen of my heart

Just like last year, I came out of this event ready for more. In fact, I gave the Training level jumps a solid side-eye, and I am fairly certain that we could have a go at those next season… 😉

“COOKIES. NOW.”
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Show recap, Uncategorized

Day 1: Dressage & stadium recap

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

At about 5:45am on the day of the show, I decided it would be prudent to double check that I’d learned my dressage test correctly. It’s a good thing I did, because it turns out I had missed an entire 20m circle when I learned and practiced it this past week. Who does that? Ah well, we can shove a circle in there no problemo. We aren’t going to be winning on our dressage score anyway, am I right?

Circles, shmircles.

Now, Vesper’s mane has been growing back since February or March when I roached it, and it is just long enough to braid now – however, I came within inches of roaching it all off again Saturday morning as I struggled to create adequate button braids. I had put in the basic braids Friday night to get most of it done, because I do not enjoy stressing over details like braids on the day of a show, but left the buttons to Saturday morning because sleep is important to me. However, Vesper still has a permanent bald patch which makes half of her braids very thin and the other half draft-thick. Gross. I gave up after putting like 6 elastics in each one, and accepted that they would look far less than adequate – they only had to survive the afternoon.

This photo embarasses me deeply

I had forgotten how much I hate braiding. I had nice dreams of pretty button braids with my pearl charms, but there’s a solid chance I’ll just roach it off again and invest in a neck strap for XC instead. With a mane like hers, I’m fairly certain nice braids are a fairytale.

I was up extraordinarily early on Saturday to tidy her up and prepare for what the forecast had promised was rain and potentially thunder storms (goody). Vesper caught my buzz so she was super antsy. I fed her extra grain for breakfast to give her some bonus calories, as she would be working hard this weekend and I didn’t want her fading from hunger. She basically mugged me when she was done and then threw a small tantrum about getting on the trailer, but I always win those arguments so she knows not to push it too far these days.

It was a half an hour drive to MREC, during which I re-ran my (now correct) dressage test in my head and tried not to think about jumping a 3′ course later in the day; one thing at a time and all that. I felt pretty nonchalant about the dressage – like many eventers I’ve encountered, the dressage part is just a necessary Thing so that we can get to the XC. Not to say I don’t (sort of) enjoy dressage, but it sure pales in comparison to all of the other stuff.

The weather had threatened rain all weekend, with a side helping of thunder storms, but the reality was a semi-cloudy day with no rain and the perfect temperature of Cool Enough to Wear a Show Jacket. Trailer parking was tight when I arrived, so I found a nice spot in the very back next to the XC field with all the campers that offered lots of space to maneuver. We had about an hour and a half until my dressage test, so I went and browsed the rings to make sure I knew where to go.

Dressage moose

Warm up was pretty ‘meh’ – as per usual, I am not firm enough about asking her to use her back and work correctly from hind to front, and she was a bit spacey. We worked the transitions mostly to prevent her from anticipating and blowing through my cues, and once I felt like we were pretty solid there, we wandered over to the ring. Husband showed up around this point, as he was pretty sick and only came because he’s my contracted videographer for shows.

I definitely dig the white/black in dressage. So clean and pretty.

I was planning to watch 1 or 2 other riders ride the test to make sure I was doing it correctly, but when I arrived, the ladies at the gate asked if I was ready to just go straight in because they were running ahead of schedule. I panicked and said I could use a bit more of a warm up (white lie), and grabbed husband to get him to Google my test again to really really really ensure that I was doing the right one. Yes, actually. #backyardhack. This is what I get for not investing in a coach.

Once I had determined that I could probably ride the test with some semblance of accuracy, I returned to the ring and put on my best “I love dressage” attitude. You can watch the test below.

Vesper was really good; pretty attentive and it was very clear she knew that we were riding a test. She gets super focused; I adore her work ethic.

Dressage giraffe

Did she round for me? No, but have I spent the appropriate amount of time working on that in training? No. I was happy to just kind of do our thing without stressing about it. We did put that circle in the right spot, but it turned out as more of a ~13.7m circle than a 20m one, and I almost forgot to transition back to a trot from our last canter. MEH. I sort of had fun doing it, which was the goal at the end of the day. We’ll practice more for the next one, because she won’t be endlessly lame months in advance. And hey, I rode the whole thing in sitting trot! I definitely deserve bonus points for that, considering I had the option to post. I have been learning something from dressage apparently, because sitting trot is way easier for me to communicate with her these days.

