Monday, October 27, 2008

Novice Championships, Fall 2008

Holly Hill is a 10 hour drive from my place west of Lubbock, TX. My SO asked me last night "Was it worth it, driving all day to go to/come back from an event?"

You bet.

I attended HH for the first time this past spring, and it was simply glorious. Big, rolling hills, clumps of trees, incredible water complex, and their signature "round bale" jumps. Last spring, the clover was so thick on those rolling hills it looked like a big, red carpet stretched over the ground. The mowed paths between jumps provided a striking contrast; it was worth the spring entry fee just to ride in that clover!

Alas, no clover for the fall horse trials, but there were some incredible new jumps, some wonderful people, great weather, and an opportunity to learn and compete in a supportive, fun environment.

First, let me howl my thanks to Bobby and Tracy Hewlett, the owners of HH; they made it a welcoming, lovely horse trial. All the volunteers were great, and overall, it's one of the friendliest I've been to.

Somehow or another, in my move up to Novice this fall at Coconino, Meadow Creek, and Greenwood I got a 4th place ribbon…which apparently qualified me for the Novice Championships. Given that I just moved up, and that I'm a weenie adult rider who lives in West TX (aka cowboy, cotton, rancher, and windmill land), that's pretty darn amazing. I figured that, since all of these folks are undoubtedly more accomplished than I was, I'd end up at the tail end of the N championship pack—and be darn proud of it.

And that's basically what happened…!

But it didn't start that way. Because I had to teach Thursday (I teach at Texas Tech), I couldn't leave until after 4—so I asked Janet Book of Willow Draw (a glorious horse facility in Weatherford) if I could overnight at her place, about 5.5-6 hours away. She graciously allowed me to, so I drove into her place about 10 pm. I turned Paycheck out into the lovely 5 acre pasture, and I hunkered down for the night in my little LQ trailer.

The next morning, we started out about 8:30, and we made it to HH at about 1 pm. Unloading and parking the trailer was easy, and I was really excited about the upcoming event. My horse and I walked about the grounds a bit, and we both enjoyed the trees, grass, and incredible weather. I had a dressage lesson with Bobo Wroe, my trainer, at about 2:45, and it was good. Paycheck was a bit stiff after the loooong trailer ride, but he was responsive.

I walked the XC course with Lea Bove and her dog. It was different from last year's course, to be sure! Last year I did BN at HH, but I also walked the N course, because I finally felt like I wanted to do those fences…that's why I decided to move up. Like Jimmy Wofford says, you need to get bored at one level before moving up…and, after three years (on as many horses) at BN, I was truly bored.

But…it was the championships! So they changed the course, added several new questions, and made it the longest course I'd done to date. The optimum time was 5:25, and there was a lot of galloping between elements, then a series of hard questions, and then more galloping/fly fences. At Meadow Creek, we found our "pace" and learned to gallop consistently over the N level table type fences, and at Greenwood I learned to put my leg on and ask him to come up and go over close questions. Now I was going to have to put it all together!

Some questions I was concerned about: we had a long gallop to a rolltop, then a quick right turn to an Irish Bank (which we'd never done!). There was an honest to goodness ditch, and you had to make a sharp right to a rolltop (they liked that question!). There was a downhill gallop to a trakhener. There were TWO water jumps, one of which asked the horse to jump out a bank up (again, we'd not done that) with a friggin' crocodile on the bank face, and one which asked the horse to jump out of the water over a log. There were also some bending line log combos, and the first part of a sunken road.

I also walked Stadium, and I was pleased to see that it was a course I could remember. For some reason, even though I'm relatively smart (uh, I have a PhD…in my case, that really DOES mean "piled higher and deeper"), my brain turns to absolute mush when I get into a SJ ring. I just can't think ahead. I've forgotten several courses this year, and I'm trying very hard to walk the course 4-5 times. I walked this one 4 times, and I didn't forget it. There wasn't anything I thought would be that difficult….and I think I was right. That is, nothing except my own mush brain!

Friday night, HH sponsored a competitor dinner that was fabulous. Lots of good food, new friends, and even some excitement as a loose horse ran through the tent, jumping over people as they sat innocently at their table….!

Day one started beautifully, and I was lucky to have an early dressage time. For once, I didn't mind wearing my coat! We had a good warm up, and I thought about taking some "courage" in the form of a swig of scotch that I keep in my trailer, but opted not to. But as I entered the arena, I thought "how WOULD I have ridden if I'd had that swig?" and tried to be happy and relaxed while still stretching up. As a result, we had a pretty darn good test!

I found out it was better than I thought: I was sitting in second place with a 39.5! In CHAMPIONSHIPS!

I was able to walk stadium one more time before getting ready. I felt like our warm up was good, and I went in thinking "we can do this!". The first jump was an easy vertical, so I concentrated on slowing down a bit and getting Paycheck "up"…and I think I was a bit too eager, for we had the first rail down. The rest of the course went really well—he jumped great because I got out of his way and didn't fuss too much. Alas, though, our rail cost us dearly; we slipped from second to sixth.

