Sunday, November 11, 2012

Final Days of 2012 Event Season

Having only made it to only one event in 2012 with Katchi, writing about the end of the season is bittersweet.  In many ways, I'm glad to be done with this year.  I'm ready to start 2013 fresh and new... with many of the same goals I had for 2012, that went unrealized all year.  I'm still stunned that 2012 was the year that never really got started for us. It's disheartening to realize that I have nothing to look forward to at the various annual awards banquets.  But, despite the deep downs this year, there have been many highs and I feel Katchi and I are stronger than ever. In 2012, Katchi earned me the USDF Performance Award in 2nd level - something I'm not sure I ever really thought possible.  And I have my eyes solidly set on 3rd level -- something I definitely never thought possible!  And we found real success at our many jumper shows this summer - something I hope to capitalize on fully as we start the spring eventing season.  And I'm already looking forward to a do-over with Aiken ...  with big time goals of trotting and cantering and even JUMPING in the state of South Carolina in 2013!  For me, winter is always about taking the time to re-evaluate and fill in the training gaps...  which change but never seem to get smaller no matter how many winters pass!  We have a lot to work on this winter!

Meanwhile, I am so very thankful to the wonderful students I have had the privilege of working with this year!  While I have been so severely sidelined myself, they have kept me motivated, inspired, and hopeful.  They have given me a reason to show up at the events, walk courses, study rides, and plan for future lessons and perfection!  And they've given me a hoarse voice more than a few times from cheering like a maniac as they've made me so very proud! I can't wait to do it all again in 2013!

Today I coached a student at CDCTA - her first recognized event and the final event for 2013.  Perhaps it was the sun and 70 degree weather, but it just didn't feel like the end!  Sort of hard to make winter training plans, standing around melting wishing you had worn shorts!  In thinking back over the year and seeing how much several of my students have improved and how happy they have been moving up the levels - they inspire me!  And so it's off to the drawing board and the planning book...  because 2013 is going to be amazing!!!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Notice to Eventing Fans: Top Ten Reasons to CHEER!

I love a Fair Hill hangover!  Especially when it doesn't include sore muscles from shivering all weekend!  My lips have the sting of Sun and crisp air.  My voice has a twinge of raspiness from hootin' and hollerin'! The one place on my chest where I forgot sunscreen is pleasantly pink and warm.  I might even be a little tired from the gluttony of mimosas, sangria, and Maker's Mark... or some combination thereof!  And I feel inspired to JUMP the big boy jumps!

Picture Perfect show jumping day

But I have a complaint about Fair Hill this year.  The crowd.  I've never seen a less enthusiastic crowd at Fair Hill.  What happened?  It wasn't cold and wet.  Your clapping hands weren't muffled by warm mittens.  Your lips weren't sealed shut by cold rain.  It was a glorious day, yet over and over again, standing among hundreds of people - I'm pretty sure I was the only one screaming in appreciation of a hell of a save or seriously good piece of riding!  At Rolex, even those who retire get a handy applause - "thanks for trying, good look to ya next time!"  Eventing fans of Fair Hill - what's wrong with you???  We were in Tailgating section C, and we had a landslide "win" of the cheering contest - while we gave out some good cheers, our competition  was well, mute, so it wasn't really a contest at all.  Sad, folks, really sad.  I told several people that the day I ride around Fair Hill - if I cross the finish line and haven't heard a single cheer along the way, I will cry.  

Just a few of our tailgater gang - the early morning Mimosa crew!

Along the I-95 corridor, where I spent many hours this weekend driving back and forth, I did some thinking.  And I've come up with the Top Ten Reasons to CHEER for our cross country horses and riders!  

10. The home field advantage is about the support of the crowd! Let our riders (and horses!) feel the love!

9. While self-congratulations goes a long way for an Eventer, "Yay for me!" starts feeling a little pathetic after about fence 3 - when you're riding AT FAIR HILL!

8. You have a beer and a funnel cake.  If you can't get excited about the horses, at least get excited about that!

7. Let's give Brian O'Connor a reason to say "And the crowd goes WILD!"

6. Has any (winning!) General led his troops into battle with the yell of "Charge!" followed by silence?  That guy lost the war.  Eventing is the ultimate test of Calvary courage.  Imagine the horse and rider on course is our General and we're his troops!  CHARGE! YAY!

5. It does matter.  The horses and riders do hear you.  

4. Could you have ridden it better than what that rider just did?  No?  THEN CHEER!

3. Bolder, Better, Faster, Stronger.  Seriously, this sport is AWESOME!  CHEER!

2. If Fair Hill is a final stepping stone for America's future Rolex, Badminton, Burghley... OLYMPIC... WEG... horses - lets prepare them for the CROWDS!!!  Think Allison Springer's Arthur, folks - give these horses a chance to learn what big time cross country crowds are all about!

And the #1 Reason to CHEER on cross country day is...
Don't let those Dressage queens and their red foam fingers make America believe they're bigger sports fans than Eventers!

Phillip Dutton on Fernhill Eagle - check out the helmet cam! Didn't he deserve a wild and crazy cheer?? 

Yes, I did a little shopping too!  The chevron is MINE!  Who says every girl wants diamonds?
(In photo: Kerry York & me )

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Secret to Winning...

Jim Wofford loves to tell riders that he's found the secret to winning every event!  He leans in close, with a twinkle in his eye and a smirk on his face, and he whispers... "The secret to winning every event is [pause for dramatic effect], you must win the dressage.  And jump double clear on cross country and show jumping."  He stands back up and grins.  Well, of course, Jimmy.   It really is just that simple. Shoot me, right?!  I've seen him do this to rider after rider, myself included, over the past several years... but today I got to see my wonderful student, Kerry, with the magic in her own eye as she discovered truth does exist in Jimmy's secret to winning.

Today was the final 2012 event for Maryland Horse Trials at Loch Moy.  When I arrived this morning to coach Kerry and Atticus, I made a mental note of the temperature displayed in my car.  A full 65 degrees colder than the last time Kerry and I both competed at Loch Moy this summer.  Yes, I cursed the Sun God that weekend.  But, really, were the dramatics so necessary, Mr. Sun God?!

