Friday, 18 July 2014

Cracking Crown Farm

I have never been to Crown Farm (Ascott-under-Wychwood) before but have heard lots of good things about it and so I was really excited to arrive on Sunday. Buddy came off the lorry clearly knowing exactly what this eventing stuff is all about now and so was quite distracted as we wandered through the lorry park, past the show jumping and trade stands and across to the dressage warm up. It was raining and despite having a huge amount of space to warm up in we kept getting cut up and Buddy was feeling inattentive and far from his best. I'd given myself 20 minutes to warm up (which is usually plenty) but I could have done with 10-15 minutes more to reduce the tension and get him a bit more focused on me. The test was ok, we can definitely do better, and the marks improved as he settled down but I need to remember he hasn't been in this type of environment much before and it was a proper BE atmosphere with 6 dressage rings plus all the big show hype. I guessed it was a 38-42 test depending how generous the judge was feeling!

Thanks to 1st Class Images
We had an hour and a half in between dressage and jumping so I left Buddy with my friend and went to walk the XC. It was much hillier than I thought it would be and so running round was a bit more tiring than expected but I was confident that it was jumpable - the only one I was concerned about was the first fence which was a flower box and Buddy is never keen on those so to have it as the first fence wasn't ideal. There were a couple of fences I thought he may look at later in the course (the haycart and saw) but hoped by that point he'd been in full swing and wouldn't care.

I went over to to the SJ with 20 minutes to warm up so I could watch the course being ridden as well but when I arrived they were taking numbers rather than running to order and there were 20 horses before me so I waited outside. The SJ was causing a bit of carnage with faults, slips and time penalties all over the place - the ring was very greasy and to see a few horses slid right over despite being studded up didn't exactly fill me with confidence!

I took Buddy into the warm up when I had 8 to go but it was really difficult to get any good work as he was so wound up. There were 15-20 horses in the warm up and the idea of etiquette seems to have gone out of the window. There were lots of wild horses in there, people cantering up bottoms, cutting people up in front of or behind the jumps and just general rudeness. Buddy was getting upset by it and I was getting tense so we jumped the cross a few times, popped the straight and the oxer and went in. The corners at the top of the ring appeared to be the slippiest so I planned to trot those but keep moving around the rest of the course to try and avoid time faults.

Buddy boinged over the first which was a rustic fence and then took the bridle and he was off! We came into the third fence full of it and I struggled to get him back for the turn to four. Back to trot and we popped through and round. He calmed down a bit after this point and the rest of the round was lovely - slightly strong but lovely and we finished clear. Big pats for the pony.

As there had been such a delay SJ we didn't have much time before XC so it was straight back to the lorry, quick drink for us all and change for me and it was time to go. Buddy definitely understands what XC is now and was incredibly excited about the prospect of doing it which wasn't ideal as the walk to the warm up was down a steep hill! We jogged over there and then as soon as he'd had a walk round and a trot he was back to being his calm self.

I used Warren's advise again in the warm up and kept it short and sweet but made sure I jumped him quite early in the warm up to ensure he was ready to go when I asked. It was soon time for us to go and I'd decided to trot into the first - just in case - so we power trotted out of the start box. I felt him back off when he realised where we were going so sat back, kept my leg on and he took me forward. He then decided he didn't facy it and we span round. I represented and he ballooned it - big pats and onwards to the next, a simple pallisade which I came in a much more forward rhythm and he popped it well. He baulked at the fence judge's car by the wall at 3 but kept moving forward and popped it. He then spotted a couple of groups of people by the next few fences but I got him back with some vocal encouragement and lots of leg over 4 and then sped on to 5 - the first combination on course. I couldn't get his attention away from the fence judge and crowd so tapped him on the shoulder, brought him back to trot ready to kick him up over the fence like Warren had advised. However it wasn't enough and we had another stop. I represented and although he was wary and not 100% focused on me we got through. The next fence was the castle jump and someone was stood right behind it so I screamed 'JUMPING' at them and they kindly moved!!

Thanks to 1st Class Images
There was a stony track up the hill through some woods and I really kicked him on here. He baulked coming out of the dark into the sunlight and at the people stood around but I kicked on and we flew over the tyres at 7. Next was a simple palisadey type fence which he flew and then on to the ditch. I bought him back to trot for this, just in case, but actually I think he would have been fine in canter as he popped it and locked onto the roll top which was next. Stayed in canter and approached the next looky fence which was the hay cart. He did look but I kept my leg on and he popped it out of his stride. Next was house to water to house and I trotted in to give him time to see, he trotted through the water and popped the house on the other side. Cantered downhill towards the drop at 12, back to walk and he had a look but popped straight down, through the wood, up the hill and over the log back out to the field. Didn't glance at the saw fence, over the next without concern and hooned down the slope towards the last which was another flower box. I was not having another stop and so really sat back, leg on and he flew. Galloped strongly through the finish and carried on halfway up the hill!! 

