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I've started a new blog that is much easier to access from my phone and my iPad while I'm on the go at shows!! You can view it here: The Adventures of Ze Terroir


Photo Sep 20, 2013, 3-49 AM

Nyls at Plantation CIC3* (photo by Jenni Autry)


Loss and Memorials

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     It's very hard to throw myself a pity party right now, but I thought that all of the loyal followers of my horse, the amazing Nyls, deserved a bit of an explanation of the recent events. However, I want to start with a brief memorial and a bit of personal contemplation.

     For those not aware, and I'm sure you have all heard, Michael Pollard lost three really amazing event horses this past Memorial weekend in a pretty grisly trailer accident that was caused by a neglectful and irresponsible driver who cut off his trailer. One horse died on the scene, and two more were euthanized in following days due to irreversible damage caused by the accident. After an event like this, horse people all over cannot do anything except realize that every experience they have with their beloved animals is truly a gift. This week has turned what I would have usually considered a huge setback in my competitive goals with Nyls into a humbling experience, and I have learned to appreciate everything more. 

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     Yes, Jersey Fresh was an awful time. Nobody likes to get caught out at the jogs, it's one of the most disappointing things that can happen to you. None of us willingly put our horses in a position to try and cheat the medical inspections, and I would never dream of riding Nyls under circumstances that would knowingly hurt or damage him. This horse is my superstar, my reason to get up in the morning, and he has given me so many unbelievable experiences and opportunities in my life. Riding him is truly a thrill, but I have to remember that he has given me all these things with such ease, at some point I have to face disappointment. But I also have to look at the bright side of everything, after all, what should have been a career ending injury over something incredibly dumb, has healed into a perfectly functioning, amazing looking knee.

    I had originally planned to re-route to the Bromont CCI**. With the help of my vet, after ultrasounding his leg and x-raying his foot, we decided that he could reasonably have a week off work with no shoe, lots of soaking, lots of wrapping and then go on two weeks later to Canada. This seemed to work. We did just that, and I had him back in full work for a week. His foot was sound, but his tendon sheath was still distended. This meant he simply couldn't wear some boots that pressed on the swelling. On Monday of this week though, he seemed a little uncomfortable after a jump school. Tuesday was the closing date, and I made the decision to scratch. I did not want to drive all the way to Canada and face the same thing that I did in New Jersey. I couldn't risk that there was something more serious going on with my horse, and I needed to know that whatever discomfort he was experiencing was not permanent. 

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    I had my vet, Dr. Brady, come out today and do another ultrasound. We found nothing, but the tendon sheath was still inflamed as all get out. His foot is not sore, he has no evidence of bruising, however the swelling was worrisome, and so we injected it with a little Cortisol to get the inflammation out.  This should result in another week of time off, and then back to work. 

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    The good news is, this was something really minor, and although it caused a lot of hub-bub and hassle, its not going to affect Nyls in the long term. I am hoping to spend another season at Advanced culminating in the Fair Hill CCI**, so that we can hop right on up to a CIC*** in the spring, and hopefully rebound upon Jersey Fresh with a vengeance. 

    The other good news is that Ella has been getting my full attention and she LOOOOVVVEEES it! Goodness that mare is a ham! She has been schooling really well lately, and we are making great steps in our education. I recently discovered that she jumps unbelievably well in a hackamore, like a completely different horse! She will be contesting a small hunter show on Sunday, competing in the 2'6 to 3' Green Hunters. This will be good experience for her to see scary jumps. She thinks shows are awfully boring, she usually naps the whole time in the sun!


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Unfair Hill & A Disappointing Jersey Shore

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      Well, my friends, the time has come for Nyls and I to have our own bout of bad luck, and here it is. Let me update you on the preceding weeks and the silly mishaps that have become an overall pain in the butt for both of us.


     Fair Hill, although it was weeks ago, was a bit of a disaster. The dressage was very tight and I felt as though he really didn't have the focus that he displayed at The Fork or even Southern Pines. Something about the atmosphere made him almost unrideable, and I felt like I was riding for survival out there in that little rectangle. Not something you want to experience in a dressage test! He scored a reasonable 38, which put him in good placing for XC the next day, but I was still disappointed. 

     At The Fork, I rode XC in the rubber gag bit that I always use, and several times he simply grabbed the bit and ran. I had some trouble steering for a few fences, and I was pretty dissatisfied with the efficacy of the bit, so I made the choice to change it for Fair Hill. In 2010, he ran in a Waterford 3-ring bit for almost the whole year and it was absolutely perfect. The design of the bit is such that it is impossible for the horse to grab or hold onto it, so I thought it would be suitable again. How wrong I was! Nyls was especially wild in the warm-up this time, and he was fighting against me quite a bit. However, he is notoriously naughty in warm-up, and has gotten increasingly pumped for every one of our XC rounds this spring, so it didn't really occur to me that the bit was a large part of the problem. 

