Monday, August 25, 2014

Steepleview 2014: Long Version

Optional musical accompaniment to this post:

I didn't eat or sleep normally for the past week. Too many nerves. But Friday afternoon, I was able to get everything packed and ready to go before heading out to walk the course. As usual, everything was beautifully prepared and wonderfully set up. The course was gorgeous and inviting (and counter-clockwise; I was right!). I was so excited that I barely got any sleep before Saturday.We ended up leaving around 6am. I had to stop at a gas station to put air in one of the old tires, and of course, the air compressor was built into the building. So, I had to back the trailer into a parking spot, and the air compressor wasn't working. Further investigation (read: asking the people who worked there) revealed it hadn't been turned on. So, once it was turned on, I was able to fill up the tire and we were off.

We ended up making it to Steepleview around 8:30, which left me plenty of time to get Royal calm and ready. I let him stretch his legs in the lunging arena, and he took in all the happenings. We headed back to the trailer, and I started working on braiding him. He was good, at first, standing and eating hay. But then decided that if he was scared of the trailer, I would stop braiding. Ha! Joke's on him. All that meant was that he still had to stand, but didn't get any hay. Eventually he got the message and I was able to finish his mane and he was able to eat hay again.

He looked so handsome.

I had bought a teeny bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream, and I took a swig before heading to the dressage warm up. My parents arrived as we were warming up and took some pictures.

Royal warmed up rather well. He was still a bit fussy with picking up the left lead and bending to the right, but overall tried his best. I got a bit freaked out when one of the riders in our division (BN Rider) go off course, and for a little bit, I thought I'd memorized the wrong test. But as it turns out, she's just gone off course. Crisis averted.

The actual test went pretty well. I think the Bailey's helped me relax, and I just let Royal do his thing. He still had a bit of tension, but not as much as previous tests. Still some fussiness with the left lead canter and right circle, and a little tension in the medium walk, but I was still very pleased. Then I had to take out his braid and we rested for a bit before heading to the x-c warm up.

At first I was worried. He seemed kind of lazy, although I was thinking it was the footing. The x-c warm-up is on a big hill, and the footing was pretty slick. He skidded once and we were pretty much done galloping. We popped over a few fences, and just walked around the rest of the time. He could see the other horses on course and was too pumped up to eat. Then it was our turn. I spent a minute walking him in and out of the start box, and then it was "5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go!"

He kind of got bug-eyed looking at all the jumps in a little, but I gave him a little encouragement, and he hopped right over. We turned right to

He locked right on and popped over. The ground between this fence and the next one was a bit iffy. I was worried it would be torn up by the time we got there. It was a bit rough, but Royal navigated it well and we made it to

The Best Jump Evar! Our favorite was back! Seriously, I think people would revolt if the Scrabble jumps weren't on the course. Royal's seen it a bunch, so no problems here. We turned left to

Water crossing! I know the jump judges all think I'm nuts since I always remind Royal about Lake Superior. He stepped in cautiously but we trotted though ("moving smartly" as the announcer described it) and out to

The Turkey Feeder. This has been a bogey fence in past years, and they had it out in the open, not too far from the water. Royal peeked at it a bit but hopped over. We had to go through a low area which was also kind of torn up, but Royal cantered through with no problem. And the turbo engines kicked on when he saw

Up bank! At the schooling in July, our group instructor Sarah said "He knows how to jump a bank really well". And this was no exception. Royal did his best impression of Super Horse (which is quite good) and we cantered on to

I was a bit worried about this jump when I walked the course. High contrast jumps tend to weird The Fuzz out, and I didn't know how he would react to it. Luckily there was an almost identical jump in the warm-up (except it was reddish), so he'd already seen it. Still gave it a bit of the stick eye but went over. He tried to keep the rocket engines on afterward, so I had to give him a firm half halt as we went through the woods. Luckily, he responded. We had a bit of a funny moment when we spooked at a log coming out of the woods, but then I felt his entire body refocus when he saw

Lobster trap! Another familiar one, and he glided over. We went down the hill, and I had keep him balanced on the way to

This was at the bottom of the hill, and you can see the ditch in the background, so it was sort of a half coffin combination. I set Royal back on his hocks and he jumped neatly over, and wavered a bit before jumping

The ditch. Usually it's filled with dirt, but they took it out this year. It was a bit of an odd visual. But despite that, he still went over. We went across the land bridge and turned left to

No problems here, but you can see the Hilliest Hill Ever To Hill in the background. Our next jump was on the lower part, but I still got in 2-point, grabbed Royal mane, and let him bring up to the top of the hill. We had to widen out and make a slight left turn to

Tootsie Roll! No problems. We had to go back down the hill (Royal sensibly decided to trot), back over the land bridge, turn left, and canter by the tree line to

Roll top! By now the engines were really on and he sailed over. We went back up the hill a bit and turned right to

Boom! Over with no problems. We went down the hill to

Last jump! He launched over and I let him fly at high speed to the finish line.

