Monday, 22 June 2015

Long live the evolution

I've been working really hard on my riding and on Buddy's way of going in this year and I've added different trainers into our team as although my previous trainers have been great I've realised I'm a bit of a needy client (!) and need as much work on me and my mental attitude as well as the horse which is a bit of a tricky mix. However I started by adding J from Springwood Grange to help me on the flat. SJL has done some fabulous work with us but as I'm entering the next stage of my dressage learning I need a bit more help more regularly and J is just around the corner which is fab and she compliments the work I've done already.
Working hard in our lesson
 Then a couple of months ago, after taking an empty space on a xc clinic, I met G from Huntercombe Horses. In one session he got me and in every session since he has slowly taken me towards where I am now. I actually cannot believe the difference in us both over fences in the short time he's trained us and it's been a real revelation and Buddy is loving it too and is much happier now he knows where the boundaries are.
Gridwork session (after he'd calmed down)
The huge benefit is that I feel both J and G are genuinely invested in B and I. This makes a huge difference to my mental attitude as I feel I have two fabulous people in my corner who want us to succeed and who are giving me the tools for the long term not just to deal with things when they are going well but how to deal with the things when they go wrong. I am also learning to ride like I do at home when I'm at a competition and I'm being really drilled on it. B is not the type of horse that will work hard unless I set the expectation as to what I want, he's incredibly hard working and loves to please but won't put himself out unless I'm insistent.
This week has been a huge turning point for us, first the clear at BCA showed me how much of a difference it makes when I don't just sit there like a lemon, I had a super dressage lesson on Friday night and then on Saturday we had a gridwork session at G's yard to work on rider position and horses technique. B was a wild beast to start, charging at the fences and I told G I didn't want to die as I was heading at speed towards the wings!! He then got me to shorten my reins... More... More... More! This made a huge difference although was very alien but it made me realise how long I let my reins get when jumping. G said that B uses his neck and head really well for a big horse but now needs to learn to shorten that frame and I could feel him pulling me longer and longer as we went down the grid and the jump got flatter and we would have the last poles down so I need to be much more aware of this. Much like in my flatwork sessions I have to keep control of that left shoulder round a turn (shoulder in is my friend) and keep the contact moving and not let his neck get fixed so G was shouting 'wiggle, let go, wiggle, let go' at me as I was going down the grid!!By the end we were getting there, it was less wild and I started feeling that we were working together but both of us were taking responsibility for our part of the deal.
My biggest personal take away is that I must not change my riding when having a flat or jumping session. The problems I have are the same and I can help control them on the flat so I must not forget to ride properly and with those issues in mind when there are poles added to the mix. I must tailor my warm up for jump lessons exactly the same, get the shoulder under control and an even contact before starting to jump rather than just the walk trot canter I have done before.
P14 sheet - lovely comments and two 8's!
So with my brain crammed with lots of new information and a new understanding of what I need to do we trundled off to do Team Quest at Wellington. I arrived with plenty of time and had my warm up planned. He was going beautifully in the warm up so I kept my reins short and was determined to ride. We were in the spooky indoor so I made sure I did a circle at the spooky end before going down the long side to the judges box. The lovely judge let me have a couple of circuits round the arena (it is horrible and spooky) and then rang the bell. Well, all I can say is that it was the best test we have ever ridden. I rode, B tried hard and I just felt amazing as we were going round. Then, right at the end of the left canter with just two movements left, Buddy stopped for a scratch. I heard sniggering from the gallery (my lovely team mates!) and although it felt like a lifetime I got him back and he carried on in a beautiful frame again. It had completely thrown me though and as I trotted up the long side I realised I should have turned across the diagonal at H so I then deliberated whether I should go all the way round again but just wrote it off and came down the centre line. The judge was lovely and said what a lovely horse Buddy was and that I'd dealt with it well. I could not believe it (check out my face at the end of the video) - we were definitely on track for a PB score but still ended up on 67.91% and 2nd place in our section.  Our team ended up in 4th place as there were some stellar scores but it means that we are firmly in place for a regionals spot so I will be working very hard between now and then and hoping B doesn't have an itch on regionals day!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