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      When I got out on course, I could feel immediately that something was wrong. Nyls felt unable to pull against the bit, and in turn, it made him very insecure. I figured out over the first two fences that he absolutely cannot be "dropped" in front of XC fences. This means he hates it when you completely soften your contact at the base of the fence. He is so spooky naturally, that he prefers to be held a little bit the whole time, because when you soften that much, he simply looks down at his jumps, and they freak him out. The first three jumps were small fly fences, so I tried to quickly get him accustomed to the new feeling and get into a rhythm. The fourth fence was a combination that was a huge brush jump four turning strides to a very large corner on the side of a hill. The ground sloped away to the left of the point of the corner, so it was tricky. When I landed from the first element, I tried to pick his head up and turn right for him to see the corner, but I miscalculated how much power the new bit gave me, and he absolutely stopped his motion, threw his head in the air and fought me. He didn't even see the corner, and ran into it. When I circled to re-approach, I found that the corner was situated in such a way that you had to come in a very small circle in a small canter, and the horse had about 2 strides straight to see the jump. This was not ideal.  We had another attempt and he again did not focus on the jump and see it. We got over it on the third attempt, and I decided to try the next few jumps and see if he was rideable. I didn't want to quit on a bad note. We jumped two more tables, and through the sunken road, and he was still not himself, so I pulled up, rather than risk having a bad experience that we would both regret. 

     To say the least, this was not the XC experience we wanted heading into a CCI**. I had to go to Jersey Fresh CCI** because my qualifications expired in 2011, and in order to do a CIC3* or a CCI3*, I have to have a current CCI**. So, I went to XC school in a new bit (a regular metal gag) and hoped for the best. 

    The Friday before Jersey, Nyls slightly bruised his left toe, and because we were so close to the beginning of the event, I had to hold off on medication that I would have normally been able to administer. I iced his foot, packed it, wrapped his legs, and he got better, so we left for Jersey on Tuesday. He was jogging sound, and I got the go-ahead from my vet, with the knowledge that I might have to nurse him through the weekend a tiny bit. 

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Schooling before Jersey Fresh


    Nyls was amazing in the dressage warm up, and felt better than he ever has before, and I was thrilled. As we entered the show arena, he pulled a typical Nyls move and froze in terror at the pavilion of people! His head went straight up, and his back froze, and his eyeballs about popped out of his head! I let him gawk, and then asked him to come back to work, which he grudgingly did. Our first few movements were not out best, because he was still tense and distracted, but I was very proud with the way that he came back to me mentally, and after three crummy movements, focused and put in some decent work. He scored a 53, which was good enough for 5th place after dressage. 

     The XC course was longer than I expected (a full 9 minutes) and it had some fairly steep hills and tough questions at the end, so I was a bit worried about his fitness. He is such a big horse, it is not easy to get him fit for this type of event. There was rain for two days straight in the week before XC day, so I was happy with the footing, and I thought that this was going to be good for his foot, at least better than rock hard ground!

     That XC course was one of the easiest things I've ever done. He cruised around that thing like it was novice level, and I didn't have to push him for time at all. He answered all the questions perfectly, and it was a walk in the park. He finished 1 second over the time, and I had no plans for making the time, so I was very happy with him. He recovered exceptionally well in the vet box after the course, and we were permitted to go to our stall and get some fluids and ice his legs. I iced him four times that day, just to be safe for foot bruise. I also gave him some herbal, FEI approved anti-inflammatories and tucked him in.

    On Sunday morning, however, he was a touch sore on that toe, and I was feeling worried about the jogs. I iced him another two times, and gave him more anti-inflammatory herbs. We went to jogs with a horse that was mostly jogging sound, minus a few steps here and there. Sadly, that was enough for the ground jury to send us to the holding area, where you speak with a vet, and they watch the horse jog a few more times, and give you the chance to re-present. I spoke with the vet, told her my story, and she had me jog him a few times on some pavement. She told me that she thought he was "borderline" and she would advise the ground jury that a stone bruise was not going to cause further injury to him for show jumping. I decided to re-present, but the ground jury spun us anyway, and we were eliminated from the competition.

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   I cannot tell you how disappointing this was. I was at this event simply to get a qualifying result and be able to compete at CCI3* level in the fall, and for a silly stone bruise to thwart all of my hard efforts was a huge bummer, to say the least. Nyls is one of the soundest horses in the eventing world, and I am very sad to have damaged that reputation. 

    I have decided to regroup and attempt to get myself and Nyls to Bromont CCI** in a month in Canada. This is a huge undertaking both financially and logistically, but my other option is to wait until the end of October for another CCI**. I feel that with the help of my family and my friends, I can pull this off, and hopefully kick some serious ass in Canada as redemption!

(To read about Bromont, click HERE

The Fork & Hunter Trials

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Photo courtesy of The Chronicle of The Horse


    Well, this blog is a bit tardy! I have to say, the whirlwind of activity including packing all of my belongings up to go to The Fork with my two horses, and then moving back to Virginia has served as a reasonable excuse for lack of writing, right?

   As for The Fork, it is always regarded as one of the most difficult events of the season. The entire event has so much atmosphere, it gets spooky horses like Nyls a bit jazzed up sometimes, which can make things interesting! The cross country is notorious for being quite difficult, and Mark Phillips never disappoints with something new and challenging at each level. One of the most trying things for the horses and riders is the GIANT hill at the end of the course, which you have to gallop all the way up, and all the way down. Most of the horses have been doing fitness work in South Carolina or Florida at this point, which means they haven't seen many hills. Luckily, I tagged along with Jess Hampf and Doug Payne a few times to a hill in Aiken where Nyls and I did the same workout as the horses headed to Rolex! 

