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!

Friday, March 16, 2018

HITS Hunter Prix(s)

One of my goals this year is to have Winds participate in Derby classes instead of a Pro Division. 

This plan is driven by a few considerations, not the least of which is trying to minimize the number of rounds that the Gray Prince does each week.  In addition to that, I really love watching him jump bigger jumps and I think the Derby classes are even more fun to watch when your horse is going around the track. 

I also recognize that Winds probably won't be jumping bigger jumps forever, so if he's sound and happy, I'd like to make the memories while I can.

So, while I would have loved to toss Winds in a few Derbies while we were out in the sunshine - one of my gripes with HITS is that they only offer USHJA sanctioned classes during two of their eight weeks of showing.  If you aren't there week 4 or 8, your only similar option is to enter the $5,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix which is way, way less exciting.  I still entered it, because it got Winds in front of some bigger jumps (3'5"), and on a longer track.  The only bummer is that the second round was still a classic hunter round, so no fun handy shenanigans, and no high options....

But, I tried to remember that California is our Spring Training, not the World Series - so we were there to learn, practice, move up and see where we stood after a winter of good work.  

This was also our first chance to experiment with a (much) lighter schedule.  Winds isn't a spooky horse, but he is easily excited by bigger jumps and gets a bit keen.  So "prepping" him is less about getting him so tired he won't bother to spook, and more about taking a teeny tiny edge off so he doesn't power off the ground and attack his fences with too much gusto.

For Week V, Winds had two classes on Tuesday (one with me, and one with the pro), then nothing Wednesday, another warm up in Ring 1 on Thursday - the Prix Friday, then two AA rounds with me on Saturday and two more on Sunday.  

Eight rounds over six days.  Totally reasonable.  

For the Prix on Friday, he was extremely casual until he realized the jumps were 3'5" and that was more fun than the 3' he'd been snoozing over all week.  He wasn't naughty, but definitely a bit tighter across his back than I'd like to see and opening up a bit over his fences.

He jumped mostly well, got some good scores, and if he hadn't had an extremely uncharacteristic scoot coming home in the second round - I think he would have pulled a pretty high ribbon.  With the scoot, we dropped down to 9th - but still a respectable result in a polished crowd.  Especially since we were using the Hunter Prix as a warm up/data point to see where we were at.  

Here are the videos from Week V:

Week VI we stuck to the same schedule, but dropped a trainer warm up on Tuesday.  He was more relaxed across the board and looked softer in the ring for the Prix.   Second round he swapped in the two stride, but otherwise looked like he was remembering how to be a show hunter.  Winds managed to snag 4th place, in another lovely field and paid for our dinner out that night (holla!).

Week VI Videos:

On the horizon we head up to Thunderbird for a week in April, where Winds will probably do a one round Canadian Derby (I love those) and pack me around the AA's.  After that, we have some down time until we go back to Tbird at the end of May for two weeks of showing. That would be the first time we would be able to consider an International Derby if he feels good and ready.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Two Weeks in the Desert

The boys and I are back from our first trip back to HITS in three years (and both of their first trips to the show). 

I continue to have several gripes about how HITS operates their shows, but I do have to give them credit for some significant infrastructure improvements - and I can't deny that I love getting out into the sunshine and show ring months before the circuit kicks off at home. 

Two weeks of showing saw me tiptoe into the Adult Amateurs with fairly consistent results (only one gasp-worthy moment).  Winds galloped around the Devoucoux Prix both weeks with admirable rounds and top ribbons.  Quiz moved into the 3' Greens, won a very competitive hack, and took first in a class of 85 with John French in the irons.  I meandered around the 2'3" with the baby, drank a lot of wine with my barn ladies and walked over 50 miles each week which totally justified my breakfast burrito habit... 

We experimented with a (much) lighter schedule for Windsor both weeks.  One pro warm up to get him in the ring that would have the Prix.  Then just my AA division.  The second week I added a 2'9" Eq over fences to ride something a bit more fun (adult Eq ran the same day as the Prix so I wasn't able to play in that ring..).  He's definitely a bit brighter with fewer trips around the ring, but I think keeping his miles to a minimum will serve us all better in the long run.  

Quiz was a dude and took everything including the 40mph winds without batting an eye.  The first week he looked a little wiggly and green in his division, but by the end of week two the polish was really starting to come out and show itself over fences.  I wanted to ride him in all the tiny divisions, but in the name of not overwhelming him or making him hate shows, we kept it light and low key.

I'll get some videos up of the Prix rounds and some of Quiz's debut as well.  I'd love to share the video with Frenchie riding, but uh.... I managed to not press record so I have exactly ONE SECOND of that glorious round.  dammit. 

After a week of rest and relaxation we'll get back to work and focus on fixing the small stuff before heading up to Thunderbird in April! 

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