Monday, October 25, 2010

With a silver medal on my Jacket...

Tomorrow we're off for the Area II Training Level Championships - my mom flies back in today from California to be my groom for the weekend - but the main reason she's coming back is to go with me to Phillip Dutton's 2-day clinic Nov 13-14 - She LOVES going to Phillip's! I just managed to con her into being my event groom as part of a package deal!

And to send us valiantly on our way, something very special arrived in the mail this week. Katchi and I received our USEA Silver Medal for Training Level. When I sent off the forms a few weeks ago, I thought - well, what the heck, we earned it, we might as well claim it. But, when the certificates and lapel pin arrived, I realized, it really is something special. The USEA went to a lot of effort to make the medal program both achievable and meaningful. It is not a consolation prize and it most certainly represents hard work and success. It's unlikely Katchi will stay at Training level long enough to earn his gold medal - but perhaps we'll make a gold medal at Prelim a long-term goal!

So, with my newly awarded silver medal lapel pin on my jacket, Katchi, my mom, and I are off to the Virginia Horse Center in the morning. The Training Championships is a pretty small class - only 11 entries. It's a little disappointing for my competitive nature, knowing there were 50+ horses in what would have been Katchi's Training level division at AEC's. But I'm sure it will be a great end to our 2010 season!

Wish us luck!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

In the midst of the season finale!

I love October. And I really love this October.

Big news first - check out Katchi with his pretty red ribbon he won yesterday at Waredaca!

I feel kinda bad about this picture - Katchi's eye looks like he's in pain! I don't think he likes his winner's circle photos. He works so hard and then I hang some stupid thing off his halter, make him stop eating grass, and try to get him to look excited - he clearly hates it. So what can I do for photographic documentation of his big moments?? I'm open to suggestions!

Anyhow, Waredaca was a great day. I had a crazy early and fast schedule - dressage at 8:48 and entirely done by 10:15!! Thankfully my student Adrianne was able to come with me to help with the quick costume changes! There was still frost on the grass when we arrived. No wonder some eventers are already heading to Florida! Katchi was pretty wide-eyed when we arrived and in walking over to dressage - I have said for years that there is something about Waredaca that unsettles horses. Anyone know anything about Indian burial grounds?? Mercifully, Katchi settled down immediatley when we arrived at dressage warm-up and he was all business - and good business! He led our class of 17 after dressage with a 30.0, our lowest Training level score to date!

After dressage, I let Katchi take a few minutes to look (wide-eyed!) across the XC fields - the last time we competed there, he was so wide-eyed going XC, he nearly fell over his Novice jump that he never even saw. I was not looking for a repeat of that experience. And with barely a moment to think, it was time to jump. Trying not to hold myself accountable for a perfect repeat of our Marlborough perfect show jumping round, I went into the arena full of confidence that we were capable of repeat if we both did our job. And we almost did - well, Katchi did, I didn't quite. I lost my way TWICE on course! What the hell is that all about? After a lovely first 2 fences, I totally forgot I was supposed to make an inside turn to get to the 3rd fence - so I rushed around the wider turn and threw Katchi at the third fence for a rail. Stupid. AND THEN - after the in-and-out at #6 I came around the roll-back turn (wide and long, but still a roll-back) and the jump number wasn't where it had been when I walked the course Friday afternoon! I knew they were going to put up an option so you didn't have to jump the liverpool at #7, but they moved the jump number to the far right side where you could barely see it from the direct line. I always keep a running list in the back of my head of the fence numbers just so I don't stupidly miss one - it's not something I'm really conscious of, but it's there in my head. And when I couldn't find that number I panicked - within 2 seconds, I had panicked, madly looked all over 4 wing standards and poles, finally located the number, the red flag, the white flag, and decided I was okay - but by then Katchi was confused, trotting and lost! And then he proved how freaking wonderful he is! Just feet from the liverpool, I decided I DID want to jump it - so Katchi did. STUPID rider again. Really, I never ever do that kind of stuff. And I'm absolutely kicking myself for not taking one quick look at the course in the morning. Those 2 mistakes cost me 4 jumping faults and 3 time penalties - and I lost Katchi the win he so much deserved!

SJ video below. Still work to do - but we're really getting there now. As my friend, Erin, said yesterday about her own SJ round in the Training 3-day - I finally didn't feel like I was riding a bowling ball around SJ!

