Monday, June 28, 2010

2010 Ride for Life

Amidst this terrible heat wave and drought, the show must go on - and that it did! Thank you so much for supporting the 2010 Ride for Life! The total amount raised for the Johns Hopkins Avon Breast Cancer Center won't be available for a few weeks, but Katchi & I exceeded our pledge goal of $1000! And we won the high-pledge award for our division!! Which I owe to the wonderful and generous people in my life! THANK YOU!

It was so exciting to have so many friends brave the heat to come out to the event this year - it was really a wonderful feeling to head into the competition ring with an audience of supporters! Thanks to... Samantha & Beqir, Kerry, Courtney (Katchi's masseusse!), Kim, Dee, Rebecca, Debi, Bridget, Anna, Chris, and... I sure hope I didn't miss anyone! If I did, I'm totally blaming it on the heat - seriously, it was so hot I'm surprised I can remember anything from the weekend at this point! It was also great to run into fellow blogger, Abby... who I believe won at least 1 of her classes on her event horse - go eventers!! In addition to my friends and students who came out, I also had the good fortune of having Silva Martin (and her entourage!) ring side too. Silva's ride times worked out perfectly with mine, and she was able to help me in the warm-up for all 3 of my tests and watch 2 of my rides. What an investment in my future with her! I cannot wait for our next lesson now that she has had her eyes on me at a show - we've come so far in 6 months with her, and I think the next 6 months are going to be even better!

And now onto Katchi - who was such a star! The 2007 Ride for Life was Katchi's first recognized dressage show - the flowers were horse eaters, the judge's box contained a trap door to hell, and sharing the warm-up arena with Grand Prix dressage horses was just too much (Katchi just couldn't figure out what to make of those canter pirouettes!). It was striking to me this weekend how much he has grown up! In only his second time doing the First Level tests, he scored well into the 60s under 3 different judges (coming home with 2 second place ribbons and 1 third place ribbon)! But scores aside, he was a total professional and that impressed me even more than his scores (which really impressed me!). He knew his job and he tried his heart out - he was all business! Sometimes it takes going back to someplace for you to realize how far you've come. I just couldn't have been more proud of my little off the track thoroughbred!

But here's the part I am the most proud of and that must have left more than a few Dressage Queens horrified! Before our test on Saturday, Silva was helping me in the warm-up arena. The horse before me was just about to start their test, so Silva suggested we take a quick break for water (and air!) before we put the finishing polishes on. No sooner had we stopped did the water truck arrive to work on the footing in the warm-up arena. They kicked us all out, and suggested we could go to one of the other arenas (not close by). We really didn't have enough time to do that, and the water truck seemed to be going around very quickly, so we waited. Just when we thought we were clear - the tractor showed up to drag the arena too. AGH! The horse before me had started his test, which gave me only a few minutes to put it all together. The tractor was racing around the arena, but the drag was so tiny, this was going to take ages. Silva and I were looking at each other, and looking at the tractor, and looking at Katchi, and back at the tractor, and then at each other... finally, Silva says - "well, how is he with tractors?" And I replied something along the lines of, "well, I don't know, but he's an eventer, so lets see." And Katchi just said - "okay mom, whatever you say!" While all the other Dressage Queens stood around the edge of the arena, Katchi and me and the tractor did a little pas de deux (a junior rider eventually joined us to make it a pas de trois?!). While the tractor was racing around on our heels, Silva polished us off in our leg yields and canter transitions! It was all I could do not to burst out laughing at the whole situation. I do hope someone caught that on camera - if I can track down a picture, I'll be sure to post it, because it must have been just priceless! And Katchi never even looked at the tractor! A total professional. Wow, what a horse I have.

On Saturday night, Debi, Samantha, Beqir and I enjoyed the Dancing Horse Challenge together (I have to confess, Samantha and I had cheese nachos and concession stand wine for dinner - so much for being a foodie!). The Challenge has come a long ways since they started it 4 years ago, and we all really enjoyed it! Samantha's husband, Beqir, having just moved here from Albania, may have enjoyed it the most! He's a big fan of the extended trot - it was such a thrill for me to see someone (who knows nothing about horses) enjoy an extended trot so much!!! Honestly, he went nuts every time a horse would do an extended trot (or as I like to explain it to Katchi - "a big boy trot"!). If only more men were that excited about dressage!! Sigh...

Anyhow, thanks again to everyone who supported this event through donations, coming out, or wishing us good luck! It was a wonderful weekend, and I'm already getting excited about doing it all over again next year!

