Gallery Farm combined test recap

I know, I know, show recap posts are really only exciting for the person who’s writing them. But I wanted to let y’all know that a) Gina didn’t kill me and b) it went pretty well.

My ride times were pretty reasonable, with dressage at 11:20 AM and XC at 2:02 PM. This meant that while I did get up at 5 AM and get to the barn by 7 AM, it could have been much, much worse. Gallery Farm is near Oklahoma City, so it’s about a 2.5 hour drive from where the ponies live. We pulled out with Gina (who kept her socks super-white overnight) and Freddie (for company and experience) around 8 AM, and after many turns (and a couple of turn arounds), we arrived and parked next to our friends Rachael and Sarah.

Freddie about fell down getting out of the trailer, but recovered gamely and spent the next six hours standing tied to the trailer, eating hay and drinking/playing in the water buckets we had tied up for them.

Freddie’s happy place.

Gina (left) and Freddie (right) are unimpressed by shows.

Both mares seemed to get along reasonably well. Fred made a couple of ugly faces at Gina and also drank all of her water (while ignoring her own bucket), but was otherwise fine. No calling, no squealing, no kicking. Freddie is a champion at standing around. Maybe she’s missed her calling as a halter horse.

Anyway, dressage warm up went well- I kept Gina to a trot since it was a walk-trot test. Her gaits are plenty energetic, so I figured there was no need to canter. We stuck to figure-8s, circles, and serpentines and Princess Pony put on her best dressage face and we had a nice test. Our walk work was a little weird, as it seemed like Gina was less focused on me and more focused on what was happening outside the covered arena where the test was. All the trot work was very good and the judge was impressed by her “bold” and “forward” gaits. 
We scored a 29.3 on our test, which is something like the best score I have ever had in my adult life. (I think my best test was a 26 something when I was 12 doing walk-trot dressage.) We were in second to our friend Rachael, who scored a 25.3 on her super cute Percheron mare Venus, so I was definitely happy.
Walking the course made me feel good about my chances of getting Gina around. If you aren’t a long time reader, a little history: Gina has been a problematic jumper in the past. Occasionally, she’s excellent. Most of the time, she’s awful. Past antics have included rearing up and backing at ground poles, dirty refusals at a crossrails, and jumping 2’6 oxers fine for five minutes, then inexplicably pitching a fit.
The only jump I was mildly concerned about was a tire jump. The tires were tiny- lawnmower sized. But they were black, I’m almost certain Gina’s never jumped any tires before, and I immediately planned to keep my leg on and ride defensively.
I shouldn’t have worried. After an extremely short warm up (by which I mean we cantered both directions and jumped a crossrail twice), we headed out on course. I got Gina into a nice, forward canter; even though the jumps were tiny, I feel more comfortable jumping out of the canter and Gina’s canter is much more comfortable to 2-point than her trot. 
Rio 2016, amiright?
Gina was apparently gearing up for next year’s Rolex, because she attacked those tiny jumps. Like, rolling along at a good clip, taking good distances, not backing off anything. I could feel her lock on to each jump, which is certainly not something I’m used to feeling from her! She jumped like a champion over every single fence and cross the finish line prancing and snorting as if she’d just bounced around a 4-star.
What a fruitcake.
Draft power!
Rachael and Venus went clear too, maintaining first place, which meant Gina and I stayed in second.
Bonus pic of super cute Rambler & Sarah, who were 3rd in the Starter division.

I’m really pleased with how Gina behaved. I think she had a good time- I know I did. There’s an eventing derby in a couple of weeks- Fred is getting some time off, so maybe I’ll enter Gina. And maybe we’ll even move up a division (or two)!

Jimmy Wofford clinic at The Woodlands

Yesterday I got up at 4 AM, loaded my car with water, chairs, and my treasured copy of Training The Three Day Event Horse & Rider and headed to Tulsa to pick up my sleepy student. I then drove us two hours to Edmond, Oklahoma to The Woodlands Equestrian Center for cross-country day of the Jimmy Wofford clinic.

I was really excited for the chance to meet my equestrian idol and watch him teach; the clinic didn’t disappoint. The Woodlands is a lovely facility with a great cross-country course full of ditches, banks, a water complex, and any kind of log-based jump you can imagine. The owners were kind and the clinic well-organized.

The morning began with a question and answer session that began focused on the previous day’s topic: show jumping. It quickly moved into more general territory, with riders and auditors asking questions about topics ranging from the place of amateurs in the sport to using heart-rate monitors while conditioning. Jimmy Wofford patiently answered them all with practical advice and humor. After the Q&A, we moved to the cross-country course, which we moved around for the better part of two hours as the first group of riders (a Training/Preliminary level group) galloped and jumped.

