So this is what WINNING feels like??

Catalpa Corners 2014 was phenomenal. I couldn't have asked for a better weekend.

We had 4 horses going. Lorna took Scotty, Sam took Wish, Taylor took Duncan, and I was taking Coco in Chris's trailer. We left for Iowa City at 9am on Friday morning and arrived around 3pm. We set up the stalls, rode, ate pizza, and walked the cross country course (twice) all before dark (barely- my pictures of the jumps on CourseWalk are pretty dark). It's gotten to the point with cross country where beginner novice jumps seem small (I think that's a good thing) and the course looked really reasonable.

By the time I got back from cross country, Chris was almost finished braiding my horse (how nice!!). She had 3 braids left to finish when I got there. I was reprimanded for not taking longer to walk my course, because as soon as I got there, Coco followed the sound of my voice like a dog and wouldn't stand still for braiding anymore. I was banished. After everyone was finished with braiding, we all headed back to the hotel.

Chris and I took the early shift on Saturday morning because we wanted to watch preliminary dressage. Chris giggled as I played "I'm Ready" by AJR on repeat all the way to the show grounds. It was my Daniel Stewart cross country/pump up song. We didn't ride dressage until 2:03pm that afternoon, so the morning was spent watching my team members and helping where I could. Finally, I went down for my dressage test. Chris was coaching Sam for cross country (she was supposed to ride around 1pm, but they were running late because of a rider fall), so she wasn't available at that moment but I assumed she knew my time and would be over to help us warm up and watch my test when she could get away. We warmed up well, alternating 5 minutes of work and 5 minutes of walking and reviewing the test until it was my time to go into the ring. No one from my team was there. They must have been busy with cross country.

As I started trotting around the ring, I said good afternoon to the judge who said "All nine's, right?" I told him that he could go ahead and write that and then take a break while I rode the test, but that it was ultimately up to him. He said "we'll see." I rode my test and it felt really good. I was worried about my geometry, but I felt like I had Coco on the bit and our transitions were good and our bend was better than usual. However, I feel like whenever I think a test went well, I do horribly and when I think a test rode horribly, I end up doing well. I didn't have great expectations. After my halt and salute, I said "All 10's, right?" to the judge who said, "Well you did have a couple 9's." I freaked out and said "Really?!?!" His response: "Nope. Just kidding!" Not funny, judge. Not funny.

So I went back to the barn and took care of Coco. I started getting ready for cross country, considering we were supposed to go at 3:36pm. As I was getting ready, I looked at StartBox on my phone and it had me listed in first place with a 25.0 dressage. I didn't believe it. I thought it was a mistake on StartBox, didn't get my hopes up, and said I would look later to see what my real score was. Several minutes later, I checked again and sure enough, I was in 2nd place with a dressage score of 25.0. My goal was to get in the 20's!!!!! Welp, I guess it's time for a new goal! I called Chris and almost started crying I was so happy.

Time for cross country. I played my song ("I'm Ready") all the way to the warm up and while we did our 2-2-2s. Then we started jumping. Our first couple jumps had weird distances (pretty typical for us), but we were able to find our groove pretty quick. We jumped everything that was flagged, including the training level warm up cross country jump. We were totally ready. Coco found his stride almost immediately out of the start box. Coming to the third jump, there was a weird silo-looking thing next to it, so he was wiggly, but not resistant. As I came up to that jump, I saw Chris standing to the side. As we jumped it, I turned, looked at Chris, and yelled "WEEEEEEEEEEE!!!" The rest of the course rode really well. I honestly can't think of one jump that was difficult. At jump 11, my watch hit 3 minutes. Optimum time was 6:29 and speed fault was 4:38. I guess we had to slow down, but I just wanted to get over the ditch (12) with 7 strides to 13. After 13, we trotted. A lot. Enough to watch the girl in front of us have a refusal (we had been watching her have refusals all around the course though... tough break!). My watch hit 4 minutes right before jump 14 and I figured it would surely take us more than 38 seconds for 4 obstacles so we went for it. Coco was perfect. We crossed the finish line and then I remembered to turn off my watch. It said 5:03. I couldn't do anything more than hope and pray that we were over speed fault. I'm sorry, Coco and I aren't a 300mpm team. Lorna and Chris were there when we finished and helped cool Coco and me down. I felt like I was on top of the world!

