Wednesday, March 13, 2019

... And the Show Went On (aka: The A/O's)

The day of Quiz's injury, I spent most of the afternoon in a bit of a daze.  I was questioning my decision to attempt surgery, questioning why I asked my horses to ship through snow and ice to California in the first place, and questioning the pursuit of this sport in general.  I wasn't really sure what to do or where to go, but eventually I realized I had entered Winds in a class - and I was supposed to be dressed and on.

Buttoning up my hunt coat seemed like the last thing I should be doing, but one of my barnmates looked at me and told me that nothing could possibly help more in this situation than throwing a leg over a trusted horse and enjoying the chance to ride.

photos by the incomparable Quinn Saunders

I nodded (I think), and tacked Windsor up.  Usually at the shows I try to stay out of our Groom's way, since my "help" just disrupts the system - but I needed to curry my horse and run my hands down strong, healthy legs to reconnect with what I was doing.

Winds isn't exactly a horse who seems overly concerned with the emotional states of those around him, but to his credit, he was gentle and calm with me.  No sign of his usual busy mouth or fidgeting, he just let me work through my emotions in the calm of a familiar routine.

Our round definitely wasn't my finest, but it certainly wasn't our worst.  I felt jittery and tight, but not nervous, rather overwhelmed with the day.  After I was a bit deep to our first fence, I shrugged it off, put my leg on, and let Winds set the pace for the rest of the ride.

True to form, he took care of me, and my barnmate was right - I needed the ride.

It was a good reset for me.  It helped reset my perspective, reset my goals and reset my expectations for our upcoming debut in the 3'3" A/O's.

And that's the really *happy* headline here - we did the A/O's and totally survived.  We even got some ribbons!  So let's move on to that.

Our work over the winter was really productive.  We have been focusing on some subtle changes to my balance which in turn are helping me trust Windsor's step for the move up, rather than wait for the add.  Additionally, we had a wildly fun clinic with John French right before Christmas that really boosted my confidence.  We spent the weekend jumping up and riding tight, technical tracks that forced me to really focus on balance and rhythm.

All of that added up to the massive mental success of staring at the jumps in Ring 1 and thinking "man, these don't look scary at all."

So we started our first week with more confidence than I usually have after a long cold winter and I think it showed.  Here's our first round, which, aside from being a little deep into the outside 5 stride, I'm super happy with.



The second round (incidentally the first round of our classic) was hands down one of my best in the show ring ever.  Winds was attentive, rideable and very soft.  Which meant any mistakes were solely mine.  We didn't really have any major ones, and as I landed out of our last line I actually thought to myself "holy shit, this might be our highest score over!"



Then I heard the announcer give me a 72, and I thought "Crap.  Welcome to the A/O's."

And that dear friends, became the theme of the show -

Really, really good personal progress with a large side of humility at the exponential increase in the consistency of my competitors.

As I watched my videos back I could see how in the AA's, an accurate ride was almost always enough to pull a top ribbon - but in the A/O's (at this show anyway), a good ribbon would require accuracy and style.

Winds always jumps a pretty good jump, but even I could see that compared to the other horses in the class we were just sorta getting it done.  I wasn't bringing out the best, roundest, most expressive effort every time.

Dang it.


But I was still incredibly happy with how I rode.  I had a few pinch me moments of waiting for the jog, thinking about how I first came to the desert five years ago with a very anxious Prairie having the goal of coming home with just one ribbon.

In some ways those endless rounds at 2'3" and 2'6" in Ring 7 feel like ages ago - but in other ways they feel so familiar and recent it's hard to believe how much has really happened.

So, I gratefully accepted a 6th place ribbon for my first round.  I didn't even jog the second round, which - just to be clear means I was 11th, 12th or 13th out of 13.

I'm not complaining, I just have to giggle that I came out of the ring thinking "WOW, BEST RIDE EVER!!!" and the judge was all "nah, all these other horses were better."   And the judge was right, they all were - It was just a shocking adjustment of relativity.

Sunday I got to come out and ride my first real Handy in competition.  I was VERY excited about it because I think Handy's are fun, and Windsor is a blast to ride in them.

So it was exceptionally disappointing to have the worst warm up ever.