Under sunny skies and crisp air, Kerry put in a lovely dressage test.  It's been wonderful watching her transformation from not surviving in the white rectangle (forgotten tests, inexplicable "movements"...), to surviving, to thriving!  She is a solid competitor every time she steps in the ring these days, and she has been knocking on the door of real success for some time.  While there were still some points left on the table, today's test was a picture of harmony and partnership.  And she was well rewarded, being one of only 4 riders in her division of 17 to score in the 30's -- she led the division by over 2 points.  I've been saying to her the last few events, "go in there like you think you can win this thing!" Now I get to say, "go in there, and KNOW you can win this thing!".

At the 110 degree summer Loch Moy event, the hilarious and bizarre award went to the horse who dumped his rider on XC and headed straight for the pond, where he refused to leave.  Today's hilarious and bizarre award went to the one-eyed Chestnut OTTB who dumped his rider out of his dressage saddle and headed straight for the show jumping ring.  He jumped the yellow gate rope and had a look around... just after a poor unsuspecting rider had jumped the first jump on course!!!  There was a bit of a scramble, and I never actually heard the judge ring the bell, but I head some yelling at the rider on course, and she quite sensibly pulled up as the loose horse was galloping straight at her! (An added element of difficulty to show jumping?!)  Myself and a group of folks jumped into the ring to capture the dressage-hating beast, and thankfully he didn't prove too difficult.  The judge and rider [IN THE MIDDLE OF HER ROUND] had a quick conference and the rider proceeded on with jump #2.  I'm not sure how they handled her time, but I suspect she was relieved of any and all time penalties!  There's one for the Eventing Judge's final exam, "What do you do when..."

Although Kerry was unaware of her "top of the leader board" standing going into jumping, her entire support crew was well aware.  I knew she had 1/2 a rail in hand, and oh wouldn't it be nice for her to jump her first clear Training level show jumping round today?!  But it wasn't to be.  Fence 4B fell to the ground.  It made me wish so much that each rail in a combination would only count for a fraction of a rail!  But, oh well.  It was a lovely course, and I will gladly take her one rail down over a few of the clear rounds I saw today!

Atticus has become a XC machine and they flew around the course making it look like a walk in the park.  Video proof:

At the finish line, I told Kerry of her standing after dressage.  It was there that I saw the magic in her eyes.  She found Jimmy's secret to winning every event.  And while it didn't happen today (her rail dropped her to 4th) - Kerry knows the truth in Jimmy's words now.  All you have to do is win the dressage and jump 2 clear rounds.  It's just that simple.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Marlborough Horse Trials

What a weekend!  The weather couldn't have been better; the footing was perfect; and Marlborough Horse Trials was glorious!  This was my first experience really being a part of the "behind the judges box and XC flags" team that puts on an event. Over the years, I've jump judged, scribed, ring stewarded - done all the critical jobs that let you show up, put in one heck of a long day, eat a free lunch, and go home.  As a new member of the Marlborough Horse Trials Board, I have a whole new appreciation for the incredible amount of work that goes into hosting an event.  Thankfully my job as Cross Country Chair let me do the bulk of my work over the past month, so when it came to showtime, I really enjoyed sitting back and watching it all fall into place!

The Beautiful Marlborough Horse Trials at Rosaryville Park.  Right to left - dressage rings, show jumping, and XC in the distance.

Golightly students Zoe Nardo on Rachel (just finishing their first Training level dressage test!), me, Kerry York and Atticus (who is finally able to RIDE her Training level dressage test and not just survive!) and Kirsten of Shear Convenience (braider extraordinaire!).

Show Jumping Field
Zoe & Kerry with Kirsten - while some horses get psyched up for jumping (Rachel), others take a power nap (Atticus)
The front pavilion field of the XC course.

I'm proud to report that Marlborough HT was not only a great event, but it was a great event for Golightly students too!  A huge congratulations to Kerry and Atticus for finishing 3rd in a very competitive Training level class!  And a big WOO HOO! to Zoe and Rachel who completed their first Training level event, without any drama (well, only a little drama in the last part of the dressage test, but at least it was only the last little bit that turned into "Rachel's dramatic interpretation of dressage"!!!).  WELL DONE LADIES!!!

The beautiful bank/hill combinations

Super cool volunteer hats this year!  Thanks Cosequin!  And a huge thanks to Patuxent Nursery for the amazing decorations found all over dressage, sj, and XC - fall is in the air!

When I agreed to serve as XC Chair, I thought the job description pretty much included one task: flag all jumps.  That didn't sound too hard.  What I've learned is: 1) it isn't easy; 2) a battery powered big screwdriver is your friend; 3) a truck full of volunteers is priceless; and 4) calculus did not prepare me for the complexities of counting from 1-20 (red flag, green flag, yellow flag, white flag... A,B,C, or one A and 2 Bs... and black flags too - I'm feeling there may be a Dr. Suess book in there someplace!).

And, sort of as a result of being the right/wrong person, in the right/wrong place, and the right/wrong time... my duties expanded in the matter of a moment when Roger Haller officially delegated responsibility for the Marlborough HT Introductory XC course design to me.  OH MY! My first chance to "design" a competition course... 10 jumps, max height 2'3".  The pressure was really on!  There was a bit of a pinch to find suitable obstacles, and Tyson Rementer (course builder) was so helpful in his creative use of logs luckily discovered here and there in the woods.  I would have liked to have done some things differently, and I hope I get the chance for a repeat design engagement next year - but the biggest thing I learned in course design this year: IF YOU THINK IT'S OBVIOUS WHAT A HORSE/RIDER WILL DO, IT'S NOT.  I've read countless accounts of Olympic riders "back in the day" who took it as a challenge to find clever (and ridiculous) short cuts (especially on roads and tracks) that the course designer had missed blocking off and that would give them seconds or minutes advantage.  I always laughed.  Until I watched the Intro horses ride on Sunday!!  Everything was going great, until I got back to the far field and realized that I had made a tiny error in judgement about 2 tiny gaps in the tree line.  Turned out, either one was usable both coming and going, and should the riders select the same path as one was coming and the other was going - agh!  Luckily, someone on our team had the foresight to recognize this little crink in my clever design plans and placed some galloping lane ropes around.  Mental note...  Intro horses and riders, not so much understand galloping lane ropes.  It was actually quite clever the way the navigated the ropes (a bit like a corn maze!), eventually found their way to the next jump from an entirely different direction than I had intended, and all riders safely avoided running into each other!  I've already made a note for improvements there next year!!!

