Thursday, 27 July 2017

XC Schooling. I think I can.

I don't always ride well -- no, seriously it is true! But when I do, it is magic.

Getting more brave every successful lesson.
Following my disappointing moment of fear/abandon ship/xc fail in my last derby, I immediately set to work trying to find a coach that would be taking a group out for xc schooling. Fortunately I found a great coach with a small group of lower level riders to head out with right away.

I love this coach. She is very hands-on experienced with xc, has a great eye for rider and horse and is fair in analysing and verbalising what she sees.

Pre-lesson pow-wow
She had been at all the past derbies and had the opportunity to see us do well, as well as the not so good moments. She noted that Savvy perhaps was struggling more with taking in all of the landscape rather than the jumps and showed me how to ride to the jump in a way that would help her focus on what we were coming up to. I was mistakenly reacting to all of her fussing and looking by getting very busy with my hands and really losing the battle of trying to manage her mach 5 brain. Instead, she advised me to get her at the pace I wanted well ahead of the jump, and then ride her straight and hold her that way with my legs, thinking leg yield rather than correct with my hands and look up and beyond the obstacle. Think straight!!

Black, black, bit of blue and black, hmm. I think we need a colour. Any suggestions?
Funny how riding with a purposeful mindset and not messing with things right before the jump really helped Savvy lock on to the jumps better. We were still having ugly distances, but our line and steadiness was much improved.

We all know I have struggled to ride with commitment at a level that clearly helps my horse know what has to happen. Even when I think I am riding a bit aggressively, I am always surprised to see in video that I still look a bit backed off. This was still the case with video from this schooling day, but I can see some moments of actual riding, so yay for improvement. I am happy to say we had not a single refusal in this lesson - even with two jumps that scared the crap out of me.

First was the raspberry jump we had struggled with at the June derby, and the feeder which we had never actually made it over before -- just one purposeful ride-around and three refusals at that derby.

Raspberry jump: Looks so innocent but has been trouble for Savvy in the past...

We had no trouble at all with the raspberry jump this time, and the feeder was a success on the first try, even though the coach felt Savvy had come to it saying "Yes, got this" while I was riding a bit of a "hell no". Haha! Got to love an honest coach, and yes, she was very right on that one.

Savvy had no trouble with this (although I am still working on my feelings about it).
There were definitely nerves getting in the way at some points, but for the most part I really just had a ton of fun and felt like it was a great experience for Savvy to help her realise the jumps were no big deal.

Savvy was being so game for the whole thing--when pony is good, she is fantastic. And it may have even helped me with the same issue as well, but I still need more good rides like this one to really feel like I can trust Savvy headed at the bigger jumps.  No worries! We've got time.


Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Fickle Feelings

I had a nice long break between the xc and stadium to stew in my thoughts. Enjoying a lovely picnic with my kids in the box of my truck, and taking in the smells and sounds of the beautiful park around us, I found the perspective I was searching for.

I decided to ask to be dropped to starter level for stadium which would max out at 2'3" (pre-entry was 2'6" with tons of fill) and moved forward with the plan to ride what ever horse Savvy would present as on course and school each moment to my best ability. Just take each challenge as it comes. Breathe.

It was outrageously hot out by warmup time. I wanted to give myself plenty of time to just putter around with Savvy and allow her to take in the sights in the different area jumping would be in. The plan seemed to be working out nicely and Savvy was happy to stand quietly in the shade while I watched other riders in the higher levels. Although the flat work I had done was lovely and relaxed, our first attempt at a warmup cross rail resulted in a refusal. This time though I laughed it off, trotted around and made her pop over.

The course was made up of decorative pony club jumps and standards. For my level however, there would be no fill or flowers. The first jump was a cross rail and the rest were verticals with the last jump being an oxer. None of it looked like it would pose a problem as long as I could set my nerves aside and ride properly.

Once on course, Savvy had a good look at #1 but I got her over. Then #2 and 3 rode very well. Approaching #4, Savvy spooked at a dog running outside the arena about two strides out and ended up refusing. My mindset changed and basically I felt like enough already and made her get over the jump. For the rest of the course I was determined to make every jump happen. By jump #6, Savvy's mindset changed as well. I felt her relax and start approaching the jumps like she knew her job--really it was funny how we both shifted into competent horse and rider through the course. The rest of the jumps felt really nice. Even on the last jump, Savvy was about to have second thoughts because it was a bit more wide and higher than the rest but I kicked on and she jumped it nicely.

That course just felt so fun. I couldn't have cared less about the one refusal and this round was all about building back some confidence lost.

Heading home that evening I was definitely feeling much better, but still a bit at war with my emotions over quitting in xc. I felt like I had a choice in how to view the day, yet my emotions did not agree with my head. By morning I had resolved to make dressage count. I could say 'meh, what does it matter at this point' or I could make every effort because I chose to believe it mattered.

I put in a hell of a lot of time, money, sweat, tears, joy and passion into horses, so guess what?
It matters.