Here’s what I took away from the clinic:

  • It’s important to have a schedule, but not to be a slave to the schedule. Wofford said he usually has horses in a 4-day rotation: dressage, show jumping, dressage, slow (300 meters/minute) canter work. If the horse comes out feeling unmotivated or sluggish, he walks them for 20 minutes, calls it a day, and resumes with whatever’s on the schedule the next day.  
  • There’s no reason to be training your Beginner Novice, Novice, or Training level horse with 550 meter per minute gallops. It will only serve to get you speed faults and potentially injure your horse.
  • Interval training will make your horse fit, but it will also make him lame. Going from zero to full-tilt repeatedly is not a good idea. Instead, go from moderate effort (like trotting or slow cantering) to almost maximum effort and back. Hill work is also integral in building a horse’s fitness.
  • Walking is an underrated way to condition a horse. For the Prelim, Intermediate, and Advanced horse, Wofford recommended two hours a day of walking on a loose rein in addition to whatever work is planned. He described the walk as a (very) slow-motion gallop. 
  • The less you move over a jump, the better. Throwing your hands or body forward before a jump only unbalances the horse and makes his job harder. Stay forward and allow the horse to move your body. (I need this tattooed inside my eyelids.) Practice with a neck strap!
  • Don’t say, “Oh to hell with it!” and let your horse charge at jumps. Keep him in a package right up to the base of the fence. The package is a rectangle, with your arms as the long sides, the bit as a short end, and your hands (and the space between them) as the other short end. The horse doesn’t need to be (and shouldn’t be) collected or on the bit, but he doesn’t need to be allowed to sprawl out and get flat. 
  • Support the horse with your legs, not your seat.
  • You don’t rise to the occasion; you sink to your level of training. 
The clinic was absolutely wonderful. Even my student, who probably thought Jimmy Wofford was just someone’s curmudgeonly old uncle, was impressed with his sense of humor and wisdom. (She told me she was going to go home and make a schedule for her horse- after she took a nap.) 
I’d say it’s the best $25 I’ve spent in a long time. Although, really, I would have paid $25 just so he’d sign my book.

Technical cross-country

 Like all good eventers who couldn’t make the pilgrimage to Kentucky’s holy ground, I spent the weekend watching Rolex on my laptop. I gasped, I groaned, I caught myself clucking at horses who looked sticky. I even forced Johnny to watch most of the cross-country and gave him updates on stadium while he was attempting to take a shower. (Johnny’s thoughts on Rolex ranged from “Those are very large jumps!” to “How does that horse poop while he’s going that fast?!”)

Watching the cross-country, all I could think about was how technical it appeared. From Land Rover Hollow to the Normandy Bank to the Offset Brushes, there were a lot of jumps that required a horse and rider to slow down, be careful and accurate, and absolutely precise. It seemed like there were only a handful of the big, galloping fences typically associated with cross-country. The course seemed to be comprised of several groups of related technical elements with big stretches for galloping in between.

Over the last few years, there’s been some noise in the eventing community that cross-country has gotten too technical; that the combinations on courses now require a show jumping pace instead of jumps that favor galloping rhythmically and jumping out of stride.

While I agree that there are more of these types of jumps on today’s courses, there have been technical elements on cross-country for decades. Take, for example, these stills from a video of the 1978 World Eventing Championships. 

From about 4:54 in the video

This is a shot of a jump called The Serpent, which appears to be a long line of trakehners zigzagging along. Riders basically made a serpentine through the jumps. (Lots of horses and/or riders fell on this jump!)

From about 5:30 in the video

This jump, The Sinkhole, required riders to negotiate the two post and rail fences. Most opted to jump the first to the left of the tree, slow down to make a tight turn in that gravel-filled ditch, then turn again and jump the second. A few went blithely in a straight line. This was an extremely tight, twisty route if it wasn’t ridden straight. (You can hear Jimmy Wofford shouting “WHOA” at Carawich around 3:19.) 

From about 9:25 in the video
From about 9:27 in the video
From about 9:29 in the video

And let’s talk about the most terrifying jump I’ve ever seen: Fort Lexington. This is a bank jump up to a bounce on top and a steep bank down. A number of riders had difficulty with it.

From about 12:15 in the video. A zoomed-out view of Fort Lexington.

I’d argue that some of the jumps on this 1978 World Eventing Championships course are just as technical as elements seen at Rolex over the weekend. 

Has eventing gotten more technical? Perhaps. But watching this video (which is about 30 minutes long and narrated by Bruce Davidson) makes me wonder if it hasn’t been pretty technical all long.