D Day at BCA

So after the disaster that was last week I needed to get out XC schooling prior to our BE debut at BCA so I managed to squeeze a session in at Attington Stud with G yesterday. We worked on ditches and drops and making sure when I say go I mean it and that B knows I mean it. It was one of those sessions where everything clicked and I had a bit of a breakthrough in my riding. B is not overly brave but he does try and I've been unfair in the way I have been riding him and have no right to be disappointed in our performance unless I can categorically say I rode it and meant it! I chatted with G about my concerns and was told that it's time to just get over it and kick on... So kick on I did. It made a huge difference and although G did warn me it may go to pot at BCA and to expect a stop or two I came away feeling amazing and like I'd turned a huge corner in my riding.

It was another early start with an 8:30 dressage and time was not on my side today so I ended up running about 30 mins behind my 'worst case' schedule. This meant I arrived at 8:10 and after collecting my number and tacking up I had 5 mins to warm up - not quite enough time! So we pretty much went straight in and it was not my best test, my half circles were a bit crap and the canter a bit onward bound but I can't complain as we'd gone in cold and he needs at least 15-20 mins to get consistent. Back to the box and a little break before SJ. 

6 - The dreaded corner

I wandered over with 25 minutes to spare as had not walked the course so wanted to watch a few go. Pretty simple but up to height and a bit twisty although nothing to be concerned about. One of the worst things about eventing alone is that you have to jump whatever is in the warm up and so my choices were: tiny cross, 100 upright and up to height wide spread. I stuck with the cross for a couple on each rein but then he started get rather cocky so I aimed him at the upright - he bowled on and flew it but was still being a tad keen so came round to the spread to try and back him off. Nope. Hmm. I decided to call it a day and hope the fillers calmed him down a bit!!

He did go a bit backwards in the ring but I rode forward and assertively. It was not neat and we had 4 faults at the penultimate fence where he just went a bit flat but I was pleased he'd gone when I asked and thought it was a good test for xc. They read out my DR score at this point and it was a 42 so on to XC with 4 to add. 

Quick change and off to the XC course. I'd walked it the night before and saw three potential issues.. First, the corner at 6 as I'd need to be straight to it (there was an alternative which I had as another option if the first few had not gone to plan), 9ab a half coffin (he would only see the ditch after take off)and 12ab pallisade, two strides to drop. However the course was lovely and would just need me to attack it and ride.

He was being a pickle in the warm up - really hooning at the warm up fence - so I just focused on getting him off my leg and only jumped a few times. Before I knew it we were in the start box and being counted down. We shot out of the start box, quick slap on the neck to get him to focus on the first and we pinged it. Second was a picnic bench which he ballooned a bit, 3rd was a house which he went to have a look at but a bit of vocal encouragement got us over. Fourth was a half rolltop which we got a bit close to, took 5th out of our stride and met it nicely. As we came to the corner I gave him a slap 4 strides out and he didn't hesitate so we were on to 7ab where we were a tad wonky into the b element but still clear. Hay rack at 8 had a bit of a drop on landing so felt like we were in the air for a bit but had a fab jump over it and we were on to first big question 9ab. I kept my leg on, he saw the ditch on take off of the first element and I felt him back off but growled and he took the biggest leap over it. Landed a bit messily so quick change of leg and we were onto 10 which was a skinny house. He was wonky coming in and I kicked the flag out but we were on a mission. Next was step up to rolltop which he pinged and then our last question, 12ab pallisade to drop, which he zoomed through and down without question. Fence 13 was up to height with max brush allowance (though doesn't look quite as impressive in the pics) and he flew over it and stormed to the water. Another rolltop, three strides to the water which we slid into (B prefers his water nice and clear and not muddy) so trotted through, over the penultimate fence and then cantered up the hill to the final fence which he flew out of his stride. We did it, clear at our first BE90!! It was not stylish at all but I can focus on that once B understands I mean it!!