   Dressage was actually quite nice, I was very pleased with his performance and his result. I really feel that he is growing up and starting to have a better grasp of what his job is every time we go out. He knows on dressage day that it is time to relax, be obedient, and prance around in the square without thinking of cross country. He was almost lazy, which was a little bit of a shock, but I prefer to have a horse I am kicking in the ring than a horse I am trying to contain when it comes to dressage. Nothing is worse than feeling like you are riding a ticking time bomb in there!  He performed well, and improved quite a bit upon his performance two weeks earlier at Southern Pines. He even let me prepare him and ask for his changes (which he did!) without anticipating the movement and launching into space (his preferred method). I have to mention also that history happened, in which Nyls garnered TWO NINES in his test (see photo for proof). I'm thinking of framing it. 

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   We finished Friday on a 31.9, which was good enough to take us into 6th place in a competitive division. Room to improve, but as of now, that is our best score at this level, and I was very happy.


  The cross country course looked big (which it usually does at Advanced), but do-able. It is nice when walking the course you think, I can do that, yeah, that looks good! Nyls was....a little enthusiastic...when he got to the warm up. He was dead asleep when I tacked him up, and barely sauntered up there, but once he saw what was happening, he was a little wild. He tends to spend a minute or two staring, dead still, at the course when we arrive, and then he is nothing but motion. I had to get assistance from Doug in order to actually get near/in the start box this time, because at Southern Pines we had a little bit of an issue and I almost didn't get in. Nyls gets SO pumped, he can't stand it! I also have to request that the starter not count down, because as soon as the man says, "TEN, NINE, EIGHT..." Nyls absolutely loses his mind. I swear that horse can count. 

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    He FLEW around the course. And by flew, I mean, he ran off with me a little bit between 3 and 4....which I attribute to his enthusiasm. He was brilliant everywhere, if a tiny bit wild. I would prefer that he listen a little more in the beginning, but I am thankful that he is so excited to get out there and jump. He is still acting a tiny bit ditchy, and he does do some funny things with his body over ditch jumps, but he still jumps them. He answered all the questions like it was nothing, and I can tell you, after the long gallop up the big hill, he was listening a tiny bit more to me. I think for next time, I will be changing bits just to see if I can get more respect early in the course. 

   I wanted to see if he could go a bit faster than I have been letting him, because I usually run horse trials very conservatively. My approach is generally to take more time than I might need to prepare for the jumps, just in case. I still feel like the both of us are a little bit green, and I do sometimes worry about his reaction time when it comes to paying attention to what I'm saying. However, after such a good run at Southern Pines, I decided to let him run a little bit. So, I let him run. And for the first time ever at horse trials, we made time! We were one of only a handful of double clears during the day, on a course that caused a whole lot of troubles all day long. I was pretty excited about that, and to boot, it moved us up to 2nd place, only .6 behind Michael Pollard and his Pan American Games mount!


   I have been experiencing some anxiety about Show Jumping, which I know seems silly after cross country, but for me, it is much less instinctual. They say that the problem with athletes who have anxiety is that it increases the amount you think about your performance in a mechanical way, and the way to solve this is to STOP THINKING. Easy, right? I have an incredibly careful and scopey horse, so I have no idea why it worries me, but I experience more worry about this phase than the other two. I tried to go out and ride forward and stop thinking quite so much, and it worked much better than my round at Southern Pines. We were having a lovely clear round, when we turned a sharp corner to an oxer and on the approach, Nyls stuttered in his stride, and somehow did not read the jump correctly, and could not figure out how to jump it. We had an unexpected stop, and I felt terrible that he was confused. I patted him and restarted, and the rest of the course rode beautifully, with not a single jump down. As disappointing as the stop was, I think it was simply a matter of confusing shadows, and an honest mistake. I could have ridden the approach better, but there is always a "coulda woulda shoulda" in every experience. 

   Our faults moved us down to 4th place overall, but as Sally Cousins said to me in the awards ceremony, "Don't be upset, if you knew coming into this weekend that you'd be fourth, you would be thrilled!". 

    

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Ella in the 2'6 class

   Some other exciting news is that my young horse, Ella, went to her first show at a Hunter Trials down the road that week! She was a superstar! She is a really cool horse, I still have to pinch myself sometimes at how well behaved she is all the time! She was very quiet at the show, not putting a foot wrong, jumping all the weird jumps and hanging out napping in between classes! Anybody who has bad experiences with chestnut Thoroughbred mares must come meet this one, because she will change the way you think about all of those stereotypes! Ella will be going to some more local functions, and maybe attending the VA Horse Trials after Nyls and I go to Jersey Fresh. 

   My student Bevin Lexa also attended her first Hunter Trials that day, and she had two wonderful rounds on her pony Andromache. The pony was purchased for Bevin as her first pony as a four-year-old last year, and Bevin has done a wonderful job of training the mare and bringing her up from scratch. She is a very cool little pony, and did quite well at the Hunter Trials.

