Tuesday, July 9, 2013

June Wrap Up

It has been a very busy month! Lucinda Green clinic in the beginning of the month, Fox River Valley Horse Trials in the middle, and hosting the Kim Severson clinic at the end!

Lucinda is always an amazing clinician. She teaches something no one else teaches-- how to ride when it all goes wrong. And it so often does on cross country, that I think what she teaches ought to be required learning for anyone who wants to go out on a cross country course, at any level! Lucinda was very impressed with the changes in Baby Z during the last year! She did up our bit to a gag, which really helped us, but I'm pretty sure that using it even a couple times was enough to remind her she is in fact supposed to listen to me! By the Kim clinic, we were back in the Waterford with more obedience than ever before!

Fox River Valley was a bit of a weather rollercoaster. Hot and dry, then pouring cats and dogs, then hot... rinse and repeat! Z was a star, breaking into the 20s in dressage (my first time ever in the 20s!), double clean show jumping, but a bad jump into water cost us some time, and frazzled me enough that I went the wrong way for precious seconds! The footing was deep enough that we weren't going fast enough to make up for any mistakes, so we ended with 9.4 time penalties, dropping from 3rd to 7th. But at least Zahra doesn't know we didn't finish on our dressage score! She was such a star in the toughest conditions she has ever run in so far. Check the helmet cam to see how chewed up it all was by the time we went! Thanks to Adam for all the great pictures!

The Kim clinic had a very rocky start, with Kim's plane being cancelled Friday night, and delayed again Saturday morning. She finally made it in after 11, to O'Hare, and we got the first group started by 2:30 back in Madison. We rode all afternoon, some through rain,  getting everyone in, although the last group ended at dusk! I can't thank the awesome volunteers/co-organizing cohort who got things set up while I drove Kim from Chicago... and drove... and drove.... did I mention I took a wrong turn and we took I94 through Milwaukee? With all the construction and delays going up I-90, we only lost about 20 minutes, but still, a lot of miles covered that day! Everyone had great rides, and those that rode in March had all made obvious improvements in the past 3 months. It was great to see!

Sunday was finally a gorgeous day! The only gorgeous day we've had for Kim, I was afraid she was going to start hating Wisconsin! She started us off by making a galloping path for 350 meters per minute, 400mpm, 450mpm, 500 mpm, and 520mpm. This is the first time I'd ever timed myself to figure out my pacing, and it was hugely educational! Zahra covered the training speed without exertion, so I can stop fretting so much about time! This is definitely a tool we will come back to! Then we warmed up over a galloping oxer, did some serious gymnastics with the ditch, utilizing the very narrow triple brush on an off-set 4 stride line. After some work with the water, we were ready for our big trip to Ohio!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Otter Spring

So what's the opposite of humble pie? Victory cake? Whatever it is, I'm having seconds, because Zahra was awesome this weekend for our training level debut!

We had a less than stellar test that still earned us a highly respectable 36.4, putting us in 4th... I didn't feel that we put in that good of a performance, but Zahra's flashy movement made up for an otherwise lackluster test. We will be working hard on our figures between now and FRVPC, and who knows? Maybe I can crack into the elusive 70% Club! Part of me is still just happy to stay in the ring through the whole test, but as Z grows up, it's fun to start pushing her to be that extra little bit better each time!

Image courtesy Adam Frizzell Photography
Cross country was perfect!! An ideal course to move up on, there was nothing that had me particularly worried as I left the start box-- a great feeling!! I rode without a watch, letting Zahra set the tempo, since I just wanted a good experience for her, and didn't feel obligated to worry about time. We came in about 30 seconds slow, but with a very happy horse and rider! None of the jumps gave her a moments pause, and she was incredibly rideable throughout the course.

Image courtesy Adam Frizzell Photography
Show jumping day Zahra was a bit tired, not that I blame her after the Spring we've had! Our fitness program is behind where it should be for this time of year because of the late snows and persistent sloppy footing. We kept warm-up minimal to preserve her energy, but was very happy that she really lit up once we got in the ring! We got a bit flat to the first and sixth fences, having a rail at each. I don't think the height was any issue for her, just needs a little more fitness to really shine on Day 3!

