Heritage Park Horse Trials 2015

Several weekends ago, Coco and I ventured to Heritage Park in Olathe, KS for the Heritage Park Horse Trials. I took Friday off work so that I could make sure the trailer was ready, load up all my show stuff, and give Coco a bath before we had to load up at noon. This year, we had decided to get stalls, because Chris was riding in a hunter/jumper clinic down the road at Iron Horse Hill the same weekend and we didn't want to make her have to make a ton of trips with the trailer on an already-stressful weekend.

We loaded up the horses, stopped at Sonic, dropped Chris's horse (Stuart) off at Iron Horse, and headed to Heritage. We got there around 3:00 and I had to ride my practice dressage test at 3:40. I immediately started tacking up and getting ready and got on around 3:15. Coco and I had a beautiful warm-up, but as soon as I went down centerline, nothing was going right for us. Our corners and bend were great, but he was pretty over-flexed (story of my life with a saddlebred) and tense. We ended up with a 37.0, but hopefully we got all the kinks out and would have a better test when it really mattered on Saturday morning.

We walked the cross country course, which seemed like it would be challenging. It looked like there were a lot of series of jumps with fun jumper-type turns followed by longer stretches to allow for some fun gallops. The course was definitely different than it had been in previous years, which was good! We got confused about one of the jumps (jump 6 had an option for the championship division vs. regular division, which we initially walked as an awkward line), which I didn't catch until the second walk-through. During my second course walk, I saw Amanda Pezold (a trainer from Fulton, MO who I rode with for a little bit in 2011), who chatted with me about Coco and our recent plans to possibly retire him soon as well as offering that I look at a horse she knew of who might be a good match with me. After the course walk, we fed horses and headed up for the night relatively early. Sophie (the pup) and I headed home and got to bed early for a horse show night.

We woke up early on Saturday morning and headed out to the showgrounds (it's about a half hour from my house). I fed, cleaned stalls, caught up with Lindsey (who was there to braid horses), and topped off water as I waited to watch Kris Maloney (well, now Wallace... another former trainer) ride her saddlebred in the Training division. I started to braid Coco's mane as I waited for Lorna's ride at 9:05. The dressage rings were running late and by the time I got back to the barn, I had to turn Coco's braids into buttons, put in studs, tack up, and change my clothes by 11am. I didn't quite have time to get everything done and succumbed to the pressure, asking Chris to help me with studs. I guess I didn't account for enough time for everything! I'm not used to putting in studs for dressage... yep, I'm gunna go ahead and blame that. Anyway, we got it all done with enough time to give Coco plenty of warm up before our dressage test at 11:59.

Again, Coco had a beautiful warm-up. Everything went really well and he was really loose and happy and relaxed. And again, as I went down centerline, he tensed up. The whole test was a fight. Our bend was decent, but our rhythm wasn't consistent, we had trouble on the left lead canter, and may have jigged at bit at the medium walk after the free walk. I think I just tense up as we go down centerline and cause him anxiety instead of just relaxing like I do in warm up. Apparently the judge was feeling lenient, though, and we ended up with a 36.5 putting us in 7th place in a class of 16. Top half, that's all I ever hope for after dressage.

I took Coco's studs out (for about an hour before I had to put them back in for cross country... who knows, maybe he'd want to lay down) and we relaxed a bit before I had to get ready for cross country. I used my old saddle (oh, that's right, I got a new saddle! It's a pretty 17.5 Pessoa monoflap!), because Chris's motto is always to limit changes on show day. This time, I had my time management skills a little better planned out and was able to get on and start warming up around 3pm for our 3:40 XC ride time. Warm up was great and the course rode beautifully. Coco was nice and consistent in his pace and very happy to jump whatever I pointed him at. I crossed the finish line and couldn't contain my excitement. I started crying. After all the excitement of AEC's, I was waiting to see what happened on XC to see if Coco still wanted to be an eventer or not. Apparently he really does love his job. I'm sure I just put too much pressure on myself and him at the stupid championships.