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Bevin & Andromache

First Advanced Back -- Southern Pines


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Photo Courtesy of Mikaela Kantorowski

     Well, dear friends, I am overjoyed to announce that Nyls and I have finally made our comeback to Advanced level for the first time since the "Incident of the Knee" in October of 2010. We just returned from Southern Pines, where we posted a decent dressage score, a slow but clean cross country, and a slightly rusty show jumping. However, for our first attempt back, it was excellent, and I feel that Nyls is really ready to take on the world again. I have lots of homework to do, and I know where I can improve, and how to get there. I will be more brave in pushing the limits of his dressage at our next few events, and hopefully I will learn to ride better in the show jumping. Cross country, as always, was easy for him, and I chose to go slow, so next time, a bit quicker!

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   I travelled up to Raeford with Jessica Hampf and Doug Payne, and our journey was only marred by what shall be known as the "Best Flat Tire Ever" henceforth. Jess was driving my truck with a four horse trailer behind, and we pulled off the highway to grab some gas and food and meet up with Doug, and literally as we turned into the gas station, a front tire blew, and by the time we got in the parking lot, it was completely flat! SO lucky this didn't happen when we were going 70mph on the highway, and even luckier we had Doug there to change the tire. Being completely useless girls, we left Doug and a good samaritan to fix the tire, and we went to get food. When we got back, magically, it was changed!

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Dressage was actually quite good for Nyls, I feel like he is finally growing up a little. There is so much less spooking at the side of the arena (although he did have a good look at the people in the stands next-door) and he is much more rideable through the whole test. His trot work is getting better all the time, and we just need to work out a few kinks here and there. We both tend to have trouble establishing a solid position at the beginning of every moment. He spends the first few strides wobbling a bit, and then is steady, which hurts our score. His canter is getting better by the day, although he still experiences quite a bit of anxiety about the right lead canter in general, and a lot of anxiety about his flying changes. I practiced changes on Tuesday, and none until the two I did in my warm up. With Nyls, the more you practice something that he's worried about, the worse he gets, so sometimes you have to just leave it alone. The perfectionist in me has a hard time with this, because when you can't do something right, my urge is to practice practice practice! However, for the first time EVER in the history of Nyls and Kate, we got an 8 on our extended walk, which really shows how much more relaxed he is in the arena lately, because a year ago, it was a miracle if I could get him to walk at all!

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I walked cross country on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Some people have the stamina for multiple walks in a day, but I think once around an Advanced course per day is fine by me. It gets really long! The course was lovely, and it's always a good sign when the tables don't really look that big or scary when you walk. I know in the back of my mind that it's total peanuts for Nyls, and he won't back off anything! However, there was one jump that completely freaked me out, I'll be honest. 5A was an ENORMOUS ditch and wall two strides to a table. Not only have I never seen a ditch and wall with a related distance to another jump, but this one was really early in the course, and HUGE. Did I mention it was gigantic?? Anyway, with our troubles at the ditch and wall at Pine Top, I was more than a little hesitant about this question, because I knew after he jumped it, he would be gawking at the next five jumps, and number 7 was a tough combination. Once the spook gets in him, its tough to get it out, and I needed him fully focused to complete 7. During my warmup for dressage, they announced there would be an option for 5A, and I was thrilled. Maybe that led to my relaxed test?!


   Nyls was an absolute beast of a monster getting near the start box. He will have to be led in for the next events, because I barely could get him near the damn thing this time. He gets so unbelievably pumped, he can't stop leaping and charging and rearing and won't actually go in the box itself! Terrible. Once on course, I felt a change in him that has been a long time coming. Let's just say, Nyls has yet to discover a jump that is athletically difficult for him, or a distance that is troublesome, so it almost never occurs to him to back off anything, and I have to do a lot of work getting him to respect the jumps and not simply charge at them. This time, however, he would change gears about 5 strides out of every jump, and balance himself! Revolutionary! It only took 6 years.... My plan was to cruise around slow and steady, because the course was causing a LOT of problems. Overall, there were 5 falls in my division alone, and over 15 for both Intermediate and Advanced, which is more than I've ever experienced. The falls were distributed through both amateurs and professionals, and I just wanted a good learning run for the both of us. The four people who left the start box before me all fell off, including Jess who had an unfortunate dismount in the water, but was able to get back up and cheer from the sidelines as I came through! 

   Nyls was brilliant. He was focused, balanced, honest, and so incredibly game. It is a wonderful feeling when they lock onto a giant Advanced corner or a skinny bounce out of the water and you can feel them understand and take up the challenge. He was not ditchy at all, we had a coffin and two trakhener jumps, even though we took the option at 5A. (Phew!) I was worried for a bit that he had developed a thing, but I think Pine Top was just an anomaly, much to my relief! We finished with quite a few time penalties, but I was overjoyed, and he was barely breathing hard by the time we got back to the barn.

