Epic Fail at Holly Hill

Winter totally sucks! It makes it difficult to ride. It makes it easy to eat and sit around watching Netflix. And everything is sad.

To add to the depression that is winter, I had to take time off for my knee (I had surgery 12/23/14 for a lateral meniscus repair). And I told myself that after our strenuous season last year, Coco deserved some time off over the winter.

April came up quick. And when April rolled around, I spent a lot more time in the saddle. However, I mainly focused on dressage rides, because that has always been Coco and my least successful phase of eventing and we needed to be ready for Holly Hill in Louisiana on the 18th-19th. Our dressage was looking good and it felt like we remembered what we were doing. We had a few jumping lessons, but it's really difficult to do too much of substance when all we can do is ride in an indoor arena.

So Coco got his bath on Thursday morning and we left for Louisiana around noon. After a long drive and about an hour break to stop and walk the horses, we arrived at Holly Hill around 12:30am on Friday morning. 

Friday morning, we had a dressage school, which went incredibly well. He was totally listening to me and my aides and we were looking like we knew what we were doing and belonged there. The rest of the afternoon was spent washing tack, bathing ponies (again :p), and walking the cross country course. We had a good diet of Mexican food (Holly Hill provided lunch and dinner- both different varieties of Mexican food, which was delicious) and headed back to the hotel. The weather for the whole weekend was supposed to be rain, so we were happy that we had one day to enjoy the show grounds and Louisiana before the weather turned on us.

We didn't ride until 1:45 on Saturday (typical for beginner novice), so I spent the morning watching my barn mates & some of the prelim riders do dressage. It was gloomy and rainy, but nothing too crazy for us insane eventers. As the weather was clearing up, I started getting ready for dressage. The warm up area was absolutely crazy and I think the announcer might have been dyslexic, because she kept confusing numbers and saying things out of order. They called for me to go into a more exclusive warm up area at 1:15! What?!? 30 minutes early? I didn't know if I was ready, but I figured that I would rather just get it over with than stress about the test and how ready we were for 30 minutes. After a couple 20 meter circles at the canter, the announcer started yelling at me, saying that I had entered this warm up area mistakenly. So after some confusion, I realized she had called 207 instead of 107 (though I could swear she said 107 repeatedly when I heard her and the ring steward had told me it was my turn to go into the ring next). We had a little more time to warm up, but the warm up area was crazy, so much of our time was spent avoiding collision and talking Coco off the ledge (stupid saddlebreds and their ability to slow gait when they're excited... Show offs! :p). Finally, we got to ride our dressage test. I think it went pretty well. He was a little looky-looky at the free walk and I forgot my test at one point and came to the trot from the canter a bit too early. But otherwise, I thought it went pretty well. We ended up with a 36.8, which isn't too bad considering it was our first show of the year. This put us into 16th place in a class of 20. Must have been some pretty stiff competition! But I guess this isn't the first time we've had to work our way back up the ranks!

So we had some time off and some R&R before we had to get ready for cross country. The course seemed pretty straightforward. Nothing we couldn't handle. A couple of the jumps seemed maxed out for BN, but we did Novice at Heritage, so we could totally handle maxed out BN jumps. Or so I thought...

I got into the warm up area and again, it was a little crazy. Sensory overload (for the OT crowd out there). We started doing our 2-2-2s (2 laps at the walk, 2 laps at the trot, 2 laps at the canter). We got to the canters and I could hardly hold myself in two-point. I was exhausted. I hadn't even started riding the course yet or taken any jumps, and I was tired! I suddenly got a sinking feeling about this course. We started taking some jumps and I was getting tired even more quickly. I needed water, but there was none in sight. I guess we'd just have to go and get this stupid course over with while I'm still breathing (kind of).

