Monday, April 25, 2011

The Energizer Katchi Easter Bunny

It's SO good to have my first horse trial of 2011 successfully completed! After almost 6 months since our last horse trial, it's good to have a good solid run under our belt! The first event brings with it so many questions - are we fit enough? did we forget how to gallop after all those days riding in the indoor? will the jumps look bigger than 6 months ago? will they ride easier? will we start the season with success or mistakes? No matter what the answers are, it's especially good to have them answered!

When they rearranged the Training division into a 2-day trial, I was left on Friday with a day off work and stabling and hotel paid for - but nothing to do! Luckily, Silva came to my rescue and offered to squeeze in a mini-dressage lesson between the riders she was helping to warm-up for the Advanced and 2-star divisions. It was interesting trying to have a dressage lesson in the middle of the tiny warm-up area, while not being "that girl" who ran into Kim Severson or Boyd Martin and knocked them off their horse! Despite the chaos, Katchi was very good and Silva really helped me figure out some new ways to put him together in the show environment, so I was dead excited to give it a go on my own on Saturday.

Overall, Katchi and I had a great (wet and cold - then hot!) weekend at Fair Hill. But anyone who reads this blog or knows me will certainly know that I was far from satisfied sitting in 4th place after dressage. It's not so much the placing, it's that my fit little event horse was quite a monster yet still managed to score a 33.6 - I'm always searching for a better ride than the last one, and this wasn't the one - and we had all the potential! After my test, I took Katchi back to the warm-up area to ride more - took another 20 minutes before he started breathing! You know that feeling - sitting on a horse and you know they're getting oxygen somehow because they haven't passed out, but all you feel under you is a big puffed up evil blowfish waiting to explode! The good news is it's given me a lot of new information on how to warm-up the horse I've got now. That's the thing about training horses - what worked last year (or last week!), may not be what works today. That's the trouble with improving!

Katchi was back to his normal rational self for show jumping, and I am loving our new big boy spurs! I had the good fortune of warming up at the same time as several professional riders who had ground helpers to adjust the warm-up jumps up and down, in and out - Katchi and I took full opportunity of the various jump shapes and had the most effective warm-up we've had with complete focus on not sticking to the ground and jumping across the oxers! Our show jumping round was good with only one 1/2 stride take off, one HUGE jump (but not a helicopter - we landed going!), one rail, and a few arguments between fences on account of some resentment over the new spurs - but oh too bad my little Katchi!

When I arrived at the barn on Sunday morning, each of the horses had Easter eggs in front of their stalls - Katchi had 3 eggs filled with chocolate for me! I can only imagine the trauma he endured over night watching the Fair Hill folks place eggs for all 500 horses or so, without giving him a single treat!

I have only one word to describe cross country - brilliant!! I love when announcers at the big events say that a horse "looks full of running!" - that was my Katchi! He had to have been the happiest horse at Fair Hill on Sunday when he saw that start box and realized he was back in action! Katchi was absolutely foot perfect around the entire course until I thought, "wow - wasn't that a great round!" with 2 jumps left! I should know better! I was so far up on the clock that I let off a little and we promptly tripped up a bank that couldn't have been more than 2' tall! Katchi took good care of himself, but I looked a bit of a fool laying on his neck! I looked down and saw the next jump (just one stride after the bank, up a hill), dug my spurs in, and thought - he's damn well jumping this jump and I better be out of his way when he does! And he did and I was! And just for all those fans of Katchi's "Good Boy"s from last fall's helmet cam - if you turn up the volume on the video, you might just hear me singing "Good Boy Katchi" all the way to the finish!

Despite the long 3 days, cost of stabling, and hotel, I really enjoyed the chance to hang out and get to know some new eventing friends! Oddly, one of my favorite parts of the event was making that long trek down the rocky path to cross country and back. What fun to have all the nerves and anticipation of starting cross country going in one direction while all the joys and exhilaration of a great run coming back the other way! I passed Jan Bynny on my way out as she was finishing on one horse. I passed her again on my way back home - she was headed out on a different horse. She smiled and wished me a good ride on the first pass and asked me how it went on the second pass. I have to say, knowing the trauma she's been through the last year but not knowing her at all as a person, I was absolutely inspired by her smile and passing words! Funny how something so little can warm your heart so much!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Catching Up - Silva, Oxers, Stitches & The Blue Batman

This post is all about catching up - Today I was finally able to catch up with Silva Martin again! My last dressage lesson was January 2, just before she headed south for the winter. It was so wonderful to be back riding with her and especially good to learn that I haven't messed myself up too much, left unsupervised this winter! In fact, Silva thought Katchi was better and stronger than ever and we really got to play today! The clip below shows Katchi nailing a canter-walk transition, and I threw a little party! It was good fun!! Thanks so much to Susan for being chief videographer today!

