Sunday, October 9, 2016

Dressage Shenanigans, Trouble on XC, & our Beginner Novice Debut


It has been quite a busy 2 weeks with Mr. Dieter-man. Last weekend we had a long weekend at Longview Horse Park with a Mission Valley Pony Club Dressage Show and cross country schooling on Saturday and Kansas City Dressage Society Dressage Show and another MVPC cross country schooling on Sunday.

We hauled to KC from Butler early Saturday morning. I rode Dieter first and got a 68.75% on BN Eventing Test B. He was acting really strange, swapping leads if my balance was even slightly off, not bending to the left, and overall resistant. I wasn't sure what was going on and just tried to get through the test. Then I had to throw Dieter in his stall and do a quick tack change to ride Coco. At about 10:30, after Coco's test, we went out on cross country with Lorna (riding Scotty) and Sam (riding Brownie). Again, Dieter was acting really off... he wasn't bending to the left, he was resistent, he was refusing to go straight after the jumps, and he kept acting like he wanted to buck. We started to wonder if there was something going on with his back. We did minimal cross country jumps and finished with the scary "BN" tiger trap, which he refused the first time and jumped fine the second time. When we went to jump it a third time, he got over it, but it wasn't pretty. We chalked it up to something going on with his back and moved on. Dieter got some time off before his second dressage test, Training Test 3, where we got a 63.18%, We spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how quickly we could get a hold of a chiropractor or a massage therapist, thinking there was something going on with his back.

Cue feelings of being a terrible horse mom... as I was grooming him after the show, I noticed that Dieter had a fairly large spur mark on his left side. It wasn't terrible, but his hair was pretty much rubbed off and the spot looked like it could have been irritated. Good news: my horse's back is most likely alright. Bad news: The reason he's been off if because of my negligence and horrible riding/use of spurs.

I decided to forego the spurs for Sunday's KCDS Show and things went much better. I got a 70.25% (our first sub-30 eventing dressage score... 100-70.25=29.75 for those of use not in the loop) on BN Eventing Test B. Then I had a quick tack change to ride Coco followed by another quick tack change to ride Dieter again in his Training Test 3 where he got a 65.46%. We need to work on our canter transitions and maintaining contact during transitions, but things were better than Saturday. Then it was time to go school cross country.

Originally, I had planned to take Dieter XC schooling on Saturday and Coco XC schooling on Sunday. However, after we figured out what was going on with Dieter and the spurs, Chris and I figured it would be more fun to take Dieter on Sunday. Cue second bad horse mom moment of the weekend... what made me think it was a good idea to take an exhausted horse onto a cross country course 2 days in a row? He warmed up fine, but you could tell he was tired. He refused the first BN fence we attempted, but rode it well after I put on what felt like a TON of leg at the base. On the gallop to the next fence, I felt like I had to push him every stride. Chris wanted me to take a series of jumps all in a row and then end with the ever-scary tiger trap. I went through a bunch of fences that looked like they were BN and that we had jumped previously, and everything was going well. Dieter picked up speed and seemed to be figuring out his job well. We jumped the down bank and headed to the tiger trap. We were going too fast, but I was thinking that I'd rather have too much speed than have to push him over the jump (bad horse mom moment #3). I came in too hot, he stopped, dropped his head, and momentum took me over the fence without my horse. My air vest went off and I totally freaked out my horse. I was able to catch him and I got back on sans air vest (which felt very unsafe!). I'm not sure if Dieter kept thinking there was something on the back of the jump (because that's where I fell and my air vest went off) or if the jump itself was scaring him or if I wasn't riding him well because I was nervous, but he proceeded to refuse that jump about 5 more times before he decided he was finished trying. On our last attempt, he veered left, throwing me to the right side of the saddle. I tried to hang on, but scraped my back along a tree, which made it that much harder to hold on. I landed flat on my butt/back. I laid in the middle of the field for a second to collect my thoughts and assess the situation. I was sore, but it seemed like everything was alright. The walk to the training fence to re-mount was painful. My lower back/right hip hurt, but it didn't seem like anything too serious, and when I got on, the pain went away. We decided not to beat that jump like a dead horse (pun kind of intended). We ended the day on a couple easy BN jumps that we'd jumped before and he took them like a champ. Hopefully the jumps at Heritage would be on even ground and not anything like a terrifying "BN" tiger trap.