Anyway, I was on a total high after our clean cross country ride. I knew other people were having trouble on the course, but I had to wait until later that evening to figure out just how much we moved up, if at all. I gave Coco a bath and then Sophie and I ran out to cross country so we could watch Taylor and Duncan ride. I hung out by Lindsey and her dad (the EMT) so that we could hear the play-by-play of Taylor's ride over the radio. She started out great, but then had trouble at a couple of the more difficult questions on the course with 2 refusals (but somehow no speed penalties). We took care of the horses and fed. I ended up going to dinner with Kris and Abby (from my barn in Columbia), where I looked up scores after XC that showed that we moved up from 7th to 2nd after cross country! Almost half of our division had at least 1 refusal on cross country, and Coco and I had somehow managed to go completely clean. After catching up and celebrating a bit, we all headed back to the showgrounds where I fed beet pulp, wrapped Coco's legs, and walked the stadium course (in near-darkness). The saddlebreds (Coco, Dan, and Sassy) had a group meeting-of-the-minds as they grazed under the stars for a while before I headed home.

One more early morning of feeding, doing stalls, and taking care of water buckets before stadium day. I walked the stadium course once with Chris and once on my own. It definitely had a lot of tough questions with roll backs and tight turns, but Brody's courses are always pretty tricky. I knew we would have to take it seriously. Coco and I were the first group from our barn that would go. I got ready really early (as usual), but I figured that a long walk warm-up wouldn't hurt. I turned on the tunes, threw on the turtle backpack (filled with Coco's halter, water bottles, and the essentials), and started people-watching as I took some huge laps around the warm-up field. When our division started, we started doing our typical 2-2-2 warm up and started jumping a bit. Coco was great. If he took a wrong step, it was totally my fault for holding him back too much and not having the right pace headed to the jumps.

We were finally ready to go in and Coco was very ready. He was jumping like it was his job (oh wait... it is!) and made a difficult course look (and feel) easy. Everything rode great! We ended up going double clear. The worst we could possibly get was 2nd! Yay! After I walked out of the ring and headed toward my barnmates, I thought I saw the person who was supposed to go after me refusing the 1st jump out of the corner of my eye. I had to do a double-take. It was true! They had a refusal! We had moved up to 1st! How freaking exciting! We went in for our award ceremony (where we won a cooler! I've always wanted to win a cooler!) and victory lap. All our fellow competitors were awesome and kind and I love being able to show against them.

After several photo-ops and fondling over my Coco Bean, I put on his halter and we watched our barnmates. Taylor had an interesting, but effective, ride and ended up in 5th place. We walked our horses back where we untacked and started packing up the trailer. I grabbed some Jazzy B's and the pup and we headed back to the arenas to watch Lorna's ride. She was having a good weekend up until this point. She was sitting in 6th place in a tough Novice Championship division on a 32.0 dressage score and double clear XC ride. She went into the arena, circled like she was going to the first jump, and turned off of it to take another jump that was pointed on a similar diagonal but facing the opposite direction. She took the wrong jump! Poor Lorna has too many things going through her head. She was eliminated before she really got to jump anything.

We all packed up and headed out. We got back to the barn in Butler around 3pm and I was home and taking a nap by 4:30pm. Coco has had the whole week off (like I've totally, completely avoided going to the barn all week long), and we will be showing again at Longview next weekend (the 23-24th of October at Windmere Horse Trials).

What a whirlwind weekend! I'm so excited that Coco loves his job. And as a cherry on top, we're already qualified for next year's AEC's where we'll (hopefully) be able to finally redeem ourselves (third time is a charm, right?!?)!

PS- there is video of our dressage and stadium rounds, but apparently YouTube hates uploading things from my phone. I swear I've tried it about 25 times with no success. 


Bad Luck at AECs... Again.

Now that the excitement has worn down, I figured it would be time to write another blog.

Last week, Coco and I headed town to the Texas Rose Horse Park in Tyler, TX. Or I guess I should say that Coco headed down on Tuesday with Lorna and Sam, and Chris and I followed on Thursday (starting a new job, I don't have much PTO to burn on such frivolous things as horse shows :P ). Anyway, I was so excited to redeem ourselves after our fall last year.

We got there Thursday evening (after about 9 hours in the car with 2 very hyper pups), and almost immediately Coco and I had a beautiful dressage school. It took me a couple minutes to remember what I was doing and what dressage-ing is, but we figured it out and were looking pretty good. I was officially getting excited. We fed the horses, braided, went out to dinner,stopped by Walmart for dog show constumes/supplies, and got a good night's sleep (at a Motel 6, which turned out to be totally awesome- linoleum hardwood floors that were perfect for dogs).