Other things to catch up on - Oxers. I have a question to answer from eventer79's comment on the "Jimmy, do I have all my teeth" post. I'm not sure I can put into words how to jump "across" an oxer, and even Jimmy said it probably implies more than reality, so I think I'll call it a mental state more than anything. I don't get those horrible straight-up in the air oxer jumps on cross country - yes, we are going more forward, but I think it's also about having the sense that you're going someplace. After a big wide galloping fence, I've got a field to gallop across. My job doesn't end at the base of the fence, because I have someplace to go. In show jumping, I seem to get stuck at the base of the fence, trying so hard to get there just right - that I don't ride over and past it. I just ride to it. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but I also talked to Lucinda about the issue briefly this week. She asked if I am getting SJ time penalties - I said, yep. And she said, "I think you're trying too hard." Yep. She said that a horse that has those issues in SJ but not in XC has to be ridden, for now, in the SJ as if we're out on the XC course. Yes, make the turns. Yes, keep the balance as best as I can. But get in there and GO! As our training and skill improves, I will be able to collect more and still keep that power, but for now, I've got to set my biggest priority as keeping the engine running - up to the fence, at the fence, and over the fence! But, not to forget Jimmy's gospel of rhythm - the GO does not mean increasing at the fence. It still means regularity and rhythm (counting, 1...2...3...4...5...) - with an increased pace and lighter contact - just like I do on XC. Sounds so easy. If only.

I also have to announce that last Monday night (in the Holiday Inn Express bathroom!) was either a low low point in my life or one of my biggest accomplishments (I'm not sure which!) - I successfully removed the 3 stitches from my own face. This was definitely one of those "don't try this at home" moments. The ER folks told me the stitches must come out on Monday or I would end up with Frankenstein lines on my eye - and I tried to explain how I was going to be out in the middle of no place on Monday with my horse (yes, Ms. Nurse, I'll be with the horse that just busted up my face) - so they gave me a take-home suture removal kit. No worries, they said. HA HA HA! I assumed in that little kit there would be Ikea-like directions... big pictures, lots of arrows pointing to this and that, step 1, 2, 3... Nope. Kit included scissors, tweezers, gauze pad, and alcohol swab. Some assembly required. No instructions included. And as the stitches were on my eye, it's not like I had watched them put them in, so I really had no concept of what had been done or how to get them out. As I was going for my eye with the tweezers in one hand and the scissors in the other, poor Kerry just about lost it! But, thankfully she has more than a little of her own experience with stitches and she became my own personal instruction sheet - actually, she was like my own little talking Garmin of stitch removal as I spouted out about 100 times "I CANNOT *&?!$ BELIEVE THEY GAVE ME *&%!# SCISSORS WITHOUT ANY %*!#$ INSTRUCTIONS!" It was not pretty, but the stitches are out and my eye looks almost normal. Please oh please let me never ever have to go through that again!

And the final missing item from this week's posts is showing off Atticus - The Blue Batman (that's his new Warmblood Racehorse name) - wearing his matching blue ribbon from his first recognized dressage show at Morven Park last week! Kerry put on a lot of dressage miles last weekend and was forced to deal with all kinds of craziness - but when things came together in their second test on Saturday, The Blue Batman rocked and won a well deserved blue ribbon to match his costume!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lucinda Green Clinic - Day Two


Day Two of Lucinda's clinic put us to the test on the cross country course (in the rain)! I realized after my Day One post that I counted wrong - this was my 5th clinic with Lucinda, so I pretty much know what to expect and what we'll get in trouble for and why! But there's always something new to learn from her and always some new way to "think you had it" but find out that you didn't, compliments of a run out or stop - hopefully without falling off! Lucinda says no matter what, don't fall off and never think you had it - feel it and know it!

