Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Ark (Mis)Trials

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

My First Training Level Recognized: Why Not an American Ark Horse (Mis)Trials on March 1-2, 2008
We could also title this MOTHER DUCKERS!!!

This blog is a bit embarrassing. I feel like I have let down the sport of eventing. With all the talk on safety and rider responsibility, I feel like I didn’t do my part. And I feel like I’ve let down my horse. I love my horse and just want the world to see how fantastic he is. Unfortunately, that is not how the weekend played out. So to set the stage…Fleck and I headed off to Monroe, NC for our first recognized training three phase. We have been together for 3 years and have shown Novice for about that long. We had our issues at Novice and worked them out and were now getting bored at Novice. We have schooled 5 different training courses and have also schooled a fair amount of prelim jumps. We have done training level CT’s. We even won our schooling training level three phase, although it was a great move-up course. But the point is…I felt that we were ready for a recognized training level three day. So we signed up for The Ark.
We set off Friday morning to pick up some friends and their horse and drove the 5 hours to NC. When we got there it was getting to be late afternoon so we decided to walk XC before we ran out of daylight. HOLY MOTHER OF PEARL!!! I about wet my pants. The cross country fences were freakin' huge!!! HUGE!! So I was a wee bit nervous. Well, terrified might be the better word. So anyways, then we went to hack and at this point it was dark. So we headed up to the ring with lights. I got about 15 minutes into my ride... with fleck still spooking at the shadows and such. And then.... a fire truck came and started watering the arena with the fire house...with horses in it!! I just gave up. There was no way fleck was going to relax. I was starting to get upset and even more tense and really wound up about XC the next day, so... we gave up. We went back to the barn where I chugged a mikes' hard lemonade and then went to dinner where I chugged a strawberry daiquiri! Yes, I'm a girlie drink kinda girl. And, I also usually don’t drink much at all, so this was a significant amount for me! Can you tell I was nervous?! So then we went to the hotel and got into bed, where I spent a very sleepless worrisome night. I woke up before the butt crack of dawn to get fleck ready for dressage at nine am, because... I figured I had to spend a good bit of time letting him adjust and also get him loosened up since the night before was such a tense ride. For those of you that don’t know, The Ark is also a petting zoo of sorts, so there are peacocks, zebra’s, buffalo, etc, hence the extra time to let him look around. It took awhile but I finally got Fleck going nicely. So then we head out for dressage...
I was the first ride of the day in that ring and they wouldn’t let me in until exactly my time. But then when they finally did let me in, the judge immediately rings the bell. So much for letting him relax and look. So I decided to take an extra lap around... and realized how deep the footing was. Fleck was a bit tense still, but oh well…in we go. And you know,...I came out really upset but it wasn't that bad. I just am sooo not used to the small arena anymore after riding those first level test and have gotten spoiled. He hollowed through the trot lengthen because I pushed a little too quick without enough half-halts and then I overshot and didn't prep for the turn down centerline at the end and we weaved our drunken way to the halt and salute. So I come out of the ring pretty upset, but....I probably shouldn't have been. So here I am, half crying (which, I will admit was probably more related to the lack of sleep and fear of what lay ahead then the dressage test) and they inform me that we're being drug tested!! So the vet assistant has to follow us to the barn and hope that Fleck will pee. HA! I told her that it was very unlikely that he will pee with an audience, but they could try. So anyways...of course fleck won't pee! So they drew blood and I was able to start getting ready for cross country. I have never been drug tested before and while I knew I had absolutely nothing to worry about, but it was still a little bit nerve-wracking.
So then it is time to get ready for cross country. EEEEKKK! Okay, so breathe…breathe….it’s gonna be fine. That’s what I kept telling myself anyways. We got tacked up and headed out, passing some buffalo on the way. Fleck didn’t seem too concerned so that was great. He actually warmed up really really well. (I say that like I’m shocked, and I’m not… it’s just considering how nervous I was…). We jumped the cross rails and the vertical and then the oxer beautifully a few times and decided we were ready. However, I was thinking that he felt a bit sluggish. Not...sluggish really... but not quite hyped up. Since we still had about 8 minutes, we trotted around a bit more. At this point, Fleck decided to start eyeballing this pretty gray horse. When that said gray horse passed us Fleck kicked out and bucked and whatnot. Which, I'm thinking whoo hooo! NOW I've got him hyped up for XC. I hear them tell us that we have six minutes so we wander over and.....duh duh duhhhhhh! There are some ducks that have crept up from the pond towards the first fence. Uh oh...Fleck see's them! CRAP!!! For some reason, Fleck is terrified of ducks and chickens. Apparently as a small child tied to a trailer a chicken came out from underneath and scared the snot out of him. So I ask the people if we can move the ducks away and they say sure, ride over and chase them off. Well...I