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Enjoying his ice boots after Cross Country

   Show jumping was the most disappointing of the three phases, and I take full responsibility. I misheard my time, and realized 15 minutes before my ride time (while I was walking my course) that I was not dressed, my horse wasn't tacked, and we were on the other side of the show grounds. I ran back to the barn, Jess tacked Nyls and I basically stripped in the parking lot and changed super quick. We trotted to the warm up, and had a quick jump about a few jumps, and in we went! I was frazzled, and I do not do frazzled well. The course was huge, and all of the lines were waiting distances, meaning I had to jump the first element and WOAH to get a good distance to the second and third element. This is not our forte, to say the least. It makes me start riding backwards, and ride backwards I did. I biffed the distance to a one stride, and held onto his mouth (God only knows why) and he had those two down. I rode backwards to the next vertical, which he also had down. At this point, I had to mentally calm myself very quickly, because I realized that it was all unraveling, and I tried to ride the second half of the course less like a monkey. Nyls rewarded me by clearing every other jump like a pro. There is basically no excuse for this horse to ever have more than the occasional unlucky rail, and I felt bad for making him take so many, but such is life. 

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Tomorrow we are all going to Atlanta to contest a Jumper show, and Nyls will be doing the 1 meter 10's  the 1 meter 15's and the 1 meter 20's. This is really more for my comfort, but it will be good exposure for him as well, the atmosphere and spooky jumps will give him something to look at! For the next week, we will be prepping for another Advanced run at The Fork, and Nyls will be enjoying more "brooming" to his face, which he LOVES!!




The Long Awaited Aiken Update!

    When I was little, I used to try to keep a diary. About every six months, I would be able to write consistently for a week, maybe two, and then I would give up. Then, in six months, I would be renewed in my interest in chronically my own life, and start again for a week. Needless to say, I am not the best person alive at consistently blogging. Bear with me, as I know you have all been positively on the edges of your seats wondering what in the world I've been getting up to down here in Aiken! 

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Barn Aisle


   I'll start from the beginning. This year, I am spoiled enough to be living in the above barn, due to the kind generosity and hospitality of Jess Hampf and her mother, Joan Hampf. I cannot begin to explain how amazing it is to be stationed here for the winter! I live in a luxurious apartment above the barn, and my horses live in a palace. They have certainly settled right in and accepted the digs as their righteous due, but I am still in awe every single day. 

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Huge Turnout!

   I spent my first ten days here putting the finishing touches on Nyls for his first event of 2012. Since his knee injury in the fall of 2010, Nyls only ran the Intermediate last year at Pine Top, and the Intermediate at Morven last fall. He has basically been on a little hiatus. He came out this year feeling better than ever, but a touch spooky, pretending that he has never seen liverpools and such. Pretty standard for Nyls. 

   I've been able to get some really great help from both Jess (very convenient!) and Sally Cousins thus far, and I really feel like my riding, as well as my overall understanding of the underlying issues has really improved. My year of galloping racehorses has REALLY helped my lower leg, and I don't feel like I'm in danger of popping straight off every time my horse goes over a jump! Don't get me wrong, I still jump with a grab strap.

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  So Pine Top was slated to involve Dressage and Cross Country both on Friday, and then Show Jumping on Saturday. Not my favorite schedule in the world....but what are you gonna do? I showed up a few hours early to let Nyls have a chance to hang out, walk around, and eat and drink a little before our ride time at 1:53. The whole drive there, the radio was blaring reports about tornado warnings and hurricane weather. At noon, the predictions came true. I was out walking my cross country course, and I got ABSOLUTELY drenched. It was raining so hard, I literally couldn't see where I was going! Luckily, Nyls was tucked away in his trailer, but he wasn't happy about the noise the thunderstorm made. The entire show huddled in trucks and trailers for an hour, waiting out the lightening and torrential downpour. The cross country was called off for the day, and the remaining dressage riders (myself included) were slowly brought back to the rings to do our soggy tests.


   Nyls was good, and fairly obedient in his test, but to be honest, I think he was kindof over the whole day. We ended up not riding until 4:30, and since he had been hiding in his trailer since 11, he was not very enthusiastic. I really can't fault him, but I will definitely bring a little more oomph to our next test! I am really excited that he feels more grown-up these days in the dressage, I feel like I can really ride him into the movements, and he isn't quite as squirelly or spooky about the letters. 


   We came back the next morning to do our show jumping, and man was he fantastic! We all know he's a freaky phenomenal jumper, but he really puts on a show for the ring. He always feels like he jumps at least an extra two feet over the colored poles, and he tries so hard to be responsive and absolutely hates to touch a thing! He was a touch spooky, but really tried to listen when I needed him to, and was very good through both of the triple combinations, which were a bit tight. It's amazing to ride a horse that can be so adjustable and quick with his legs! Unfortunately, we had the last jump down. It was a swedish oxer, and for some reason, he spooked right really hard about two strides out, and I had to kindof jump the right side, which was the higher side. Unlucky, but I was very happy with him. It was an incredibly twisty course with lots of roll-back turns and spooky jumps to canter past! 


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   Cross country was three hours later, which gave me a chance to watch a lot of the Advanced, which is always super fun. Michael Pollard absolutely dominated on his horses (seen right on Jos Calfun) taking top spots in every division. 


   Nyls came out to the warm up and was absolutely wild! He loves cross country so much, and you could really tell he was pumped up.