Lucinda was full of fantastic quotable quotes all day long - I know I won't get them all written into this post, so if anyone reads this who was there - add your favorites to the comments!! Above all, her very best quote of the day came during my group - the last of the day - she definitely saved the best for last! Her victim was Byron, who selected as his jump line of choice: over a log/bank into water, out up a bank, 2 strides to a chevron. Oops! Missed the chevron! And Lucinda says, "Byron, why did you just sit there and pray?! God doesn't help riders who pray - God only helps riders who ride!! START RIDING!" It took him a few more tries, but we all cheered when he navigated his stunning white steed right over that chevron! Prayers not needed!

My other favorite quote of the day was more of a descriptive visual/feeling. Lucinda compared riding green horses XC to riding in a car with square wheels. They bump, hop, pause, go, bump again. You have to expect it and allow it - that's how they earn round, smooth, lightening fast race car wheels one day. My report on Katchi's day is that he doesn't have square wheels any more!!! He's not a race car yet, but I'm riding something more like octagon wheels - little bumps here and there, but they're tiny and gone quick! Katchi was awesome (no more sleepy Katchi, and he was allowed to downgrade his spurs to about 1/2 as big as the first day!) - and the biggest victory is that he didn't throw a single tantrum all day - not a single rear, spin, or stomp. It was wonderful!! He was pretty tough galloping as he was so amazingly happy to be out on a XC course again (doing his infamous tuck and roll gallop which sent me scrambling to get his nose out of his chest more than a few times in front of fences), but there wasn't a single jump that fazed him for a second. He looked, computed, and went - never with a doubt. And, as Lucinda described him - very sensibly. He's careful and cautious - and now he's brave too! It was very very cool. I almost want to call him a cross country machine (when his rider does her job!).

But the real stars of the day had to be Kerry and Atticus. It's hard to put into words how much they both changed in 2 days. It was amazing! They jumped jumps (successfully!) that I don't think Kerry ever thought she'd do in a lifetime of trying. If you watch the video of Atticus on Day 2 in the post below - check out Kerry's huge smile at the end. I think that sums up their clinic experience! It was nothing short of life changing - Eventers for life now, I think!

A HUGE thank you to Lucinda for giving us all such a wonderful 2 days - and an equally huge thank you to Margaret for organizing everything - and of course to Win Green for hosting us!!! Also a special thank you to Karson Morton whose mom drove about 4 hours roundtrip to deliver and collect her from the clinic so that Karson could groom and audit for Kerry and me - we had the very best help at the clinic and were so thankful!! It's a little depressing to know it's all over - but exciting to already start dreaming of April 2012 when we'll get to do it all over again - only better!

Lucinda Green Clinic Videos

Trying to get caught up on everything after 5 days of playing horses - with 3 of those days spent with essentially no cell phone or email accesss!! I've got a lot to catch up on! So, videos now - words later.




GOOD BOY KATCHI - With his big boy spurs!





Monday, April 11, 2011

Sleepy Katchi Gets Big Boy Spurs

Lucinda Green Clinic at Win Green (Rhoadesville, VA) - Day 1

I guess this is Katchi and my 4th clinic with Lucinda Green, and she is just as fantastic as the first time! If you've never had a chance to ride with her or audit - DO IT! It's hard to describe just how amazingly effective she is - she's enthusiastic, encouraging, and demanding. She's insightful and always looking for something new to learn. Lucinda described for us today her objective of teaching "the 3 F's" - Focus, Footwork, and Fun. By the looks of the horses and riders at the end of each group, she accomplished all 3. One analogy I really liked was to approach teaching horses as if you're teaching a child to read - keep the letters big and the words small. Focus the horse on every letter of every line. If you do that properly, one day they'll be come speed readers which is absolutely critical for advanced level eventing when they must read, sort out, and answer questions within seconds (or less!).

Lucinda's exercises of plastic tarps, skinnies, arrowheads, barrels, and oxers... all set at horrendously wrong distances are amazing at allowing horses and riders to develop just the right balance between communication and "fifth leg." The horses must listen and react to the rider's instructions about pace and line, while at the same time learning how to get themselves out of trouble and do some seriously fancy footwork. Pretty cool!

