Monday, September 30, 2013

LAUGH OR GET OFF - TALES OF OLD...

Photo used with permission
www.dexterpix.com
Shhhhh, don't tell anyone but I really do want to be Number 1!  I want to achieve a goal that makes me stand out in a crowd...  to be on a podium accepting an award for outstanding achievement!  Yes, I want to be that person!  Yay me!

This weekend at the University of New Hampshire's Fall Horse Trials, I finally could say that I was Number 1.  Sugar and I, through epic efforts on both of our parts had the highest dressage score of all 200+ competitors!  What was that number you say?  It was a 57.6 - a new record for both of us.

Facebook is a funny thing...  that record made my non-horsey friends/family so proud of my achievement.  {{{My mom even congratulated me.}}}  And you all...  well, you actually can picture what a 57.6 looks in Eventing Dressage?  My Bestest Eventing Buddy remarked that it was the most exciting dressage test she's every watched...  like a train wreck - she couldn't turn away!

Winning the warm up once again, my lil' Pinto Pony was supple, animated, athletic and graceful...  Did I mention how beautiful she is or told you how I keep her so white?   Then as if the parking meter ran out and red lights started flashing, my lil' girl began to say, "I don't wanna!"  Yet, with encouragement from my Eventing Trainer, "we got her brain back" and headed to Ring 1.


Used with permission
 www.flatlandsfoto.com
Our scores begin like a perfectly normal test...  5, 7, 6, 7, 5, 6 and then we got to the free walk.  It was at this moment her brain fried and she said, "I have had enough!  Take me back to my lover or I will do it for you!"  3, 1, 1, 3, 4, 5.  Numbers do not describe the lovely "airs-above-the-ground", her levade, the lovely piaffe as I encouraged her to move forward, the passage as she acquiesced to my "gentle" prodding and finally after agreeing that the canter movement was a requirement, she finished the canter doing clean one tempe changes until I "asked" for the trot.  The five was a pretty nice square halt... phew! 

I withdrew before XC after going clean in Stadium the next day.  It was a very hard decision and one I wonder about even today.  In all the leaping and bounding in dressage, I felt a burning in my lower back that persisted despite ALOT of advil.  As we were warming up, I knew I was holding my back still and very cautious.  Ultimately, the decision was made in an effort to preserve my growing confidence. 

It's Monday and yet again, I continue to break rules (Eventing Rule #4 - No one cares on Monday).  I'm still laughing at the whole thing. Sugar's antics were hysterical...   I guess its hard being a teenager particularly when a parent asks you to leave your boyfriend for an hour to do some work around the house. 

Excuse me, I have to run to the barn tonight before Sug runs out and gets a tattoo just to prove, "I'm not the boss of her!"

Sunday, September 22, 2013

"ADULTS WITH ISSUES"

Daniel Stewart, himself
The story starts the Daniel Stewart Pressure Proof your Riding clinic...  "Way back when, at an International 3*, a Belgium* rider is just three fences from finishing when the horse is broadsided by a duck flying across the course.  Feathers fly and loud squawking occurs as the duck hits the ground...  The rider, rattled by the experience, stops and retires on course just three jumps from finishing...  She couldn't get her focus back!"

"Great riders master both the physical and the mental.  Today it's about increasing mental focus and confidence.  To experience your duck(s) and continue on..." 

And Folks... Game On!  Daniel Stewart was taking no prisoners.  His philosophy was to use the Overload Principle and "push us to fail"!  Our lessons should be harder than a competition and by pushing past your comfort zone, you get better!  Think about that...  overload our brains and teach us to be better by pushing us to fail.  Oh my!

One of the thing he pushed at the end was to "Pay it Forward"  To really embody the concepts and to make them your own, you have to give them away.  So, to be as succinct as possible...  here you go:

Camera couldn't quite capture the course
Our jumping exercise was called the Playground - Three lines of three jumps.  Each rider would have four rounds with each round getting more complicated.  DS would tell us what course to jump as we approached E.  His command would include the line (Outside, Diagonal, Bending, Center), how many jumps to jump AND the time to complete it.

 Every rider had 30 points to give up.  5 points for rails, going off course or taking the "near" side on a bending line, 1 point for every second off the time and 1 point for chipping in or taking the long spot.