   He jumped the first half of the course beautifully. He answered all of the questions I sent his way, and really was seeking jumps on the way out of combinations. There was a saloon four strides to a corner, and he sailed over it. Next was a bounce bank up and about seven strides downhill to a tiny skinny, which he completely locked onto and popped over. He went through the first water, and out over a massive red corner like it was nothing. Next, there was a ditch and wall, which was positioned such that you couldn't really tell there was a ditch involved until you were in the air. Which is precisely what Nyls did. I have some witnesses that back up my story, and then say that it was basically a miracle that I stayed on at all. He took off dead center, and then while in mid-air, he looked down, realized there was a ditch, and corkscrewed his body and flung himself to the right. If you want to see some funny pictures, look here at what the photographer captured! RIDICULOUS PHOTOS.

   Somehow, I stayed on. However, the next jump was a coffin combination, where you really couldn't see the ditch until you were over the first skinny. Nyls was still freaking out about the ditch and wall, and he simply jumped the first element and stopped dead, and let out one of those super loud honking snorts and I'm pretty sure his eyes bugged OUT of his head. I could tell he was like, " ARE YOU SERIOUS??? ANOTHER SURPRISE DITCH???" Poor guy, he got rattled. I simply gave him a pat, about 5 seconds to have a look, and we circled and he went right over it and over the next skinny.  He purred around the rest of the course, but I could tell he was still a bit unsettled, as he spooked really hard at a puddle on the walk back to the barn and almost ran another horse over. I've always known that this tendency is a part of him, and I've been able to manage it. He never stops at jumps, he is the bravest horse ever, but he is not good with surprises on the ground. If there is one thing that he cannot get over, it is scary things at his feet. I think that this unfortunate stop was just a fluke, and partially due to the fact that we really haven't been out in a while. 


   For now, we will be jumping ditches every single day, just in case, and training extra hard to do the Advanced at Southern Pines II. I feel confident that this minor setback will not impact our move up to Advanced, and I know the horse I have underneath me is one of the best in our sport. 

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PS. I have really great high speed internet finally, so I hopefully will be updating you all more often! Fingers crossed I can stick with it!


Planning for the 2012 Takeover

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Wishing my gallop field still looked this green!


               A little later than most, I have finalized my plans for the first half of 2012. I am super excited to be attacking the game once again, and I plan to come out better than ever, with my main man at my side. Unfortunately, we have to run one more CCI**, because our qualifications for a CCI*** run out at the end of 2011, so I will be re-visiting Jersey Fresh this year, which is a little daunting to try and best my previous 2nd place finish! 

            I will be traveling down to Aiken, SC in the second week of February, a little later than others. I am fortunate enough to live on a dirt road, and I can do a reasonable amount of fitness on that even through the winter months. I will be returning to VA after The Fork. 

FEBRUARY 24-26: Pine Top (Intermediate)

MARCH 23-25: Southern Pines (Advanced)

APRIL 5-8: The Fork (Advanced)

APRIL 20-22: Fair Hill CIC***

MAY 9-13: Jersey Fresh CCI**


      As always, my calendar is conservative, yet competitive. I like to keep my competitions to a small number, and do lots of work at home in between. The goal at the end of the season is to be able to give Nyls some time off, and then gear back up for some more Advanced horse trials, and then a CCI*** in the fall. 

     Hope to see you down in the warmer weather!! Until then, stay toasty next to a fire like mine!


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VAHT - End of 2011

Best View of Fall Fields


       Unfortunately, this fall "season" (both Morven and VAHT) have been plagued with unusually terrible weather this year. At Morven, we toughed it out and ran through the freezing rain, and came out feeling great about ourselves. This weekend at VAHT was predicted to get colder than tank-top weather, but until today, we didn't really know how bad.

      At 9:45 this morning, Intermediate and Preliminary riders were called to a meeting to tell us that our Cross Country would run after dressage in the afternoon instead of tomorrow morning...because the forecast called for SNOW???? I think I need to move further south! With only a few hours notice, we were allowed to motorbike around the course for speed, but cross country was running at 3 no matter what. There was a lot of exclaiming, and some grousing, but everybody left the building at the speed of light towards the course. 

      I returned the the barns and got ready for my dressage test. Nyls warmed up brilliantly, even though it was pretty chilly, and I went in the ring confident. He proceeded to have the most rythmical, consistent, correct test that he has ever performed. I was THRILLED. The only fly in the ointment was that a piece of my hair flew out of my hairnet halfway through and it was driving me CRAZY. I kept looking at the photographer hoping he was shooting my good side without the flopping hair. However, Nyls had brilliant extensions, which are very hard for him, and lovely canter work, even in the counter canter. Sometimes, since he learned his changes, he gets a little tense in the counter canter in anticipation. However, this time he was brilliant and I left the ring grinning from ear to ear. 

      My division was stacked with the cream of the crop at this level, and we got a 31.6, which left us tied for 3rd! It feels good to beat the big guys in my most difficult phase. Truly, what I really wanted this year was a competitive dressage test. I feel like so much of the time I place somewhere in the middle and then move up based on his jumping skills. This is fine, but I feel like a little kid. This time, I felt like a true competitor. I was in with the best of them. 