Kerry and Atticus rode in the second group of the day - I think Kerry expected the clinic would be great - she totally underestimated it! Atticus started off his ride with a bit of a crisis over the black tarp. He was the second of 4 chestnuts at the clinic - and the second of 4 chestnuts to absolutely freak out over the black tarp! Now isn't that interesting?! To their credit - Atticus was not the worst of the chestnuts and Kerry didn't fall off!! So, it could have been worse, although I'm sure Kerry was pretty darn sick of that stupid tarp after she had to walk (well, leap) over it for the 150th time!!

Kerry really rose to the occasion today and came leaps and bounds forward with her cross country riding ability. It will be so fun to see what Lucinda does for them tomorrow when we actually get to jump cross country fences!

As for Mr. Katchi - sleepy was the word of the day. Actually, he wasn't sleepy - he was too chill about it all. He was the same horse I have at Jimmy's gymnastics clinics now. No matter what the line is - he's sorted out the game and he can't be bothered to get excited about any of it. Well, Lucinda fixed that! About 2 years ago, I finally got up the nerve to start riding Katchi with these fat little round rolly spurs (AFTER Phillip Dutton tried Katchi out in them first!). Well, today, Katchi got his first pair of BIG BOY spurs! Holy cats you should have seen these things! Just plain blunt spurs, but apparently they are right at the maximum length of 3.5 inches. Lucinda said she buys them in Hong Kong as you can't find spurs over 3 inches in America or England! Wow did I love the horse I had with those big boy spurs! When I closed my heel at the base of the jump - Katchi pinged just perfectly! NO STICKING TO THE GROUND! It was really fantastic to get that feel from Katchi - he jumped across those oxers like you wouldn't believe! Way cool!

Tomorrow is XC jumping day. Katchi hasn't been on a XC course since last November at the Area II training championships, so we definitely will have some rust to polish off. Really looking forward to getting back in the groove and hitting those big boy jumps with our big boy spurs!

Will have to post videos later in the week...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Doin' Dressage

Hello from Orange, VA. I would like to commend the local Mexican food establishment for having some of the friendliest staff and best margaritas (for $4.50 each!) I've experienced in a long time. So, I'll be writing tonight for as long as it takes me to finish the very large bottle of Deer Park water sitting next to me, on my Holiday Inn Express nightstand. My excuse? I don't have to ride until 4:00 tomorrow, and I did a heck of a lot of dressage this weekend!!

Also a quick report on my eye - looking awesome! Aside from my very stylish apparent choice of yellow and purple eyeshadow on one eye, it's looking almost okay! Kerry and I will be playing operating room in the Holiday Inn Express tomorrow night to remove the stitches. But everyone's an expert in a Holiday Inn Express, right?! I'm really thrilled with how quickly it's healing, and I definitely don't feel too damaged any more.

But - back to that dressage thing! Spent the weekend at Morven Park at the VADA/NoVa Dressage show. Katchi made a clean sweep of yellow ribbons, and I was thrilled! He scored higher in each test we rode, ending with his final test earning a 67 something!!! WOW - that's like almost a 70!!! Best of all, he finished off the last score he needed to earn our USDF Performance Award at First Level - considering we only do 1-2 dressage shows a year, every test counts!

Katchi was a bit of a jerk today (hollering for his friend and threatening to have a tantrum, but I was especially pleased with my ability to stay cool and ride through it - to good scores! It's a great feeling!

Perhaps the most stressful part of my day was reading a second level test for my old friend, Dee! It's such a strange thing, this test reading! Not allowed in eventing, but everyone's "doing it" it dressage! I have to admit I found it kind of annoying in rings next to each other when someone is screaming out to do a "change of lead" or "travers right" when I'm just trying to remember whether to turn left or right at C! Anyhow, I'm quite proud of myself for keeping Dee on track and giving her the correct commands at the correct time! It was perhaps my biggest accomplishment of the day!

And a huge thank you to Kerry's mom who bought me the cd of photos from the weekend! Unfortunately, Kerry left her photo cd in the trailer tonight, so you're stuck with photos of just me and Katchi for now! Kerry put a lot of dressage mileage under her this weekend - and came away with several pretty ribbons including a well deserved first place!!! Not too bad for her first recognized dressage show ever!

Day 1 of the Lucinda Green clinic is tomorrow - stay tuned (hopefully!) for videos tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"Jimmy, are you sure I've got all my teeth?!"

Me: "Jimmy, are you sure I've got all my teeth?!" As I open my mouth real wide to show off all my teeth.