The one time we actually looked nice

I did actually pick up my results this time, however I have since misplaced them before I was able to take a photo. We scored 52.9 – exactly 0.4 higher than our last dressage test. With pretty much the same comments, haha. Not round enough, not quite straight down our centreline, etc. But “nice pair” came up again. Overall I was fine with the result. We tied for 9th place out of the 18 riders in the PT division which isn’t devastating, considering how little prep went into this whole thing for both of us!

Now that the boring stuff was all done (dang do dressage pairs look fine, though), I was able to begin the stressfest of stadium. I hadn’t jumped a full course in… months? Good thing my horse is actually a unicorn. Some friends and family arrived to cheer me on, which was a lovely way to pass the time so that I wouldn’t be sitting and sweating about the jumping.

Guess who was not stressed? And why does she look like a moose in every photo? I swear she’s actually really pretty in person
My adorable nephew provided delightful distractions to all

We watched a couple of the bigger rounds in the grass derby ring, and I tried to reconcile my jump course with the next door sand arena, which just wouldn’t quite make sense. Suddenly, I realized that there was a distinct (and concerning) possibility that my round could be happening on the grass as well. Concerning because I have never ridden a stadium course on grass, my horse does not wear hind shoes, and the weather had definitely offered some rain the night before. Cue ulcer. It turns out everything below PT gets to play in the sand ring – I am now apparently in the big leagues and have to ride accordingly. Gulp.

Wearing a custom bonnet always makes your round go better right!

Despite all of this, I was actually feeling pretty stoked about our stadium round. I was going to ride forward, stay off her face and let her take me to the fences. I really felt that, if I could stay out of her way, we had a solid shot of actually placing pretty high at this event, because unicorn. For the first time I was not afraid of the jumps – sure they looked sizable during the course walk, but my horse handles Prelim XC without a sweat. We went into the ring confident and forward.

I challenged the first fence very aggressively for me, but unfortunately Vesper had been napping prior to the stadium round and was still not totally jazzed like I was expecting – we pulled a rail over our first fence. From that point on, it wasn’t nearly as excellent as I was hoping; she slipped multiple times in her back end, and I could tell she didn’t have the energy I was expecting and hoping for. I actually chased her into the 2 stride combo a bit, because she was backing herself off a bit and I was nervous that she would come in too quietly (I never imagined I would say that of Vesper the Mighty Freight Train). We pulled another rail going into the last line, and then I goofed our distance to the final fence which popped me out of the tack and left us with an ugly last jump, which wasn’t my favourite way to end the ride. I was really disappointed, to be honest. We could have absolutely killed it, but it ended up being sort of an average ride for us. We came away with 8 faults which pushed us into 12th place.

That being said, it was the most confident, forward round I’ve ever ridden and I did not have even a smidge of anxiety, even when our distance was off. That in itself is probably my greatest accomplishment of the entire weekend! It didn’t feel like much of a challenge, when a few months ago 3′ was like Puissance height to me. Somehow, somewhere, I have overcome a barrier that has limited me for as long as I can remember, and I finally feel like I am moving forward and achieving what I’ve always wanted to in my riding. I’m going to give Vesper most of the props for that, and my first horse Chester gets some too. Vesper has developed me into a confident rider despite all of my shortcomings, and I feel like the sky is the limit with this mare.

#baybae

After taking care of Vesper, I walked my XC course so that I wouldn’t have to arrive at the crack of dawn on Sunday. I’ll save that for the next post.

I packed up and took Vesper home, spending most of the drive fighting sleep. I don’t know if I’ve ever been that tired. I napped like a boulder once I got home and went to bed ridiculously early so as to be semi-refreshed for XC on Sunday. I spent much of the evening stressing about the footing (it was raining a bit and more was expected for XC day) and how Vesper had been slipping on the mostly-dry grass of the stadium – as well as jump #16 which you’ll get to see shortly. I decided that, even if we killed it in XC, we’d never come close to placing, so I would just enjoy a nice, safe ride without aiming for a ribbon. We’d take it easy and I would just have a good time.

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Hunter pace

With a week to go until The Event, I’ve been in very short shrift of jumps for far too long – a couple of months, in fact. We had lots of jumps at the last barn, but couldn’t use the arena due to the footing – and Vesper was coming back into work with slow conditioning, which made jumping more difficult than usual. Since moving barns, we have an abundance of poles, but no jump standards to hold them (yet – it’s a work in progress).