And we were done! No refusals, and we were 12 seconds under the time, so no points added. Royal was pretty sweaty, but didn't seem any worse for wear. Although he was less than thrilled with Mom taking our picture.

And I found out that we had been in 7th (out of 13) after dressage with 38.5 points. Which is what I'd been anticipating. Our test had been good but not great, so mentally I'd pegged us at mid-to-high thirties. But we got an 8 on our first change of direction and 7s on our canter-trot transitions and Royal got a 7 on gaits! Fancy boy. And later, I found out we'd been moved up to 6th after x-c. I pretty much passed out that night, and we headed out around 7 the next morning.

I let Royal hang out and graze while we watched the Training and Novice show jumping. It was pretty hot, but there was a breeze keeping it tolerable. Still, I waited to saddle him up and we had a really light warm-up since I didn't want stress him too much.

The course was very twisty, and I knew I was going to have to keep him balanced. He jumped the first jump well, but then I had a majorly stupid brain fart moment. Blame it on the heat, sleep deprivation, whatever, but I screwed badly and turned us way too sharply to the next fence. It came up quick and Royal pretty much had to levitate to get us out of there. I lost a stirrup and he let out a few small bucks, telling me to get my act together. I regained my stirrup and we made it over the rest of the course just fine, twist and turns and all. Adding to the embarrassment, my stock tie came loose and was flapping around by the end of the course. But brain-farts and embarrassment aside, we didn't knock anything down, so we stayed on 38.5 penalties, and 6th place.

Obviously, I was really pleased. Royal was Mr. Superstar, and gave 110% the whole weekend. And I can't think of a better way to end the season. Obviously, we have to work on some stuff, but focusing on dressage and building our strength will really help us. But, this week, it's relaxation time. Royal got a bunch of cookies and mints and apples, and I'll work on getting any soreness out of his muscles. But he deserves all the goodies.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Steepleview 2014: Short Version

We got 6th place!

We had our best dressage test ever at 38.5 penalty points, DOUBLE CLEAR cross country, and DOUBLE CLEAR show jumping, despite my stupid brain fart. We ended on the 38.5 and 6th out of 13.

I've have the long version later. Right now, I'm too tired to write a very coherent post. Must catch up on sleep first.

I'm super proud of Royal. He just keeps outdoing himself.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Pre-Steepleview Madness

It's that time of year again!

I'm taking a quick break from packing everything up to go walk the x-c course. I'm making a prediction that it'll be run counter-clockwise this year, from what I saw at the schooling. We're riding a bit earlier than normal this year, probably due to the change in dressage tests.

So far, I've been mostly happy with Royal's progress. We've had mostly good session, apart from the one when I had to reiterate that simply turning into a brick wall is not an option. But other than that, it's been good.

And we have the return of Jumper Chic!

Although Royal wasn't impressed. But, as long as the weather holds out (chance of sun/rain/thunderstorms/humidity/all the above!), we should be good. My goal for this one is to finish on our dressage score, whatever that is. We've never been able to pull that off, but this might be our year. Wish us luck!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Hijinks Ensue

Sorry for the hiatus (again)! It's been a crazy few weeks and we've been up all sorts of wacky hijinks.

Good news! The tire on the trailer is fixed and there are now two brand spanking new tires on it. So hopefully there will be no more of that nonsense anymore. And Royal's dressage work is really coming along.

He has a really big and bouncy canter, and tends to get himself all tangled up, especially in transitions. So usually they end up being all fussy and frantic, and the canter usually suffers for it. So last week, I decided to try to start fixing that. I know that lateral yields are a big comforting exercise for him, so I incorporated a lot of those into our warm up, and kept on them going in the session. Basically I'd ask him to yield in and out on the circle, and when I asked him to canter, had the mentality that we were going to canter forever. I used a mixture of circles and straight lines: lines when he was balanced and circles when he needed to re-balance. We ended up with a nice balanced and forward canter.

This week, we first had a jumping session with a special bonus. I was participating in GISHWHES, an international scavenger hunt with a decidedly zany twist. One of the items was jumping the shark, which Royal was only too happy to help with.

He's always very patient with my shenanigans.

And as of last Thursday, it seems like all our hard work is starting to come together. I went up to ride, all prepared to work more on the canter, and it was just there. He gave me a near perfect transition when I first asked and everything went pretty smoothly from there. There was a bit of trouble with his left lead, but after an initial burst of frantic energy, he settled right in. Straight lines, circles, transitions, he was just engaged and there. So, to say I'm optimistic is quite accurate.

We also building a new shelter for the horses. I'll post pictures once it's once, but it's quite nice. Tall and long enough so all four horses should be able to stand in there to get out of the wind and snow. But for now, Steepleview! It's in less then two weeks, and I'm so excited! This year is going to be great.