Later that night, I found out that we didn't have any time penalties in cross country and the first place rider after dressage had had 4 refusals in cross country. I was in first place! How cool is that?!?! It was time to celebrate at the competitor's party, where they always have awesome food (and cornbread). It was nice to just hang out with our barn and catch up with some of the other people I knew in the eventing world. We walked horses, wrapped them, and headed back to the hotel.

Sunday morning, Chris and I took the early shift again so that we could watch prelim ride their stadium course. There were a lot of rails coming down and some people were having trouble making time. There was a lot of movement in prelim & training after stadium. I got Coco and we watched Lorna & Sam ride then went back to the barn to get ready. I was super early. Too early, so I got off him and let him hang out (he was falling asleep on me) until it was closer to our time to ride.

Warm up was not going well. I did not have high hopes. We couldn't find a distance or a pace to save our lives. I started singing my song and tuned everything out. As I went into the ring, I told myself that I was going to ride like I was riding in a lesson. Lindsey and I were competing to see who could have the prettiest ride and not knock any rails. After the first jump, Coco took over and did his job flawlessly. We had an awesome pace, good distances, and we actually looked like we knew what we were doing. Then on the last fence, we had a hard, hard rub and I freaked out. I looked back to see what had happened and freaked out when the rail was still sitting in the cups. I think we did it! I think we went double clear! I came out of the ring and saw Chris, who was grinning ear to ear. I knew we had done it. I cried. I bawled. And Chris took a video. And then I caught Chris crying. I was so happy that I couldn't contain myself. I'm sure I looked like the biggest nerd. They called the top 10 into the arena. Everyone had their ribbons except for me. They called my name and I was ecstatic! I turned to my fellow competitors and asked if they were ready for the victory gallop. I had never lead a victory gallop before!

We ended on our dressage score of 25.0 and went double clear in both cross country and stadium. And it wasn't an easy class with 22 competitors. I couldn't be more happy with Coco and myself for overcoming all the obstacles that have been holding us back.

A year ago, we had clawed our way up to 4th at this show. This year, we were defending first. It's amazing how much can change in a year's time. My horse doesn't look emaciated. We've figured out how to relax and bend in a dressage arena. And we can go to events like we know what we're doing. I can't thank my trainer enough for what she's done for me and my horse in the past year. It's been an amazing journey and I can't wait to see what's next.

Coming up next: American Eventing Championships in September. Then, we'll move to novice at Heritage Park in October! :) So excited!!!


Queeny Park and USPC Championships 2014

I forgot to post an entry after our adventures at Queeny Park!!! How could I?!?!

Well here's the long and the short of Queeny Park in Saint Louis... We warmed up pretty well for dressage, but I was really nervous. I get nervous, but this was more nervous than usual. I forgot my stock tie and my bridle number and was freaking out a bit, feeling like a rookie eventer. We went into the ring and when I started my canter work, I started freaking out that I wasn't doing the correct test. I kept thinking "This is coming up too quickly, but surely they would ring a bell or blow a whistle or something to let me know if I'm doing the wrong test, right?!?" It totally threw me off and we ended up with a 40.5 in dressage... definitely not our best and I believe we were in 12th place. Cross country came around and the skies opened up during the novice divisions, sending everyone into a panic, causing one of the younger riders with our barn to be stuck at the start box in a lightning storm, and transforming the grass on which the stalls were sitting to become a foot of squishy mud. As the sun started to come out, we were able to get to cross country, warmed up well, and were the first beginner novice team to try out the course. It rode great and we ended up with 0 jump penalties & 0 time penalties. He didn't really look at anything, it rode really nicely, and the footing was actually decent given the recent weather. We moved up to 10th. He was an absolute crazy pony when I got on him for stadium jumping. He couldn't stand still and we had to constantly be walking to keep his focus. Warm up went well, but waiting for our turn and waiting until it was a good time to warm up were difficult for both of us with several mini rears and horse-initiated side passes. The course was hilly and very technical. Everyone in our class had at least one rail (except for 1 person), including us. It was unfortunate, but given everyone else's mistakes, it moved us all the way up to 5th! Yay!