Poles for days

When the local hunt club posted on FB that they would be holding a hunter pace at the local XC park, I cleared my schedule because “XC practice and gallop conditioning!” I rode Vesper in a drag hunt with the club last year and absolutely loved it (non spoiler: so did she), and I’ve never participated in a pace before, so I was stoked.

Also clearly stoked

I was expecting it to be very busy, and was running behind in the morning, but as they had an hour between registration time and the posted start time, I figured we’d be fine. We arrived 10 min behind schedule (hours late in my reckoning) to only find about 4 other riders there, and they were still getting​ the registration papers organized. 

It was a super casual atmosphere, and the team running it is very friendly. More riders trickled in to swell our ranks to about 21 by my last count, and there were many first timers at either a pace or a hunt event in general. 

A smidge of our XC park

For those who are unfamiliar with a pace, it (or this one specifically) is set up similarly to a XC event: natural obstacles and a course are laid out, and an optimum time posted. The rider closest to the optimum time (either over or under) is the winner. This one had no obstacles over 0.9m which was perfect for me, as I’ll be competing at Pre Training in a week, which has fences up to 0.91m. They were almost exclusively logs of varying sizes, with one bank drop, a water question and an optional coop. Nothing new to us, except the bank had some larger options that I hadn’t ridden before.
We had the option to either ride the course as an individual or as a team of 2 or 3, but I chose to ride individually as I didn’t want to deal with my Dragon also trying to win a race against a teammate.

The whole group began with riding the course at a walk/trot (no obstacles yet) so we wouldn’t get lost on course. The horses were having a field day (ha) working in a group – it’s amazing to be in the middle of a herd of snorting, prancing horses eager to let loose and run, working as something of a team. Lots of nostalgia for when I galloped TBs at school. It’s marvelous to see them enjoying themselves so much. Inevitably, Vesper got excited and wanted to gallop the whole thing – halfway through the “course walk” my arms were exhausted from her pulling on me, she was huffing and sweaty already. I wasn’t sure if I would survive our actual run. She’s so excellent in a group, though, I was infinitely proud of her – no biting, no ear pinning, no kicking… Probably because she was so busy focusing on trying to run away from me.

“What is she talking about I was sleeping the whole time”

The first division was “novice” for riders who wanted the obstacles to be optional and a slower pace. Their OT was 12:00. We chilled for about 45 min before they were all finished and our “advanced” division started (jumps not optional, OT of 10:00). When I heard our OT, I almost laughed out loud. We would have to jog most of the course to come in around that time, as Vesper has a huge, ground-eating stride even at a casual lope. Still, I wasn’t particularly fussed about placing, I just wanted to have fun.
I went near the end of the individual riders in our division – I got the impression that there were 10-15 riders in the advanced group? It was hard to say though, as many of them came back to ride in a team. I let Vesper warm up into a canter and quickly allowed her to stretch out into a nice gallop, because going forward has long been my biggest weakness and I am slowly overcoming it. For the first time, I had not an iota of anxiety about it, either!

Jumps 1-3 were on the first hill, which is a bit screwy for seeing my distances, but facilitates a nice forward pace and as they were simple log verticals that probably maxed out at 2’6, I wasn’t concerned (um, that in itself is a big deal). #3 had an option of a weird line to an optional coop which we’ve jumped before, so I definitely took that one for fun. Then followed a looonnggg gallop down and around the perimeter of the xc field, looping up and down a few times. Vesper was surprisingly easy to rate, possibly because she was getting tired as we came back up the long incline. I also didn’t maintain a choke hold on her either, but let her motor along a bit because somehow I have developed trust in my unicorn and I’m no longer anxious about losing control. Next was a couple of smallish logs, and the bank drop. We trotted in as cool as can be, I slipped my reins like a pro and we took the second biggest option because I was feeling like a boss. Next time I’ll brave the bigger one, which has a small vertical on the edge of the drop. I wasn’t 100% confident yet in my ability to sit that kind of impact.