XC was brilliant. If you didn't know that Waredaca is a really tough Training level course, let me tell you that of the 17 starters in my division, only 10 finished. 4 riders fell off in XC, and 1 in SJ. Of the 10 that finished, 4 had XC stops. Only 2 went double clear. I was not one. Damn those time penalties - and there you have the second way I lost Katchi's win in one day! We came in 8 seconds over time. I'll spare you the details, but the meter wheel I bought at Fair Hill measured the course 950 meters shorter than it was. So much for that plan. The wheel has been returned. But time penalties aside, I couldn't have been more thrilled with the ride! There wasn't one particular fence I was worried about, but the course overall was a huge test in the horse's confidence and trust in his rider - lots of blind landings and leaps into space. And Katchi didn't blink an eye at a single one. We did have one mis-communication about 1/2 way around the course - after jumping 2 large logs at the top of a MOUNTAIN, landing running downhill (which he was SO cat like at) - you had to run down the hill to a slightly skinny "wedgie" with bright orange flowers all over the top. Katchi just didn't understand he was meant to jump it. We were rolling down the hill great, but I never felt him lock onto it. About 2 strides out, he 1/2 figured it out, and we did manage to jump it - but let me tell you that the pictures GRC captured of it look like I am in the middle of a horror film! Katchi coped pretty well - my face, not cute. It would scare small children.

I also have to extend a HUGE thank you to my student Kerry's mom - who graciously let me borrow her barely broken-in custom Vogel boots that have been living in the closet for over 15 years! Ariat is sorting out what to do about the defective boots I returned to them - but meanwhile, I was left bootless and literally without options! It's so wonderful to have such great people in your life that when a boot crisis hits - multiple people show up with boots in hand willing to let me put my feet in them, potentially tromp around in mud, and run cross country where who knows what might happen to them! Aren't horse people the best?!

I think that about covers Waredaca - so, moving backwards I have 2 other quick updates. On Monday, I had another fantastic lesson with Silva - Katchi is flourishing under her guidance and what fun we have with her! I was quite thankful to keep up a bit better this time - I was seriously sore for 3 days after our last lesson! There were some new folks auditing the clinic, and after my ride, one of them asked if Katchi was for sale! I said I kinda like him and I think I'll hang onto him a bit - the woman said she was looking for a good natured lower level packer. I almost choked! Katchi, a packer?! And then I smiled - because that's about the best compliment any rider/trainer can get. People used to say the same thing about my first event horse, Decker - the one in the videos in the last post. It's funny how people take a snapshot in time and label a horse a packer. Maybe there are some horses who are just born "packers". Others are not. And when you make one who (and let me assure you - several parts of my body can attest to the fact Katchi didn't come to me as some ol' packer!) - anyhow, when you make a horse who quite certainly ain't no born packer - when you make him give that snapshot appearance of being a packer - because he's that relaxed, happy, and confident in his work and his skill - that's what being a horse trainer is all about. Katchi, a packer?! wow.

And the final note of the day - FAIR HILL IN BEAUTIFUL WEATHER! My student, Debi, and I headed out for XC day last weekend - Debi had never been to something of this level before, and it was super fun to see her amazement as we figured out the lines and angles - something that looked pretty do-able from one direction, when you found the related line they would have to take - well, now Debi knows why I'm so relentless about pace and line!

Below is a picture of us at the 2* mushroom coming out of the sunken road. Debi and I decided that when I have my own XC course some day - I need a family of otters and a mushroom patch!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thinking about Lexington

WEG has come and gone. It's always a strange feeling when something you have looked forward to for years is over. And I was just a spectator! It's like there's this feeling of absence over what's next? But what an amazing trip with such amazing friends! And special thanks to my mom for financing the adventure and for being a great travel partner! Lets do it all over again next week (this time we'll smuggle in our own food and booze!)

Several people have asked me what happened to my final WEG post - other than hitting some roadblocks getting the last pictures together due to cameras being dispersed across the country and my own technological lack of prowess... and, well, what can you say about Team USA's final day? If you haven't seen it, Jim Wofford's last blog entry for Practical Horseman was heartbreaking. When Boyd put in his double clear round, the crowd went absolutely bizerk! FINALLY the eventing fans showed up the dressage fans! 30,000 feet stomping the metal stands and cheering for AN EVENT RIDER - while he blew kisses to his fans (I was waiting for young girls to start fainting a la Elvis Presley!) - it put chills up my spine (which also could have been the result of freezing my ass off, despite 10 layers of waterproof clothes). It was spectacular to be part of that crowd - can you imagine how it must have felt to be on your horse in the center of all that? And then the dream of a medal was gone.

Since making a 9AM trip to the ghetto Lexington liquor store on Monday morning (SERIOUSLY - who buys "horse piss beer" and 4 bottles of Maker's Mark at 9AM on a Monday - damn horse tourists). Anyhow, since starting the drive home, I've been thinking a lot about natural mistakes that are part of a solid learning process, bad luck, and excuses. If you've picked up on any theme in reading my blog entries, it should be - eventing is hard! There are 1001 ways to mess up. And when all 3 phases come together for you in a single day (or 3 days!) - it's got to be nothing short of a miracle! But, we don't train for hours and hours on end, in hope of a miracle. We train to be better than that - no matter what level we're competing at - BN or 4* - it's all the same. So where and when does one draw the line between learning, luck and excuses? Becky and Kim hit some seriously bad luck. I don't think Karen or Buck would account their stops to learning, luck or excuses - but something was terribly off in both their rides. Karen came right in front of us 2 fences before Mandiba's stop - her face said it all. She was not happy with whatever conversation she and Mandiba were having or not having on the course at that time. She really shook him up in the rollback turn, and I thought - oh yea, Karen's in the game, she's got him now, they're good. But 2 fences later, disaster. Why?