13 - B making the biggest fence look teeny
I felt quite emotional as its been a bit of a rollercoaster week but it was worth it for the high I'm on. To get to an affiliated event has been my main aim since B came back and it's taken us a while but to go clear after all the issues we've had at our debut is just magical. This one is going into my memory hall of fame. There are some videos on our Facebook page that my friend took for us so head over there for those if you fancy seeing us in action!

Two out of three ain't bad.....

So Sunday came round very quickly and my alarm was set for 5am to be there in time for my dressage test at 8:12! I'd built in plenty of time, got to the yard and chucked the final bits in, gave B a quick groom and we were on the road before I knew it. The journey to Mattingley is pretty easy and we pootled along loving the fact there was no traffic, I was feeling pretty relaxed, I had my plan and knew what needed to be done.

Arrived, grabbed my number and walked the SJ. The courses at Mattingley are always bright and up to height so I knew I'd have to ride but it was a fair test and nothing in particular I was worried about. B was pretty lit up on the way to dressage but I found a quiet corner and started working in. He felt good and was listening to me. We had a slight discussion about controlling the left shoulder in our first canter but after a short reminder he was on form. I timed the warm up perfectly and it was soon our turn to go in. 

The arena was on a slight slope so knew I'd have to keep him balanced to get the best picture. As I trotted round he did the biggest spook at the boards but after a quick reminder that it was not acceptable behaviour (!) he started to concentrate and down the centre line we trotted. BE95 is the shorted test in the world and it was very quickly over. I was really pleased, I'd ridden it and although there were a couple of bits that needed improvement I know what they were and how to correct them. We've not done a test on grass since last year and I'd forgotten how much different it is to ride on but I was pleased.

Quick break and onto SJ. The warm up was pretty hard so I kept my jumping to a minimum and just made sure he was forward and off my leg. We went in and they read out our dressage score which was 32 and ended up putting us 8th out of 49 so I was chuffed! Good jump over the first, dog leg to 2 and then round to an oxer at 3 which he looked at but I kept my leg on so he popped over, round to the first meerkat jump at 4, tiny oxer at 5 which he clunked and we had down, through the double, round to a big bright fence at 7, big oxer at 8 which he flew despite a slightly wide line from me and then the final fence at 9 which we also clunked as he got a bit long to and also clocked the other horse in the ring and just tapped it out behind. So 8 faults but I know I let him get a bit flat and it was pretty spooky so I'm really pleased with how he went.

Then it was time for a quick change and onto the big test... the XC. He was sharp in the warm up and so I did a lot of walking, making sure he was paying attention to me and was off my leg. Popped the warm up fence and he was feeling eager and before I knew it we were being counted down in the start box... He stormed out, took the bridle and was off! Over the first, down the hill and he spooked at the fence judge (!) so a slap down the shoulder to get him to concentrate and we flew the second. Into the woods and he was gawping at the fence judge for the third fence so another tap on the shoulder and "focus please donkey" and we were in a rhythm. We flew onwards to fence four and the sun was shining on it and the fence judge had an umbrella which is Buddy's pet hate so I sat back, kept my leg on and he took it out of a nice forward stride. By this point I was beaming because he felt like he'd finally got it and felt so, so good and was eating up the ground. As we galloped up the hill I saw the previous competitor at the next fence so I yelled for them to move over and we popped through the double of pallisades. I kicked on to the next fence and met it spot on then it was the double of tyres on an angle which he ate up and then it was the first question - the drop. I bought him back to trot, he spooked at the change of surface and I came back to walk to let him see the drop. He span round - first refusal - and then I just couldn't get him off the edge! I don't think we actually stepped back three times but the previous competitor was creeping up on us so I think the fence judge eliminated us a bit quick but I don't think I would have got him off anyway.