Being an overthinker truly is not fun, but sometimes it works in my favor. I can talk myself out of a funk just as easily as I put myself in one. By morning I was back to believing in this little hobby of mine and pulled out the white gloves. The ones my husband had bought me and I had never worn because none of my dressage tests had 'mattered' enough for white gloves.

All the fancies :)
Savvy got an early morning second bath and braided before getting back on the trailer for our 9:50 ride time.

I started the warmup ride at 8:30 and went through all the suppling exercises. The biggest problem in past tests (besides Savvy being too nervous) has been my own lack of riding because I was worrying about a nice seat and good equitation.

In focusing on this, I was not riding in a way that Savvy needs at this point--she is no where near invisible cues so what the hell I have been thinking riding like this, I really do not know...

And the test:

In this test Savvy rode like I have never felt her go before. We could not ride a straight line to save our lives, yet there she was, going straight as an arrow down centre line at a lovely flowing trot. She actually cantered in the right spots and held it for the right amount of time. Of course there was some unsteadiness and dodging behind the bit, but no where near like our usual. Really if the judge knew just how bad we can be, she would have definitely given this pony a gold star for her performance today. 

We struggled a bit on the free walk which is usually our best part of the test--Savvy just wasn't interested stretching down much but her strides were long, flowing and active. Our halt is also something Savvy usually excels at, but this time she stopped a bit oddly and I pushed for one more step to square things up a bit. From the comments I guess I would have been better off holding the original halt and not fussing.

To compare, this is score is a full 10% higher than my last attempt at dressage.

This strong test worked wonders for the negative feelings left over from the day before. Savvy and I are improving. And jumping will improve, eventually.

Monday, 17 July 2017

At War with Myself

The mental game with horses and this sport of eventing really kicked my ass this weekend. We completed our first formal three-phase event. My past two derbies consisted of dressage (with the ring made on the site of the xc field on grass), pace and xc. For this weekend the event was partnered with a pony club rally so we had access to the barns, large grass jumping ring for stadium and formal sand dressage ring. There would even be a jog up for the vet on the first morning.

Passing the jog test and my unicorn looking majestic as fuck.

My schooling work at home the few weeks prior to this weekend had some lovely breakthroughs. I had finally created a true half-halt with Savvy and the lightbulb turned on in her lovely little brain wherein she now understood what I was actually doing with my body and what it meant for her in the big world of horse responsibilities.

With this new understanding of half-halt comes more control of her trot and canter and suddenly we have new quality. It is a completely different trot that I can ask for immediately and refine in real time rather than the previous need to 'work her out' of her pony trot to the more relaxed trot. Canter is also improved, but not quite so dramatically. There is still rushing at canter but I can elevate her shoulders much more than before and feel some semblance of control now, so progress!

Doing our homework and yes, I even jumped the red barn twice :)
This would be our first event without pre-event xc schooling. Considering how challenging our last xc was, this was certainly not ideal. Logistically, the organisers had to place events backwards to what you would expect: First was xc Saturday morning, then stadium Saturday afternoon followed by Dressage Sunday morning. This again so not ideal considering how I was feeling about xc. Jumping at home was going really well, but our last event left me with no warm and fuzzies what so ever.

I planned for the longest warmup possible with trot and canter sets, a couple of cross rails then break, rinse, repeat. Savvy had plenty of nervous energy to let off and my nerves were not helping but by the time it was my turn I thought we were in a pretty good place. Most of my course would be inviting logs with the odd difficult test sprinkled into a very short course of nine jumps.

As hubby was working, my kids got to spend the whole weekend with me at the event. I was so lucky to have my own cheering crew/grooms! lol.
Savvy immediately refused the first simple log but on second try she went over. The next fence was also a log but maybe a full 2'6" made bigger by the wear on the ground in the take-off and landing spot. She refused this too, twice. At some point coming up for my second try at this fence my brain just checked out and anxiety took over. I was shaking so bad I simply took that second refusal as a definite nope for me. I could not stomach the idea of doing this seven more times on this course and decided to call it quits. I pulled up and exited stage left. About 20 seconds after that decision, I truly regretted it.
What to do with a 7 and 9-year-old when you need to head out on xc? Give them a cooler full of snacks, a blanket and tablet to play on and they hardly notice you left...
I was just gutted. Every worst negative thought one can have about themselves as a rider was making rounds in my head. All I could do was try to not look how I felt as to not ruin the morning for my friend who was warming up for her turn. Perhaps that was a blessing. Otherwise I might have headed down the bush path to have a good cry.

For the next few hours all I wanted to do was pack up and forget this whole crazy idea of eventing. It was really difficult, but I forced myself to look at it for what it was--a learning experience. My horse and I are doing our best and anxiety will happen. I will have refusals and will remember how stupid it was to quit. I will move forward with plan B's, C's and D's if necessary at next events and know that this is a great group of riders who won't mind me schooling on course, skipping fences or changing levels. It does not have to be all or nothing and perhaps most importantly: I do not have to be good at this as long as I keep it fun.

Still, I was mostly feeling like why bother...but stadium would change all of that.