Chris and I got to the show grounds early Friday morning to feed and prepare. Coco had somehow figured out how to get his sleezy off overnight and it was hanging from his feed bucket, ripped and unusable anymore. I guess that's his way of telling me he needs a smaller size. Anyway, I rode dressage at 9:24. I started getting ready at about 8, duct taped my left boot (DVT edema still isn't going away), baby powdered his pretty white socks, and quickly made him a bridlepath and gave him a shave. I was warming up around 8:45 and again, he was looking good. We were rocking. Coco was bending like a dream and totally listening to me. The dressage rings were running a bit early, so we were able to have a warm up and then go right into the arena. Coco was great. We had good bend in the corners (I have to think about doing a shoulder fore the whole test!), and good pace. His left lead canter was a bit 4-beated, but generally, it felt like a good test. I should have waited longer at the halt for him to settle before I saluted, but we ended up getting a 7.5 on that part, so maybe the judge didn't see it. We ended up getting a 30.5, putting us in a tie for 13th.

After dressage, we got to hang out all day. We grabbed lunch, played with the pups, and watched the advanced riders ride cross country. Those people are amazing. Surely if those horses can jump those crazy jumps, Coco and I could make it through a beginner novice cross country course. I walked the course about 3 times. The evil jump from last year was on course again (in a similar spot), but a bit closer to the jump before it, so we wouldn't have as much time to get strung out coming to it. It was still scary. It felt huge! And I know it was all psychological. Chris told me to walk that jump/question twenty times and that it would get smaller every time I walked it. So that's what I did. I walked the water after the bank at 6 to jump 8 about 20 times and she was right. That scary jump was getting smaller. Then Sam helped me by saying "Think of it like an oxer in stadium. You jumped that on Sunday. Or more than that." She was right. I was being stupid.

That night, Sophie (my pup) and I entered the AEC Dog Show in the Owner Look Alike contest and the Costume contest. We didn't know the classes beforehand, so we had prepared lookalike ninja turtle costumes. Sophie had a turtle backpack harness and a ninja turtle mask. I had a turtle backpack, a ninja turtle mask, and back and green arm warmers. Then, to make myself look more like her, I put my hair up into pigtail buns to replicate her ears. We ended up winning the owner/dog lookalike class! Sophie got lots of treats and toys and food. And a blue ribbon. She was very excited. Sophie's boyfriend, Roger, was a penguin for the costume contest and won a second place red ribbon, and he entered the most heartwarming adoption story class. After the dog show, we went to Japanese (a barn tradition at AECs to celebrate September birthdays) and got to bed earlier than the night before.

Saturday morning, Chris and I got to the park early to feed. Then we got to hang out for some time before Lorna's cross country ride. Chris didn't want me watching too much cross country that day, because she was worried it would stress me out. I was allowed to watch Lorna ride at 11:30 only and then had to go back to watch the upper levels do their stadium. Lorna had some trouble on cross country with 2 refusals, but she finished and was able to do stadium on Sunday. I had to sit around until 3:19 to ride. I went to watch stadium and then around 1pm, I started getting ready, putting in studs, changing clothes, etc. I was on and walking to the warm up around 2:45. Coco had an AWESOME warm up. He didn't take a wrong step (according to Chris). I was so excited. My horse was being phenomenal... not that I should be surprised. He usually is.