Dieter got a hose down and about an hour of rest while I assessed my situation. I was really sore. Like really sore. But it didn't seem like anything that a little tylenol couldn't fix. Sitting was fine. Standing was ok. Walking wasn't exactly pleasant, and the sit to stand motion was definitely painful. We had to do something about that jump, though. I couldn't let him finish the day thinking that it was OK to refuse. We slowly (because ouch) walked down to the jump in question with a lunge line. We started lunging over an easy starter log near the water, and he was doing fine. He remembered lunging. Yay! So we moved to the tiger trap. He came to a complete stop at his first attempt, but I coaxed him over with a slight tap of the whip. He really hesitated at his second attempt but eventually jumped. Then he jumped the jump nicely 2-3 times. I should have quit (bad horse mom moment #4). However, there was a tree in the way and I couldn't get him to slow down before his next approach to the jump. He jumped the jump and ran straight (good news), but I was tangled around the tree and couldn't get a good enough hold on the lunge line. Dieter booked it up the hill back to the barn. I couldn't even remotely keep up with him. He has a nice gallop when he wants to! I took my time getting back up the hill (because ouch) (bad horse mom moment #5). When I got back, my horse was in his stall and had been successfully caught. Bad horse. Apparently he almost jumped a picnic table. But a "BN" tiger trap is terrifying. Really? Horses.

So not exactly the best weekend, but at least we had a chance to work on his fitness (how often do we get the chance to do dressage and cross country in one day, twice in a row?). And we learned the problem with the spurs. And we learned how scary tiger traps are. And we learned what it's like to have the air vest go off (the landing was actually fine- the landing without the air vest... not so much). And every time I ride him, we learn more and more about each other.

Dieter and I took Monday and Tuesday off. I was sore. Really sore. It hurts to lay on my right hip. But the soreness has gotten better. On Wednesday, we rode in the field at home. On Thursday, after some heavy rains, we rode dressage at Willow Creek and worked on our transitions (mainly trot to canter), with more success when we did 10 meter circles and picked the canter up on the circle. Friday morning, Taylor and I headed to the barn early (we got there around 9am) to pack for the show. We cleaned out the trailer, packed our stuff, cleaned tack, & bathed & clipped horses before we left at 1pm for Heritage Park Horse Trials. Before the weekend even began, I decided that our goal was simply to finish our first beginner novice event. There would be no expectations. We need somewhere to start and we need to know what we need to work on. This would be a learning weekend for both Dieter and me. 

I rode a practice dressage test on Friday evening at 5pm. Dieter warmed up well. But as usual, my reins got way too long during the test and he wasn't collected enough. We ended up with a 35.5. I had to shorten my reins more on Saturday and we could do even better! After our practice test, we walked the cross country course. It was backwards from other years. And the jumps looked HUGE!!! I knew they were beefing up the course and changing things around, but I didn't realize that the jumps would look like novice jumps! Even Taylor (who has been doing BN for a while) said that the jumps all looked big. Great. I walked the course twice and tried not to think too much about it. Overall it was a fairly early night. I stopped at Jimmy John's on the way home and was able to get to bed pretty early.

I got to the park early Saturday morning to feed the horses. Then I realized that I had forgotten my garment bag with my show coat... cue 60 minute detour back home and back to retrieve said garment bag. It was literally hanging next to my door. Idiot. I got back to the park and lunged Dieter. He did well. He was mostly pretty collected and paying attention. I think we lunged for about 20 minutes and I called him good. I let Dieter relax while I watched Samantha ride dressage (she ended up with a 27.6!). Then I braided, which takes me a solid hour. For a 5 minute dressage test. I got to the field just in time to watch Taylor ride from afar (another amazing ride with a 28.8!). These kids are giving me a run for my money!

I took my time getting ready and got on around 12:15. We had a nice long walk, watched Donna ride, and then started warm up. He didn't feel as soft and responsive as Friday, but he did fine. We went into the ring and I just tried to constantly remind myself to keep my reins short enough. We had some beautiful moments, but we also had a moment when I didn't go into the corner at all and was totally unbalanced and when he kept throwing his face up at the walk because I was messing with his face too much. Overall, though, the test went well. We ended up with a 30.5, which put us in a 3-way tie for 4th place.

I tried not to think too much about cross country. We have schooled BN jumps. Lots of times. And we've jumped everything Heritage has to offer. I just needed to treat this like a schooling with the objective of piecing jumps together. I watched Sam go XC, and she looked like a beast! If she can do it, I can do novice, surely I can manage to get around a BN course. I started to prep for XC as Taylor was going. She came back to the stalls as I was leaving. She said the course rode well.

