Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Pennys Return - At Bronte Creek Horse Trials

 Can I just skip the whole...its been almost a year since I blogged thing? Sound good? Good.  LOL.  Truth is, I just was not in the head space to write the last few years.  I wrote here a little bit about it, but I still need to tell more of my story.  That will come, but for now, I am craving to write.  Especially about the horses and the farm.  I have been so engrossed in my horses this year it has really been fabulous.  It's pretty much all I wanted in life.  Little farm, horses I love, and spending all my free time riding, or gardening and hanging out with someone I love.  I guess I may not be an artist if emotion doesn't inspire me.  Being happy inspires me.  So that's where I'm at.

  The last two years I have been focusing on starting over with Penny.  I did take her out to two events last year (one unrecognized and one recognized).  She was her usual jumping machine at both, however her dressage was still less than acceptable.  At Grandview, we scored a 76.7.  That is a 51.1 in the new scoring system (same as American).  Its embarrassing. It is not competitive.  There is no point eventing when you can not even be remotely close to the competition after dressage.

  We had worked for a year but it still wasn't enough.  And it is not as though she is not capable. At home she is lovely.  She is a stunning mover.  At the shows, as soon as we start around the ring she gets so incredibly tense, all the training goes out the window.  I decided after that event I would continue on next year until she could do a respectable test.  Save her legs, and learn how to really ride, and train my horse.

  So that's what I did.  I spent all winter in dressage lessons with my coach, riding my moms horse who was preparing to become a dressage superstar.  I did countless hours of walk trot. Transitions.  Re learning how to ride and fix my hands.  Fix our connection.  Understand the basics, understand the biomechanics, understand the training, and get her strong and fit the right way.  Over the last few months her shape started to change, her reaction to my aids started to change, and our dressage work became something. She was rideable, responsive, and relaxed.

Indy a few weeks before his accident, at Glen Oro

  In the last few weeks, Indy was seriously injured.  I will get into that in another post, but he was the one I was competing, taking lessons on, and really focusing on competition wise.  With him out, and the end of the season near, I figured there was no time like the present to test if our training was sending us in the right direction.  I entered Penny to Bronte Creek and thus began weeks of nerves and panic.

  I only did one recognized event this summer and I was eliminated.  It was Indys attempted upgrade to Pre Training, and it absolutely poured all day.  I mean POURED.  We should have withdrew in hindsight.  We made it half way around the course and called it quits.  We did quite a few schooling days though and I was having lessons regularly.  However, I wasn't jumping anything substantial all summer.  When Penny and I started jumping again to prep for the event I was feeling good.  However, just thinking about the event was making my adrenaline pump, and it was still weeks away.   I tried to stay focused and we did some xc schooling, some jump schooling at my friend Katies, and went over to my moms a bunch of times for help with our dressage test.  As the date got closer, I began to think I was crazy for entering.

  Alas, self doubt is just something you have to fight through.  I know Penny is capable of it.  We have completed many a Training level before.  I was struggling a bit riding my new found horse.  A horse who listens and waits.  A horse who I am not just pulling and holding onto the entire time we are jumping.   I wanted to give her a good ride and not make a fool of myself.  You just have to convince yourself of that first.

Miss Pen at Grandview last fall

  The date came.  I picked Katie up at 4:00 AM and by 4:30 AM we were on the road.  Neither of us had been to this event before so we wanted to make sure we had enough time to get there.  We arrived with plenty of time to relax and walk XC before dressage started.  The venue was absolutely stunning.  Just fields of green rolling hills, the jumps were beautiful, and there were vendors and lots of spectators.  My course was massive, with some good questions straight out of the gate.  I was beginning to think I truly was crazy for attempting this, but Katie assured me that Penny would take care of me.  She was right, she always has.  I had to forget about the giant double of brushes at fence 4 and start to focus on my dressage test coming up.

  In all of our recognized events, our best score ever was a 62 in dressage (41.3  scoring now).  At Training, our best score was 67 (44.6 now).  My goal has been to score below a 60 (40 now).  A 40 is equivalent to 60% which in my mind is the bottom of acceptable.  As I headed to warm up I reminded myself of what my coach drills into me - "forward thinking".  She warmed up really well.  She was a bit tense and overwhelmed with the busy warm up ring.  I was almost ran into more than once but she actually remained responsive and on the aids despite this.

  When it was time to cross the lane over to the lone dressage ring on top of the hill, she became nervous and stressed.  Her eyes got big, she inverted and started calling to anyone who would listen.  Now this is typical Penny in dressage at a show.  As soon as we approach the ring, everything falls apart no matter how good our warm up.  This time though, things were different.  I put her into a 10m figure eight and asked her to come back to me and focus, and that is exactly what she did.  The bell went and as I entered the ring I felt her breath out and settle into the routine she was now used to.  This was the first time ever, I have felt her relax upon entering the ring.

  Our test was the best test we have ever done together.  She was obedient.  She was rideable.  She was connected, and although she did call a bit, she stayed on the job.  We free walked to a 7, comparable to the 4s or 5s we would get for our "free jog".   Her canter transitions were normal, not rocket blasts dying to get away from it all.  We wiggled down the centerline for our final salute and I realized that for the first time ever on Penny, I could truly ride and enjoy my horse in the dressage.