By this point, we were only about 5:00 in and were about 3/4 done. I don’t math, but I knew we would be coming in around 6-7min if I didn’t drop us down to a jog. I considered continuing on at a gallop just for the enjoyment, but my competitive side had kicked in and I wanted to win (they had saddle pads as 1st place prize). So I brought V down to a trot and we finished the course thus. A couple of small ramps, a ditch and the water splash were all that was left, and we finished at 8:26 walking across the finish line, hah. Vesper was puffed, but I felt great and had no knee problems, which has been a distinct concern recently.

It turns out that we came in 3rd place, but the winner was disqualified for missing some jumps, which bumped us up to 2nd place – and we won a scarf!

I love winning stuff, and I REALLY love scarves. Especially adorable horsey ones. ❤

A cherry on the top of a fun, confidence-boosting day. I came away totally stoked for my horse trial this coming weekend, feeling like I am finally a capable rider to partner with this amazing, kick-ass horse. I am so hooked on this eventing stuff (we’ll include hunting in that category), farewell to thee, hunter ring! Give me an open field and absurd obstacles any day. Riding a horse who loves it dearly is such a gift.

I may or may not have run out of gas on the drive home… We’ll leave that one for another time 😉

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This is happening, yo

Ah, the sweet burn of excitement and anxiety as it curdles in my stomach.

Past the point of no return

A friend invited me out to MREC to jump around on Saturday, as their facility is huge and beautiful and, as it’s where I will be competing in the 3 phase in T-14 days (gulp), I definitely wanted to get a look at their XC field.

MREC xc
I forgot to take photos so here’s one from Google of one of the *many* fabulous jumps

We had to stop at our old barn (which we left only a week ago, ha) to pick up Vesper’s best frenemy and my friend who leases her. Bobbi is the only horse that Vesper allows to show her any kind of sass. Bobbi is older and grumpier than Vesper, and pins her ears when Vesper goes to visit, but deep down they really like each other. Old ladies. I’m pretty sure Vesper was like ??? when we pulled into her old home and loaded up with her bestie; I probably should have given her more time to settle into her new home before screwing around with her brain like that, but I wasn’t charitable enough apparently.

Pretending to hate each other

You may recall that we played around at MREC in June at one of their H/J schooling shows, although I’ve never been there just to school on a warm-up day. I was curious to see how many people would be there, and felt a bit anxious about having to deal with “warm up ring” chaos – however I was very pleasantly surprised to find that, other than a group of 3, we were the only riders on the entire (massive) property. Talk about jackpot!
Typical Vesper couldn’t have been more chill once we started warming up… Does anyone else’s horse act more relaxed at a show or off property than at home? We should start entering some hunter classes. We played around in the jumper ring where the fences were set to around 2’3″, and when the other group came in to have a lesson, we wandered out to the XC field – it was that or the hunter ring, which was a pretty clear choice for the both of us!

They have so. many. jumps. It is eventer heaven out there. The water splash is treated to make it this absurdly blue/green that looks straight out of the Caribbean, or an aquarium, and is the prettiest thing to gallop through. They had bank jumps down into the water, log jumps of all sizes, along with every other XC question you could imagine out in the rest of the field. I zeroed in on a ramp with a brush along the top, as I’ve always wanted to jump something with brush (I once dreamed of being a steeplechase jockey, no lie) – it was inevitably bigger than anything I’ve ever jumped, but my friend basically told me to do it and she’d cheer from the sidelines, so I handed her my phone to film it and had at ‘er.

This was one of those life choices that I pondered the wisdom of as I executed it. However, my horse is basically Pegasus, and I managed not to get in her way, and she cruised over it NBD. My estimate is that it was about 3’6″? I was trembling with adrenaline after, but it was so worth it. Overcoming these huge mental obstacles is becoming a little easier every time!

After that, we basically played around over ramps, tables, weird logs and both up and down banks. I tried jumps I’ve never experienced before, because I trust Vesper infinitely out there. I have never encountered such a confident horse; she is utterly in her element on the XC field. Ears up, locked on to whatever fence I line us up to. She got us out of a couple of small mishaps where I accidentally didn’t set us up well, and I’m starting to let her pick the pace more and more.

We finished the day with a couple of 2’9″ fences back in the jumper ring. I definitely reconsidered entering PT, and dropping back down to Entry like we did last year, as I can very casually storm around Entry level stuff. However, I ended up sending in my forms putting us in PT, because I know Vesper is more than capable and I just need to trust her. I wanted a bit of a challenge, and I’m going to see it through.