Windsor's expression is ACCURATE
Windsor's canter was just sorta.... busted feeling.  Not lame.  Just clunky and heavy and not at all inspiring to ride to a fence.  I pulled up (a lot) because I didn't think I could close a gap.
Then Winds figured out I was going to keep pulling up and decided that he would just do it for me.
Then I had a panic attack.
Then my trainer asked another trainer to come help and I nearly ran them both over.
Then I took a long walk break and tried to pull my brain together.
Then it was my turn to ride.

First was a regular Hunter round.  I forget how it went, because the video doesn't exist, but I know it was bad.  We added in one line... nearly left a stride out in another... It was touch and go to say the least.  Winds was not impressed, and my confidence was plummeting.

We went back in immediately for the Handy and I just sorta decided to attack it.  Carry pace, make the horse pay attention and go get it.

Winds was a good dude.  He totally got on board with the plan and acted like I hadn't been trying to crash him all morning.  He did get annoyed with his earplugs (which we never wear because he gets really annoyed with earplugs) about halfway through.  Normally that would have unnerved me, but at the time I was so dead set on putting in a solid round that I just growled at him and stuck to my plan.  We finished, and I felt pretty darn good about the result.




True to form we jogged 10th (out of 13) in both rounds.

We also rode our Classic round, which we qualified for by the skin of our teeth.  We came back in 15th position with our 72 (the Classic combined all the age groups with the top 16 rode the second round), and managed to move up to 12th with a decent score of 77.  Winds was annoyed to go ride an extra long Hunter round after the Handy, and he made it very known that he is always (usually) done after the Handy.  Me thinks the Prince needs to adjust his expectations slightly.

I collected my pretty magenta ribbon for our hard fought 12th place and headed for the barn to reflect on our first division on 2019, and first time in the A/O's.

I took a lot of comfort in the fact that (aside from our first round Sunday) I didn't make any mistakes that I wasn't perfectly capable of making at a lower height.  The jumps actually "felt" smaller at 3'3" than they did when we moved up to 2'9" - which tells me how much more comfortable I am on Winds these days - and that's a WIN for sure.

Any frustration I felt was a reflection of my disappointment at not adapting to the horse I had that day - not frustration with Winds or our preparation.  I feel like I've gotten to a place where I ride pretty well if Winds is perky, and soft and totally on task.  The mistakes start to come out if Winds is tired, or cranky or stiff.  I haven't figured out how to adjust my ride and maintain my accuracy when he's anything but my favorite ride.  It's something I really want to focus on this year since I typically only get my "favorite" version of Winds about once a week.

But mostly, I felt like I belonged in the ring, didn't embarrass my trainer (too much) and had a really good time galloping around some slightly larger jumps.

Exactly what I needed after a long, emotional week.




Friday, March 8, 2019

Quiz's Big Break

Well, there's nothing like a little drama and heartbreak to reignite that little blogging voice inside me. 

The 2019 show season was rough before it even started - with Quiz suffering an extremely complex fracture to his lower pastern (P2) before setting foot in the competition ring.  For those who follow us on Instagram, you've seen the updates and photos - but as I've laid awake at night wondering if I made the right decision and wondering what exactly this process will continue to look like for us - I find myself turning to my keyboard to help organize my thoughts.  



Before I get into the nitty-gritty of the break, here's a quick summary of Quiz's last year:

2018 was one for the books for Quiz.  He started the year in the 3' Green division and was insanely consistent.  At the big WCHR show at Thunderbird in May, he swept every class.  He entered 4 derbies during the season and won three of them (placing 4th due to a crappy trot jump in the other).  At Zone Finals we bumped him up to 3'3" and even though he was showing indoors for the first time, he snagged Reserve.  To end the season, we headed south to Cali where Quiz was champion in the 3'3" Green, Champion with me in the Low Adults, won the $1,500 under saddle challenge and also took the crown in the $16,000 Derby.  It was insane. 

Then we came home, buckled down on our flatwork and prepped for a debut in the 3'6".  We decided to campaign in the Conformation Greens and even learned how to model (and jog in hand politely).  

When we loaded up for HITS Coachella, I was brimming with excitement to see what Quizzy would bring to the table in 2019.  