Like any good "course designer", I was very excited to see how my course rode - did my 10 little jumps challenge in the right ways; did they reward in the right ways?  So, I headed out with my video camera to see how everything rode - and now, for all those who think you might consider entering Intro level next year at Marlborough Horse Trials...  here's a little taste of what to expect -

And now for some real fun - my friend and fellow Board member, Diane Zrimsek aboard Lincoln, got a great helmet cam of the Training level course (and Diane came home with a pretty red ribbon at the end of the day - woo hoo!):

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Busy, Busy, Busy

For pretty much having come to terms with letting the fall event season go, I sure have found myself busy the past few weeks!  Katchi is doing absolutely fabulous, and we finally made it to our 3rd jumping lesson with Phillip for 2012!!  Phillip definitely had his hands full polishing off our rust, but we ended well and I feel like we're just about back on track.  I'm already eyeing a few more jumper shows for this fall.  And I was extra fortunate to have a camera crew along for Phillip day, so I've got pictures to share (THANK YOU Sharon!!!).

Kerry & Atticus getting ready to be Duttonized!!

Kerry & Atticus storming through the water - no more water "issues" !
Katchi & me - VERY happy pony to be out of the show jumping ring and jumping some proper fences!!!
And I even have a video clip too!  Katchi and I were both a bit keen going XC, and you can hear Phillip saying, "slow down, slow down" - this was after we'd already zoomed around the course once apparently a bit too aggressively!

And while Katchi didn't make it to Seneca Valley PC Horse Trial this fall, I had a wonderful day coaching, catching up with friends, and enjoying their lovely event!  Kerry had a wonderful day finishing in 6th with one of her best XC rides to date and just one rail in show jumping - on a course that was plagued with rails falling all over the place!  It's going to be a great fall season for these two!

And I had the privilege of watching the lovely pair of Anna and Abe complete what will likely be their final event together.  I met Anna about 10 years ago when she was riding a little pony in group lessons -- I would have been there the first time she saw Abe for sale, except I was stuck in a total shut down of I-70!!  I rode Abe around his first "cross country" course at Full Moon Farm just to be sure that WILD OTTB wouldn't run off with his little girl.  And over the years, I've watched Anna and Abe grow up together - and her family has taken me in for more than a few holiday meals!  As Anna prepares to leave for two years with the Peace Corps in Africa and 18 year old Abe prepares for semi-retirement, it was such a hi-light to my year to watch Anna and Abe earn a 2nd place Training level ribbon at their final event.  And check out the awesome comment she got from her dressage judge "I loved the correctness of your training."  What a compliment!!!  Congratulations!!!

Meanwhile, my juggling act continues with the upcoming Marlborough Horse Trials!  Last winter, after a morning at riding Phillip's and teaching a afternoon lessons, I was handed a beer... then another... and then I was propositioned.  "Will you join the Marlborough Horse Trials Board" ... and I said Yes!  I'm that easy.  After taking the USEA course design training a couple of years ago, I have really wanted to find an opportunity to get more involved in the course design side of eventing, and it seems I found my "in"!  As the new Cross Country Co-Chair, my spare time has been more than filled the past few weeks unscrewing and screwing numbers onto posts, learning about installing safety flags, clearing sticks, clipping limbs, and I was delegated the "authority" to create the Intro course this year.  It's been great fun getting a glimpse into how experts like Roger Haller and Tyson Rementer work their magic, but wow - what a lot of work!  I will never look at a XC flag in quite the same way.  It's not just insanity in the middle. Those flags are insane too.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Next Up: Bronze Medal

To kick off the long weekend, I came home from work to a welcome surprise - my certificate and "patch" (what ARE you supposed to do with those??) from the USDF acknowledging my USDF Rider Performance Award at Second Level!  Pretty cool, and a huge thank you to Katchi for earning me the scores for the award!  While I'm taking it day by day with Katchi's eventing plans, I have a definite next dressage goal:  the USDF Bronze Medal.  I'm just a solid half pass and flying change away (plus a whole lot better quality of work and some serious sitting trot work- yes, I realize this won't be easy!)... but it actually feels within reach.

One of my big pet peeves is equestrians using technically correct language that implies something easily (purposefully) misinterpreted by other equestrians who perhaps do not have as much understanding of national and international training, competition, and award programs.  So, by way of full disclosure - my bronze medal goal is NOT for a 2016 Olympic bronze medal!  :) For now, I'll leave the Olympic medal goals to my trainers! But the USDF Bronze Medal is no less an achievement for the rest of us! For those curious, here are the official requirements:

6 scores of 60% or higher:
1st level: 2 scores, 2 different judges & 2 different rides (check, got it!)
2nd level: 2 scores, 2 different judges & 2 different rides (yay! got that too!)
3rd level: 2 scores, 2 different judges & 2 different rides (a half pass & flying change short!)

And for those wondering whether you might set your own rider performance award goal, those awards are available for Training, First, and Second levels for 4 scores of 60% or higher at the level, from 4 judges and 4 rides, at 2 different USDF recognized shows.  Pretty solid goal... and when you reach it, then you too can have a patch that you don't know what to do with!!!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Little Lost

I've been a bit negligent of the blog the past few weeks - I often enjoy the blog as a place to share my excitement, disappointment, and plans... but the past few weeks, I've just been lost.  I'm still a bit lost, but feeling hopeful again.  So, it's time to write.