Skip the small stuff

Now where did I put that ulcer medication…

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Mildly overdue

For multiple reasons, I haven’t been at all diligent in keeping the blog updated – here they are, in no particular order:

  • Vesper was lame for a while
  • Once she was un-lame, our riding was limited to the hogsfuel track so basically only fitness rides
  • I was in a play that consumed my entire existence for 4-5 weeks and rode maybe once a week if I was luckyBut look I learned how to sword fight which is totally going to translate to my riding, who are we kidding
  • We moved barns (again, UGH.)
“You look like my mother but you can’t be her because she abandoned me.”

However, now that life has settled down into some semblance of a routine, it’s worth sharing an update.

As per the last post, we confirmed that Vesper has ringbone and requires softer footing than is available in the ring at our barn. This broke my heart, because it was straight up the best barn I’ve ever been at – the folks running it treated me like a favourite niece and Vesper like their own. However, it was necessary to find a place with softer footing so that we could both stay healthy and happy in training. She loves her job too much to retire this young.

17 going on 7, yo

We found a place that is actually a chicken farm (it doesn’t stink anywhere near what most chicken farms do), and the owner rides and offers a few boarding spots. They’re on 20 acres but it’s quiet and relaxed. We have 2 outdoor arenas and 1 small indoor which is going to be a lifesaver this winter. We might actually be able to stay in training all year long for a change!

Winter ’16/’17

Vesper lives in a paddock with a shelter which is basically a huge stall. She immediately made her next door neighbor fall in love with her, because that’s how she rolls, and they’re obsessed.

She really has a thing for chestnuts. Girl likes the gingers

His name is Rio and he’s my favourite horse in the whole world. He’s this massive Warmblood who would literally climb into your lap if he could – he lives for the cuddles, and since I own a horse who hates cuddling, he and I are going to be tight.

Face-smooshing tight

They’re these ginormous dinosaur derps and I love it. Usually Vesper towers over her friends.

“My palace”


We rode today in the massive outdoor arena – it was the perfect weather. Vesper picked her “Spooky Corner” as expected.

They have a dirt bike field right next to the big outdoor, so obviously we used that space… Hello conditioning rides on ramps and big open gallop spaces!

Spoiled? You bet we are
Pole work for dayyyzz

Basically you’ll have to drag me kicking and screaming away from this barn because it has everything I didn’t even know I wanted? And the owner is so kind, and so conscientious about the care of the horses.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, the next thing on the list is a horse trial at the end of September. It’s at MREC and day 1 is dressage and stadium, day 2 is XC.

I didn’t think I would get a chance to do any kind of event this year, but I think we can pull this one off. We just need to get fit in time – Vesper jumps everything and anything, so I’m not worried about drilling jumps of any kind. If anything, it’s the dressage test we’re going to struggle with. I’ve got 20 days to get us ready for it, so if I can just stay on schedule, we’ll have a blast.

I’m still planning to run Pre-Training, although worst case I’ll put us into Entry if I’m feeling unprepared, since we killed that level last year in our 2 phase.

I did get to have a lesson with an event coach the other day, which was a great experience. I love her style, and I’m planning to keep working with her as time and money allows.

Once I get my hands on some jump standards, we are going to be golden…

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Vesper = Michael Jung’s Sam

It’s been a while! All has been extraordinarily quiet on the front because Vesper has been off work for the last 3 weeks due to another bout of lameness – this time, things were more of a mystery.

If only she could actually tell me what el problemo is

After successfully rehabbing her right hind fetlock strain back a couple of months, I was paranoid that it was cropping up again, however this time around​ she was quite sore in the front end – but still showing signs of soreness in the hind end, too (????). Of course I wasn’t able to pinpoint which leg was giving her problems (because that would be too easy), and of course it wasn’t consistent between the arena and the hogsfuel track, so she got 2 weeks rest and some bute. This turned out to not be the solution as I hoped, and so I decided it was time for a visit to the lameness specialist who comes highly recommended. If rest isn’t helping, there’s something deeper going on and not knowing what the issue is was driving me mental.

For me, not the horse
“This isn’t my stall.”

The lameness vet was a great experience – he was friendly, helpful and explained everything in a way that was easy to understand and did not make me feel like I was in his way. Their clinic uses a “Lameness Locator” which, using sensors on the poll, pastern and SI joint, collects and reports data about the horse’s movement to pinpoint lameness. Some info from their website:

The “Lameness Locator” objectively detects and quantifies body movement asymmetry in a horse using small, body-mounted inertial sensors and a hand-held tablet PC. […] Data collection is in real time and veterinarians are free to perform their usual lameness evaluation routine without distraction.