knew better but thought, well.... so we start towards them. THIS POINT was the downfall of the weekend. $%#(*@#(*&@#$%)*!!!! As soon as I started Fleck forward and he started balking I realized the mistake I had made. So I ask the nice start box people to chase them off and they did. “1 minute rider!!” Shooooooot!!! So now I can hardly get Fleck in the darn start box because he’s so worked up about the stupid ducks. Then I hear them start the final countdown. Well....crud, here goes! Of course Fleck does his nowayinhellamigoingtotheducksmom!!!, so we swap to the right lead, then the left lead, drop the right shoulder, drop the left...gosh darnit get to that darn fence boy!!! But of course... we end up pretty much on top of the fence facing the stupid ducks with Fleck not having a clue that there was a jump. So there yah go...refusal number one. What a way to start. Now I'm pissed cause....the jump was fine...we were fine...I wasn't even all that nervous at that point. So we circle, and I smacked his butt to say HELLO!!! and he jumps it fine. We head off to fence two and there are two dogs running amuk but we get over it fine. We gallop off to fence three where he bolts but I get him back and he powers over it. Well....I wasn't sure quite what had happened other than he jumped it huge and I got left a bit behind, and we landed in a heap. The course was like you were jumping almost into the pasture fencing but instead you took a sharp turn left to the next fence. Looking at the picture from the pro photographer ( and I’m rider number 41), he jumped that enormous table at about a 45 degree angle! So no wonder I got jumped out of the tack. That, combined with the fact that mentally I was not in the “zone” after the duck fiasco. I did manage to get my feet back in the stirrups, put my helmet back up on my head so I could see and gather my reins. I even yelled "I've got it" out to the jump people. HA! Famous last words! I then had about 5 strides to the roll top on the hill. Sure...we're cool. But Fleck says... NOPE! We're not. I think that I must have been so relieved to have my feet in the stirrups that I didn't quite remember to keep my leg on my horse. So now we’re at refusal number 2. At the fourth fence!!! Drat it. Now I'm getting even more pissed and determined to get myself together. Of course when we circle and come again, we jump the stupid jump perfectly fine. The course then crosses the road and heads downhill to the ditch. Well, I have ditch issues. I’ll admit it. I don’t like them and therefore Fleck doesn’t like them. So we’re heading downhill to the ditch and I get in the backseat and I might have chased him a bit, but maybe not... but Fleck jumps it fine. I, however, get left behind again. Again land in a heap and we miss the one stride log. Shocking! We circle and jump it fine. That one...that one was my fault. Then we gallop up the hill, jump the cordwood table beautifully and now we're heading to the ditch and wall. Now... this jump scared me. First, it’s a ditch with a big freakin’wall attached. And not just a ditch, a big deep ditch!! We hadn't jumped anything even close to it before because I just couldn’t find one to practice on. Now I have jumped up banks...which I kept telling myself that's all it is...that's all it is... but yeah... refusal number 4. Crap! At this point, I am so discombobulated and think I should be eliminated so I ask the jump judges “Am I eliminated?” and they say no. So okay??!?! My brain is a bit fried at this point and I’m thinking to myself, surely that’s enough refusals to have me eliminated, but whatever!?! So we come back around and by golly we make it over. Now I'm just mad and embarrassed and just smack the crop down on poor Flecks butt and yell “GIIIIIIIITTT” and we FLY over the big table in and out. Which.... since I don't have much to brag about... we manage to not touch it and I did hear a lot of people knock it on their way over. So fine...we're going... but the next jump is the trakenher... and I'll admit it's not a bad trakenher at all. But at this point, I'm about to give up. I realize it's been a very crappy ride and we've only managed to just barely make it over every other jump and Fleck starts to back off and I just don't have it in me to beat us both over it. So we stop. And NOW we're done for sure. So... I go off and cry my eyes out cause I'm embarrassed and mortified and upset. My sweet dear friends come over and try to talk me down and make me feel better and during this we see at least 3 more people walk off the course. So hmmm, that’s interesting. I start feeling a little less mortified. So I head back to the barn. On the way back I have a good cry again and decide that I don’t think it was my fault so much or Fleck's fault so much as those damn ducks' fault!! I really honestly think that I would have had a fine first 6 fences had the approach to the first fence not been how it was. I am pretty darn sure I would have had a stop at the weldon's wall as it was just scary and I hadn't ever jumped it before and with my ditch issues... So I really think I would have had a stop there regardless. Perhaps even a stop at the trakenher too. But I don't think I would have been eliminated if it weren't for the ducks screwing things up. So back at the barn, I get Fleck taken care of, NOT giving him that entire bag of carrots I promised him if he was a good boy! Then I head up to check my dressage score thinking I’ll make my day even worse than it already was. What a surprise I had then! We had scored a 34 on dressage, putting us in 7th place out of 20 or so!! I was so excited. They had even given us a pretty purple ribbon as they did ribbons for dressage also. That helped buoy my spirits.