After Katchi's great run (and win!) in the scorching heat at Loch Moy, I let him take a few days to cool down!  And I started to put together a plan for the fall season - I could barely stand the anticipation of Silva and Phillip returning from the Olympics.  I'd put circles and stars all over August 1 in my calendar - the day Phillip said he would be flying back. I had a line-up of jumper shows leading up to a "peak" for Phillip's return.  Everything this summer was about peaking for the return of Phillip lessons!  And then Katchi did what horses do - they ruin plans.  I took Katchi out to play with some students cross country schooling at Loch Moy.  And he dumped my ass right on the ground when he hung a leg over a maybe 2'6" log.  Talk about embarrassing.  He was acting really weird and was quite convinced we should go around the log; I was half-heartedly saying 'ah, come on, jump the twig!' - we met in the middle with one front leg going around the log and one leg almost jumping it.  I hadn't fallen off a horse in probably 3 years, so I was sort of relieved to have that out of the way and to have survived!

The next day, I packed him up and headed to Leesburg to continue on our path to show jumping perfection for Phillip.  I was bruised up from my tumble, but riders have suffered through much worse!  The day was a little drizzley and the footing was holding water - not slippery but lots of splashing water.  We were scheduled for a 3'3" class followed by a 3'6" class.  Katchi's canter didn't feel great, and he was being very spooky - I assumed it was the puddles.  In the first round, we got around to fence 7, a one-stride, and Katchi stopped.  Wow, okay, we haven't done that in a while.  Jumped it the second try, but sticky.  Jumped the vertical at 8, 5 strides to oxer at 9, stop.  WHAT??  Came around again, stop.  Eliminated.  What the hell?!?!  Asked if I could try the following 3'3" class instead of the 3'6" class and the show agreed (really am starting to love jumper shows!).  Hoped over a few low fences in warm-up decently, though Katchi's canter still didn't feel great.  Went back in the ring to pick up a stop at the 2nd fence.  "Houston, we have a problem."  Time to go home, tail tucked between our legs.

It was clear that Katchi's back was really bothering him, but that's not necessarily news.  But after a few more days of light work, Katchi was clearly in trouble - just running my hand over his back (flat with light pressure), he was dropping 4-5 inches away from me.  It's sort of a bad feeling when you realize you could probably make your 1200 pound horse sit down if you just put a little strength into your finger. The day Phillip got on the plane to come back from London, we were in a bad state.  Not only was Katchi's back in trouble, my farrier pulled off his pads to find a serious stone bruise on his front foot (probably from pulling his shoe off during XC at Loch Moy a few weeks before... and perhaps a cause of his silliness at the embarrassing 2'6" log).  10 days of stall rest, muscle relaxers, and tears (his and mine!), $700 in x-rays, and a scratched Waredaca entry later... we appear to be back on track.  But on track to what?!?!  Only 2 months left in the fall season, and we're no where near fit to event.  As I try to bring Katchi back into full work with jumping and galloping, it's one day at a time... with no particular plan at all.  A strange and bizarre, and generally unlikable, feeling for me!   But I am so relieved to have my pony looking happy and healthy again.  There's nothing worse than knowing your best friend is suffering and you don't understand why.

Katchi and me playing in Silva's sandbox!

Laughing after Katchi did a darn near perfect canter-halt transition (look at those hind feet!), but, oops, we were supposed to walk!

Meanwhile, my Golightly students have been just amazing the past few weeks!!  With the return of rain, we've been getting out for quite a bit of XC schooling, and I'm really looking forward to having an awesome fall season with several students moving up a level or making it to their first big events!  It is a great consolation that even if I'm sidelined, at least I have wonderful students who really make me smile!

Zoe & Rachel schooling the double banks at Fair Hill

Zoe & Rachel storming through Fair Hill's water - and there's Katchi  in the background eating grass (he went up for a dressage lesson in the morning so had to tag along for XC schooling) - and Atticus looking longingly at all that grass Katchi got to eat!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Olympic Fever!

 I can hardly stand it!!!  I feel like a kid at Christmas time, just dying to know what's under the tree!  Anything could happen in the next 4 days - and oh wouldn't it just be grand if our Team USA Eventers could bring home a medal on Tuesday!!!  While I've been suffering for the past 6 weeks with Phillip gone and Silva devoted to fine-tuning Boyd (and his horses!), and I cannot wait for them to return - more than anything, I want them to come home having put in the performance of a lifetime!  So, to wish Boyd and Phillip, and all of Team USA good luck - I asked my mom to dig up some old photos from 1984.  In 1984, the Olympics were in Los Angeles, and Team USA won the gold in Eventing, with Karen Stives winning the individual Silver (and my own childhood hero Ginny Leng winning Bronze for Great Britain - and oh, by the way, Mark Todd won Gold - amazing that he's back for yet another go in 2012!).  And in 1984, I was touring the country winning trophy after trophy - in the costume class!!!!  With our miniature horse stallion - all 27 1/4 inches of him!!!!  My mom put together THE costume of the 1984 miniature horse world - Cardin was an Olympic runner, sporting infant tennis shoes (that he would try to shake off with each step - to roars of laughter from fair-goers and costume class competitors alike, not to mention the judge!).  And I was the lovely (svelte, luscious, voluptuous) gold medal presenter!  Apparently such medal presenters were quite the thing... until 1984... I guess women's lib finally kicked in.  Oh well, how were we to know?!  1984 was quite the lucky year for Team USA Eventing and for me and my little track runner mini - may London 2012 be as lucky for Team USA!! Go Phillip!  Go Boyd!!  Go USA!

Monday, July 9, 2012

RED Boots - Are they hot???