We got about a month break and then we headed to The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY! It was the coolest experience ever to pull the trailer with my horse on it into the KHP. I never thought we'd show here and can only image all the top eventers and riders in general who have shared these stalls, parking spaces, and arenas with us! Lorna and I were the midwest team for Horsemasters with the United States Pony Club. There were 6 horsemasters total: 3 of us in the beginner novice division, 2 in novice, & 1 in training. It was an awesome experience to do all the horse management associated with pony club, and it was also quite exhausting! You are constantly busy... if you're not cleaning a stall or cleaning tack, you're emptying water buckets or cheering on teammates or feeding or walking your horse... and you're constantly being judged on your ability to do these things and your safety & judgement while doing them. We also had several kiddos from our pony club competing, and we made it very clear that they would be the priority during this week. We arrived on Monday evening after about a 12 hour drive (including an extended stop where the ponies got out of the trailer for walks) and spent about 2 hours running around trying to set things up and get situated. It was hectic! Tuesday was the beginning of the horsemanship competition, but we were able to get a quick dressage ride & hack in before judging started at noon. Wednesday was formal day (they judge your horse's turnout and your turnout before you go to show) and dressage day. Samantha (one of the girls in our pony club) had her dressage test at the exact same time as me but on a completely different side of the park, so I was on my own for dressage. We warmed up well, working on suppling and listening, as well as transitions. I took a few deep breaths, reminded myself that I know this test and it's no big deal, and we rode the test well! I was a bit unhappy with my geometry during my canter circles and my transition to trot after our free walk, but the judge must have thought we were decent because we got a 34.5, putting us in 1st place in our division. Thursday was cross country day, and we were at the end of the day (4:30pm). Also, my coach was riding her dressage freestyle at the same time, so again, I'd be on my own (except that this time Lorna could coach me). We started out a bit strung out for our jumps with me jumping ahead and then I started singing the song "I'm Ready" by AJR and we found our rhythm. The course rode great! Coco was even a bit slow (I think he was pooped after all the traveling- we kept finding him laying down in his stall with no motivation to get up), so we were actually closer to optimum time than we usually are. The vet box was interesting- Coco's TPRs were VERY high after we finished, but he recovered within the first 5 minutes. I think his respiration was 112! Woah, buddy. Chill. Pill. But it was an awesome experience to see how the other horsemasters worked together to take care of me and Coco after an exhausting XC run. It really solidified that eventing CAN be a team sport. Friday was stadium day, and again, I didn't ride until 2:45pm, so there was a lot of sitting around and getting nervous. We spent the morning on walks around the stadium ring (getting used to the motor home, the crowds, and the food trucks), but when I got on him, everything suddenly became a big deal and he couldn't stand still. His anxiety was making me nervous and we spent a lot of time trotting up and down a nearby gravel road before we could start officially warming up. He eventually chilled out so that we could trot on a long rein. Jumping warm up went well (except that I was EXHAUSTED- my quads hurt with every stride of two-point) and then it was our turn to ride. Everyone was concerned about the last line... it walked as either a collected 6 or an extended 5 stride to a perfect 2 stride. We decided that we would go for the 6. However, I was so concerned about that line and tired as the course neared the end, that I forgot to ride correctly to the bending line right before it and was leaning on Coco's forehand as we approached the second fence, so he refused. We circled and he was fine the second time around and still made the time, but we ended up with 4 penalty points, bumping us from 1st to 2nd. Whatever, red is still cool! :)

