Nearly 4 months ago, I sat down on New Years Day to write a post. As I started, I reflected on a successful 2011 season, which concluded with P running around Poplar Place preliminary. I had good intentions for 2012 - was setting goals to achieve for myself and my students - thinking forward and making myself a promise to keep my blog up to date.
Now I find myself nearly in May.
So far, this season has had highs and lows. It seems when things are going really well, I feel like I'll jinx it by putting it down on paper (or on the screen), and it seems depressing to write about things going bad.
But as always in horses, highs are really high and lows are really low. Just last week, I sat at the computer with a glass of wine in hand (and the bottle on the table!), preparing to write about a difficult weekend, but I stopped and instead wrote a plan to make things better.
You see, since starting to do this riding thing full time (as of January 1st), I feel like I've become a better rider, been able to devote more time to my horses, and clients, and so on, however, I found that I was searching for plans B, C and D without really giving thoughtful pause as to why plan A failed. I had my goals and I thought my plan was precise on how I wanted to achieve those goals, but it wasn't precise enough.... I'll break down each horse for you....
First is Ryan. Ryan started off the year with a bang. He was leading the NCDCTA Horse of the Year standings for Training Level Dressage. Had won almost every one of his outings in awesome fashion, was scoring steadily in the 70% range, and was looking with certainty at First Level. With his increased work load, he started to feel like he was struggling every so slightly. I thought hocks. A thorough exam by Dr. Kate said yes hocks, but that he'd also managed to have a slight front soft-tissue thing going on. Originally, we'd planned on sending Ryan home for a vacation over the summer, so that vacation time got moved up a few months, and he should be back out rocking it by this summer, but a bummer none-the-less.
Enter Flash. Flashypants is a cool little dude who joined the C-Horse Crew a couple of months ago. Bought by Ryan's wonderful owner, Amanda Compton, Flash is a fun little spitfire that has no idea he stands only 15.2 and lets us know his opinion about everything. He's full of himself, a little insecure, has LOADS of talent, and it has taken us a bit of time to get to know one another. He started his eventing career at Southern Pines 1, with a distracted stop on XC but a lovely event otherwise, I had large hopes that he would move up quickly. I attempted the Novice at the Ark, where an unfortunate warm-up flustered him, and he simply did not want to play that day. This frustrating day was followed with a REALLY frustrating outing at an unrecognized event, where Flash grew up a lot schooling the XC course, but still left me feeling like I hadn't figured him out. So I examined where things might have gone wrong. First off was a split lip that was obviously bothering him, and I assume had been for a while. So I started riding him in a hackamore, and discovered that there were behavioral habits of Flash's that were snowballing into bigger issues during our rides. Once I addressed these issues when they were small, they didn't build into bigger problems then they needed to be. Lastly I also just spent more time in the saddle learning how to make Flash use his body better both on the flat and over fences. I knew he had the talent, and I just needed to figure out how to get it out of him.
And then there's Prophet. P was feeling awesome. Thanks to the NCDCTA scholarship, I was able to spend some quality time on our dressage with Lauren Sprieser, where she was very complimentary of him. He was jumping great, feeling great, looking great. Great, great, great. We went to our first event at Southern Pines, where I was a little careless, and had the jump before the water. I felt like I rode the whole course a little haphazardly, taking my boy for granted. A few weeks later I came with increased zest to the Ark Horse Trials to run the Intermediate/Prelim. Pouring rain the night before the event made me a bit nervous. We were tight in our backs for the dressage - losing our footing a bit, but still were leading the small division after Phase One. He ROCKED the intermediate Show Jumping like it was a hunter course. Seriously. Awesome. I went on XC determined to ride every fence. Fences 1-6 felt awesome - really awesome. Really really awesome. And then he peaked into the horse-eating ditch for a stop and a freak out. Had to put up my hand to retire as he reared and ran up the hill side-ways. Ugh. So, after working so hard on the first and third phases, I needed to spend a little time on the XC. I signed myself up for lessons, got some educated eyes on the ground to help me, and learned how to develop a better plan for my horse before and at the event. We changed our gallop, changed my jumping position, and I crossed my fingers as I headed back down US 1 highway towards Southern Pines once again.
P was first in the dressage ring - he put in a solid test, however, as we were surrounded in warm-up by a fairly stacked division, I figured our best wouldn't be close to good enough. I knew there were places that could have been much better, so I was extremely happy to learn that he scored a 33.9. We set out on XC with our plan, and rode it. And I mean RODE IT. He was foot perfect all the way around. It was a fairly soft course, however he didn't get phased by a thing. AND we came in under time for the first time ever. Boooyaaaahhhh!
Flash then had his turn (after unhappily standing at the trailer all day), and somewhere between the warm-up ring and the sandbox, he found his brain and inserted squarely where it needed to be. He improved his dressage score by over 10 points to land in 3rd place on a 30.5. We then had to wait an eternity to set out on XC, where he learned alot to jump a clean round - never flaking out or giving up.
At the end of Saturday, I had two boys sitting on very decent dressage scores, and I enjoyed a large margarita.
Sunday morning brought rain, and rain, and rain. P was up first and made the course feel like child's play, even though there seemed to be plenty having problems. He wound up 4th (behind 2 of Will F's horses and Becky H), finishing on his dressage score, and I finally felt like I could take a deep breath and trust that I'm on the right track with him.
Flashy was next. I knew the jumps weren't going to challenge him, but that I just needed him to stay with me and not get wound up about things. He was a star, and firmly let me know that the missed distance at fence 8 was my fault and not his. He finished on him stellar dressage score in 2nd place.
So now I have more work to do with my horses, but at lease there's little rays of hope that I'm on the right track. I am continuing to exam my program, my riding, my teaching, my students, and everything to make sure I am being the best I can be at this thing. However, John put it in perspective for me right before I left Friday for the event. He said "It may be that you've had a bad day riding a horse, but that's still a day you got to ride a horse, so how bad could it really be?"
So very true.