GRC posted photos from this weekend in record speed, so now it's time to decide...  do we love the RED boots???  I'm certain I love them, and I was so happy to learn this morning that EN/HN's Wylie loves them - yay! For those who don't remember the story, at this year's Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event, I was the lucky raffle winner of a pair of "Dare to be Dublin" boots in RED - they're actually paddock boots and half chaps.  And I love them!!!  Turns out, they're super comfortable and oh so fun!  You just can't help but smile when you're wearing fire engine red boots!  I got them broken in, and have been venturing out more and more in them - becoming "that girl in those red boots."  At the Eric Smiley clinic, Kate Chadderton (Australian) told me red boots are all the rage in Australia right now - AH HA!  See, I'm on the cutting edge of North American fashion!!  This past weekend, at Maryland Horse Trials I at Loch Moy - the RED boots debuted in competition.  Take a look at GRC's photos - do we love the boots??

Side View

Show Jumping

Show Jumping II

Cross Country

What do ya think?!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

MDHT Loch Moy- RED Hot and Happy!!

WE DID IT!  Katchi's an event horse again!  Despite the wicked heat, we had the most wonderful day at Maryland Horse Trials I at Loch Moy yesterday - Katchi got to run XC for the first time since October and he's never been so happy!!!  Ears pricked and full of running the entire way around XC!  I went out of the start box with the plan to let Katchi go the pace he chose, and if it wasn't enough for the jumps, then we'd walk home.  When Katchi flew out of the start box, I knew we were golden!  I don't think I put my leg on him once, and he came home 45 seconds under optimum time, and I even convinced him to slow down a bit at the end of the course.  Katchi just took me everywhere I pointed him, and I didn't see any point in fighting him to slow down if he felt great.  With the help of Kerry at the finish line, we had him cool and back to normal in about 5 minutes.  Love that thoroughbred blood!  And at the end of it all, Katchi came home with a very well deserved first place ribbon!  What a great way to finally make our return to eventing in 2012! AND -  my RED boots made their competitive debut too!!!! If you were at the event - you might have thought I was having a seriously patriotic weekend (my normal XC colors are royal blue and white, so I was an extreme American flag!)  CANNOT wait to see how the photos came out - the red boots may have to become part of my regular XC attire!  I got lots of compliments on them - or comments at least, hummmm, maybe they weren't really compliments!  Either way, I made some new friends thanks to my RED boots, so it's all good.

A huge thank you to everyone at Loch Moy who were so helpful to all the horses and riders!  They had water troughs everywhere (which Katchi wisely made good use of) with ice bags floating inside to keep the water cool.  Loch Moy's owner, Carolyn, was everywhere holding buckets of water for drinking horses, refilling water troughs, and checking in on the volunteers to be sure everyone was hanging in there okay.  The worst part of the day was actually dressage - between the warm up, circling the ring, and a 4 minute test in the Sun, Katchi and I were about done for - that was the one point in the day I wasn't sure if we'd make it all 3 phases.  But as our show jumping time got closer, I was feeling pretty okay.  Two jumps in warm up, and it was straight into the ring for 1 minute.  Nothing like a little heat to keep you moving!  The XC course ran great with the first 2 fences in the Sun, then a long stretch in the woods, through the water and 2 more fences in the Sun, followed by another long stretch in the shade - 3 more fences, through the second water - and one final fence, across the finish, and pulling up straight into the cooling tent with fans, shade, and ice!  They also had a couple of vets on hand just to be sure everyone was doing okay.  Some of the horses took quite a bit of time to recover, but it seemed like all the riders were very sensible in what they asked them to do considering their body type and fitness level - and everyone looked to come home in good shape.

But Katchi wasn't the only star of the day - Kerry and Atticus came home with a pretty red second place ribbon in their Training level class - WOO HOO!   It's taken Atticus a bit of time to adjust to the demands of Training level, so it was very exciting to see all 3 phases come together for him - as we all know, that ain't easy!

Katchi and Atticus were stars - but the smartest horse of the day award goes to the horse who dumped his rider between fences and then headed straight to the pond!  I guess he'd just had enough.  He caused about a 10 minute hold on course while they literally fished him out.  He went in the pond and was having no part of coming back out.  I had a good laugh this morning when I saw Eventing Nation linked to a blog post with photographic evidence of the incident.  EEEWWWW!!!!  Check out that slime they had to wade into to get the pony out - I'm sure swimming in the water had its cooling off appeal - but the winner of that prize got to be sweaty, hot, pond water wet, and slimy.  I hope they didn't have any passengers in their car on the way home!!!  EEEEWWWW!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Five Reasons to Love Eric Smiley

Sometimes you just get lucky.  You happen to cross paths with the right person at the right time.  That's how I felt two years ago when I went against my hard-and-fast policy of only riding with clinicians after auditing - on a whim, I signed up for a clinic with Eric Smiley.  Luck of the Irish!  Eric must be one of the most under-rated clinicians in the U.S.  Bet you haven't even heard of him, have you?!  Eric's an FEI international dressage judge - been around Badminton and Burghley more than a few times - took home a few medals to Ireland from a couple European Championships - made the fighting Irish proud at a few World Championships and Olympics - and he's now coaching the Belgium event team.  He's got a resume that most people only dream of.  And, oh by the way, he's incredibly kind, has a discriminating eye, is absolutely adamant about precision, and is a tremendously fantastic instructor!

So, when I heard there were still a few spaces available at last week's Eric Smiley clinic at Waredaca - and with Phillip being sort of unavailable for lessons what with that Olympic team prep thing - I jumped on the chance to ride with Eric again.  He was just as fabulous as I remembered. So here are 5 reasons to love Eric Smiley:

1. Eric is a discriminating dressage judge and everything about his jumping teaching is grounded in solid dressage basics.  His most used phrase... "Is the canter good enough?  Good enough for what?  To jump that over there?  What about that over there?"  If the canter is right, the jump will be too (gee, sounds an awful lot like Phillip!).

2. If you know you have the right canter for what you're approaching, believe it.  Stay still and be ready to support him if he needs it.  Don't chase the horse down to a jump, just hold the right canter every step of the way.  Eric also commented that when riders raise their hands on the take off, it's their way of trying to protect the horse from the poles.  Don't protect him!  Let him learn to come in deep and round up to take care of himself - or hit a pole - so what!  He'll learn to take better care of himself next time!