Saturday we switched stalls for festival education, which was crazy, because we had to move 4 horses and bedding and strip the stalls they had been in. We figured out a good system using a golf cart and a tarp. The ponies got Saturday off. They deserved it. That night, we watched a clinic with Lendon Gray (dressage4kids.com), which was very interesting, considering she sounded exactly like my trainer Chris in what she was telling her students. On Sunday, I rode with Lori Hoos in the morning for dressage. We worked a lot on lateral work, like leg yielding along the rail and from centerline to the rail, getting Coco to be on the bit without flexing too much, and transitions. We rode with another rider who rides training level eventing & wants to move to preliminary and Coco was showing up her horse. Lori said that her horse has the body for dressage but isn't a team player and Coco is not traditionally a dressage type horse but is definitely a team player and wants to please. That was cool to hear. Then, in the afternoon, we rode stadium jumping with Bobby Dreyer. The emphasis was rhythm and at the end, he had us doing some fun roll-back jumper turns and they were actually going really well. Monday morning, we rode cross country with a national examiner named Cheryl Gaebel with a group of riders who were mostly novice. She emphasized rhythm, counting, and keeping the rhythm through water and over fences (again, sounds kinda like Chris). Coco did great! He jumped all the novice questions without even blinking an eye and he was totally game for whatever I pointed him at (and to think, I started the morning nervous about XC). She said that it was easy to see that Coco makes me more confident and I make him more confident on cross country, and she was telling people that it's obvious that we're in tune with each other and make a good team. Then Monday afternoon, we had a ground training clinic in the Alltech arena. I had heard about this clinic and seen Chris and her horse Stuart play with walking over mattresses, bridges, through pool noodles,and over teeter-totters, and I wasn't quite sure how Coco would handle it. He did fantastic!!! Again, I think it might be because he was tired, but he walked over the mattress after only minimal resistance, walked over bridges like he'd done that his whole life, walked through pool noodles with only minimal anxiety, and did it all again with me on his back! It was awesome! We traveled back on Tuesday with another 12 hour trailer ride and minimal traffic in Louisville, avoiding rush hour in all other cities. It was a pretty perfect pony excursion. Returning to work on Wednesday was really hard!!

Next up: Catalpa Corners next weekend (August 2-3).


Longview Horse Trials 2014

What a weekend!! I am going to be all smiles for quite a while!

But let's start at the beginning (or the last blog post). This winter, I made it my main objective to work on dressage. We need more bend. We need to lower his head. We need to make sure he's not too rounded while still being on the bit (quite the challenge for a saddlebred). And we need to generally be more comfortable in the dressage ring.

We worked on bending. We worked on trotting. We worked on turns on the forehand. We worked on keeping the reins short enough. We worked on sitting the canter. We worked on riding 20 meter squares. We worked on transitions (lots and lots of transitions). We worked on changing direction/changing bend. We took 2 lessons with Emily Wagner, a dressage rider from this area who is only 25 (she is absolutely amazing!), who gave us some pointers for maintaining the headset and leg yielding, among other things. We worked on dressage before every jumping lesson we had... Until dressage was running through our veins and became kind of fun!

So we signed up for the Longview Horse Trials here in Kansas City. We were ready. Our dressage had improved immensely and our jumping was also improving (dressage has a funny way of influencing jumping). Anyway, we decided to stick with beginner novice, so that we could have a successful first show of the season and a good confidence boost. The past week has been filled with tack cleaning, trips to the tack shop, & express orders from Dover, as well as more consistent time in the saddle with jumping lessons Sunday and Wednesday and a dressage lesson Thursday.

Coco had Friday off, but I had to go to work for a half day (to pay for my expensive habit). After work, I went to the barn to finish cleaning tack and start packing up the trailer for Saturday. Around 2:30, we left to go to the show grounds to walk our cross country course. I walked the course twice, once with my trainer, Chris, and once by myself. When I was by myself, I used this nifty new app on my phone, CourseWalk, to take pictures of the jumps and use GPS to get a digital map of the course. After we walked the course, we went back to the barn to bathe and braid our horses. Then, I met up with my friends from Columbia who had also come to the show. Abby brought Lena. And Kris, my trainer in Columbia, had brought a bunch of people. They're catching the eventing bug!!! Yay!!! After we ate dinner, they needed to go back to the barns to braid a couple horses, so I went with them. It ended up being a really late night. Abby and I got back to my house around midnight. 6 am would come quick!