The proprietary Lameness Locator analysis uses the motion data transmitted by the sensors and algorithms developed during 18 years of gait analysis of sound and lame horse movement at the University of Missouri E. Paige Laurie Equine Lameness Program. That research used treadmills and high speed cameras to mathematically characterize normal and impaired gait.

[…]This unique set of data analysis algorithms helps to determine the affected limb or limbs, the severity of lameness within each limb and the timing of peak lameness pain within the stride cycle of each limb.

Results are then presented to the veterinarian in an intuitive graphical interface that is easy to interpret and report to clients.

“It’s a crown, not a derpy hat, peasant.”

This was super helpful for me as I still couldn’t tell where Vesper was sore; the initial finding was that she was displaying minor push-off lameness in the right hind (our previous issue from a couple of months ago), but as we delved a bit deeper, it was determined that the RH issue was compensatory for a sore right front. She was

  • mildly lame jogged on concrete in a line
  • sound on sand in a line and on a circle
  • and very lame on compacted gravel in a circle.

The data kept coming back as the right front being the issue, so we pursued that a little further. A nerve block into the foot changed nothing (the same result as our spring vet check up. This RF issue has been lurking for a while, but *only* shows up at vet checks when jogged on concrete – it’s a non-issue on softer footing), so we took x-rays.

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Arthritic changes are circled in red

Vesper has arthritis (or ringbone, what a terrifying word) in her RF pastern, which I have suspected since I bought her; with a long eventing career behind her, I’m very confident that she has arthritis in many places. After discussing our history, it was determined that the very hard, compacted footing in our arena is the cause of this lameness issue. Vesper has been comfortable at every other barn in full work, but the footing at our current barn is just too firm for her. It’s been hovering in the back of my mind since we moved there, but I hoped that she might just acclimatize to it over time.

The excellent news is that the vet (who is also an eventer, super comforting) gave her a great prognosis, saying she can go back into full work right away (on softer footing) and for as long as she is comfortable. He even said that he doesn’t see why we couldn’t do our horse trial the first weekend of September! That won’t actually be happening, because now we’re both so out of shape and I have a theatre production running this month which is keeping me absurdly busy…

I know that ringbone can be career ending if it is bad, but the vet said that Vesper’s case is minor and she’ll let me know when she’s ready to ease back. She’s getting Previcox now and we’re only working on the hogsfuel track, with the occasional trailer ride to the nearby park which has a huge hogsfuel arena. She’s totally sound on the softer footing, which leads me into the awful news: which is that we have to find yet another barn to board at. Sigh. This one is almost as perfect as you can get in our area, but the footing in the arena is just too firm.

I had written off the rest of the show season as I didn’t think we’d get back into shape fast enough, but it turns out there’s one last horse trial in October which I’m going to aim for instead of the September one. It should also be a lot cooler by then (or just more miserable if we get our usual rainy October), and it gives us enough time to get back into shape and prepped.

I was really nervous about the outcome of this vet appointment, wondering if Vesper would have to retire to a dressage or trail-only horse, but now that I know what’s going on, and have the green light from a lameness specialist, I’m feeling huge amounts of relief.

I also found out today that Michael Jung’s horse La Biosthetique Sam FBW – who is one of the top event horses in the world – is the same age as Vesper and still killing it, and that just made me so darned happy.

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Is this Michael Jung or Em Wheeler? Who knows. We both have epic bay event horses so we’re practically the same person

I love my old lady. I’m 28 and I have arthritis too, so she and I will just continue to enjoy ourselves doing what we love while popping our NSAIDs. 

loveV

Show recap

Show recap: Derby day (2 of 2)

Success! Our 2 jumper shows for the year are complete, and we will be shelving show season until our horse trial in September. I didn’t mean to end up with 2 shows on back to back weekends, but due to her recent fetlock strain I wanted to start with a really light weight show, give her a week to rest and then try something a little more difficult to allow her time to let me know if anything was off. She had hind shoes applied this past week too, which has made her a lot more comfortable on our hard, dry footing.

If you want to see last show’s review, check it out here.