Unfortunately, I completely blew it...  every single point.  You see, my Duck was chipping in.  I had the speed down, remembered the course (until the ducks showed up) and was competent.  When DS mentioned that I needed to work on doing the outside line better (improve the physical) so she wouldn't chip...  I began to focus on chipping in... even to the extent that I was counting them for the scribe.  And, "when you're ducking Ducks, you aren't riding!"  {{{OH MY!  I think we have something here.}}}

It was FABULOUS!  I haven't had this much fun jumping in a long time!  Like my horse, we both became more business-like (and less hysterical/spooky) when everything was quick, complicated and required focus.

DS - "Forget about being perfect!  Be excellent!  Focus on what is going well and you continue to improve."   "You are "Adults with Issues".  As you drive up the driveway to the barn, tuck all that craziness away and remember why you do this... for the love of your horse."

Our homework - (He gave us four things but said that we should only keep three):
  • Music as Motivation - Put together a Playlist after determining if you're the type of person who either needs to "pump it up" or "Calm Down".  Choose songs that motivate you, that have words that mean something to you.  Have as many as you want but choose 2 or 3 to become your Anthem. 
  • Develop Cue Words - Cues your focus.  He gave some awesome examples
    • STAR - Sit Tall And Release, Stop Thinking And Relax
    • BIG - Breathing Is Good
    • LOGO - Laugh Or Get Off
    • SUPER - Succeed Under Pressure Every Ride
  • Rituals as Stress Stoppers (not going to go into this 'cause its the 4th)
  • Targeting - Get in the Zone by targeting some thing in the ride that develops a state of flow - horses breath, sound of the tack... a cadence - "Be strong, push on!"
Fall day in New England - EXCELLENT!
And finally "Build your Equestrian Brand" by incorporating these tasks in to a brand.  For instance, the rider who had SUPER as the Cue Word also had Superman as her song, wore a Superman T-Shirt under her jacket and embodied the spirit.

DS's last comment before he left to catch his plan "Laughter heals and when we can laugh, we get better."

You know...  he's right!  I do this for fun!  I love my horse - quirks and all!  And you know what else, Sugar may be saying the same thing to her friends, "I love my person - quirks and all!  Thanks to Scarlet Hill Farm for hosting! 

* Two quick notes - It may have been another nationality he mentioned but I couldn't confirm on line so I'm going with Belgium.  And I didn't ride poorly and most of what I did was good (I think), I just blew everything on the last exercise (Outside, diagonal, center, bending - 10 jumps 45 seconds).  I got dinged for going off course, 15 seconds when I circled after  missed the center, and then got lost and stopped.)  It was still awesome!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

REALITY CHECK, RTR RETIREMENT AND OTHER SUCH RAMBLINGS

Photo used with permission
www.yokinasphoto.com
Sometimes you need a head slap...  the kind you see in cartoons where the head completely spins around with stars and little birds flying around...  That kind - the reality check!  This post is my very own and very public HEAD SLAP!

It begins with a conversation with the Bestest Eventing Buddy where I hear myself lament/whine about all I have to do this weekend {{{What's a girl gonna do?}}}  Do I go fox hunting on Saturday?  Or should I take it easy Saturday and prepare for Sunday's Daniel Stewart Pressure Proof Your Riding clinic?  Then I heard these words come out of my mouth, "Just once I'd like to have a quiet weekend with nothing to do...  fox hunting Saturday, the clinic Sunday and then UNH Horse Trials next weekend....  Just once!"

OMG!  I have finally become my own clich├ęd "rich ,over-caffeinated, overbooked, unsatisfied white girl."  And for that I welcome all and frequent HEAD SLAPS (caps intended).
Photo used with
permission
 www.connecicutphoto.com

AND, for all of those folks who heard me say (frequently) that, as a team, Sugar and I are retiring from eventing.  I would like to add, that Sugar is, in fact, in a RTR Retirement phase.  Translated, I "Reserve The Right" to retire Sugar and I, as a team, from eventing.  This statement can be further translated to mean, that Sugar and I are going to compete at UNH Horse Trials next weekend AND will continue to event next season at Beginner Novice until I can afford to keep two horses.  Which again is loosely translated as we will compete at BN forever or until the second show next year in which I decide to move up to Novice which will be the highest level I will compete with her (unless I move up to training).