Saturday morning, I headed to the barn. We loaded horses and we were off. Lindsey rode first. She and her horse, Mikey, had a beautiful ride! They got a 25.5 dressage score, the lowest of the day. Coco and I warmed up well. He looked happy and relaxed. We went into our test, and it went pretty well. Now that I know more about dressage, it was easier to see where we messed up. We need to work on our geometry, our corners, and maintaining bend. But we actually got a few 8's!!! We ended up with a 34.0, putting us in 5th place in a field of about 12. Cross country was next, but we had a while. I put Coco in the trailer to relax and eat hay and headed out to the cross country course to see some of my friends ride.

When it was time, we saddled up for cross country. Our colors? Straight white. Except that I was wearing a teal/aqua shirt. It looked really sharp! We warmed up well. Coco was very excited and moving great. We only needed to take about 6 warm up jumps before we were ready to go. Coco felt fantastic. The course rode really well. The 2 jumps I was concerned about were the exact 2 jumps he looked at- there was a brand new wood table (Coco hates new wood) and a flower box at the end of the course filled with TONS of bright flowers. He looked at both, but did fine after I put some leg on him. But the time!!!! EVERYONE was doing circles before the last fence. It was really strange. Chris, my trainer, told me that if I needed to do things to slow down, I should do them in the back field, not right before the last fence. Well, I literally trotted jumps 11-13 and still was only at 4:00 when I went over jump 15 (of 16 total). It was either I get time penalties for being under speed fault (4:24) or I circle before the last jump. I literally yelled for Chris not to be mad at me while I did my circle. Whoops! But we went double clear!!! Yay Coco!!! Our clear cross country round put us into 3rd place. After watching our final rider (who had to wait a while to start due to a slight hold up on the course after a rider fell), I went to dinner with the barn family, wrapped my horse in standing wraps, took a shower, and went to bed.

This morning was an earlier morning. The alarm clock went off at 5:30. We loaded the horses and were on the road to the show at 7. The stadium course was full of twists and turns. Lots of roll backs and tight turns. We would have to be on our game and thinking the whole time. My friends Lindsey and Lorna got to ride it first, the ended up 1st and 2nd in their division, respectively. They said that it rode well. Coco warmed up like a dressage horse. Chris said that if he had looked like that on Saturday, we would have gotten an even lower dressage score! He was totally relaxed over his warm up jumps. Apparently, this was boring. We went into the ring and the first thing he saw was the red and white circus tent just outside the ring! He had a total spaz attack! We worked through it and continued on with our course. But Coco had plans to book it around the course so quickly that I didn't even feel like there was time to think. About anything. He was going so fast! I just went with it. He's usually careful. He knows his stride. He's a smart horse. He just needed my help with the directions. We flew through the course, having only slight trouble at the second fence and at the jump that was right in front of the circus tent (nothing a little voice and crop encouragement couldn't handle). We went clear!!! Yay yay yay!!! We finished the event on our dressage score of 34.0! I couldn't have been happier. We ended up in 3rd place!

Here is our list of awards and honors for this weekend:
1) 3rd place in our division (Adult Beginner Novice B)
2) 2nd place Adult Team (with Lorna and Lindsey)
3) 1st place for low point saddlebred (there were 2, yes 2 others!)- we'll be getting our plaque in the mail
4) We qualified for the American Eventing Championships!!!!! You need 2 1st-5th finishes between July 8, 2013 and September 18, 2014, and with our 4th place finish at Catalpa last year, we qualify!!! How cool is that?!?!?!?! Actually, of the 5 people Chris was coaching, 4 of us qualified for AECs at this show!!

We got tons of compliments! Christ was very impressed with me and Coco in our second time showing with her. She was sitting next to another trainer during my stadium round who was complimenting my seat and hands and saying that I rode my horse well despite our obvious difficulties. And the scribe for my dressage round (who is an acquaintance through Pony Club), said that she could see an obvious improvement in my dressage since last fall when she had scribed for us. I was (and still am) all smiles!!!

This weekend was absolutely perfect!!!