But, that was all interrupted.  After a great day of schooling, before we even jogged in for the Model, Quiz had an off step in a trot departure and shattered his P2.  

If there is such thing as good luck - we were fortunate to be at a massive show facility with a great vet on site.  Quiz's leg was stabilized, splinted and x-rayed in a matter of minutes from the onset of the injury.  

I was speaking with a surgeon within the hour, discussing the films he had already reviewed and the viability of surgical repair.  I called my insurance.  I called a trailer.  Quizzy hopped up into it and away he went to see what could be done. 

I really thought this was going to be the last time I saw him

The first vet to see him did a wonderful job of setting my expectations - I'd likely have a pasture sound horse, or alternatively we could put him down.  

Then, the surgeon initially offered a much more optimistic prognosis, suggesting that he could even return to the Hunter Ring if all went as planned. 

However, after a pre-op CT - the prognosis was adjusted due to increased detail of the break.  The CT showed that fractures extended all the way through the P2, and broke out into the coffin joint space.  The concern with that being that a roughened edge would produce arthritis that would either be just a little uncomfortable or possibly catastrophic.  

I only had a minute to process the new information from the CT before I needed to make a final decision on surgery and whether or not I still deemed it appropriate or fair. 

a cross section of the P2 midway through the bone

most of this displacement happened on the way to surgery, but it shows how significant the fractures are



To be candid, my biggest concern wasn't what I would do with a 6 year old pasture pet (though that's horrifying), but rather that I was going to put this poor baby horse through a difficult surgery and miserable recovery only to fall victim to complications.  

If I was going to lose him, I wanted to lose him without making him suffer on account of my emotions. 

Thank god for my barn family, who was standing by me while I was on the call, trying to read my face and offer what support they could.  Ultimately, I opted to proceed with surgery.  The surgeon thought it was still a reasonable procedure - and not fueled by heroics.  I took comfort in the fact that insurance would pay for a bulk of the initial cost, and if we needed to make a different decision, we could always reassess day by day. 

So we did.  I hung up the phone and waited for the call 10 hours later that would confirm Quiz was out of surgery and was on his feet again.  

It felt like forever.  There maybe have been wine.  There was definitely a lot of tears.  And thank god it was girl scout cookie season because there were a LOT of thin mints. 

The initial report from surgery was fairly good.  The bone fragments lent themselves to being screwed back together.  Soft tissue damage was minimal (probably because he was walking and was able to pull up immediately).  Quiz slept longer than normal in recovery (probably due to the fatigue of the day) but he got up successfully on the first try without damaging his cast or other limbs. 

The hope is that arthrodesis (or fusion) of the P1 and P2 will stabilize the limb.  This process is supported by plates and screws binding everything together.  Quiz now has two large plates and (many) screws helping to set everything in place.  




Additionally, several pins were placed at the top of his cannon bone which actually protrude from his leg and "rest" on his cast, helping to relieve the injured limb from some of his weight.


So begins recovery… It's a long road (one I don't entirely understand yet) but I am trying hard to take it day by day, and allow myself to be optimistic while understanding all the risks and outcomes that may still befall sweet Quiz.  

Thanks to everyone for their outpouring of support.  I am fortunate in never having dealt with an injury of this magnitude or complexity.  To say it has been educational is an understatement - and I will try to share as much of this adventure as I can.  

Love to blog land.  



Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Thunderbird, the first

Apparently I never actually posted this from back in April - I am starting to write up a Derby Summary post, but might as well toss this up in the meantime.


We are planning to spend *most* of our season up at Thunderbird this year, so I'll have to start naming posts something other than "thunderbird."  

But I gotta say, it's hard not to show there.  The facilities are impeccable, the rings are big and beautiful and well maintained.  The jumps are built to the hilt, and the staff are all NICE and accessible.  It's hard to fault them for much.  

Oh, and everything is in CAD, which means its showing at a 20% (ish) discount.  Sold. 

Our April outing was one for the books.  Quiz nearly swept his Green Division and was Champion.  I was WAY better on Winds and managed to not only lead my first jog ever, but snagged my first championship at 3'.  Quiz had his Derby debut and won it.  And Winds galloped around the Big(ger) Derby track for the first time with a respectable 4th place finish.