Saturday evening, the adult riders had a silent auction and they, too, sponsored a dinner. More barbeque—but what else would hungry eventers eat? Again, wonderful company and I bought some lovely hunting pictures. Then I walked Paycheck around the grounds some more, and got ready for a good night's sleep.

Sunday was another glorious day, and I realized once again that moving up from BN had HUGE benefits in terms of when I got to "go". My start time was 10:56, so the day was still cool and sunny.

I had an odd moment before getting to the warm up area. I was a tad bit early, and I wandered around in the shade of the treeline, away from most people, and stopped to enjoy the beautiful shade, day, and so forth. Then I thought "people are starving around the world….they have no medical treatment….why am I DOING this self-indulgent thing?" I couldn't really answer. I just started to think about the things that were important to me—my family, mainly, but also my horses—and hoped that doing this thing I've wanted to do since I was 9 wasn't too self-indulgent of me. I still don't know how to feel about it.

Needless to say, I entered the warm up in a quiet, contemplative mood. After warming up at walk, trot, and canter, I told Bobo that I was worried Paycheck was a bit sluggy—so she said to let him gallop. That was all it took—his blood was up! We had several really good fences, and I was ready to go.

There's nothing like that moment in the start box when the timer starts counting down: "Five! Four! Three! Two! One! Have a great ride!" We took off at a good pace, and Paycheck was up to the task of a forward, consistent rhythm. We cleared the first three fences w/o a hitch, going forward in the long galloping stretches. Fence four was a pair of offset logs that I'd walked as a four-stride, and I tried to bring Paycheck back to me…but he was "into" his rhythm…so we took the four stride in three! I laughed; he's a long horse with a long stride, so it worked.

Next was the round bale jump, which was fun, and another long gallop to the rolltop and Irish bank. I turned wide to the rolltop, and we cleared it easily, and our momentum carried us up and over the Irish Bank without a problem. Luckily, he slowed down enough so that he didn't lunge off, but "crawled" down like he was supposed to. I was feeling great!

Now we had a longish downhill run to a trakehner in a row of hedges. Should have been no problem—but I was thinking "he's been so fast, I should slow him down and get him 'up'"….well, I messed with him too much, and he stopped—saying "mom, we don't have enough impulsion to get over that now!"

Sigh. I shoulda let him go! We circled, went forward, and he was fine. Sigh. And yet I STILL hadn't learned my lesson.

We'd only done a couple ditches before, and at a trot, so I figured we'd break to the trot…but he was having none of that. So we cantered over the ditch, made a quick right turn, and sailed over the rolltop.

Then came the evil first water, the one with the bank out, and a big, scary looking crocodile on the side of the bank. I have to admit, it freaked ME out…and Paycheck wasn't sure he wanted to go in the water. So, rather than saying "yes, we're GOING", I let him slow down…and he did go in the water, but realized that we were simply too slow to pop up the bank safely. SIGH. So it was circle and take it again.

I finally learned my lesson, though; the next jump was barrels before the water, and I pushed him—then pushed him in the long water so that we'd have enough steam to make it over the big log out—which we did. The rest of the fences, including the sunken road, rode really well—because I wasn't getting in his way, and was sitting back and balancing but NOT pulling him back.

With the two stops, however, we sank down to seventh place…and I did, indeed, come in last in the championship division.

But the good news is that I learned a TON. Mostly, I learned that I need to be "with" my horse but NOT to pull him back to the point that he has no impulsion. Or, if I do need to slow him significantly, I can't let that be it—I need to PUSH then to get the job done. Sort of like I'm learning in dressage—to half halt, but also to push into contact.

Amazing how all this stuff works together!

And now that I think about it, I saw it in action when I was a fence judge for I, P, and T Saturday afternoon. Especially at I and P, when the riders brought their horse back too much before the tricky water complex, the horses had to literally crawl over the fence in the middle of the water. Hardly fair to the horse! And when they didn't "push" in the water to get a good three/four strides after the jump in, they had to "crawl" up the bank, often knocking their back legs pretty hard. I suppose they could have come in too fast, but I honestly didn't see that--I saw MANY more horses who were pulled back to the point where they had insufficient momentum to make it over the complex. Lesson learned, I hope!

Thanks again to Holly Hill for a super weekend and a significant learning experience!

About Me

My photo
I'm a former midwest farmer's daughter who has always loved horses, reading, and chocolate. Now a Texan by marriage (and employment), I am living my dream of "doing" eventing. I reached a life goal, finishing my first Training event before I turned 50, and now I'm working towards a Training Three Day Event. I've also been a fence judge at Rolex since 2005. Going to Rolex and doing eventing have always been dreams of mine; here's to dreams fulfilled!