I was infinitely delighted that husband promised to help me this week, and the venue was only a 15 minute drive, so I was expecting a bit of an easy day. I received my approximate start times a few days in advance and was stoked that I could sleep in. I always pack the trailer the night before so that I reduce my show day stress level by about 300%. However, we had a killer heat wave blast through the day before, and temperatures were expected to be up in the low 30s (that’s Celsius, folks) on show day. Our summers rarely hit 30°C and when it happens, we mostly just lock ourselves indoors with the A/C on high. Not crazy little me! Nope, I’m going to a horse show!

The team

I brought an extra water bucket to serve as the “dunk bucket” – hats, bandanas, shirts, fly sheet, fly bonnet all got dunked many times throughout the day, and I didn’t give a hoot how gross I may have looked with water running down my whole face. It was a wonderful way to keep V cool(er) though, as she was stuck in the sun at the trailer. I just re-soaked her Kool Coat every time it dried out, and kept her drinking water filled and cold. She got 2 squirts of cough medicine through the day as she has mild COPD and the heat/humidity makes it harder for her to come down after intense physical exertion.

Surrounded by lush grass and she’s face deep in the dried out stuff

We arranged the coolers and chairs in the horse part of the trailer to stay out of the sun (poor husband is fair and burns way too easily – he’s not even a ginger), and my mom showed up bearing the most delicious San Pellegrinos I’ve ever tasted. I may not have eaten between 9:30am and 5:30pm (too many nerves and adrenaline to eat), but I drank 2 SPs and about a lake-ful of water.

Extra chair was added when my mom arrived. I just sat on the cooler

Now, once we had settled in, I went over to check in and check out the course. They were running a bit ahead of schedule, which was wonderful, but I still had an almost 2 hours gap between my Entry (2’9) class and my Pre Training (3′) warm up class. After that it would be a very short time until my Pre Training timed class and my Training (3’3) warm up class.

Now, I peeked at the arena itself and it looked both beautiful and intimidating. It was a derby show, which means about half of the fences are cross country fences mixed in with the stadium jumps. There’s also no jump off in a derby class, which I deeply appreciate. Memorizing one course round is enough for me, thanks. Vesper is a beast in XC, but I wasn’t 100% sure how she would feel about them condensed into an arena instead of out on the big field. My casual attitude started to break down a bit at this point.

THEN I checked out my first course on paper and the rest of my confidence melted in the hot sun. I do not exaggerate when I say: every single jump that was not part of a combination (of which there were 2) was part of a roll back. That’s 9 roll backs.

I wish I had a photo of my course, but instead here’s a photo of my confidence deteriorating quickly

Guess what I’ve been telling myself to practice but somehow never do. Roll backs. Guess what we are really weak at because Vesper banks like an airplane and my outside aids aren’t great. Roll backs. Oye.

I had never ridden such a technical course before – they had a 2 stride bending line, that was practically a roll back, from a XC fence to another XC fence! – and I developed this weird pain in my abdomen that I was semi sure was me having a heart attack. I went from feeling pretty confident like last week, to feeling the most nervous I ever have for a show, which includes the 1 dressage test I’ve ridden. But we’re here, we’ve paid, and it’s got to be done!

“We have to jump WHAT?!”

Warm up was about 2 laps of trot, 1 flying change and 3 jumps – Vesper knocked down the entire first one, what an encouraging start. Good thing I know my horse really well – because it was disgustingly hot and she just knows her job so well. I check our brakes, steering and aids, and that’s about all that’s necessary.
I went in pretty quickly to my Entry class, which is awesome because I can’t sit and stew while others jump – my anxiety can’t take it. I’ll happily go first or second so I don’t have to wait too long.

I carried a whip for the first time since I bought her as I wasn’t sure what to expect with some of those XC fences. She’s never once given me a refusal, but she has bobbled in the past at jumps that look really weird. However, my perfect mare didn’t hesitate once – at the fences that looked funky, she simply backed herself off a bit so she could get a better idea of the obstacle and how to manage it. Gosh this horse is worth more than her weight in gold. We managed a lovely forward round with only a couple of not-so-pretty distances, which is a huge improvement from me chipping us in to every fence like in the past. Take a watch below on YouTube:

Entry timed class

We came away with a 4th place in this, which was pretty great as I never expect us to place in our jumper shows – usually we’re competing against ponies that blitz around like demons, or those crazy riders who take every short turn and make it look easy. I like our rounds to be effective and clean, so speed isn’t my preference. I’m perfectly happy with that! So getting a ribbon (and a fun pair of socks!) was a neat little bonus.