That entire paragraph can be translated once more to mean - never listen to me when I'm at a show or XC schooling.  It's all a fantasy.

BEB doing her Prelim thing
Final thoughts are about FUN!   My Bestest Eventing Buddy and I have determined that the best time eventing is the ride home.  It's not that we don't love the grace and beauty of Dressage, the prescison of Stadium Jumping or the kick butt thrill of XC... we LOVE all of that!   We get to relive the best moments over and over again all the way home.  Add a iced Dunkin and it's magical.

As hard as this sport is (a thousand ways to lose), I love it!  I love how hard it is.  And although I've grown to hate my nerves, getting it done anyway is priceless.  I don't envy my Eventing or Dressage Trainer (I wouldn't want to be in their shoes) but I thank god more often than not that I have these amazing instructors in my life.

And, don't get me started on you all out there Eventing...  yeah you!  That's what makes it fun!  And I'm glad I'm here to enjoy it!

Monday, September 16, 2013

OH TO BE 13 AGAIN - GMHA HORSE TRIALS

I really don't think any of us want to be thirteen again...  you know, that awkward, hormonal stage of your life where your desires overwhelm, emotions consume and everything feels so serious...  Does he like me?  Oh no, he is soo cute and I think he likes me!  Is that a pimple? Oh my god, my life is ruined!  {{{Squirrel!}}}}
What "fun" looks like - not!

What do you do when it happens at a show?  You know...  a day where your desire overwhelms, emotions consume and everything is so serious...  I for one, thought... hmmm I have spent alot of time, money and resources at working on "curing" my anxiety and for what? Waterworks! 

SHORT STORY - tied for fifth after dressage with a 34.8 ("Nice horse"), tied for fourth after stadium jumping and second place after cross country finishing on my dressage score.  But what is an event if all you're left with are numbers?

I was ok with the RF at Town Hill and still feeling fabulous about our performance up to fence 13.  Then someone at the barn said, simply, after hearing my story, "Well, you know what the definition of insanity is, right?  Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results..." 


Photo used with permission
www.connecticutphoto.com
Calm, yet determined at
Town Hill Horse Trials
That statement, like termites on wet wood, began to eat at me until all I had left was the image of Sug spinning me off and galloping away.  I was defeated... done.  To do any more eventing on Sugar was insane and I had to retire her from the sport.  And, when I could afford two horses, go back to competing.

 I told my Bestest Eventing Buddy (and anyone else that I saw) that I "reserved the right" to not do any of the jumping phases if I felt it was going to be hard.  I was resolved and sad - Sugar and I as a team were retiring.

At GMHA, I decided to at least do dressage.  Here, Sugar was so soft and rideable in the warm up until she envoked her inner Mariah Carey by leaping and spinning into an amazing diva fit at the canter.  I got angry and wanted to do battle but I heard my trainer's voice to "bring her to a walk, get her brain back and then go back to the canter". 

It worked until another MC explosion and we did the equine equivalent of trying to figure out what Ms Sugar wanted...  "Excuse me Ms Carey, shall we ask the cute bay mare to move away? Or shall we sing your praises and scratch your wither?  "Doth the gray gelding with the big gaits disturb you?  Please, what is it that you want Madame?"  The rest of the warmup was geared to soothing the savage beast.

She was surprisingly rideable for the test.... nothing brilliant but enough 6's and 7's to be in the mid thirties.  I'll take it!

Stadium was at 4:18 and my mindset was detiorating.  "I will do this last SJ round and we are done! I will not do XC tomorrow.  This is it!  She is retired from eventing after this."   I walked the course twice and watched about 15 rides.  I was good to go and ready for the final round. 

What? A new ring and course?
One of the "funniest" things to watch is the faces of folks in the warm up when we find out that they switched rings on us and changed the course.  It was like a dam broke or someone kicked up a hornets nest...  the frenzy built and we all were rushing the ring like a fire broke out behind us.

Here is where I want to tell you that all the work I'm doing really paid off and that this little change was handled in stride and I stepped up to the plate like a pro.  Sigh...  not my story...  I crashed and burned like the 13 year old who just found out that he really didn't like her... 

I lost it!  I quit on the spot!  This was too much for my brain to handle!  "I am done!  I can not do this!  I am done!"  Tears, apologies to my trainer, more tears, gulping air, more tears and more apologies to my trainer.  "I can't handle this."