Watching these heartbreaking moments when everything slipped away in just a fraction of a second - I've been thinking a lot about my own eventing season over MUCH SMALLER fences! I know - what the hell does WEG have to do with my Training level events? It's made me think about that line between learning, luck and excuses. Every eventer knows that BN, N and T provide great learning opportunities for horses - we expect them to make mistakes and learn. But for how long? It certainly depends on the horse and the rider. And when they move up to P, I and A - they'll make more mistakes and learn more lessons. That's one of the things I absolutely love about working with horses - they think and they learn, and if you teach the lessons right, they get more confident and they just become amazing - and they take us with them! But when does letting the horse learn become an excuse for a lacking performance? Does it ever? Horses never really stop learning, do they? But at every level, we eventually start to hold them accountable for not making mistakes - if you've been doing BN 10 years and your horse decides to stop at a simple log - that makes you really really angry. I have a feeling Karen and Buck feel that way right now - multiplied by 1000. Anyhow, I don't have an answer - but I'll be thinking about it if I ever get another stupid XC time penalty at Training level (they stop NOW, really!).

Anyhow - if you haven't given up reading this blog yet, I'll reward you with pictures and video!

While we were on Jimmy's XC course walk, he took everyone over to the wishing well corner combination, #8, for sentimental reasons - he said it was the only remaining fence from the 1978 World Championships. It got me thinking - I think I've jumped that jump! So when I got home, I went digging through old videos, and sure enough - I have video proof that in 1992 I jumped the option of 8A or 8B (can't tell which side of the well we jumped!) of the 2010 WEG XC course! There wasn't a corner appendage back then, but it was still a big wide wall with a lot of rocks and cement. I was at the Kentucky Horse Park for Pony Club Championships and Festival with the first horse I took from Novice to Prelim - Decker. Yea, I can hear Jimmy yelling at me for making too big of a move with my upper body - but, it was a big jump and I got excited! :) So here's my 15 seconds of 2010 WEG fame, that happened over 15 years too early!
And here is Mark Todd standing in front of that same jump - 2010 Mark Todd that is.

And now that I've figured out how to put old videos into youtube (watch out world - I have hours and hours of old videos living under my bed!) - here is my very favorite video clip. Not because I was so spectacular - quite the opposite actually. Still in1992 in Kentucky - take a minute out of your life to watch me fall off Decker at the Head of the Lake - which is a bit fancier these days (nope, didn't get wet)! I really don't like falling off and I try very hard not to - which you can probably see by the way I attached myself to poor Decker's face rather than hit the ground! Lesson learned - never assume your horse's feet are coming up the bank with you! And, yes, I realize I screamed like a girl. What can I say? I hope it makes you laugh! It makes me laugh every time I hear it! Check out how deep the water was back then - Jimmy always talks about how shallow water jumps are now - geeze, he really is right!

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Yet another night of total exhaustion - had the best day! I love XC day!! Other than the TOTAL muck up of the food situation this morning (good planning, WEG), I only have one complaint for the day- I was a disappointed with the crowd (and there was a huge crowd!) - lots of cheers for USA and Canada, and of course all the favorites in the likes of Mark Todd, Mary King, William Foxpitt - but, to let any rider go past you, over those HELLA HUGE AND HARD jumps, and not cheer on the horses and riders from every country - I was disappointed in the crowd. But, even if it was a bit quiet, it was an absolutely spectacular day and I especially enjoyed chatting with so many eventers from around the country and world! Eventers really are cool people! So, minimal commentary on this post today - just photos from yesterday and today. After the XC was over, we spent some time crawling around the WEG jumps - wow, wow and wow!

The Saturday crowd -

Rolex Keeper's Brush (not on the WEG course - I think it was too small for WEG!)

The Snail & Squirrel! (front and back sides!)

ENORMOUS table at #19. We found several skid marks across the top of its nearly 6 foot wide top, but my favorite was the perfect hoofprint (complete with a little grass) just on the far endge of the top. I did find it quite curious there were no dents from studs?!

The goose at the head of the lake - is that a goose? duck? Water fowl?

As we walked out of the park tonight, I noticed the show jumping course was being set up. I walked a few feet into the stadium to sneak a peek and check out the footing. It was like walking on air. And the jumps look stunning. It must be the most amazing feeling to ride into that stadium on Sunday, knowing you just survived one of the toughest courses in the world the day before - go Eventers (and their ponies!!).

And, to end, we did our own re-take of the Ariat FREE photo - this time, you get to see the entire jumping horse, not just his (gelded) family jewels!

Final words: When Jim Wofford was asked yesterday during the course walk if he had any advice for riders who aspire to this level, he said "Experience is something you get right after you need it. So start getting some."