Saturday, May 29, 2010

Massage Day

Katchi had a massage yesterday from Courtney at Hands on Horses - this was his second massage and he has definitely figured out what it's all about! Last time, he made all kinds of silly faces, - twisting his head, chewing, licking, yawning, showing his teeth - so, this time I brought the video camera to katchi some of his clown faces. But, he just went straight to sleep! He was totally mezmorized. Didn't make for a very exciting video, so I tried to put some music in the background to make the 2 minute clip a little more exciting.
Advisory: only watch the video if you really like horses. They don't do much when they sleep!

Katchi's fat leg looked much better yesterday! I rode him lightly for about 20 minutes, and hope to do the same today. Have decided against taking him XC schooling on Monday with a group of students, and I'm still taking plans for Rubicon day-by-day. Fingers and hooves crossed that we'll see everyone out there next weekend!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Go USA! We've got Silva!

In case you all aren't checking Boyd & Silva Martin's Blog... Silva was sworn in as an American yesterday!!! At my lesson a month ago, she said she was studying for the test - which pretty much, no US-born American could possibly pass! When I saw her this week, she said she passed the exam with a 100%! As if she wasn't impressive enough, that's impressive!

On Tuesday, Katchi was still not up for work (fat leg), so he stepped aside to let me ride my student Adrianne's horse, Tori, take his place. Tori said she went to hell again. She went to hell the first time when she met Boyd a few months ago. I wonder what she would think if she saw the two of them together! Actually, horses are really happy with Silva. They work hard, but they understand, they're confident, and they know she's happy with their progress. And they sleep really well the night after a lesson with Silva (I do too!).

My new student, Kerry, also took her horse, Atticus, for their first ever dressage lesson! Not only did Kerry survive, she really enjoyed it and says she wants more! And she looked pretty darn good too! We might make a dressage rider out of her yet (or at least an eventer!). Atticus hasn't decided if he wants more of this dressage stuff yet. I can only imagine the conversation between Tori and Atticus on the trailer ride home. I suspect there were a lot of nasty 4 letter words!

Okay, I can't help it - I poached a picture of Silva from their blog. Eventing Nation also posted a really nice "welcome to America" note to Silva (complete with instructions on how to be a real American which are quite funny!).

On this Memorial Day weekend-eve, I'm so happy to welcome Silva to America (and hopefully to our dressage team one day) - have a great holiday weekend y'all!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Art, Science or Hallucinogenic Drugs??

Have you ever walked a XC course and thought "what the $%*!@ was the course designer thinking?!" Have you ever heard the name of a jump and thought "Where the $%*!@ did they come up with that?!" Is course design an art, a science, or the result of a trip on hallucinogenic drugs?? This weekend, I had a glimpse into the world of XC course design as a participant in the USEA's 'r' course design training program, held at the Virginia Horse Center.

Negotiating with the rain gods for a few more minutes of dry time on the course.

If only we could all be so lucky as to have such beautiful land to decorate with XC jumps!

The USEA put together an outstanding 3 day training program for 21 of us budding-course designers. Some of us were more wannabe's than others (I definitely fell in the wannabe category) - and we came from far and wide... My 3 hour drive was easy compared to those who came from Ontario, Michigan, Oregon, Minnesota... It was comforting to learn that all over the US (and Canada!) there are others who suffer from the same affliction I do - constant obsessive sighting of perfect materials for XC fences!

On Friday night, we started the training weekend with a "classroom lecture" from the weekend's master course designer... Tremaine Cooper. While sipping our adult beverages at the local Southern Virginia Ruby Tuesday (wow. Apparently I've lost my ability to understand the southern accent, because I couldn't understand a damn thing those waitresses were saying, y'all.) - we enjoyed general discussions about the fat stack of rules, guidelines, and drawings we received as well as a few curious stories about course design to "inspire" us for the challenges that lay ahead - like a crow that ate a hole in a poly log! (these are the new Styrofoam-like breakable logs which cost about $500).