Jimmy: "Yea, you've got all your teeth... and a black eye, and some blood coming down your face."

Me: "Shit, seriously? But, you're sure I've got all my teeth?" Showing off all my teeth again right up in Jimmy's face. Jeeezzus, I'm so cool.

Well, as you can imagine, that was not the conversation I was hoping for with Jim Wofford in the middle of yesterday's jumping lesson. Today I'm sporting 3 stitches and a big fat black eye and a new concept and determination about Katchi and those "damn oxers" as I might have called them about 10 times yesterday to Jimmy.

After our Prelim show jumping debut at Loch Moy, I sent Jimmy the video and he had some really helpful comments. So, I was really looking forward to working with him yesterday to polish things off over the larger fences. Tornado warnings yesterday morning delayed our departure a bit (I'm crazy about Jimmy but not so crazy that I'd actually drive Katchi through a tornado to get there!). Luckily they moved East and we headed to West Virginia. The lesson started out great (outside - in the rain!!), and we were focusing on developing a strategy for warming Katchi up at shows. We know his weaknesses, so his warm-up needs to remind him how we need him to jump - specifically for courses, I need to remind him to jump and land taking a 12' canter stride after the fence - this is critical for related distances, obviously. We were working through all this and making good progress with some new concepts that really worked for me mentally. We had a bit of a hard time when we moved onto oxers, and Jimmy and I had a good conversation about making Katchi jump across oxers instead of up. I've been so focused on getting him to the fence but I don't do enough to ride him across the fence. We were really making progress, jumping lots of single fences - verticals, oxers, skinnies, liverpool, walls...

More rain and some ice pellets. But we're tough. The lesson carried on.

Jimmy put the fences up higher and we started working on related distance lines. We had a few icky fences trying to get started again, but then we were rolling. A few verticals, liverpool to vertical - check, check, check. Jimmy says to come around to the one-stride oxer combination - jump across it, one stride, and across again. Easy, right? Nope. We helicoptered the first, one stride (I hear Jimmy say "keep going!"), and harrier planed the second, dropping straight down and landing in a thud - I was still snugly in the saddle, but slammed my face into Katchi's neck and hence the dialogue above began. As I picked myself up off Katchi's neck, I swear I saw something white hit the ground and I was positive I'd lost a tooth. I have such a thing about teeth - I brush mine constantly and have nightmares about losing them! So, I was pretty much totally freaked out over possibly losing a tooth! I can't believe I showed Jimmy my teeth so many times - oh what he must have been thinking!

Everyone at Sharon's was so wonderful to take care of Katchi, protect my saddle from the rain, clean my face, and give me LOTS and LOTS of kind words and heartfelt encouragement. There couldn't have been a better group to split my face open with! After I got cleaned up a bit, Jimmy and I conferred and we decided to ask one of Sharon's riders, Tim, to hop on Katchi. He jumped all the big fences and all the lines - including that damn one-stride oxer combination - beautifully. It was so good to be able to watch that and talk it over with Jimmy. And then as Jimmy said, "lets put his jockey back up." Still bleeding a bit, but now super angry and fiercely determined, we put the fences down to a whopping 2'6" or so and Jimmy said "sick-em." That was about all I could handle at the moment, but wow, Katchi jumped great. We are making progress, and we made even more progress yesterday - with a big oops in the middle. The lesson ended with Jimmy saying something along the lines of, "okay, good work - now you're off to the ER." Again, not the end to the lesson of my dreams.

Undeterred by stitches and a fat eye, Katchi had a date with some small oxers today. Small but wide. Forward canter. Off the ground. Ride across. It was good. I feel okay. I know what I have to do and I know it can be done. I saw Katchi do it with Tim riding yesterday. As Jimmy said, Katchi doesn't make it easy - but, I'll add that he doesn't make it impossible either. So somehow I have to make it possible with me on top.

I'll be sporting my fat eye this weekend at the VADA/NOVA dressage show at Morven Park. If you're in the neighborhood come by and check it out (my eye or the show, whichever!)! Kerry and I are taking the horses on a 5 day adventure starting with the dressage show and then heading straight out to Win Green for Lucinda Green's clinic on Monday and Tuesday. Kerry rides 10AM-12PM both days, and Katchi and I ride at 3PM-5PM. Hope to see you out there!