So we did the walk of shame home. I was absolutely gutted. On the way back I analysed what had happened - had I ridden him well enough, was he feeling his feet, am I cut out for this?! I had a little cry as I was just so frustrated after all the hard work we've put in to try and get this right. We are a few days post event now and I have had a serious think about the next steps. I cannot keep doing the rollercoater of nailing two phases and having a chance of a placing for it to all go wrong XC. We have BCA on Sunday and I am still going and will have an XC session on Friday to try and elimate some mental demons but BCA is definately d day for us.

B is not a naturally uber bold horse and despite having bucketloads of talent that is not enough. If he was a 'normal' horse then I would just take him XC schooling every week but I do not want to put unnecessary mileage on his legs and feet when it might not work and I need to be realistic as I have a very full on job and I'm not sure I have the time to commit to that level of work. I want him to stay sound and to enjoy what we do so I may have to accept that eventing just isn't his thing. I am trying hard to not let this outlook affect our performance at the weekend so I will make sure I sit up, kick on and try and enjoy it!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Practice makes Perfect

I've spent the last week practising so I am ready for Mattingley tomorrow. It's not just the physical preperation but for me, the mental preperation is just as important. I must have a routine to follow, feel confident that I have asked Buddy each question before and that we are as ready as we can be. I have a new process to follow when jumping so I am confident that I have the tools to get us around clear. I know that should we have a stop it will be because I did not prepare in the right way and ride the question. I know what I have to do to succeed.

For me the dressage is the first hurdle to accomplish. I must ride and not just sit there letting things happen to me. I need to make adjustments continually to ensure that we deliver the best picture to the judge and I must relax and enjoy it! I have had two lessons this week to prepare - our session on Sunday was good, we focused on circles as for some reason my circle riding ability has disappeared recently (diamonds, eggs, hexagons I've nailed) and there are half circles in the test I need to ride and I wasn't really getting a smooth picture on my own. The session started with getting suppleness and flexibility and then controlling the left shoulder which bulges out on the right rein and falls in on the left so I have to ride each rein differently. The start of this is to get him consistent in the outside rein which really helps me to control the shoulder with minimal adjustments. By the time the session was over we we nailing the half circles and I was really pleased with him.

He had the day off on Monday and then I decided to jump him over scary stuff on Tuesday night. I found a bit of bright blue tarpaulin that I put under a tiddly jump (as I knew he'd go boogly eyed at it) and a couple of fillers under some bigger fences (90-100) to get my eye in and make everything seem tiddly on Sunday! Well despite knowing B would baulk at the tarpaulin I did not sit far back enough the first time and found myself looking up and B from the sand! Doh. After giving myself a suitable telling off and realising I obviously wasn't sitting far enough back ;o) I came round again. Yes he jumped it like a lion had jumped up and bit him (and continued to do so until the 5th jump) but he went. As a cooldown we took the pole away and walked over it a few times, the first time he looked and jumped it but the next time he was much better and gradually was walking over it quite relaxed. He was worried about it (normally he's just naughty and takes advantage) but he still went so it was a fantastic learning session for both of us.

We schooled on Weds, practising the lessons from Sunday and I had bought a new bit (jefferies harmony) which he really seems to like so I wanted to test that out too. He was super, I was really pleased with him. He had a well deserved day off on Thursday and then a lesson on Friday. The aim was to sharpen him up ready for Sunday and just make sure the basics are there. We worked on our warm up - walking round on a long rein but not just wibbling around, making sure that shoulder is under control, 10m and 20m circles into more of a contact to manage the shoulder and establish theflexibility and suppleness, changing the bend in the neck so he doesn't block me, counter flexion on the right rein so I can start to the ride him straighter. Then into trot, circles again to check the shoulder, on and back in trot to get him off my leg. Canter keeping the outside rein, I must not hang on, keep control of the shoulders - especially on a circle - half halting with the outside rein to keep control. Not much to remember!!

We ran through the test and I was really pleased with the improvement. I just need to make sure I ride it and we will do a fabulous test #positivethinking