Coming out of the start box, we had a good pace. He looked at the first jump a little, but nothing a little leg and a cluck couldn't fix. He balked a little at the second jump headed toward the road, too, but again, he got over it like a champ. At the third and fourth fences, he knew his job and was ready with a good pace and good determination. As we approached the 5th fence, the jump judge came out waving her hands. We had a hold. The rider before us had fallen and needed medical attention. Chris said she thought it was a good ten minutes. Coco and I just kept walking. I didn't want to canter him and have him be tired going into the rest of the course, but I didn't want him to cool down too much either. Who knows how long this hold will be. I've never been held on course (and really hope it never happens again... definitely not ideal). I forgot to stop my watch until we had been walking for a bit. I had come to the realization that I would not have a watch for the rest of the course. Finally, the TD came over and explained that we could pick up a pace we liked and that they would start my time at the point where they stopped me. We continued and from that point forward, Coco was looking at every fence. Maybe I had lost my confidence (seeing as they stopped me before my nemesis jump), maybe Coco had thought we were finished while we were held (how often do we stop jumping in the middle of a course), or maybe it just wasn't our day (as unfortunately happens with horses sometimes). Whatever the case, Coco did not want to jump as much as he did during warm up and as we initially started the course. Coco took the jumps, though. He took 5 well, did the bank up at 6, looked at the water before 7, jumped 7 beautifully, stutter stepped (and nearly gave me a heart attack) at scary jump 8, didn't realize there was a ditch and stepped in it, jumped 10 well, I dropped him before jump 11, but he sleeps on my pillow, he looked at the bank down but proceeded to go over it (I heard them radio that it was a refusal... you can be the judge of that on the youtube video below), jumped the flower box at 13 well, jumped the blue rolltop at 14 well, and then we headed to the water. There was a tiny jump about 2 strides in front of the water entrance (it was an A/B combination). Coco balked a little, I put leg on, tapped him with the crop, and he decided to throw on the brakes. Anyone who has taken physics knows what momentum is... Newton's First Law of Motion (stupid Newton), was perfectly correct in that an object in motion (me) remains in motion unless acted on by an outside force. I continued right into the jump as Coco slammed on the brakes. I don't know what happened. Even looking at the video, I have no idea. I don't know if he saw the bleachers, if something was happening in that direction, if he saw the cameraman, if he was sick of having me as a passenger, but he helped me dismount really quickly, whether I liked it or not. As I flew through the air, I yelled "Really?" As I stood up, I slammed my hand down on the jump (I just had to hit something). I can't believe this happened to me 2 years in a row! All I wanted was to finish.

I went through all the emotions in the next 2 minutes ranging from anger, to depression, to denial, to embarrassment, and everything in between. The fall committee barely stopped me, asking if I was feeling ok/what body part I had landed on, and they reminded me to seek medical attention if I was having any mental changes or trouble remembering anything. My barnmates were kind enough to give me the space I needed as Coco and I walked back to the barn. I dropped all his stuff (tack, boots, etc.) off at the trailer and proceeded to the wash rack, where he spooked repeatedly at a hose. Dumb, dumb. I didn't think about it until after, but I'm happy I stopped at the trailer, because I didn't get anyone awkwardly asking me how cross country had gone, which was nice in this instance.

That evening, after I had taken care of Coco, we watched the advanced riders do their stadium rounds. I was sad about the fall, but I had come to accept that it is what it is and there wasn't anything I could do about it anymore. The past is the past. There were even some jokes being thrown around in regards to me falling. You have to laugh to keep from crying, right? As the crowd was dissipating, Chris and I went to walk the dogs on a hill and Chris turned to me and said "In all seriousness, are you ok?" I started tearing up as I said, "Yeah. I'm not worried about this show or AECs. I'm worried that this is Coco's way of telling me that he doesn't want to do this anymore." Chris started tearing up as she said, "I sure hope not. I really hope not." It was a moment of resolve. I had flashbacks to all of Coco and my trials and tribulations over the years and all that we had been through from the first time I rode him to jumping a couch to our first saddlebred show to the first time I ever jumped 3 foot to our first event and the various trainers and barns we've been blessed to be a part of to all the lives he's touched and all the people who know us as a team. I really hope this isn't the end. We'll see how the rest of the season goes. There are 2 more events in KC in October. Coco will tell me what he wants. He's always been pretty good about that. 

The rest of the night and the rest of the weekend was kind of a blur. We went out to eat and then back to the show on Sunday to watch Lorna's stadium round. Scotty was being good, but she knocked one rail. At least they finished (AND they weren't in last place)! We loaded up the horses and headed back to KC earlier than expected (since we didn't have to wait around for me to ride in the afternoon). I actually got home at a decent time and was in bed around 10pm. I could have gone to work Monday morning, but figured that since I had already taken it off, I might as well enjoy an extra day to rest and recuperate.

Anyways, the AEC adventures of Nancy and Coco will continue (hopefully). I've taken this opportunity to learn some very important lessons: never trust the pony (no matter how trustworthy he may seem or how easy the jump may appear), get a new saddle (something that makes it a little easier to resist momentum), sit up (as the course progressed, I progressively dropped him to fences... this was my warning), and have fun with your horse (even if he is naughty sometimes... horses are what make this sport totally, totally worth it and nothing is ever really their fault).

Check out our YouTube video (even if it is embarrassing for me) here: http://youtu.be/v2N8f9n_bhA