Apparently, I was just the third or fourth adult rider of hers that day with a breakdown.  So, with skill and I'm sure practice, she got me into the ring.  She told me that I could quit, no one would think me strange but why don't I act like she was teaching me a lesson and just do the course without walking it.  Just go in and ride Sugar like I did at Town Hill.  I sniffled, wiped my nose on my coat and gulped, "OK, but I'm not going XC tomorrow."
On our way home... Fence 13

I rode my spooky horse over jumps neither of us got to preview and we went clean.  The commentary was interesting - no cursing but alot of "Suuuuu gerrrrrrr, you will jump this!"  "Sugar, jump!" I am proud to say that I did not utter one curse word.

"Ok, I will ride Cross Country tomorrow but I reserve the right to retire her on course if she gives me one problem." 

Quick thing about the XC Course Walk with the Eventing Trainer...  At one point, I asked her which line to take coming out of the woods to fence 4 - this one which is slightly off set but I can do a bending line or this one which is very narrow that has me straight...  NEITHER, get out of the woods and ride it this way.  Her words of advice, "Don't do anything fancy...  just get straight at the jump and jump it." 

What?  Me, Quirky?
So over the weekend, Mariah Carey (aka Sugar) fell in love with her stall mate and traveling companion - The Fat One.  Her 13 year old experience was a hook up in the trailer and her parent keeping her away from illicit encounters.  He screamed his love for her as I warmed up and for every cry from his lips, she bounded upward in an exasperated attempt to return to their weekend hideaway.

5-4-3-2-1 HAVE A GREAT RIDE.  And as if a starting gate clanged open, Sugar was in a race to get back to TFO.  She wanted to spook but I kept riding her evenly and with energetic leg and she jumped.  This horse was on FIRE!  And as long as I stayed in the middle and "encouraged" her to go over the jump, she jumped.

You know, we both love a good gallop so I didn't nag or fight her most of the way.  Yet, twice I had to trot her to get some measure of attention...  going at Training speed is fine at Novice but at BN - not so much! And at one point, we blew by a tight turn.  I stopped her turned her around like a lady and cantered politely over jump.   

I did make one apology to the jump judge at fence 6 for screaming "SUGAR - JUST JUMP THE JUMP!".  This violation of The Four Rules of Eventing (Don't scare the spectators!) was about volume (thank god)!


Wooo hooo! Stayed in the tack
 all the way to the barn
And as I approached the final jump, I remembered a comment my Eventing Trainer said on our Course Walk...  "Keep the eye on the prize!"  And that statement carried us over the final jump.

And although I reserve the right to scratch my final event of the season and retire Sugar from eventing, we are scheduled to compete at UNH Fall Horse Trials in two weeks...  I just hope I age a bit more... maybe 26 is a good age - smart, cocky and unafraid...  hmmmm!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

GRRRR GONE WILD!

Sometimes you just gotta break some rules...  you know... get a little bad, make a little madness and just let go!  Yeah, that feels real nice and a little naughty...  Unfortunately, as a Master (old) Rider, the only rules I'm breaking (and way too often) are Judy Rossi's Four Rules of Eventing:
Four Rules of Eventing
  1. Leave together and come back together
  2. Don't scare the spectators
  3. No crying in Eventing (unless its with sheer joy in the moment)
  4. Nobody cares on Monday
Course Walks at Sunset...  a bonus for Eventers!
The only rule I did not break at Town Hill Horse Trials this weekend is #3.  I did not cry and I believe after I had a moment of cursing as I watched the white buttocks galloping away, I laughed.  We were having a most awesome XC run... galloping in stride, a horse jumping up and under me and a lightness of heart and the thrill of the moment...  until that second when I over-reacted and Ms Sugar reacted in kind and thus broke Rules #2 and then Rule #1.  And I will be telling this story again on Monday (#4).

Sometimes a trainer is just a trainer - "Do this, more hind leg, do that again and (my personal favorite) Well, I wouldn't have done it THAT way!" - tuning you up to perform well, maybe even better than expected.   And other times... their words are sheer genius...  At Town Hill, my Eventing Trainer did not tell me to "get after her", "growl at her", "get a little mad", "be mad"...  no, this time she quietly said, "Ride her calmly and tactfully!  Let her know you mean business but be calm, be tactful and pat her if she seems to be ramping up.  Be determined, calm and tactful!"