  I was so over the moon with her, I was ready to just call it a day right then and there.  When I checked the scores, I nearly died when I saw we had scored a 38.3.  Our test was entirely 6s and 7s, and in the collectives were really marked down 5/5.5s due to change in rhythm, and being too long and low (can't even believe that when we were always ABOVE THE BIT, TENSE in the past LOL). That is improving our best score by 10 points on the old system, or 6.3 on the new system.  It also meant the percentage was above acceptable, and that we no longer had to be embarrassed.  We weren't last after dressage, for probably the first time ever.  The most important thing about our score was it meant all that work and time we took was paying off.  She is capable of so much more in the ring, and now that we have had this ultimate break through, I am SO excited to see where we will be in our dressage next year.

  Enough about dressage right.  Except, I love dressage now.  It is such a nice change to go eventing and not dread it.  Anyways, onto showjumping.  The course was maxed.  In Canada we are allowed to have 30% of the fences to the height at the level above and I am sure that Bronte took that into account.  My second fence was huuuuuge.  It didn't bother me though, Penny is an amazing jumper.  She always gives her 100%. Sometimes 200% and it causes me to be launched out of the saddle over every fence, and that was the case at Bronte.  

Trying to do my best Richard Spooner impression, and Penny, Rothschild 

  The ring was running late, and we were relaxing on the buckle waiting for the judge to arrive.  A bee landed on Pennys head and stung her as soon as it landed.  She reared straight up and spun and was about to launch me into another dimension when I jumped off.  She was shaking her head and rubbing on me and just generally hating every thing for a good few minutes while I tried to quiet her down.  Luckily, she settled and I was able to get back on and continue onto my warm up.  Rails were flying in the ring, and horses were skidding into fences.  The footing was great but horses were sticky.  The lines required forward riding.  Lucky for me that means a stroll in the park on Miss Pen.  She is a forward and long strided lady.

  We went for our turn and when the judge blew the whistle she was so excited she was cantering on the spot.   I just kicked her forward and she was on the wrong lead but at that point I needed her to move so we didn't get eliminated.  Once she saw the first fence, it was on.  She soared around the course.  She was forward but listening, and jumping a foot over everything.  We had a very unlucky rail on number 4.  I am not sure what happened because she wasn't touching a thing, but the rails were in flat cups and she must have just barely touched it. Only 4 riders out of 18 went clear.  Regardless, I was really pumped about our round.  I stayed on somehow.  I was walking back to the trailer thinking about how I need to find a way to stick in the saddle better when she jumps like that.  I tried my hardest to wrap my legs around and stick my heel down but as you can see in the photos it wasn't helping.  New winter project LOL.

Penny was jumping so big my head didn't make it into the pics LOL

  After showjumping we moved from 16/18 to 13/18.  Our division was Open and really competitive.  Which I am loving, because it really lets you know your true quality.  I was more concerned about getting around this day though, and I was so nervous before XC I wanted to withdraw.  I stuck on some Eminem and tried to pump myself up before our round.  It worked, and I got feeling more excited and less scared as the minutes passed.  We headed out to warm up and she was jumping beautifully.  I was trying to practice my "forward thinking" and trying not to mess with her face too much.  She is so strong but sensitive to her bit so its a fine balance I am still figuring out.  Often I just forget to add enough leg when she comes back, but with my mantra in my head I was ready to go.

  We left the start box a bit late as Penny was trantering sideways towards it when our countdown was on.  I gave her her head and then she took off on course.  She just nailed the perfect distance to the first fence and I instantly remembered I had nothing to worry about on her.  Although, fence 3 was a massive table.  My least fav type of fence. Followed by a small hill then a three stride combination of massive skinny brushes.  You can't see the second brush until you are over the first.  After fence 2 I just said to Penny, well we are either going to make it over the next three fences or I am going to die trying, and then she jumped the table beautifully and carted my terrified ass over the brushes like it was a routine gymnastic.  I'm not gunna lie, those things looked bigger and scarier on the horse than they did off the horse.  Never had that experience before.

  After much praise we carried on, jumped another table type fence and then we approached the coffin.  The coffin had upright rails, then up a hill, down a hill to a ditch then a few strides to a skinny coop out.  She jumped in nicely but she slowed coming down the hill, and came to a walk.  She stopped in front of the ditch and looked around at the Prelim fences and the jump judges like...where do I go?  Penny has never had an issues with ditches, I think the issue was she didn't even see the ditch and she didn't know where to go or what was going on.  I quietly circled and away we went through the combo no problem.

giant table looks tiny when shes a foot over

forgot about my "forward thinking" here - sorry Pen

beast mode up the bank

love this shot despite my foot shoved into my stirrup.  That was key for survival


  From there we had more big tables (definitely got over my fear on this course), a corner combination which I took the alternate route because I forgot my outside leg and our turn was an epic failure, a bench, to a big bank, to a skinny chevron, and a nice spooky jump into the water.  Penny was a total boss mare around the rest of the track and we came home with 20 penalties and some time.  I was thrilled.  I survived.  The tables felt small and effortless.  We jumped the scary brush combo and the water which takes people out every year.  We had completed our first event in a year and hadn't missed a beat.  I was so so proud of this mare!

  After we cooled out we went to graze while Katie warmed up for XC.  I got all emotional, tears and all thinking about how amazing this mare is.  She really gave me everything that day.  All of those countless rides, just working over and over on the most basic and boring shit, and she just kept trying for me.  All those days, feeling like you were going no where fast, and to see it come together and pay off in our dressage was more rewarding than I imagined.   While we weren't competitive in our division on this day, I know we have the foundation to build on, and it won't be long until we are where we want to be.  For now, I am just thankful for Penny, and enjoying be back in the start box with her.

**All photos copyright Linda Shantz/Ian Woodley and have been used with permission. Do not copy. 

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