Monday, June 14, 2010

To think and react quicker

Because last weekend was an off weekend for me - Katchi wasn't competing, and I didn't have any students going to anything either - I did what I normally do... found 10,000 things to do! In the past 10 days or so, I've ridden with Jimmy, Silva, and Eric Smiley (twice)! Plus, over the past few weeks, for various reasons, I've been riding 2 students horses quite a lot. So much for an "off weekend" or week! But, I'm feeling better for it all - physically and mentally. Well, I think mentally anyhow. I'm starting to think that I think too much - but it's what I do and who I am - so there you have it!

So, I've been thinking... when you work through all three phases - Dressage, Show Jumping, and Cross Country - with three different keen and expert eyes - and the take-home message is pretty much the same from all three... you kinda have to think they're onto something. Actually, all the lessons have gone really well this week - a few mistakes here and there, but really good overall. Which is almost more frustrating, because I realize that we're just a nose away from 3 great phases, but I'm not quite able to keep it all together at the shows.

It's not that I don't know when things are going wrong - it's that I watch them go wrong when I should be doing something so they don't go wrong! Many riders know this feeling well - from Beginner Novice to 4-star. But what does it take to get there? More horses? More lessons? A little sports psychology sprinkled on the top? How do top athletes become top athletes - how do they make it look SO easy when the rest of us know it's SO hard?

Jimmy told me to stop critiquing my ride in the middle of it. The man is like a scary mind-reader. If only the Army had put him to work in "the men who stare at goats" program - I honestly believe he could control wars with his jedi mind tricks. Anyhow, he's right. I over-analyze my ride - IN THE MIDDLE OF IT. A few days later, Silva commented how much better Katchi and I rode through the test patterns than we did just going around - and I realized, it's because when we were warming-up, I was whining in my head about, "oh, he's a little stiff on the right, and he's leaning on that shoulder, and his neck needs to relax a little more..." But when Silva started calling out test movements - I stopped whining and started riding. And Eric said it again. It's not good enough to know things are going wrong - you must react with the right response at the right moment. I must be quicker in my mind and my body.

Below is a 2 minute clip from my lesson with Silva last week (do you like my corset looking back brace?!)

Katchi ducked out on me twice today XC schooling at a very simple bank into and out of water. I can hear Lucinda groan, but I'll say it anyhow... I thought I had it! But, as Eric said, we got right there, and Katchi opened a door out the side. It's my job to close it - and fast. And the more I think about the bank incident at Rubicon - that's exactly what happened. Yes, I did everything right, until Katchi opened a door to the side. And I didn't close it.

As I posted a few months ago... Practice until good is better and better is best.

Ride for Life is this weekend at the Prince George's Equestrian Center - I'm really excited that Silva will be there and her ride times will allow her to help get us warmed-up. If you're in the neighborhood, stop by and say hello!

Saturday - 3:51 (Ring 3) - First Level Test 2

Sunday - 11:22 (Ring 2) - First Level Test 2

Sunday - 2:05 (Ring 3) - First Level Test 3

And thanks so much to everyone who has donated to the Johns Hopkins Avon Breast Center to help my high-pledge goals! I'm excited to find out what our total donations will add up to this year - if you haven't donated yet, it's not too late. Just go to...

And one final note about my Jimmy lesson - since I took my first lesson with him several years ago, he periodically threatens someone who is ducking to one side or the other over their fences. He says, 'just let me take away your right stirrup, and you'll never duck to the right again!' And we all laugh, and I think - gee, I'm glad I don't duck to the side over my fences! Well, last week, the threat became a reality. Jimmy made the entire group of us get rid of one stirrup and jump over some fences on a 2-stride turn, and not run him over. I jumped the fence just fine, and successfully did not run over Jim Wofford. I managed to come around and jump the fence again - all good - still in the saddle, Jimmy still upright and not panicked! Then it was time to pull-up. Not so good. I felt like a sloppy floppy kid trying to pull up a "run away" pony that might have been trotting (not exactly running away speed!). Seriously, I was pretty sure I was going to fall off to the side, Katchi was not stopping, and I just about ran over the group of horses watching this disaster. It must have made Jimmy laugh, but he was gracious enough not to say a word. That in itself was a jedi mind trick! And, oh, by the way, I had a knot in my right thigh for 2 days for my troubles. Gee, thanks Jimmy. Guess I have something to practice before our next lesson.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

We're talking again!

I think Katchi knows he disappointed me last weekend, and that breaks my heart more than the fact he let me down at Rubicon's bank. He has tried his heart out for me all week at home - he's been on his best behavior and working so hard - just begging for my approval. And he was just fabulous at Seneca Valley yesterday! He skipped around the XC course for a clear round - even with 2 banks on course!