3. Treat every XC jump like it's just a log in the middle of a field.  If you tell your horse it has ghosts and goblins under it - he'll believe you!

4. When you warm up over small XC jumps, keep your leg soft and quiet.  It's tempting to over-ride everything, but the horses must learn to jump anything you point them at.  Save the strong aids for a time you really need it - in general, keep it quiet and expect the horse to do it himself.

5.  If you're putting in an effort of 7, and your horse is giving you back an effort of 3, that's just bad economics.  It's a bad investment and a terrible return on your money.  The horse must always give you back at least as much effort as you give him.

If you ever have the chance to ride with Eric, jump on it!  You won't be disappointed!  And if you happen to have any red boots laying around, be sure to wear those in your lesson! He'll think you're very funny!  :)

As for the rest of the past week... Katchi I have been on the road and on the road and on the road!  We picked up one more quick XC school last weekend, giving Katchi some more time walking ditches, while I coached 3 super cool ponies over some big boy fences.  July 4, Katchi and I celebrated American style by partaking in Colbert's Sport of the Summer - Dressage show!! I was so thrilled with Katchi for picking up two more scores over 60% at Second Level - which finished all my scores for the USDF Performance Award at Second Level - THANK YOU my wonderful OTTB!!!!  And tomorrow... tomorrow... hello 100 degrees and Loch Moy tomorrow.  I walked the course this afternoon, and they've done a great job of keeping it short with lots of time in the shade.  It was also 8 degrees cooler there than at my house, so I'm very hopeful we will make it through all three phases!  But it's definitely a day to take one step at a time - with lots of ice! 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

2012 PVDA Ride for Life

Team April

This weekend was packed with dressage and pink!!!  Pink shirts, hats, ribbons, flowers - and even pink glitter on horses!  Because this wasn't just any dressage show - this was the PVDA Ride for Life, to benefit the Johns Hopkins Avon Breast Center.  This was my 6th year participating in the event, and it was bigger and better than ever before.  And this year was extra special, as I joined up with 3 great friends - Kimber, Kerry, and Erica - to form Team April, riding and collecting donations in the spirit of "The Fierce Cancer Slayer, April" - a 35 year old friend-of-a-friend in California who is fighting stage 3 breast cancer.  Our team (horses and riders!) were out in full force all weekend wearing our very very lovely Team April sashes - which, begged several questions of whether we were Team Aprils or Miss Aprils!!!! Certainly wasn't expecting that one!

Katchi & me sporting our Team April gear

Erica, Monty & Me

Even Kerry's Atticus and Kimber's Eise got into the Team April sash wearing spirit!

High Pledge

On Saturday afternoon, I received the very exciting news that I had won the high pledge award for the "open division" (which means that I was competing in "open" classes, rather than as a junior/young rider or amateur).  Every year, I am just stunned by the generosity of my friends, students, colleagues, and family in supporting this event - THANK YOU!  I don't have a final amount raised yet, but it was over $2,000.  And for my work, Katchi took home the most beautiful Ride for Life embroidered gear - a stunning wool cooler, saddle pad, polo wraps (which, as Erica pointed out, I will need to mark "this side up" on the end where you start wrapping - otherwise, Katchi might look pretty silly sporting up-side-down and backwards R4L logos on all four legs!).  THANK YOU - THANK YOU - THANK YOU to everyone who made a donation in my name!

The Dressage Show 

Not to be overlooked is that Ride for Life is also a dressage show and Katchi and I, along with a couple of students, were not only sporting pink all weekend - but we were also sporting our game faces! I rode Katchi in Second Level test 1 on Saturday and Test 2 on Sunday - these tests are still quite hard for both of us, but I think we're really making progress in understanding what is needed to perform at this level.  I was super thrilled that Katchi kept his counter canter through both serpentines in Test 1 - for the very first time in competition!  He also got a 7 on his backing, which was quite a bit stiffer than the reinback we did just before entering the ring - so that's a huge improvement from the 4 or so he earned the first time competing at this level!!!  Unfortunately, even with some very high marks the first day, the judge issued harsh penalties for the lack of crispness in every one of our walk-to-canter and canter-to-walk transitions, and there are a lot in that test.  It was one of those days that I just couldn't seem to get Katchi to come through, and without his hind end attached to his front end - those transitions were impossible.  But, day two was a new day with the same judge - I changed my warm up quite a bit (including going to a different arena with more space and better footing) and I really got him put together for a much improved test, scoring just over 60%.  The judge still nailed us for a few tiny mistakes, but I could not have been more thrilled with my pony!

Katchi showing off his new R4L saddle pad.

I'm also thrilled to report that Kerry and Atticus had a stellar weekend riding First Level 1 and First Level 2 (for the first time) scoring mid- and high- 60s on both tests!  Kerry even scored 7s on her leg yields!  AND I'd like to announce Erica and Monty as the undefeated winners of Intro test B (walk-trot!) on both days of Ride for Life!!!  Erica, my hunter rider friend from Baywood, took the plunge into Dressage land last year at Ride for Life - while she had a good show, she did not win.  So, the game face came out this year and we did some serious practicing the last few weeks - she put her stirrups down many holes, learned to keep her butt in the saddle in the canter, and even restrained herself (almost completely) from clucking at her horse!  Erica improved her scores by more than 10 points and won 3 out of 4 classes - finishing 2nd in the 4th class!  All on her 22 year old off the track thoroughbred - The Full Monty!!!  You just gotta love it!  Watch out next year, I'm pretty sure she's already set her eyes on earning an 80% in the walk-trot intro class!

Katchi had pink ribbon spirit.

Silent Auction 

This year, I had the best idea - I volunteered for a few hours on Friday afternoon during the silent auction set-up.  Brilliant!  Double use of my time - help the show AND scope out all the auction items!  This year was the biggest auction yet - with almost 250 donated items ranging in estimated values from $3 - $6,500.  There was something for everyone!  At the end of the night, I came home with two bracelets and Katchi won a massage with the love of his life, Courtney, from Hands on Horses.