     I have been working lately with Lainey Ashker on my dressage and I'm so glad to see it finally paying off. We have found that he goes really well in the biggest, fattest rubber bit (I use it to break yearlings at the track!) on the flat. If you try the tactic of putting bigger and bigger bits on him, in an attempt to contain or control him, he simply ups his game and fights back. I've known this about him for a long time, and frankly feel like a bit of a moron for not realizing this sooner. 

       Last year this time, I was resorting to riding him in a double bridle, and he was still running off with me. Now, he can have a baby bit in his mouth, and he's much more happy and obediant. I feel like in the past 6 months, my riding has improved a lot, which is in part due to my riding 10+ horses a day at the racetrack, and in part due to Lainey getting on my case about my position and refusing to let me use my hands as a crutch. It is so much more satisfying to ride a horse who is sensitive to your body than having to pull and struggle. 

      To sum it up, I scratched from XC, simply because I would not have been able to walk my course more than once, and it would have been a scramble. I was so pleased with dressage, and I know he's a cross country machine, so I have nothing to prove there. I did some show jump schooling tonight, and for him, it was a combined test. As nice as it would be to have a pretty ribbon at the end of the weekend, I made the decision to withdraw and save my horse for another day. 

      Sometimes, the best thing you can do is swallow the fiscal losses, and make the decision that's best for your horse on that day. Nyls clearly has the ability to jump around easily, but did he really need to do it on a moments notice? No. So we now enter the winter, to work on our Advanced dressage test (get those changes down!) and get ready for a serious season next year. I have to re-qualify at the CCI** level, and in order to do a CCI***, I will be going down south early, running an Intermediate, a few Advanced, The Fork CIC*** and Jersey CCI** (again). After that, I will see if I can possibly get to Bromont CCI***, or perhaps take the trek to Montana, which would be very exciting!

    Thanks to everybody who helped me and believed in me this year, even through all the setbacks, and even though the scoreboard doesn't reflect this, we ended the season in style.


K

Happy to be Home

     

Do I Live in Seattle Now???

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    After about two straight weeks of rain, I have to say, my weather sensitive and naturally complaining tendencies really came to a tipping point. Living in Virginia makes one particularly prone to feeling personally affronted when the weather isn't beautiful, and I'm not sure why. I mean, am I expected to actually function in this kind of perpetually damp existence? Seriously? Obviously, being made of primarily sugar, I fear the worst in terms of melting and dissolving. Nyls agrees. 

   However, I bravely soldiered on both at home and at the track. I have confiscated any photos of myself wearing goggles and galloping in the rain, because I look more than a little special needs in that outfit. Nyls and I got ready for Morven to run Intermediate after a 6 month break from competing, and left on Friday in lovely weather. 

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Yes, they  have strange "ginger people" on the package.

    I was very nervous, anticipating both the best and the worst. For me, a lot of competing is a head game. Nyls has proven again and again that he can easily handle whatever I throw his way, even if I am operating at the level of a mentally damaged monkey on his back. However, this does not tend to soothe my nerves, and I have to pump myself full of these little ginger candies, which prevent nausea. Make fun of my Gin-Gin's all you want, but those puppies work miracles. 

   Saturday dawned for me at around 4:30 AM, and I left the hotel to find that I needed to locate all of my lost winter clothing in the trailer and promptly don all of it. It was absolutely miserable. Around 40 degrees, raining steadily, and wind blasts that went right up your tail. As if the prospect of early morning dressage wasn't bad enough, eh? 

   All summer and fall, I have been working hard to explain dressage to Nyls a little better. He used to get really stressed about movements like counter canter, changes, and walking. When Nyls gets stressed, his immediate reaction is to use his strength to bully through you, scare you, and hopefully avoid the movement all-together. However, I had a mini-revelation this spring: the bigger the bit I use, and the more I fight, the more he fights. So, I put a softy-soft rubber Nathe bit on him, and stopped cranking his flash, and suddenly  I had this super sensitive, incredibly relaxed horse on my hands. Instead of taking the route of forcing him with more powerful gadgets and harsher bits, I went down the road less travelled and came out on top. Honestly, I can't believe it took me this long to realize this, I think I knew it all along, I was just programmed like most people to respond to strength with more strength. 

   So, Morven dressage begins, and I try madly to keep my white pants resembling an off-white (which is about as good as it got) and ran from the barn to the indoor, where my test was held. My teeth chattering, I forced myself to relax, ate some Gin-Gins, and Nyls warmed up great. The last time the two of us were in a dressage ring was March, and I made a few mistakes. I worked the week before with Lainey Ashker on how to ride my test accurately, and that was incredibly helpful. I've never known how to put a test together, only how to basically ride the movements separately. Lainey helped me identify my weaknesses, and get the most out of my horse and myself. We misread each other coming to the first shoulder-in (he thought lengthen, I thought NOOOOO!!) and one of our halts was not so impressive, but we ended up getting five 8's, most of it in the canter work and the simple changes which we really struggle with at home. I was a little bummed, because as usual I imagined myself coming back the most victorious dressage rider in the world, but we didn't score as badly as I imagined, and ended with a 35. The scores were fairly high all weekend, and some horses that I know are fancier movers with more experienced jockeys got higher scores than me, so that helped a little.