On Saturday morning - we hit the courses at the Virginia Horse Center! We spent about 2 1/2 hours walking the Prelim XC course - talking through each jump, line placement (compared to the lines for T, N, and BN which shared much of the same general track), combinations, course flow, jump shape and construction, distances, sizes, preparing horses/riders for Intermediate... For me, it was exceptionally educational! For one, it's been a long time since I've had the opportunity to walk a lower level course with someone as experienced and articulate as Tremaine. I also have not walked a full Prelim course in years (recently, I've started taking a peak at them with an eye for planning homework for Katchi, but that's quite different to really walking a course to asses how the entire thing should be ridden and will ride). After going through the Prelim course under the careful tutelage of Tremaine, he split us into groups of 3 to tackle the Training course on our own. In between rain showers, we tried to take notes on all the issues Tremaine brought to our attention during the Prelim walk. Over lunch and during a downpour of rain, we sought refuge in a pavilion and talked through our impressions of the Training level course. Many of us had issues with different things, and it was a fantastic opportunity to hash out those issues - in theory! And then we watched it ride. Huh! Some things rode better than they should have on paper. And some things rode worse than they should have on paper. And the magic question - WHY? Now we were really getting someplace in our training process! The debates carried on into dinner, drinks, and more drinks. The answer to the question "where the $#*!@ did the course designer come up with that?" started to become clear - it's in the tequila.
A curious earth mound jump on the Prelim course.

Note quite a PhD dissertation defense, but close! Finding just the right flow to a course may be more art than science - but, then again... maybe it's all in the physics!

On Sunday morning, we headed across the road to the XC fields that had been used on Saturday for the FEI courses. Tremaine divvied up the land so that groups of 4 each took a grid square to "build" something on (with orange flags, graph paper, and an unlimited imaginary budget!). After just over an hour of planning, we had to present (defend) our plans to the rest of the group (and Tremaine, of course!). Luckily, we all took to heart Tremaine's advice on the first day - don't try to be too clever! And, very interestingly, each group came up with a different question - we had (imaginary) complexes with a corner, coffin, banks, steps, and jumping into space. We talked through our vision, considering things like material available, the effort required to move earth, setting jumps with the flow of the terrain... It was a fantastic exercise that forced us to get creative and make decisions - which can be quite a bit harder than simply critiquing the existing work of someone else.

Just before yet another downpour, we managed to squeeze in some time flying a couple of trucks around the FEI courses to take a closer look at the coffin, bank, and water complexes. Wow! I'm pretty sure my one-star, way back when, was just as hard, but my eye sure has a long ways to go before those jumps look doable again! We ended the day watching the BN horses tackle their course - actually, those guys may have gotten into the tequila too, because straight lines were not so much out there! Wobble this way, wobble that way... It really made you appreciate the importance of considering the lack of steering in a BN horse when you design a course for them - if you think they can steer around anything - they can't! :)

Our fearless teacher, Tremaine Cooper.

Thank you to the USEA (especially Nancy Knight and Tremaine Cooper) for putting together such a great weekend!

So, after soaking up all the course design knowledge I could, now it's back to reality. Meanwhile, back at the ranch... I found Katchi on Thursday morning with a fat leg. I iced it heavily Thursday morning and evening, and Friday morning too. Then my wonderful new friend Kerry took over with Katchi's physical therapy for the weekend! Last report is that the leg looks almost normal, which, no doubt, is the direct result of Kerry sacrificing her weekend to repeated Katchi icings while I was off playing with orange flags and tequila! I definitely got the better end of that deal! When I let Katchi go in the field on Wednesday morning, he bucked and racehorse galloped across the entire field (he had been in for 2 days on account of storms), so I pretty much know the idiot did it to himself in the field. I really had the feeling it was nothing major, just a little sprain, but I will reassess where we stand tomorrow morning. It's such a terrible feeling to discover the dreaded "fat leg" right when you're getting started with all your plans for the year. But, hopefully with 4 days off, Katchi can go back to light work tomorrow - still 2 weeks until Rubicon, so we're not out of the game yet...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A weekend of beautiful things!