Image courtesy Adam Frizzell Photography
So yeah, if we had finished on our dressage score, we would have won. But then again, as Jon Ketzler always says "If I hadn't been bucked off in dressage, had 3 run outs cross country, and 4 rails in show jumping.... I could have won!!" It's a 3 day sport, and right now we're good in all three, but watch out once we get great!!

And look! We got a pretty brown ribbon!!
Image courtesy Adam Frizzell Photography
For all the pictures, please visit Adam's smugmug page.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Happy Birthday Puck!!

Puck is 3 years old today!! He's been super so far in his training. Walk, trot, canter, turn left, turn right, halt... all mastered!! For now, that's all he needs! Now if only spring would come and we could start hitting the trails!!

3 years ago today

For more photos, go here.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Rolex Recap

We had tons of fun going down and watching the big boys go! Would have loved a bigger field, but it is an off year. Lots of rookies this year, which was way cool! In the postmortem, PD said on his facebook he'd like to see a CIC*** added. I'm sure he would, then he could ride 6 horses!! But I can't help but feel a 3* somehow cheapens the victory of the 4*, while at the same time hurting the other 3*s that are immediately before and after Rolex.  I think it would be much cooler to highlight our young horses, like they do at Le Lion in Europe. Let's have a 6 year old championship class! It would give US Breeders something to aim for, give some prestige to our up and comers with all the spectators (not to mention a great crowd experience!), and I think it would add more interest for potential owners as well-- a chance to get in at the ground floor maybe? Oh well, those are just my thoughts. Now on to pictures from Adam!

The entire gallery can be found here.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Jim Wofford at the Midwest Horse Fair

Midwest Horse Fair. Not the first place you'd go looking for quality eventing instruction, but this year was certainly an exception! The great Jim Wofford was on hand, and I was fortunate enough to be one of his guinea pigs! We had one mounted demonstration, and one lecture each day, and Jim did an excellent job of balancing the needs of the riders looking for precious nuggets of knowledge, and the spectating western pleasure public, many of whom didn't know eventing was a sport, or even that "Oldenburg" was a breed!

On day one, we focused on position. "Sit right to jump right" was the theme, and luckily for us, we all had a pretty solid position, but Jim still took the time to explain the perfect placement of the foot, and why the leg is where it is, and what is a two-point, for the sake of the audience. The jumps were very straight forward, to the point where they almost weren't a part of the equation, but it gave the horses a chance to adjust to the tense atmosphere. In lecture later, he continued with the position theme, but now incorporated dressage and cross country position into the conversation as well. Major take away: you WILL ride without stirrups. I've been too chicken shit up til now to drop my stirrups with the green bean, but I guess she's trained enough??

Describing correct upper body angle
Image (c) ShortHorse Studios
Day two's ride was lengthening and shortening, and the gymnastics were a bit more interesting, one set at the 'correct' distance, one set two feet short, one set two feet long. Generally, the horses who excelled at the short distance struggled at the long distance, and vice verse.  One horse was able to bounce the shortened one stride, while another horse was able to chip in a third stride in the elongated three stride! Because Z had been bum-rushing the correct distance, Jim predicted she would struggle in the short, but she was more willing to listen to me on the new exercise and came in quietly, making it look easy. Then, he told me "not even to breathe too hard" in between the longer strides, just let her go a bit, and she made that look easy too! Really nice to have a horse who can adjust after the Sgiltinator's famous trick of always-adding-a-stride-even-at-4'-but-still-not-touching-a-rail!!
Image (c) ShortHorse Studios

The afternoon discussion focused on conditioning, and I decided after that talk it was time to update my conditioning regimen, since everyone seems to use shorter intervals than I do!! Jim's interval system ((3)4 minute trots + (3)3 minute canters) is the way I learned originally, but somewhere along the way I learned to do longer trot sets, 15 minutes for young horses, 20 minutes for up to training level, 30 minutes for prelim/intermediate, and 40 minutes for advanced (followed by short canter intervals). Maybe a holdover from the long format days?