Also, somehow a week of supposedly very rainy weather, turned into pleasant sun and clouds and we didn't get a raindrop on us once.  

Quiz is looking like an entirely different horse than he did down in Cali.  It's like we came home, schooled some gymnastics and all the sudden he figured out how to Hunter.  He's lifting his shoulders, following the rein over jumps and keeping his balance and collection with minimal effort.  It's so cool to see, and so gorgeous to watch.  He's a good egg.



Winds made it clear I need to work on stay straight and really coming forward through my corners.  But he gets credit for rewarding me with a great adjustable canter and solid rhythm when I do.

on to the next!






Monday, March 26, 2018

The (extremely) Amateur Adults

I've spent the better part of the last two years trying to undo enough bad habits that I can (respectably) make my way around the AA's with my 1.40m horse.

At times this timeline and process has been frustrating and disheartening, but I continue to adore my gray horse and his ability to help me let go of sins past and learn how to ride like a competent adult who has a significantly reduced sense of risk tolerance and a significantly increased sensitivity to self preservation.

So, when the moment finally came for us to go canter around the 3' ring together, I am really, really proud that there were lots of moments that looked like this:


And thankfully only one moment that looked like this:



But we'll get to that.

All in all, I had a lot of fun.  Winds was significantly more interested in his job than he was with me in the ring last summer which I attribute to a combination of increased comfort as well as increased give-a-shit-ness for a slightly taller fence.

My videos show that I am in fact riding better, and that I can be taught.  So that is something that I am trying to hold on to and pat myself on the back for.  They also show me that I still love to drop my hands, wait in the corner and collapse my left side.

But that's why we love this sport, there's always something (or like 10 somethings) to be working on.  I admit that like most type A ammys in the Hunter Ring, it's much, much easier to focus on the 10 somethings than it is on the progress - but I'm lucky to have a crazy supportive group of barn ladies who are always quick to point out what's going well or more importantly - going better than before.


Here is my first round from our first week.  All in all - not disastrous! I got Winds to the first fence mostly perfect and he clobbered it like he didn't notice it was there.  I was somewhat surprised since I spent the whole time in our approach thinking "holy crap his front end is light, holy crap his front end is light.." and then WHACK -  Not so light.



Anyway, there was that, and a monster chip, but otherwise we recovered.  I look tense, but you can tell I'm starting to relax by the end.  The judge might have mixed up his notes because we pulled a 3rd in this round.  I know Winds is pretty lovely, but I guess maybe everyone else had a bobble too.  I guess since it was the first day of the second half of the circuit maybe I wasn't the only one stepping back into the ring for the first time in a while....



 


And for comparison when nerves were slightly less at play - here is our second round on Sunday from the first week.  Not perfect by any means, but a more consistent pace, I was thinking more in the corner and way more at ease with Winds' level of engagement.  I think we got 4th in this one out of about 20.  (TAKE THE RIBBONS AND RUN).



 



The second week was much the same, with mostly small improvements.  Still a slightly late change or one chip sprinkled in each round, but the rest of it was pretty good distances with pretty good pace and pretty good decisions.  I just need to up the consistency and we'll start finding more success.  



I did have my HORRID very bad, no good, chip during the second week. 



It's probably the first time I thought I was actually going to flip my horse (and that includes all the harebrained shit I did on cross country in my youth).  I totally overthought a corner, second guessed myself (be patient, be patient, she said be patient, holy crap we need to gooooooo!).  And it didn't work out well.  I gunned Winds, he tried to listen, then realized he needed to put a foot down, but I was pretty sure his legs were going to land in the flower boxes and trip us.  I had already mentally committed to bailing of his left shoulder when he managed to touch toes down - pop them back up and get us over in a much less dramatic fashion than I had pictured.  (Word has it we stayed very straight, because my trainer couldn't tell how ugly it was from behind.....)



My next thought was "hmm.  That was bad.  We should just regroup, add in the line and come out more organized."  But Winds landed, knew he had ground to make up and marched right up the line in 5 and jumped out like I hadn't totally messed up the first part.  What a prince he is.  



So ended our first exploration of the AA's together.  Mostly good, some nerves, some pilot error, a LOT of pats for Windsor and a couple good ribbons to feel good about.  



Next up - Thunderbird!




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