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Thanks to the best groom in crap weather: Addie French

   My outfit for show jumping was this: t-shirt, long sleeved fuzzy shirt, vest, show jacket, and rain jacket. And I was STILL freezing. I could have used goggles to see my jumps, and the warm up was a pitted mess. The craters before and after the jumps were pretty bad, so I limited my warm up jumps to a few verticals and two oxers. The actual show ring was a little better, but still pretty rough on the landing side of the big oxers. 

   Basically, show jumping came down to the fact that I thank God my horse is a ridiculously freaky jumper, and I raised him from a tiny tot to expect all sorts of idiocy from my end. I thought he would experience some "haven't-jumped-in-a-while-jitters" and pull his usual prop and pop moves, but I guess I misread that one. He was all business, approached the fences with his eyes firmly in his sockets (unusual) and actually took the distances I asked for. Now, if I could only see some reasonable distances.... He was a little surprised by the triple, and something weird happened in there where we did a one stride and a trot step?? But, as I mentioned before, he's a freak and jumped clean. I was mostly proud that he jumped the liverpool without snorting or bugging the eyes, because he has a longstanding relationship of hatred with liverpools. Maybe my baby is growing up!? It's only taken him until he's ten...


   Cross country! As seen above, it was muddy, muddy, a little rainy, and more muddy. There were four Intermediate divisions, and most of the people in the last two divisions withdrew due to the footing. My division went second after the Pan Am division, and I decided that, what the hell, I haven't run in so long, why not? The course was fairly straightforward, not too big, and not too many crazy combinations. Maybe I've been out of the game for a while, but I thought it was fairly simple. However, it caused a lot of problems for the people who did run. The footing was mucky in some places, but actually dried out pretty well overall. 

   I pulled out some of the biggest studs that I own, and off we went. Nyls was....phenomenal. I could feel his excitement and happiness to be back out on the course. He absolutely lives for Cross Country. I haven't felt such a good trip on him since the summer of 2009 at Jersey CCI** and NAJYRC CCI**. He cruised around, answering every question with ease and aplomb. I didn't kick him once, and he didn't fight anything I had to say. What a difference to last fall when I was running out of bits to try and make him stop running off with me! I didn't feel that I was going all that fast, but apparently I was braver than most, because I had the second fastest XC time of all the divisions, with only 10 time penalties. This moved us up to 2nd place overall, and Nyls got to sport a fancy red ribbon! 


   I was so happy with how he came back into the game. So much has happened to the both of us this past year that has made it really hard to get back in the groove, and Morven proved that we both still have "it". There was lots of room for improvement, but even when we are not at our best, it still stacks up pretty well against our competitors, and that feels great. I wish that I could bottle the feeling of riding Nyls XC and sell it. I'm fairly sure that it's better than any drug currently available.  


   Until next time!


Kate at PF '10 412K

Plantation Field 2010 Advanced

   



September 16th, 2011

Horse sense is what horses have that prevents them from betting on people.

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    FINALLY!!! MY NEW WEBSITE!!! I don't know how excited you guys are, but let me tell you, I'm about to bake myself a cake, light the candles and blow it out while singing myself a song. While this may say something less than stellar about my social life, it pretty accurately describes my feelings about finally seeing the results of my long hours of toil on this new website.

     As for updates, I'm sure most of you are simply wondering, "Where in the world is Carmen SanDiego?? And where is Kate, too??" . Don't you worry your little noggins, I'm still here. No, I have not been a presence in the Eventing community much this year after coming back from Aiken, but I am in the process of returning. I scrapped my plans of doing a spring CCI*** with Nyls after feeling some discomfort on his part earlier in the spring, and deciding to take the safe path and give him some extra time to heal from his accident last fall. I figure, if MY leg was torn open like that, I would want him to do the same for me...er....if he could, you know. 

  

    So, I've been busying myself with my new horse, Ella, who will be tackling her first season of Foxhunting this fall, which means I get to go shopping for lots and lots of tweed! I also have been spending time with my boarder and student Bevin Lexa, who has purchased her first pony through me, and has been making leaps and bounds in her capabilities, while simultaneously teaching her five year old green pony that riding isn't JUST about eating the leaves on the trail.

    I have also been working full time at Braeburn Training Center, exercising race horses for my oldest (seriously) mentor Felix Nuesch. Wow, has that been an education! Not only is it more than entertaining to work for an 80 year old ex-swiss Cavalry-man (also ex-eventer and ex-jockey) who has been breeding, training and riding his own Thoroughbreds for the past 60 years, but it has been VERY educational to ride the many varieties of horses. By that, of course, I mean that I'm learning about pretty much every single type of crazy that is possible in the equine mind.

   Imagine that you fill two buckets tip-top full of water. Pick them up, and pretend they are pulling on you in a forward manner: this is what racehorse mouths feel like. Let me tell you, it makes me appreciate Nyls and Ella at the end of the day, even on their bum days. After riding 6-7 at the track, and my two in the afternoon, can you blame me for not having a social life??

    Nyls is back in full work, and we are getting ready for a few events this fall, an Intermediate as a warmup and hopefully time for an Advanced. We are entered at Morven Horse Trials coming up soon, and I'm super excited to be back in the game. 

 More news soon, so stay tuned...or else....

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Try to pretend you don't want to touch this.

© Kate Samuels Eventing 2011