The NEW dressage saddle is in - and it's beautiful!!! Kitty, the L'Apogee rep, came out on Saturday to check it out. It passed inspection, and I wrote a check to seal the deal. I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the sun oiling it! Oh I love it! It's buffalo on the sides and calf on the seat - and so so beautiful!
I rode in it on Wednesday morning before heading off to California. I wasn't sure what to do about stirrup leathers (wanted to keep the option of returning it if it didn't fit), so I just decided to ride without the leathers on at all! Getting up was a bit of a trick, and Katchi was (once again) pretty sure I'd lost my mind. But, after I managed to climb into it, oh was it lovely! We went around and around in the sitting trot - doing leg yields and shoulder-in, with canters thrown in here and there - until my leg cramped so bad I had to quit!! Katchi is a natural leg mover - not a back mover. So, the sitting trot is not my friend - it's just so hard on him because he really doesn't support you through his back. But, wow, he's a different horse now! I cannot wait for my next lesson with Silva!

I was eventually able to tear myself away from staring at my new beautiful saddle, and I headed over to enjoy some good food and drinks with some great friends - watching the Preakness and Rolex. What fun! I love eventing! Aside from great coverage of amazing horses and riders - I was really impressed with NBC's coverage of Oliver Townend's fall. It wouldn't have been right to ignore that it happened - and I really hope their portrayal of the breakable log and the air vest, and the interview with Oli afterwards showing that he and horse were just fine - I do hope this helps the credibility of our sport. I hope.
And today, I ended the weekend on a lovely note with a trip to a little jumper show just down the road. A new student, Kerry, came home with 2 ribbons from both her classes - as did Katchi! Trying to address some of our show jumping issues, I dropped Katchi down to a 2'9" and a 3' class - and he was great. It wasn't perfect, but it was very good. And, as a consequence of the carnage of other riders (falling off, crashing through jumps, and general mayhem...) - Katchi ended up with a Reserve Champion ribbon too (I'm pretty sure they calculated it wrong, but I was too tired to argue that we didn't deserve the ribbon!). Both Kerry and I had great days for our goals, and we were quite happy to have earned a few ribbons along the path. And we discovered that both our horses are crazy! They are kings of funny faces and puppy dog eyes - it was like having a comedy show set up right at my trailer! We spent most of the day just sitting around, being entertained by our clowns!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Horses - they're in my genes

This has been a tough week. As it turns out, I'm really glad that I decided not to enter Fair Hill this weekend. My grandmother passed away a week ago today, on Friday. I just got back from a 24 hour trip to California for the services, and I'm definitely in no mind to be competing at Fair Hill this weekend. Some things just knock the wind out of you. This was one of those things.

I'm pretty sure I can blame my horse addiction on my Granny. She caught the horse bug as a kid, living on her parent's Michigan farm. The affliction was passed to my mom, who passed it to me. Incurable and wonderful. My mom told me that as a kid, my Granny saved her money for months and months to send away for some "horse training" books - which, apparently turned out to be nothing less than crap. She was heart-broken. But, undeterred to train her horse to do something neat, she just had to figure it out herself! He would bow, and climb up a rock. Not exactly dressage, but not too bad for a little girl without any help!

Below is a picture of my Granny on a horse when she was probably about 18 years old. Of course, I should yell at her for not wearing a helmet! But I suppose it wouldn't be fair to yell at her for something she did in the 1930's when helmets weren't exactly the "in" thing anyhow! But, I will give her credit - the lady looked good on a horse!

This next picture is of Decker, me & my Granny in about 1992, when my grandparents came out to Three Day Farm to watch me compete Decker in one of our first USCTA (pre-USEA) horse trials. It's always good to have fans!