The first 3 jumps were a breeze (2 logs and a vertical). I started getting tired and feeling my legs around the 4th jump (a simple red ramp). Between the 4th and 5th jump, there was a bunch of red clover (which was new to Coco) and there were some people sitting on the training jump next to our rolltop coming up. I half-halted and Coco listened a little too well. He popped up and to the left and I slid over his right shoulder onto the ground. (Check out the embarrassing video here: http://youtu.be/NkS08n8LJCk). "Welp," I thought as I looked up at my horse from the ground with the reins still in my hand, "I guess that's it for us, but thank God, because I'm SO TIRED!" As I stood up with defeat in my heart and a slight feeling of relief, I heard the girls on the jump ahead of us saying, "Get back on! You can still finish!" Oh. My. God. I have to keep going. I can't let Coco down. At that moment, I started running over to the starter fence nearby to mount back up. I got back on and we continued on our way. The rest of the course was the crappiest cross country course I think I've ever ridden. (Watch this video to prove it: http://youtu.be/G1ywyRwg-Z8I was having trouble staying in two-point, I was basically pointing Coco at jumps and hoping for the best (which is why we had a refusal at the 7th jump), and I trotted way too much before the bank. I was just in survival mode. I wanted to get through this stupid course as quickly as possible so people would forget about my miserable fall and stop embarrassing myself. We finished with 17 time penalties and 20 jump penalties, keeping us in 16th place after cross country. Ultimate defeat. I felt like I had let Coco down, because I just wasn't fit enough to be riding that cross country course. I went back to the barn and took care of my horse and had a couple tears of defeat. I even had a moment when I considered that maybe we should just switch to dressage (even though Coco and I both have strong anti-dressage feelings) and forget the whole eventing thing. The rest of the day, water tasted gritty, so maybe I was really really dehydrated. We went to dinner that night at a Japanese hibachi restaurant (per Sam's request, as usual) and I just tried to spend as much time alone as possible (which I'm sure really helped my situational depression :p).

I was bound and determined to do better on Sunday in stadium. Stadium has always been where Coco and I shine. It's our favorite phase. We watched the novice horses go in the morning, and a lot of people were having trouble. It had rained over night and the ground was definitely wet and slick. There were people sliding to stops, people falling, and rails coming down all over the place. My barn mates weren't exempt from the mayhem. One had a refusal and sliding stop into the second jump of a combination, one had a fall as her horse tried to take a nap and ride the course at the same time, and one had a sliding stop with her horse sliding onto his butt into the triple bar. Someone had to show them how it was done. 

Warm up for stadium was better than cross country (maybe Chris (my trainer) was going easy on me). Coco was taking everything well and the footing didn't seem to bother him (he doesn't have any studs, only front shoes with little nobbies). Every time we came near the in-gate, Coco had a minor freak out of excitement and was difficult to control, but he finally calmed down. We went in to do our course and everything went perfectly. He was taking distances well. He chipped into the second fence of the 2-stride to make it a 2.5-stride, but he saved me when I tried to jump for him and didn't knock a rail even though he would have been totally justified in doing so. He felt like he was flying, but he was controlled during the whole round and listening to me pretty well. He didn't have any trouble at all with the footing despite intermittent occurrences of motorcycle turns. (See! I DO know how to ride!!! http://youtu.be/ZuCs3oYK_Xw) We ended up going double clear and moving up to 13th place. My barn mates and I cleaned out stalls, loaded up the trailer, and carried our drooped heads and ribbon-less hands all the way home to Kansas City. We got home around 3am on Monday morning and I made the poor life choice of going to work that day with a clear case of sleep deprivation. I slept 10 hours on Monday night and a week and a half later, I'm finally starting to feel back to normal.

Coco had a whole week off and I focused on myself, stepping up my healthy eating and exercise habits in an attempt to improve my fitness for the next show (only 3 short weeks later). I made the tough decision to drop down to beginner novice for Longview until I can get my leg and my fitness back. It feels a little sad and depressing to have to work so hard to do well at beginner novice, especially because I thought we would be ready to move up to novice this year, but I have to do what's right for me and my horse. I definitely learned a lot at Holly Hill about taking time off over the winter, the importance of fitness/endurance rides, the importance of taking care of myself and not just Coco... and that knee surgery totally sucks!!