Hmmm, do you think she was trying to make a point?
Bestest Eventing Buddy at PT

Sug had the agitation of a mare in high heat.  I had her brain but it seemed to be perched on the edge of a Mariah Carey diva fit.  She warmed up like a lady for dressage with just an occasional leap.  Calmly and tactfully using walk trot transitions to keep her brain and engage her body.  Canter leg yields loosened her up where I actually felt a supple back and neck.  Then we moved to the second warm up area between the two dressage rings and wah lah, like magic, Mariah Carey showed up.  And, the challenge was to make it to the arena without an explosion. 

Our dressage test was much like my college grades...  A's and F's with little in between.   I do think we impressed the judge with tempe changes on the right lead canter circle.  We got a 5 for the movement (generous) but I think she gave me the extra point for clean changes on a 20 meter circle.  35.4 - 10th place - "Tactful ride on difficult tense horse."  Middle of the Pack - Yay us! 

On to the jumping phases!  The progress I'm making on my nerves (panic attacks/anxiety) is steady.  I'm no where near cured and still scream in my head before the jumping phases.  I'm just getting better slowly.  I've learned to meditate and clear my brain of demons as often as possible... slowly.  The work I'm doing on my anxiety has everything to do with "being in the moment" and breathing with deep yoga breathes... soothing me, allowing life to fill my lungs and relaxing my horse. 

Town Hill is a fabulous event which upped the anty this year.  Tremaine Cooper redid the XC track and it was a great improvement on an already fine venue.  The course was gallopy, used the undulation of the Connecticut hills and added some great questions (not for horses new at this level).  Stadium Jumping is always challenging here but Sug and I seem to like it because we always go clean.  This year's had some fascinating turns that made it look fun.

Our Stadium Jumping was the best ever!  We were calm.  I rode tactfully, tight in the tack with a strong lower leg.  I allowed her to jump after making it clear (calmly) that nothing would jump out and bite her.  And she did in the most hunterly fashion... in rhythm with a good jump.  I was elated - Double Clear!  Then off to XC.

(I have witnesses...)

Our XC run was amazing... for the first time in a long time, we galloped at jumps and jumped them in stride.  Nothing seemed to bother us...  not the white house with the green top (#3), not the big brush jump, not even the ditch four strides to the gray house (#7 & #8).  My trainer felt that I was a little tough with my seat at the feeder combination (#10a and b).  My line through the water took us in the path of a Training house and I knew if I had asked she would have taken it.  She galloped through that water and then two strides up and over the roll top.
This is the buttocks
Picture it riderless! ;)

Fence 13 is a bench filled with hay bales.  Now, if you read this blog you might know that Sug and I have "hay bale issues".  Many an E has been at hay bale filled jumps - not all - but many.  I was determined to JUMP THAT JUMP!  When Sugar picked her head up, 7 strides away, in a spook like motion, I spanked her (hard?) on her shoulder.  And, my athletic-one-tempe-changes-can-canter-in-place-and-leap-into-the-air lil' pinto pony did a 180, spinning her Master (old) Rider off onto the ground just three jumps from the finish.

The poor jump judge...  After she asked me if I was ok, she said somewhat still startled, "You guys looked great through the water.  I never saw anything spin so fast!"  Thus violating #2 - Don't scare the spectators.

It was not a tactful correction followed up by a supporting leg.  It was an over-reaction to a perceived threat that, I believe, actually proved to Sugar that something will jump out and bite her.  Yes, she was over dramatic...  I think if I had followed the day's advice, "Be determined! Ride calmly and tactifully!" at worse we would have had a refusal but maybe we would have jumped the jump.  Who knows!

Those ears, like that, are telling a story!
Best line of the day...  Sug took off like her butt was on fire.  (God, she is beautiful galloping riderless!)  And after being caught, they asked my Bestest Eventing Buddy if she wanted the vet to look at her...  Stonefaced and innocent she replied, "Why?  Does she want to euthanize her?"  Gotta love Eventers!

Next time...  maybe we won't need the GRRRRR, maybe we should use the grrrrr instead!  I'm still smiling...  it was a good weekend that might have been great!  I'll smile knowing that it was good and be ok with that!