And this last picture was taken in 2000 when my Granny and I took a trip to Egypt! I guess we never went horseback riding together, but we went camel riding across the desert. Well, actually, she went camel riding - I wouldn't describe mine as a "ride" - it was more like an epic battle between hairy camel beast and pissed off girl. I really don't know who won.

I'm hoping this weekend will put some wind back in my sails. The L'Apogee rep is coming out to the barn tomorrow to check out the fit of the NEW dressage saddle! And afterwards, I'm getting together with some fellow eventing fans to watch the Preakness and Rolex hi-lights show! AND on Sunday, Katchi and I are headed to a little jumper show with a student. I'm hoping this will be just the right mix of a low-key and fun weekend to jump start my enthusiasm again.
I miss you already, Granny.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Lovin' Loch Moy

Spring (and almost summer!) is here, and it's so great to be back at all my favorite competition sites! Yesterday I spent the day coaching 2 students at Loch Moy's spring unrecognized horse trials. I don't remember signing any human-experiment release forms, but I'm pretty sure the Air Force set up a wind tunnel testing ground on the Loch Moy property yesterday. It was unbelievable - but, in fine Loch Moy fashion, they were well prepared! The dressage arenas were decorated with (horse-eating monster) sandbags holding down the fences and letters. Nothing like a bit of Spanish Riding School "airs above ground" in a tadpole dressage test! I could not have been more proud of both my students (and their horses!) for really holding it together under those conditions! Debi's Roxanne earned a compliment from the judge for Debi's efforts despite Roxanne's "bag resistance!" Ah, so that's the technical dressage term for a .5 second panic every 10 strides when a sandbag was encountered?! After watching Debi's "bag resistance" (which still put her in 3rd place after dressage!), I sent my second student, Adrianne, to sniff sandbags during her time to ride outside the arena! Funny that she was the only one I saw all day to do this! Interesting to see how people are afraid to do anything but the "normal" just before going into the ring. Our unique final warm-up prep really paid off as Adrianne put in a winning dressage test - comfortably leading their Beginner Novice division of 13 riders!

Both Debi and Adrianne were stellar in their jumping rounds. They're really learning to ride their own unique horses - and, among other things, it's paying off with huge smiles at the end of the day! Adrianne led from start to finish - and came home with a pretty blue ribbon! Check out the picture below of Tori accepting her ribbon - proof of the wind tunnel experiment. Debi tackled (and beat!) some personal demons yesterday in both show jumping and XC - despite a few SJ faults on the scoreboard, it was a huge victory for her yesterday. We all have ups and downs with horses, but as a coach, it is a wonderful feeling to be a part of someone's hard work when it starts to come together for them - we were all hootin' and hollerin' at the XC finish line!

During the downtime yesterday, I spent a little while walking around the XC course - refreshing my memory and thinking about my plans for Katchi before Loch Moy's July horse trials. I was so excited to find some new work they've been doing on the course - all since Snowmageddon melted! They're working on new bank steps and, what appears to be, a double ditch "complex." I talked to Carolyn about them and she said Tremaine Cooper (their course designer) has been working like crazy to have them ready for the July events! I snapped a couple of pictures to show the construction work. Hopefully you can see enough to get the idea of what's to come in July! WOO HOO!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Katchi wins "light" blue!

Did you know that a 10th place ribbon is light blue?! I love my 10th place ribbon!

I was so tickled with Katchi at MCTA yesterday, even if the scoreboard looks less than fabulous. Jimmy always says, "any number is better than any letter", and after letters at the last 2 events (WD at Loch Moy last October, due to vet issues I wasn't cleared to jump but couldn't get any money back so just rode dressage; and the infamous hind-boots R at CDCTA) - I was super happy to have a number this time around!

A dressage friend of mine just shared this with me: Good, better, best...never let it rest until good is better and better is best.

We have work to do for better is best, but the good was great and the bad was less bad and less often. That definitely means we're headed in the right direction.

Katchi sat in 3rd after dressage - I came out of the arena laughing at how all the lengthenings seemed to fall on the downhill side of the arena! Each direction, and the diagonal! All downhill! Is that even physically possible - where is a topographic map when you need one?

