Friday, July 25, 2014

Steepleview Schooling Days 2014

Hello everyone! Sorry for the hiatus, it's been crazy here. But Royal and I still were able to go on an adventure to our beloved Steepleview Farm for the schooling days.

We went on Sunday, with a ride time of 9am, which meant another early morning for me. But we still managed to get there on time and down to the warm-up ring with no trouble at all. There was a little wrinkle in that I had given myself a blood blister the night before with my wine opener, and I wasn't sure that a band-aid would hold. Luckily, Vetrap provided the solution.

 Inelegant, but effective. Strangely, nobody comment on my odd-looking glove, but what are you gonna do. I was in a group of 4 with instructor Sarah Malecha, who normally teaches in Lakeville. We started out just doing flatwork and moved on to schooling over fences. I was worried that Royal would be going all turbo over the fences, but I'm pleased to say he very politely hopped over everything like it was no big deal. We eventually were able to move onto some x-c fences that we in the warm-up, and he took to them very well.

The group moved up to the Hilliest Hill Ever To Hill, which contained a lot of random jumps. Maybe some will be used in the HT but it provided a lot options for mini courses. We did a simple course, which one rather large wrinkle. There was a log on a hill that didn't look too steep from the top, but was extremely steep when you went down it.

Dramatic Recreation
 We were jumping it uphill, but during the first attempt at the "course" I opted to go around it. Royal still was quite polite over everything, but starting get a little revved up. We then tried a different course, going down the Hilliest Hill Ever To Hill, over the land bridge and over a couple jumps, back through the other land bridge and back over the log on the hill. There was the option of going over a Novice-level ditch, but I decided against that. There were a bunch of jumps lining the trees and I knew Royal would be having trouble with those. He was still pretty revved up, and blasted over the fences, and when it came to the log on the hill, he locked right on. It was kind of an awkward jump, since we've jumping anything on such a steep angle, but we got it done.

The group then moved onto the Beginner Novice ditch, and Royal and I were last in line. The other three horses had some silly moments over the ditch, but I half-halted him and told him that we would have none of that nonsense. He stepped over quite sensibly. We then explored the jumps at the top of the Other Hill. We'd been warned to stay off of the low areas as they were still very wet from all the rain. But we were able to put together a course of ditch to log to log-in-woods to coop-out-of-woods. Now the jet engines were really on, and I had to give him a couple strong half-halt with a side of "Excuse me, hello?" and by the time we got to the coop, he has regained his sensibilities. Then it was bank time. This was a different bank than the usual one, with the possibility to do a staircase. The first time we tried it, he launched off the down bank, but stepped up the up bank with no problems. The second down bank went a lot better, with a very graceful step down and pop back up.

Then it was WATER TIME! Royal was happy to trot through the water and splash around. He even cantered through the water, something he's never done before. We put together one last course of (probably) Novice level bench to (probably) Training stone wall to big steep mound into water, out and across the field, around and down the bank. Royal splashed gleefully through the water and a big drop landed in my eye, causing my contact to slide around. So I was pretty much riding one-eyed up to the bank, and it was a bit of "Royal, take the wheel." He did great and never hesitated. So, that was fabulous note to end on. I cooled him out and washed him off, and we loaded up to go back home. We were about 10 miles from home when I realized one of the trailer tires was basically disintegrating, and needed to be changed. Luckily, we were close to a gas station with a big dirt turnaround, so I was able to stop and unload Royal while we wanted for someone to change the tire.

Yeah, it was bad. Luckily Royal was phenomenal and didn't fuss at all during the whole thing. He loaded up just fine to finish the journey home. The trailer's getting new tires this weekend so the same thing hopefully won't happen when we go to the HT in August. Royal was a bit stiff, but nothing a little bodywork could fix. But overall, I was very pleased. Only going turbo twice and splashing through the water? Very nice. Here's to hoping the HT goes just as well.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Things We Ask Of Our Horses - And Ourselves

There's some thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head for a few weeks, mostly since California Chrome lost the Belmont, and then a week later, two eventers were killed in competition on two separate continents. I've been thinking about what's fair to ask of our horses and ourselves, and how we define fair.

Note: I am drinking a kind of beer I've never had before. You have been warned.


Tradition. It's a word that I would like to greatly reduce the usage of. Of course, it has some benign contexts ("We have to get milkshakes! It's tradition!"), but often it becomes an excuse for pigheadness. We can't change the way we do things because that's the way we've done them, and we've always done them this way because no one's ever changed them. It's a cycle. So when ideas were floated about changing the Triple Crown, they were shot down. You can't change the Triple Crown, it'd diminish the accomplishment. Except the Triple Crown has changed, just as racing has. The track surfaces are different, the drug rules have changed, the tack has changed, veterinary medicine and farrier techniques have advanced in leaps and bounds, even the horses themselves have changed. So why would tweaking the schedule be that much more different? Some people raised the prospect of limiting the races to horses entered in all three with no fresh challengers, but I like the idea of stretching out the time between the races. Have the Derby on the first Saturday of May, the Preakness on the first Saturday in June, and the Belmont of the first Saturday in July. That way, fresh challengers become less of a problem, and three-year-olds don't have to go through the toughest five weeks in horse sport. Everybody wins.

It didn't diminish Secretariat's victory that he raced on a different track surface than Sir Barton. Does it matter that Affirmed was probably fed a very different diet than War Admiral? So, let's change it. Give the young'ins a rest. Winning 3 races back to back is already a remarkable feat, even if they are a month apart. I highly doubt the Triple Crown is ever going away, so let's help the horses out.

And let's help ourselves out. Eventing is also having a "come to Jesus" moment while trying desperately to pretend it's not. When two people die in different competitions on two continents, serious changes need to be made. But the powers that be will just keep twiddling their thumbs and create safety theater rules aimed at punishing the lower levels whilst ignoring that most of the serious accidents was taking place at the upper levels. A few rogues like Denny Emerson have made some suggestions that actually may be effective, like lowering the x-c speeds or limiting the amount of trappy combinations that can be on the courses, but that doesn't seem like it'll happen soon. Just convince people to buy more fancy helmets and vests designed to stop their necks from snapping when their horse falls on top of them.

We don't like looking at the system as a whole. We're so busy inspecting the veins on the leaves that we've neglected to notice that the forest is burning down around us. When people keep playing by the rules that were made when horses were expendable, horses pay the price. Royal is not my toy, he's my partner. And I'm not the exception. Horses are not living ATV's, they're dance partners, and the rules of our sports need to recognizes them as such. If a fence keeps causing problems, take it off the course. If people are throwing three-year-olds into an trial by fire that hoards victory like a starving man, change the rules. We don't have to be bound to tradition if it's not helping us.

Our horses deserve our best efforts.