Sunday was stadium and I got the permission to stadium jump with the understanding that one issue and we were done. This was very generous of the TD and appreciated. Too bad I screwed it up too! Alas! But this one WAS Fleck's fault. We warmed up fine and the course was a fun course. Our kind of course! We head in and jump the first oxer and start the bendy line. I felt Fleck start to drop his shoulder two strides out and I corrected it one stride out and..... then I guess I didn't continue to ride and assumed I had fixed it and the goober stopped. So... I'm done. We head back to the warm up ring and of course he jumped around happy as could be. Even at pretty atrocious angles. ARGH!! So yes, I blame Fleck for that one, even though realistically I should not have assumed and have kept riding him. Fleck could have been a nice boy and helped me out on that one though. So whatever!
Luckily the Ark was nice enough to open up the cross country course for schooling after the end of the event. So I put Fleck back and we got the trailer all ready to leave. Then we went out and schooled cross country, which is why we got home at 11:30 Sunday night! I needed to school though. It was kind of like falling off and getting back on. Schooling went well. We had some issues but managed to get over them all and by the end of my ride we were on fire! We even did a few prelim jumps and jumped some stuff on the buckle! Most importantly though, I managed to ride through some ickyness and get the job done instead of wimping out and pulling out.
So it was a good weekend overall. I learned a lot about me and Fleck and adjusted my path for the year. Originally we had plans to try to compete at Training level this year and enter the T3D in November. I realize now, that although I still feel like we were ready to move up, we have some issues. I need to learn how to ride when the going gets tough, not just when it’s flowing well. I need to learn how to get Fleck to focus on me and not worry about the stupid distractions even if he really does think those ducks are appaloosa eating ducks. I need to learn how to jump the scary stuff the first time and not let it take two tries. I need to learn how to grab my “oh crap”strap and not throw my hands up above his ears when I get nervous. I need to learn how to not land in a heap and immediately pull up on the reins, instead if I land in a heap I should put my legs on and sit up and continue on to the next jump. I need to learn how to not trust that Fleck will jump just because I love him and think he’s awesome! He is awesome, but he’s also a butt sometimes! And I need to focus more on jumping instead of just on dressage. I really do think that part of the reason we had the issues we had this weekend were just because we are amateurs. He was green at training level and I was green at training level. I have a great coach! We do great in dressage and take consistent dressage lessons - which is paying off as we were 7th after dressage. BUT, we need to focus more on jumping. Very rarely will I take a jump lesson because I want to keep working on dressage. I only have two jumps at my house, so I rarely jump at home. I have to haul to places to jump and I will, but not nearly as often as I should. While I did school a lot of cross country, it had been awhile before this show and I tend to go and school without a coach. I realize now that I need to really be a three phase rider and focus on all three phases. Now that the jumps are getting bigger and scarier, I need to really ride to them. So I have altered my goals for this year. Not saying that if we get our act together and qualify I won’t do the T3D, but it is no longer my goal for this year. Next year – YES! But this year I am going to work on getting as comfortable at Training as I was at Novice. At Novice if the jumps were icky, I was comfortable and confident enough to ride through it. I want to get that at Training level before I go out in competition again. I will focus more on my jumping and take cross country lessons!
And I want to leave you with this picture taken by Kathy Olivier, a wonderful woman who was very helpful this weekend, so that you don’t have a bad taste of Fleck in your mouth. I really do love my horse and don’t want to have people think of him as the horse that was eliminated in his first recognized training. Think of him as the goofy Appaloosa who tried his best but let the Appy eating ducks get the best of him, the horse who would have done fine had he had a less green less nervous rider on board, and the horse who will be my lifetime horse, partner, and most of all, friend, no matter what happens. He can do Training level and so can I! And we will, after a bit more practice and a bit more confidence building.

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