A huge thank you to Cavalor Feeds and the National Research Council who donated items to the auction on my behalf.

Dancing Horse Challenge

Of course, after last year's Lady Gaga performance, everyone was waiting to see what Bent Jensen would pull off this year!  It was really a treat to see him riding in leopard print spandex and an Afro wig - but I admit, I was a bit disappointed that his routine was a repeat of one he did in Florida earlier this year which has been quite a youtube sensation for months.  Even still, to see the spectacle up close and personal - Bent Jensen did not disappoint!

But my personal favorite of the night had to be my own dressage trainer, Silva Martin, riding the beautiful Aesthete (Stately), fully decked out in War Horse costume.  Stately took to all the show's pizzazz and seemed to really be showing off - until he seemed to take a bit of exception to his blanket straps and let out a serious buck.  Silva, of course, was unphased.  She must have had some practice riding a good buck on Neville!  And Silva looked the model of dressage history in her military uniform - absolutely stunning.

Here are some more clips of several of my favorite rides in the Dancing Horse Challenge

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Two days until 2012 PVDA Ride for Life

It's officially summer and the heat is in full power - which means it's time for the 2012 PVDA Ride for Life to benefit the Johns Hopkins Breast Cancer Center!!!  This weekend always seems to fall on one of the hottest this year - a few years ago, my poor San Diego mom nearly died when I sent her running back to the barns for emergency retrieval of forgotten fly spray.  She will never ever let me forget that.  But I think we're getting lucky this year - yesterday and today are brutal (I really liked when my car said 102 yesterday, while I was driving out to collect Katchi to go to a jumper show), but Saturday is supposed to be a mere 85.  WOO HOO!

This is the sixth year I am participating in Ride for Life, and it gets bigger and better each year.  While I am riding in memory of and collecting donations to honor my first dressage instructor, Joy Court, who we lost to breast cancer in 1997 - this year, I am also riding in support of a current breast cancer fighter.  One of the things that always strikes me about competing in Ride for Life is that it gets people talking about breast cancer.  In telling people about the event and asking for donations, you learn that breast cancer has effected everyone in some way.  This year, a wonderful friend from college, Sylvia, who is an faithful annual supporter of the event asked me to do her a favor at the show... take a picture for her friend April, a 35 year old woman diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer this spring.  April has an honest and inspirational blog here you might enjoy reading. And so, I have put together a team of riders - Kerry, Erica, Kimber, and myself - who are "Team April".  While we each have special people in our own lives for whom we are riding in memory or honor of, April's fight is the sort of unfathomable devastation of this disease that we are all unified against and so it made perfect sense for the name of our team.  If you make it out to the event this weekend, keep watch for us in our (ummm, tacky) bright hot pink sashes that say "Team April"!
Joy Court, my first dressage instructor, was lost to breast cancer in 1997

And the event details:

Saturday & Sunday June 23-24 at the Prince George's Equestrian Center, Upper Marlboro, MD 

Katchi ride times: 8:24 am Saturday; 11:28 Sunday (both in ring 5, just East and up the hill from the new large covered ring).

Dancing Horse Challenge Saturday night 6:30p-8:30p in the air conditioned coliseum.  $25 admission at the door. Silent auction, wine, shopping, and dancing horses = FUN!

If you would like to make a donation to the event, please be sure to include my name "Cherie Chauvin" to apply to my high pledge goals. THANK YOU! 

Katchi & Ribbons - R4L 2011

And 2010 - sensing a theme here??

Hope to see you all this weekend in pink celebrating this amazing event!!!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Rider # 55. My Hero.

Plantation Field was almost fabulous.  But it wasn't.  Katchi had a "moment" and pulled a shoe in show jumping. And I think it was the first time in my life that I neither felt or heard the shoe go.  I was headed to the XC start box. And that's why rider # 55 is my hero.  She saw it.  Despite her own impending face-off with the colored poles, she left the in-gate waiting area, trotted around the entire length of the very large jumping ring - to yell at me, "Number 47! I think you pulled a shoe!"  And sure enough I had.  While # 55 probably thinks it was no big deal - I'm quite certain she saved Katchi and I from the very serious threat of, at best, being back to months of walking with lots more vet bills - and at worst, well, worse I don't even want to think about. So shoeless Katchi and I were faced with two options:
1) Trek down the huge mountain of very hard ground about 1/2 mile to the barn where I saw the farrier; hope Katchi wouldn't hurt the foot on the journey; hope the show farrier could reattach Katchi's custom made bar shoe and leather pad just perfectly (my farrier calls him a Princess for a reason!); trek back up the mountain; and hope the starters could squeeze me in out of order to run around a XC course whose desperately-wanting-rain ground I was already fretting about.
2) Withdraw.
I chose option 2.  No XC for us today. I meant to grab a program so I could thank # 55 by name, but I forgot.  So, I'll always be ever so grateful to # 55 who went out of her way, despite her own competitive schedule, to pull me off the primrose path to hell.  Eventers really are a special kind of people. Thank you # 55.

Katchi, very proud of his lovely dressage test, digging for peppermints! 
Up until the shoe incident, Katchi and I were enjoying a wonderful day.  He was simply lovely in dressage - the most forward, relaxed, and obedient he's ever been.  I was all smiles!   I headed up the mountain to show jumping plenty early to watch a few rounds, which turned out to be a very good plan as riders were having all kinds of issues with the final jump - 8AB, a one-stride vertical to oxer combination.  The vertical was all poles, and the oxer had 2 grey aqueduct walls at the base.  Horses were jumping it horrendously - if at all!  I seem to recall something Denny Emerson wrote about aqueduct shapes - horses think they look like small animals.  Well, whatever they thought they saw - it was clear the horses hated them!