Dieter warmed up well, despite a crazy warm-up area. We started jumping and the cross rail went fine. But then we plowed through the vertical. My bad. Too slow. And then he launched himself over the following oxer so high that I'm surprised my air vest didn't go off (we would have had a repeat of Sam's air vest incident several weeks prior). We came around and did the line again, with better pace, and it was fine. We took the 2 cross country jumps, Chris reminded me that there's nothing on course bigger than those jumps, and we headed over to get in line for the start box. They were taking us in any order we wanted to go. I had 2 riders in front of me and then it would be my turn. At my 2 minute countdown, I started walking Dieter in and out of the start box. I thought about the course and how I would ride to every jump, trusting nothing. And then when I came out of the start box, I had him cantering in place with my reins way too long (bad horse mom moment number whatever). I didn't even give him a chance to jump the first fence. He refused. I got my head in the game and gave myself a pep talk to remind myself that this is supposed to be fun. We're going to get it done, buddy. He took the jump on the second attempt. I had him going kind of backwards to the second fence, but he jumped it, despite my poor pace and me being too far in front of him. The rest of the course rode great. We had a good pace, he locked in on the jumps well, the twists & turns went well, and he didn't spook at the scarecrows. We ended up 3 seconds over time for 1.2 time penalties in addition for our 20 refusal penalties. We moved from 4th to 10th, but I'm pretty sure I couldn't be more happy! We had survived our first beginner novice cross country course! And it was fun! Team Morningstar deserved steak.

Chris drove us out to the stadium course so we could walk that before dinner. It seemed pretty straightforward. All right turns except one left rollback turn. We got back to the barns and everyone else wanted to walk horses and wrap before dinner. I decided to wait until after dinner so that Dieter could chill for a bit and so that it would be a bit cooler when I put his sheet on him. Chris bailed on dinner, which meant that Taylor & Debbi could bail on dinner, so it was just the Foggs, Cam, and me searching the countryside for a place to eat steak at approximately 7pm on a Saturday. Not an easy feat. We ended up at Cracker Barrel. After dinner, I went back to the horse park, wrapped, and walked. I found Lilly from CEC and we walked with her around the dressage field. Then I went home and went to bed.

Sunday was another early day. I got to Heritage around 7:30. I unpacked my car, made sure Dieter had food and water, and did chores. Around 8:45, Dieter and I took a walk up to the stadium area. We explored the warm up and the arenas and watched a few riders go, including some people we knew, like Camryn and Kris, before we headed back down to the stalls. Chris was walking up to stadium as I was walking back, but we took different routes. I asked her to warn me when I should start getting ready and she said to go ahead and do it. I took my time getting ready and making sure I had everything I would need before I headed back to the warm up. We did a long walk then our 2-2-2s to get ready. The footing in the BN area was horrible, but the footing in the novice area was alright. Chris was by the novice jumps, so I decided to take the cross rail there. She told me to move up to the BN area, where the footing was crappy and the jumps were tiny (I think some of the trainers had lowered them because people were having trouble). We jumped the tiny vertical twice before I realized that I had 1 rider before it would be my turn in the ring. I told Chris and she told me to jump the "novice" oxer on my way out of the warm up. We got to the ring as the person in front of us was going. As we cantered into the ring, the announcer came over the speaker and Dieter lost it. Our attention was no longer. Suddenly everything was scary and terrifying and the world was a horrible place. As we came to the first jump, he was looking at everything, and I didn't have a great pace. He refused. Again. First-fence-phobia. I circled him and then he took it fine on the second attempt. The rest of the course was alright. We couldn't agree on a pace. Some of the jumps were terrifying and I needed a ton of leg to push him to them and he attacked others with no problem. It was hard to tell if there was a common denominator, but we knocked several rails (3, to be exact). So we added 20 faults onto our 51.7 to end with a 71.7 and 11th place. As they were doing the course change, after we had taken some pictures, I sought out the steward to retrieve a completion ribbon. I know it seems stupid, but that completion ribbon means a lot to me. We have a place to work up from. We officially have a starting point. We've bitten the bullet and can only go up from here.

Yes. We didn't get a ribbon. Yes. We didn't have a perfect show. Yes. We definitely have improvements to make. But I honestly could not be more happy with this weekend. I am so excited about how far Dieter and I have come in less than a year together. He has taught me so much about how to ride dressage correctly and how to develop a horse and how nothing will ever be perfect and how it's the journey that's supposed to be fun, not necessarily the ribbons and winning. He is such a fun horse, and he is teaching me so much about riding and horses and myself. I have never in my life valued a completion award as much as I do after this weekend. This horse and I are going to be unstoppable once we get some miles. Watch out, eventing world!!! We're coming for ya!

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