The third day was a gymnastic to prepare the horse for jumping a course. It was a one stride, followed by a choice. Three stride bending line to the left, two stride bending line to the right, or four strides to an oxer straight in front. By switching up which way you turn, the idea is to teach the horse to wait for your instruction. Once that's been mastered, the three individual jumps + the one stride can then be used to create a little course.
Image (c) ShortHorse Studios

The last lecture was "Trends in the Sport." This talk was pretty depressing. It was primarily about two things: drugs and professionals. The drugs was mainly about the hunter ring, but I'm sure there are some guilty eventers as well, basically winning "by the needle" instead of through good horsemanship. The professionalism discussion had to do with the fact that (and yes, Jimmy was this blunt): "if you didn't decide when you were 18 to go be a professional rider, you're not going to go to the Olympics. If you're 35, college educated, working 9-5, with kids, its not going to happen."  Well, I'm 26, no kids, but would still really like to pass through the finish flags at Rolex some day.... so I guess I'll keep working!
The Gang

Monday, April 8, 2013

Spring Bay; or, winter to summer in one weekend!

Well, I am over the moon with Zahra after this weekend! Her ridability has come so far since her first show last July, and really grown leaps and bounds over the winter, despite being stuck in the indoor since November!

Photos (c) O'Shea Eventing
Dressage was just about all I could ask for. It was her personal best, absolutely. She was soft and relaxed in her trot work, her canter departs were a bit early, but soft, and if I'd only halted at the right letter, she'd have done 2 points better! There's still room to improve, absolutely. Once soft and relaxed are the norm, then we can push for brilliance, but one stride at a time!

Show Jumping was very good. I put her in a couple bad spots (most notably, the double, I gave her a terrible spot to jump in, forcing her to really reach for B), but she's so athletic, she saved it for an easy double clear. I know this is where I need my work!

Cross Country was so exhilarating!! Having not been out to school, I felt like it could have gone either way. Maybe she'd refuse to leave warm-up, maybe she'd run off with me? But neither was the case, although she did try to keep galloping up the hill past #4, so I did have to set her straight there! You'll see it in the HelmetCam! She was spot on to everything, and by the time we were at 10, I was completely giddy! She was as happy to be out as I was, and all I had to do was point her at the next set of flags, and she'd take care of the rest!

We're both feeling fully confident to make the move up to Training at Otter Creek in a few weeks, although I do hope the Wisconsin weather improves well before that!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Beating the Winter Blues with Kim

Our recent Kim Severson clinic was a huge success for those who braved the frigid temperatures! After (during?) a particularly brutal winter, all the horses had their share of cobwebs, but Kim came in like a tornado of knowledge to sweep them away, making all the horse and rider combinations better for it! For myself, it was the uncomfortable realization of how much I let my mare "get away with." I point her at the jump, she jumps it, no questions asked. But when Kim made me sit up and take charge of the situation, Zahra found this new power structure very off-putting, and made her opinion known to all! Kim makes every rider, regardless of their level, accountable for their ride. We saw it in the ground pole class, where she demanded straight lines and even tempo, all the way up to the Preliminary group, where flying lead changes were executed riding forward and on the mark. Since the clinic, I have been diligent to make sure I am being accountable in my riding. Between that and letting Z get a breezer in the snow last week, we're becoming a much happier partnership!

My little Puck was my star of the weekend, bravely joining the baby group despite only being on his 4th ride. I would have been happy if he just walked around quietly, but he did so much more!! We did our first canters each direction, and trotted (and jumped!) some poles on the ground. What a rock star!!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Spring Training

The spring itch has begun. The pros are down in Area III, showing already (*jealous*), but here in Wisco, it's finally climbed above 10 degrees!! Alright, game time!! After the season ended last October, I slowly brought Zahra down through November, finally giving her time off early in December. Then there were snowstorms. Then holidays. Then subzero temperatures. Then more snowstorms. Now, though it's time to get fit, snow be damned! First show is only 4 weeks away, time to put the pedal to the metal!
It was over 100 degrees that day... I need some of that!!

Monday, January 21, 2013

So it begins....

I have begun work on Mr. Puck in earnest now. For a while now I have been saddling him up and sitting on him, but I couldn't have gone anywhere even if I'd wanted to-- he had no "go" button installed yet! So we've worked in the round pen on verbal cues, in hand on pressure cues, and most recently, I began long lining him!

I've been the young horse crash test dummy for many years, but with my own Puck, I had to begin training the next generation, since I could not be in two places at once! Haley has been my able bodied assistant, first laying across him like a sack of potatoes while I walked him, then sitting up and going for a little pony ride. He has handled everything like a champ, so this weekend Haley and I let him do his first T-R-O-T!!

He was beautifully relaxed and uphill, no thought of naughtiness at all. His brakes are still a little questionable, but that, like the steering, will come. I can't ask for a better head on his shoulders!