Katchi warmed up great and headed into the ring with power and focus.  He tried to snowplow a bit at the base of the first fence which earned him a good wack - I swear I heard him say "I KNOW - okay, okay - I'll jump good now - I promise!" - and good he was!  7 more fences.  7 perfect jumps.  No stutters or awkwardness at all - a little dramatic over the oxers, but relaxed and forward (and finally not frantic) - a huge improvement even from the jumper show last weekend!  Just the final combination remained.  3 strides out, I know Katchi saw those evil walls.  I rode hard and he jumped in beautifully - and then he got a clear view of those walls and said, "I don't jump small animals!"  Refusal.  I kept his nose right near that wall while he got a good wack - then galloped a huge loop around the ring (so he could have ample time to pull off his shoe).  31 time penalties later, Katchi jumped through the final combination perfectly.  And that was the end of Plantation for us.

I admit, I'm ready for the "perfect" show jumping round.  But it's hard to be too frustrated when things are improving so much.  And the reality is, I'd rather be the rider with 9 perfect jumps and 1 mistake that hits the scoreboard hard - than the rider who miraculously gets over all 10 fences adding nothing to the scoreboard, but with the audience not knowing whether to scream or laugh.  So, we push ahead...

Katchi says, "I have to wear these stinking ice boots and we didn't even run XC?! You suck."

Monday, June 4, 2012

Katchi Power! And a star sighting...

I think it's high time for a Katchi update!  But first, a RED BOOT update!  They are broken in, and I love them!  You just can't help but have a good ride when you're sporting red boots!  And, they are honestly the most comfortable paddock boots.  Dublin Boots, I am impressed.  They only made 500 pairs in red, but I saw Dover Saddlery has a few on hand, so you too can have a pair of fire engine red boots!  LOVE THEM!

Check out those RED BOOTS!
It has been just over 3 weeks since Katchi got approval from Dr. Allen to "return to play."  And this Saturday, he will officially be eventing again.  We're headed up to Plantation Field to run training level.  I didn't feel like I could get him Preliminary fit and polished in 4 weeks. But, we have really made great progress in 3 short weeks, and I am super excited to be back on the eventing scoreboard on Saturday!!!

This past weekend was my last big push to get us ready.  The big thing I felt we were missing was speed work.  Katchi doesn't need much, but I needed to make sure he still has his "go" button.  He does.  And I'm not sure who had more fun testing it.  Katchi was the happiest I've seen him in months.  And I was wearing a big fat grin.  We were so fortunate to get access to a local private race track on the most beautiful Saturday afternoon all year.  I wish I could do that day over and over and over again!  Kerry and Atticus came along too - neither of whom had ever been on a track!  Kerry had a grin as big as mine.  Atticus not so much.  He's got thoroughbred in him, and it came out in spurts.  But then his warmblood part would realize how much work he was doing, and he'd just frown.  Katchi and Atticus were like Tigger and Eeyore on the track.  Too funny.

Thanks to Kerry, sitting atop Atticus (stamping at flies, hence the unsteady camera), we got some fun videos.  I realized after I put together this montage that I probably should have cut out the first slow gallops.  It's sort of funny to see Katchi loping around a track set to music that says "he's going for speed".  Well, not really.  Don't worry, he gets faster, eventually.

And the big prep weekend continued on Sunday, the second most beautiful day of the year, when Kerry and I headed out to Middleburg, Virginia for a jumper show at Fox Chase Farm.  I didn't know what to expect of the show, but it certainly wasn't what we got.  We arrived to free croissants and a free espresso bar - with a barista at our service!  This show is awesome! We watched a few rounds, learned the first course, tacked up, and voila - it was time to warm up and ride!  They had a white board with all the rider numbers written down so you knew exactly what was happening, and there was no waiting around for 5 hours!!!  Love this show!

Beautiful Fox Chase Farm in Middleburg, VA

The arena was beautiful, the footing fabulous, the jumps bright, and the landscaping lush (landscaping around the jumps!) - all at a schooling show!  WOW.  Kerry and I both entered the two 3'3" classes.  Neither one of us made it to the jump off in the first class.  We're certain our horses must have heard there were 8 more jumps to do if they didn't screw anything up - so they each picked a "real scary looking" jump to embarrass us right out of the jump off.  Kerry picked up a ridiculous stop at a grey wall.  Katchi walked through a red/black plank fence projecting my butt right onto his neck, which somehow I managed to relocate onto the saddle to finish the course (I definitely won the award of the day for spectator entertainment! Oh, and there were spectators.  Lots of them.).  14 fences on course.  13 lovely jumps.  And 1 jump to humble us right out of Middleburg and back to Maryland.  Thankfully, we had that second class to go - I'm starting to like jumper shows.  They have a built in "do-over" (I do hate having to learn more than one course though!).  Katchi jumped a lovely clear round in our second class and came home with a 3rd place ribbon - his first ribbon of 2012!!!  Atticus is still figuring out how high to lift his toes, but he came home with a 6th place ribbon and a very happy rider!  Awesome day!  

Again, thanks to Kerry, sitting atop Atticus, for getting Katchi's second round on film:   

With our competitive day complete, Kerry and I sat down to enjoy macaroni and cheese from the caterer (this was NOT your average horse show food), and ice cream from the soft serve ice cream truck (did I mention this was a schooling jumper show?! These Middleburg people know how to do horse shows).  There I am, shoveling a hot fudge sundae into my mouth, when who should wander over to his "reserved" table at the front of the gazebo?  Robert Duvall.  Freaking Hollywood movie star Robert Duvall.  We had seen a trophy with his name on it in the show office that was to be awarded later for the "$5,000 Mini Prix" but I didn't expect to see the man there himself!  He was a bit incognito, but Kerry spotted him right away. And then it was all about the camera phone. In between wiping hot fudge off my face, trying to look interested in the horse in the arena and not laugh at Kerry, and appear totally NORMAL - there's me, swiping pictures of Robert Duvall on my cell phone.  Yea, he totally saw me.  He might have been horrified.  

OMG! It's Robert Duvall - at a schooling jumper show!!
But, seriously, did Kerry and I have the coolest weekend ever or what???