Gina Jumped Something

You may recall that Gina really, really hates jumping. This is a problem for me, because I really, really like jumping.

I have a theory that Gina hates jumping because she was subjected to some truly awful experiences.

These pictures are scans of pictures printed from an inkjet printer, so excuse the quality.
That’s Gina being shown by her former owner, the one that donated her to the therapeutic riding center from which I acquired her. 
Now, I am not the world’s greatest rider, nor do I pretend to be. I have a nasty habit of over-releasing, frequently half-halt too often before a fence, and my eye for distances is terrible. However, I’d like to think I am somewhat better than this person who appears to be literally laying on the horse’s neck. It’s hard to make out from these scans, but Gina’s being ridden in a pelham with a standing martingale. I understand standing martingales are par for the course in the hunter ring, but I’m bewildered by the pelham. Gina is a very soft-mouthed horse who is extremely responsive in a loose-ring snaffle, even when being ridden cross-country at the hunter pace.
Gina is not a forgiving horse; she will not give you anything unless you ask exactly the right way at the right time. I think this is a direct result of toting around riders she didn’t enjoy. 

So for the last few years, I’ve jumped Gina a handful of times. She is generally more relaxed when going over cross-country type fences, but freaks out if she sees so much as a ground pole. It’s a real shame, because she is a lovely jumper who sees good distances and maintains a great, steady rhythm to and from fences.

I braved the cloudy skies on Wednesday and hacked Gina. I took her out in the big field and walked, trotted, and cantered her on a loose rein. She was pleasant and relaxed, so I decided to take her over the log jump I’d built over the weekend.

And she jumped it. Just like that. No fits, so hesitation, no nothing. Now, since I am not used to jumping Gina at all, she nearly jumped me out of my tack! We went over it two more times, each time improving just a little. (She and I definitely do not see the same distance.) I managed to avoid hitting her in the mouth or landing hard on her back and praised her effusively for each jumping effort. 
I’d like to think that with some more of these confidence-building experiences that I can get her show jumping again. Or she will eventually break my other arm in a fit of rage. But that’s the adventure, right?!

Anything Can Be A Jump

Sunday was warm and sunny, so I headed out to the barn with the sole intent of setting up some cross-country jumps and schooling Moe over them. We had a very pleasant dressage school on Friday, but I was itching to do something other than endless transitions. One of these days I’ll get some landscape timbers and set up a gymnastic, but until then, it’s cross-country all the way.

The sagging split rail fence has been serving us as a straight-forward vertical for the last few weeks. I asked barn manager not to change the rail out because it’s such a good height (around 2’6″-9″; I haven’t measured it). It has excellent footing on both sides and rides really well. 

I assembled this jump out of sticks and logs I found laying around the pasture. The beavers really helped me out on this one- the large logs were gnawed down by the beavers a while ago, and were dried out (like driftwood) and easy to move. You can’t see it in the picture, but the right side is propped up on a plastic lawn chair and the left side is propped up on a tree. It’s not a big jump- maybe around 2′-2’3″ in the center. It can be approached from either side and isn’t too far away from the split rail fence. It’s also close to the pond, so I can incorporate a canter through the water approaching or leaving this jump.

That’s a picnic table. (The barn manager is very relaxed about where I move the lawn furniture.) The benches are attached to this table, which makes it awkward to move and limits how you can set it up. I like the way it rides though: the benches produce a nice round jump and lots of effort. It’s another fence that can be approached from either direction, too. 
Moe was uncharacteristically sluggish while jumping. He wasn’t stiff or lame or cranky- he was just slow. I chalked it up to the heat; it was 78 degrees outside on Sunday and he still has a lot of winter fur. We took a lot of walk breaks and only ran through all three jumps once. 
I took advantage of Moe’s slowness and really concentrated on keeping my leg on, my eyes up, and doing nothing with my hands. I have a bad habit of frantically half-halting Moe about five strides away from a fence, which usually has the opposite of the desired effect. So I just sat still and let Moe pick his distances and followed as quietly as I could. It worked out pretty well- we had good distances 90% of the time, didn’t pick up an inordinate amount of speed, and my hands didn’t end up next to his ears when I released.
We had some fussiness about going over the picnic table. It’s set up about 300′ away from the barn; Moe kept ducking out toward the barn at the very last second. After the third run out, I got very firm with him, sat up more, put my left leg on hard, and willed him over the fence. He went over it just fine, but I had him do it again for good measure before we continued off to the pond, the log pile, and the split rail.
It poured yesterday and today I’m stuck at home with the flooring guy. (The water damage saga continues.) Severe thunderstorms are predicted for Wednesday and Thursday. Hooray for spring!