Swag

Then the long break between classes. I was feeling way more settled after riding a successful and strong round, so the Pre Training class wasn’t worrying me any longer. I just knew I would need to ride even more forward, and Vesper would probably need a bit more encouragement as the hot day wore on and she got bored and lazy standing around.

We hung out in the cool(ish) trailer, watched a class called Gambler’s Choice where each jump has a point value and the rider with the most points in 1 minute wins money: jumps can be ridden either direction as many times as you like. It was slightly insane but entertaining. I’m glad I didn’t enter as I have a hard enough time stressing about a set course, let alone trying to make up my own, with the added pressure of a money prize.

When it came time for my 3′ warm up round, I went in planning to really attack those jumps. A couple of them looked intimidating, but since we had jumped them all in our Entry round (albeit a.aller versions), I was feeling confident. Things went well until the second fence in the second combination, a flowery oxer, when Vesper refused for the first time since I have known her. I was planning to sit quiet and let the 2 strides happen naturally as they had in the previous class, but something threw her off and she bobbled, tried to chip in and ended up doing a sliding stop almost under the jump. I was totally shocked, but we circled around and came at it by itself and she went over it without much encouragement. I think I tapped her shoulder with the whip as I could feel she wanted to go around it. Obviously her confidence was a bit rattled. It was extraordinarily strange for my maximum-brave horse to be thrown off by a stadium oxer, even one with a few flowers. I chalk it up to us not coming in to the first fence strong enough, so she didn’t have the impulsion she needed to make the bigger fence in the 2 strides comfortably. This being a warm up class, we could do whatever we wanted so we finished up the fences I would be jumping in the timed event and nothing else fazed her.

Pre Training warm up round on YouTube

Our timed round came shortly after as I didn’t want to sit and dwell on what went wrong. I went in with a really determined plan to push for a big gallop, which only worked some of the time because old habits die hard. I fiddled too much again going into that 2 stride combo, and I could tell her confidence​ was weak, so she bobbled again, but did actually go over it this time – unfortunately we knocked the whole thing down and I lost my stirrup, but she got big praise and pats while I desperately tried to recover my balance. I reclaimed my stirrup and we rode the rest of it clean and strong, which resulted in a 6th place.

Pre Training timed class

More useful swag. Also got vetwrap but it didn’t make it home for the photo – see below

Due to the 2 issues at the same fence, I decided to scratch from our Training round. I could have gone in and just played a few of the Training jumps, since it wasn’t a judged class and was just a warm up round, but we were both knackered and I wanted to end on a strong, confident note.

A couple of freaking amazing moments

Most people had left already as the heat was brutal, and my mare gave me so much that she deserved to go home and rest. When we got back to the trailer and I was rubbing down her legs with liniment, I found this:

On both hocks

This was from when she hit the brakes and basically sat down under the jump. My poor girl, her super thick tail was hiding them or else I wouldn’t have ridden our 3′ timed round. She wasn’t at all sore, and was a great sport as I cleaned them, applied diaper rash cream (my ultimate favourite first aid item) and wrapped them to keep clean. They looked a lot less angry after being washed:

Is she telling me she wants to try reining? I say no
My 6th place prize was vetwrap, which was exactly what I needed in that moment. Bless the horse show spirits

Vesper got tucked away back home with a big hay net and dinnertime grain, and k took a shower in the wash rack under the hose held by husband. Ghetto? Probably, but I had to go straight out to theatre rehearsal from the barn and I smelled like an old gym bag full of horse hair. Ugh. It was actually very effective though, I just wore a bathing suit and flip flops and scrubbed down with shampoo. 1/1 would recommend.

It turns out that I also won braiding pearls (hoooo my inner dressage queen is squeeing!) and a hoof pick from a “name the stuffed pony” draw they were doing. Except for the one teensy problem that my horse has a roached mane and may never get to wear braids again if her mane doesn’t grow back*cue loud sobbing*.

So that’s that until Sept 1-3 when we compete in my first horse trial at Pre Training. These past 2 weekends really boosted my confidence and trust in my horse, and showed me what we need to work on between now and then. I rode with no fear in any of my classes, which is the greatest accomplishment for my riding goals, and I am going to really drill my distances as that’s something I need to fine-tune. I had so much fun, and left wanting more, which is exactly how I want to feel after every show!