Show jumping was my demon for the day. And watching horrendous ride after horrendous ride did not settle me. Thank you to Sharon White and Jennie Brannigan for actually having nice rides before my round - I needed those more than they did! In passing, Sharon told me not to worry, the course was perfect for me - "know it, ride it, live it." 3 rails down was not exactly fabulous - but 3/4 of the course jumped perfect. Now to just fix that other 1/4 - but, in watching the video, even the ugly wasn't that ugly. What a relief.

And then it was XC time - woo hoo! Katchi hasn't run a XC course since September, and he must have been the happiest horse at the event! He was a dream, in everything except where he wasn't! Those stupid 1-stride stone walls were just about as icky as I thought they would be (but I did not end up slammed against the second one!) - yes, I did a quick circle to gather ourselves up before heading into the line. Didn't help. I know I scared the jump judges. We very nearly took out the flags on the right. But, good boy Katchi for being so honest - putting 2 strides into a short 1 stride (AGH!) and still managing to jump the jump. No hope of going prelim until we get that kind of crap under control, but at least he was honest and gave it a go. And I wasn't wrong about the huge green produce stand (pictured in post below) - Katchi thought it was huge too! At 4 strides out, I suddenly felt like I was on a cutting horse. Apparently the grass path both to the left and right of the jump looked like much better options to Katchi. He cut to the right in one stride. Then he cut to the left on the next stride. And I just sat right in the middle, trying to channel Lucinda Green's tube wrapping my legs, knees, seat, hands and eyes, right around Katchi and tunnelled him right to the jump in the last 2 strides. And he jumped it beautifully! Katchi was such a dramatic baby at the log into the water - I think he felt a bit silly when he realized how simple it was. But, that's okay - he went. The best jump on the course for us were 2 logs on a bending line through a very narrow gap in the trees - the first was up hill, then the ground cut away hard to the right downhill - to a big fat log, landing downhill too. Couldn't have ridden better - Lucinda would have been so proud! And then I had a bobble at the trakahner which cost us 20. Katchi jumped the ramp coming up to it great, but I just didn't have enough time to get the canter I should have had for the trakahner. I really thought the log was so big that he wouldn't see the ditch and he'd just go. I should have known better - he saw it and stopped. He took a good look, decided it was okay, and almost went from a stop. I told him no, lets go around and do this better than scrambling over the top. He jumped it on the second go without batting an eye. Shame on me for not giving him the ride he needed there. Katchi was perfect at the turning bank complex, and galloped home a star in my eyes, even if the scoreboard didn't give him the fame he deserved.

As a consolation, I was thrilled to learn that Abby of the Sandpiper Diary won our division! She was stunned that she won with 2 rails down in show jumping - but that just goes to show how much the rest of us mucked up! No win is ever undeserved, and I was thrilled to see the real blue ribbon go to someone who has been working so hard. Honestly, I think Katchi and I were just as happy with our light blue ribbon! Now its back to work until good is better and better is best!

And a huge thank you to Kerry, my groom for the day who kept Katchi and me well hydrated and as cool as possible - although that wasn't very possible. Wow, it was HOT. What happened to all that snow we had this winter??

Saturday, May 1, 2010

MCTA Course

A short (2 min) MCTA Training Level Course Video

Inspired by Eventing Nation's Rolex coverage last week, I decided to take a couple of video clips during my course walk today (yes, I realize the "squirrels" are actually chipmunks). Overall, I think the XC course looks quite good. I'm really anxious to see what my fellow blogger, Abby, posts about it on her blog (Sandpiper Diary)! But, for me, after the last time out, it's one phase at a time. I watched some horrendous Prelim show jumping rounds today, which didn't exactly help my own confidence. I really do think it will be fine, but even more than that - I don't want it to be icky!

Below is a picture of one of the jumps that looks awful big to me! I know it can't be any bigger than maximum height, but there's something about this one that just looks enormous to me!