But, lets back up to last weekend again. GRC took some fantastic photos at Rubicon, and they really helped me figure out what went wrong at that bank complex. They took something like a series of 20 photos over the 3 elements (and during our "discussion" at the top of the bank). In looking through them, I realy am convinced that I did my job, and Katchi just wasn't there for me. He simply was not having a conversation with me. Of course, as riders, we can ALWAYS do our job better, but I just cannot blame that stop on me. The photos showed my reins soft, spurs in, clucking, and generally working way too hard to get down that bank! Meanwhile, Katchi jumped the first element beautifully, and his eyes said it all - he jumped boldly over the first and mid-air he thought something was on the other side but wasn't sure what yet; realized it was a bank and his eyes got real big; and upon landing, his eyes and attention totally shifted - he decided he had a better route in mind. Forget the driver, he chose his own path. It happened in a flash, but his eyes said exactly what happened. Of course, this is yet another part of eventing that makes it so amazingly hard - the fact is, we're sitting on top a flight animal with a mind of its own that is perfectly capable of making decisions. And we want them thinking - because that keeps us safe! We don't want them totally reliant on our direction every step. But, they must be engaged in the conversation and allow themselves to be guided by our lead - because, HELLO STUPID! I'M THE ONE WHO WALKED THE COURSE & I HAVE SOMETHING TO CONTRIBUTE!!! Katchi forgot that on top of that bank, and I think my lack of excitement (deafening silence) at the end of the course told him that he was not fabulous that day.
I decided not to post anything pre-Seneca, because I really didn't think I should be posting my assessment of a course if I couldn't get around one clear in 2010! But, we got around clear yesterday, so now I have some things to say!

Besides the two drop combinations, half-coffin, and log/bank into water (all of which I am well aware I rode like a bit of a cowboy. Yes, I was the one smacking a going-horse, but I wasn't taking any chances!)... the real question of the course seemed to be 2 tables about 1/2 way around the course. I'm not sure how many faults they caused, but they sure caused some icky rides! They were set with a (darn near) 90 degree angle between the two. I watched several people walk all sorts of lines trying to figure it out - then walk a different line - then another. It was clearly puzzling a lot of people - me, included. At the course design training a couple of weeks ago, there was a very similar question on course, and we spent a long time watching it ride... horribly. People picked away at the horses, tried to make a turn, and oh, it was bad. I saw the same thing in the few rides I watched yesterday before my ride. Tremaine Cooper had told us that as course designers, at least for Training Level and below, you cannot expect a horse to start turning before it's 2 strides away on the landing side of a jump. I need a diagram to explain it (I've tried putting it in words, and it's not working). But, here's the point for the combination at Seneca. If you walked out 2 strides from jumping the first element and turned in place to the left - you were facing the middle of the second element. So, if you started turning your horse then, there would be no way you could avoid having gone past the second element so that you were forced to be coming back at it (confusing the horse, disrupting your stride, etc.). I was sure that was not what the designer had in mind. But every rider I saw come through it yesterday tried to do just that - and it was ugly.

But, here's the magic in course design - there was a perfect line in there, you just had to find it. The jump construction was divided into 3 parts - if you jumped on a right-to-left angle over the left "seam" in the top logs, and went straight for the exact same point on the second element (this time jumping the "seam" on a left-to-right angle) - there was a perfect 4 stride line. Sharon White said to me a few weeks ago - "it's 4 strides. Know it. Believe it. Do it." I must have said that in my head 1,001 times Friday night and Saturday morning. I just knew I was right - right?! Know it. Believe it. Do it. HOLD THE LINE. And that's exactly what we did! Out of sheer force of will, I did not let myself pick at Katchi coming to the combination - I was determined to jump the first fence just like a single galloping table, because that's what the line asked for. Katchi was perfect. And I counted out loud (okay, maybe I screamed) 1-2-3-4... OMG! He jumped it perfect again! And I went nuts! I told Katchi he was the best horse in the world - and I meant it! I won't forget how perfect that line felt for a long time. wow, it was stellar. All you had to do was find the line. Can you see it in the photos below?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Frustrated at Rubicon

I do not want to be the girl who is always on top after dressage, but can't keep it. After my first 3 starts of this year, I'm quickly becoming that girl, and that has got to change.