I must admit I was gutted with the two stops as I'd only wanted one so I ended up finishing on 80.5 rather than the sub 75 I'd aimed for but they were green stops where he was looking at the crowds and I can't really train for that. Once he was in the swing of things he made it feel incredibly easy and clearly loved every second of it and he did a brilliant clear SJ - one of only a few in his section - so I can't really complain. My friend who groomed for me also said that the commentator was saying some really lovely things about our round (and she wasn't holding her punches) so thats really lovely to hear and boosts my confidence that we don't look that horrific as we're going round!

Thanks to 1st Class Images
We had a session with Warren on Wednesday evening (where he was really impressed with the improvement in us both - big grins) and he agreed that I probably should have cantered out of the start box, come back to trot 3 strides out and then kicked him forwards. Once he gets used to the crowds and distractions we will be competitive so I'd like to get it sorted as quickly as possible but it may just be that he needs a few more runs to build his confidence up and understand what is expected of him.

We're at Aston-le-Walls next, which is one of my favourite events, so he's having a quiet week of hacking (bar the clinic with Warren) and then we will up the schooling ready for that.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Building the confidence bank

So after the high of our first event (still grinning about it almost two weeks later!) I had booked us in with Warren for a jump session and got a last minute entry to an eventers challenge. 

The session with Warren was, as usual, filled with information that is just unbelievably useful and educational. I feel like I am in the process of deconstructing my riding style and building it back up again. As such there will be a few bumps in the road but I really get what I need to do and Warren is helping me get there without getting frustrated! This session followed on from the XC session the week before and was focussed on getting Buddy forward and thinking and for me to sit back and allow B to jump. We warmed up over a cross a few times and then went to jump a fence with a rubber mat under it. I rode like an idiot, sat forward and Buddy span and I was eating sand. Urgh. It was so frustrating as I knew exactly why I'd come off a millisecond before it was too late to correct and I fully deserved to eat dirt. Must. Get. Better.
Pro pics from Wheatlands ODE
Hopped back on with pride hurt more than anything and focused on correcting my errors and getting B to think forwards. In my first session with Warren I was overriding so we corrected that and we've now gone too far the other way so Warren was getting us to walk into fences until we were a stride or two away and then kick forwards. This really helped B wait and sit back on his hocks and we got some much better jumps because of it. Warren also noticed that if I'm not 100% sure how B will react I slowly slide my bum backwards towards the cantle in semi-defence mode but this pulls my shoulders forwards and down which puts me in a position of weakness immediately. No one has ever noticed this (or just hasn't told me) so it was a bit of a revelation but as soon as I know I'm doing it I am aware and able to correct it. So, homework was to ride the last two strides and keep bum at the front of the saddle and shoulders back. Easy right???

So, onwards to the eventers challenge which was essentially a short format ODE with dressage and then 5 SJs, onto the XC and then back to the SJs. This was held at a local riding school and I usually avoid going there as the courses can be a bit dodgy and the ground isn't ideal but I thought we could do with another competitive XC run prior to our next event hence deciding to go. I walked the course the night before and there were some incredibly dodgy hairpin turns and a couple of the fences looked a tad larger than the 2'9" advertised but I thought my eye was a bit out so didn't get too close to those fences! 
Pro pic from Wheatlands ODE
Dressage was one to forget - it was a novice test (our first) and the ground was horrible (hard and slippery) and B just wasn't particularly willing or happy about it. It felt rushed and horrible and I forgot the final circle so had an error of course as well. Went to warm up for the SJ/XC and I noticed that some of the XC fences had been put up and there was a double of uprights on a table with a drop behind the second. I told myself to man up and kick!

The first SJ section was good and the session with Warren had really helped and Buddy was pulling me into the fences so I managed to canter all the way around, apart from the hairpin turn from 2 to 3 which was nuts and 3 was an ascending skinny spread so I wanted to get it right. Clear on those jumps and then onwards to XC. Buddy was full of it - he stormed over the working hunter style fences, onto the trackener and then over to the tyres (one of the fences I'd not got too close to) where he had a look, I came back to trot to get the power and then kicked and B FLEW. Blimey. That felt BIG (found out later it was 1.10m) then to the first combination of log to roll top. Straight through and over the water trough. He was feeling full of confidence and very strong at this point and so I brought him back to trot to regain control as the next section was through the woods and there were some boggy patches. He boinged over the barrels, over the log and then the next combination which was palisade to step to palisade. No troubles and we were back in the field heading towards the table. I was scared. I sat back but B knew what he was doing and flew over the first and then over the second and we landed at the bottom of the slope. Was back onto the SJ and by this point B was strong and not entirely listening so we knocked a couple of rails when he went flat and so we finished on 8 faults. Time was tight - 300 MPM - so I expected a few time faults but we only got 7.something so I was really chuffed as I didn't particularly press on. I was really impressed with his attitude as he is definitely filling with confidence and it was a really tough course for his second go. We finished 7th and just out of the frillies but it's all about adding confidence to the pot and that was definitely achieved.
You know I said it was wet.... Pro pic from Whealands ODE
I've got a manic week with work leading up to our next event on Sunday and I am crazily excited about it. Again, not expecting a placing but the aim is to achieve a sub 75 final score (sub 45 dressage, less than 8 SJ and one refusal XC) and build up confidence points. It's a lovely XC course and as long as I ride properly it shouldn't cause us a problem. Wish us luck!