We've gone at a snail's pace with Puck, making sure he was completely at ease with each new task before beginning the next, and it shows in how confidently he faces each new task, and how much he looks to me for support when he is unsure. It is such an amazing feeling, finally starting my own horse, and being able to do it completely my own way!

Next up, free jumping??

Puck as a yearling.
Photo (c) Shorthorse Studios

Friday, January 11, 2013

Love, Joy, or Both?

Sgilti at Otter Creek Intermediate.
Image (c)Xpress Foto
Recently, I looked back at Sgilti Lightfoot's (aka Wonderhorse) competition record. I remember our time together as fighting the odds-- a nobody horse and a nobody rider, coming together to take on the world! We defied the odds and defied expectations, and for that, Sgilti won an eternal place in my heart (and guaranteed retirement from my checkbook). But now, a few years and a few horses later when I looked back at the raw numbers, I see a very different picture. Sgilti and I were, quite frankly, not very good. Our dressage was middling, our SJ was not ideal, and even our XC record was littered with the occasional 20 penalties. So, is it naive of me to think of him as the greatest horse ever? Maybe. Or maybe it was this lack of perfection that drove me to keep fighting. Maybe if he'd been perfect, I would have rested on my laurels and "moved on" with life as so many aspiring riders are wont to do.

At the Florida CCI* jog
(c)Xpress Foto
Adam and I started dating at the end of Sgilti's career. He saw me enjoy my last few rides with the old man, then watched me struggle for a year with Wolfn, and now watches Zahra and I, and he said something very insightful the other day (good work for the non-horsey type!!). He said "I like watching you and Zahra, because you work together. It always seemed like you and Wolfn were working against each other. And Sgilti looked like he just did what he was told."

That comment got me thinking about Love and Joy. When you boil it down, those are the reasons I event: Love of my horse, and the Joy of the ride. Maybe its overly simplistic, but I feel like Sgilti competed for Love. He wasn't that good, and maybe it wasn't as much fun for him as I might have liked, but he did his best with his limited abilities to make me happy. He did it for me, and that took us pretty far. I Loved that horse. We worked our way up the eventing ranks together. We probably had no business competing at Intermediate, but he still did it. He gave me all he had, every day, even if it wasn't to be our day.

Oh, Wolfn is over jumping? What else is new?
(c)Xpress Foto
Wolfn, on the other hand, was supremely talented. She enjoyed cross country for the Joy of galloping. I remember the first time out on cross country with her, when I let her open up her stride, and she took it and flew. It was exhilarating! That mare loved to gallop! Everything else-- the jumping, the dressage, trailrides at speeds other than gallop... none of those things were really "her bag." But I got away with making her do this other work because it was so easy for her. It wasn't until I jumped her over a 4' oxer that she finally used herself--and she still wasn't really trying that hard!! Going around Novice and Training courses was a total snooze for her, so of course she did it. There was no challenge. But I wonder what she would have done had she not had the trailering issue, if we'd been able to move up to Prelim and Intermediate. Then there would have been some challenge. A certain level of Trust would be involved. Would she have ever developed that? Or would she have stopped trying as soon as the work got hard? I'll never know.

Zahra at Richland this summer
 (c) Shannon Brinkman
Zahra and Puck, I believe, fall in the middle. They are both purpose bred sport horses, so the natural ability is there in spades, but there is something more as well. Puck's never had anyone else in his life except me, and he trusts me wholly and completely, which has been hugely apparent as he begins his training. When I am calm and deliberate, he is calm and happy. When I am the least bit anxious (e.g., trying to carefully pull a tick off his chest), he dances around nervously. Either way, he feeds off of me entirely. Conversely, Zahra has been handled by many people, as she was born at a college campus. Her personality is stamped with an upbringing of love and devotion from all of her many handlers (just imagine being a cute foal surrounded by college girls, and you get the picture!!). So although she is puppy dog sweet, she did not inherently trust me when I first bought her. We had a couple big trust issues early on (detailed here, here and here). But this fall, I feel like we've finally gelled as a team.

This past Summer, Zahra competed for Joy, because it was easy. Next year, as it gets harder, I hope it will be for Love and Joy. And Puck? He already does it for Love. He'll learn about Joy next year in the fox hunting field!
♥ Puck ♥