I am really really frustrated with today, but I've had almost 8 hours to think about it. The facts are: 2nd after dressage (out of 18 starters), one rail in SJ plus 3 time penalties, one stop at the bank on XC with 25.2 time penalties. The other half of the story is - dressage was okay, but I gave a way several points and I hate when I do that (LOVIN' the new saddle though!). Show jumping felt horrid. I was thrilled with Katchi's coping with the terrain and the ease at turning him, but we were back to far too many icky icky jumps. He felt so locked on the bit, and I just didn't feel like we were talking to each other at all. I was sure XC would be better - it wasn't. It was one of the hardest rounds I've had to ride. There was no light easy XC machine Katchi. Apparently he didn't come to this show. Really, as I think about it, he jumped the big jumps really well (and was spot on at the corner!) - it was the smaller jumps that he was icky at. And in between. Again, we just didn't talk to each other out there like we normally do. And I had to work my butt off. It caught up to me at the bank complex when I just couldn't stuff him down it on the first try.

Here's my list of things I learned today:
1. My bat should ALWAYS be on the right side. Despite being right handed, I carry it in my left hand. No more. If I see one more freaking red flag coming at my face, I'm going to start having nightmares about it!
2. My jumping issues are first and foremost a straightness issue. It's true in SJ, and it's true in XC. I don't stand a chance of stuffing Katchi over a ditch or down a bank if I cannot keep him straight to it.
3. No more night turn-out for Katchi the night before a show. I guess it's like not letting your kid have a slumber part the night before the SATs. Duh.
4. Katchi will keep me safe, and I need to trust him to do that. (By the way, remember the big freaking table at the bank complex - he trotted it. And survived just fine.) I need to focus on what he does need help with - like confidence to get down a bank. I do not need to worry about whether he will keep me safe.

And the list of things I still need to figure out:
1. How to ride the horse I have on the day I have him. Jimmy says, "it takes two to pull". Why was Katchi pulling on me so bad today? What could I have done to fluff him up and make him light and responsive?
2. What does Katchi need from me to give him the confidence to jump new questions on faith that I won't steer him wrong?
3. Is it time to consider a new bit?

Anyhow, we have Seneca Valley on Saturday in 6 days. Katchi won that event last fall. Sure would like to have a good round this time too. Am signed up for jumping clinics with Jim Wofford, Eric Smiley, and Boyd Martin over the next month - hopefully they can help me figure out the answers to my list of questions. I definitely need something to look forward to after today's disappointment.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Rubicon Course Walk Photos

Katchi and I are off to compete at Rubicon tomorrow. This will be my first time trying out their show jumping on a cliff course! Actually, the course sort of sits on two plateaus, separated by a "mini-cliff". Being a bit hyper-sensitive to the flow of courses and use of terrain, I have to say that I am really impressed with David O'Connor's SJ designing! He really tests the rider's ability to hold a line, and if they can't - their mistake will provide a very useful (costly in time, but perfectly safe) lesson as they fade down the hills away from the next jump.

Below is a picture of just one example of this masterful work - jump #5 is a vertical at the edge of the top plateau. Riders then come down the shallowest part of the "mini-cliff" with a left hand turn to a 2 stride in-out on the lower-level plateau, with the second element a Swedish oxer. Wow! No-one ever puts a Swedish oxer in a combination, but it's perfect here. Because it tells the riders, they better not just come down this line, center-to-center, fat dumb and happy! They better be jumping on the left side, or else 1) they'll jump the wrong part of the oxer and likely have the back rail down, and 2) the ground cuts away hard to the right about 2 strides after landing - one does not want to fade right in this combination (thank you Sharon White for drilling us over and over on that detail at my lesson on Thursday!).

Immediately following the combination at #6, we make a left turn and up a steeper part of the "mini-cliff" to a vertical waiting for us at the top. In the picture below, #7 is the vertical to the right side of the picture. Very very clever use of terrain!
And now onto XC - course looks great! I'm super excited that FINALLY someone has put a real corner on a Training level course!

I think the Training bank complex will be in the mind of many Training riders tonight. I think it will ride superb, but the final element table is freaking huge! The picture below does not do it justice. Small table (#11A), 2 strides to bank down (#11B), to a bending 4 stride to aforementioned big freaking table (#12). I think you just kick-on, and it will be great - I'm already imagining telling Katchi "GOOD BOY!" as he leaps over that table!

But the best jump on the course is on the Prelim course. It has its own beer!!! Look carefully at the pictures below - you might just detect a cut out square with a handle in the middle of the log (which I tried quickly to open before the first Prelim horse came through, but then I saw jump judges and photographers with their eye on me, and I lost the nerve to investigate further). However, there was evidence of beer in the pile of beer bottle caps laying below the jump's BUILT-IN beer bottle opener!!! This truly is the best jump ever.

Until tomorrow...