Saturday, January 7, 2012

Training Three Day: Check!

Thursday, October 28, 2010
So... Fleck and I have been aiming to run a T3D since I realized what one was :) Probably at least 4 years ago. We did our homework, we joined the Long Format Club, we got fitter, and we got our 4 qualifiying scores in. We then picked a date and place and set forth to really getting fit. I knew it would be a journey, but wow...what a ride!!!
It's funny because everyone always says "the long format helped their horse", and "it really enforces the bond between horse and rider", and "it takes an army of people to help make sure it all runs smoothly" and "you really get to know your horse". And.. well, I didn't quite believe them. I mean, sure.... but I already know my horse... we already share an incredible bond, and quite frankly... I was a little terrified about him becoming more forward on XC after steeplechasing! But you know... I found all those thoughts to be true after all. Going from riding 4-5 times a week to riding 6-7 days a week did make a difference in our relationship. Sure, some days he wasn't pleased to see me, but most days he was ready for work. The long hacks gave me time to chat with him because, well... what else was I going to do during a 2 hour trail ride by myself. It also probably increased our bond and his trust in me being out by ourselves more. We often hacked by ourselves, but... this just increased the bond and his trust in me because every time was another time that nothing bad happened to him. And yes.. I knew Fleck.. but I now know Fit Fleck! And he's a little bit of a different animal. It was a little funny at first because he wasn't all snorty or spooky and honestly, it kinda made me sad. In my mind I wanted the fire breathing super fit long format horse. But you know... that's just not Fleck. He's a good ol' boy and a big puppy dog. However... the week before we left...not so much! He hit his peak fitness that week and man did he start breathing fire! Our two hour walk trail ride turned into a 45 minute straight trotting ride with a bit of a gallop and then some walking. Not because I asked, but because he asked! And the deer that used to cause only a start were now fire breathing Appaloosa eating deer that made him stand on his toes and dance and dance. I couldn't help but bust out laughing. Partly out of sheer joy that my horse was that fit and electric and alive and partly because I was a little bit worried I was going to get bucked off!!! And that's NOT a normal feeling on Fleck...ever! But luckily his Appaloosa brains prevailed and for the most part, he was alive and electric but not stupid. It was a great feeling! And aside from knowing fit Fleck.. we did get to know each other a little better. I became much more in tune with his mood and even his soundness. We worked so hard to get there, by golly, I was watching him like a hawk to make sure he stayed sound and happy. And...yes, it does take a village. I could have never have made it without everyone's support and help. Yes, my farrier is awesome, but he stepped up to the plate and really went above and beyond to make sure Flecky kept his feet together and looking good. And my vets... my wonderful vets! I'm sure they were as sick of hearing from me as Fleck was ;) But we got him feeling his best and ready to perform his best. And then when the inevitable issues sprang up... super vets to the rescue. Then there was the cheerleaders and friends. Those who helped talked me down when I was freaking out, those who rode on those long fitness rides with me, those who encouraged me when I was not quite motivated, and those who just lived vicariously through us and made it all that much more special! And I can't forget the trainers. We worked so hard on everything.. not just the dressage, but the jumping, the fitness, and the details. Even how to make my braids prettier! I got help with my fitness routine and moral support and encouragement. And last but not least.. the husband! He put up with my long hours in the saddle, sacrificing housework and husband time, because we had to ride and get fit! And that's not even counting the wonderful people who made it all happen once we got there!!! My supergroom who took such wonderful care of me and Fleck, my friends that helped partake in the journey with me, the volunteers who went above and beyond to help out in the B and D boxes, the volunteers who put the show on despite having just gone through WEG, and Dorothy Crowell, who donated so much time and energy to helping us through it.... The list of people required to make this happen really is a long list. So yes.. it really does take a village! And finally... the long format does make your horse a better horse! Fleck and I had a blast on steeplechase and sure.. our first few cross country fences were a little bit like steeplechase, but then he settled down and was a dream! He was more rideable and just really jumped beautifully for me. And it also helped make me a better rider. I was able to back off when needed, and when Fleck needed some extra support, I was right there to give it. And while he's always been perhaps a bit too forward on XC, he was actually more forward to the jumps but in a sane listening way. It was great!! So yep.. believe what everyone says!
So to get to the details now about the actual event itself! Which... while we got there on Tuesday and stayed til Monday, was really such a short part of the journey! But it was the climax I had hoped it would be! We had a little bit of a scare the week before we left where Fleck was ouchy but luckily with some rest and time, he healed up nicely in time. So we stuck to our original plan on leaving Tuesday morning and I quite surprised myself by only being an hour and a half late! We picked up our supergroom Peri and our friend Kerry and her horse Chase and headed north. It was a long but beautiful drive. The leaves were changing colors and we had nice sunshiney weather. We arrived and got the ponies settled and took them for a walk to stretch their legs. And how cool was it that we got to walk them on the WEG and Rolex course!!! I had picked the Hagyard MidSouth T3D to go to and that was at the Kentucky Horse Park, which means... we played on the same cross country course as all those greats on it a few weeks prior. They had watered the WEG path because of the lack of rain, so Fleck even got to graze on WEG grass ;)

Anyways, Wednesday morning the education part of the T3D started. The Training Three Day is an awesome event because it's not just a horse trail with roads and tracks. It's a hybrid of education and competing! Wonderful funny Dorothy Crowell and super smart Dr. Duncan Peters of Hagyard Equine Hospital had donated their time to help us out and provide us with educational information too. It was fantastic! So the inital arrival meeting involved meeting them and a quick discussion of the long format and it's goals. You could tell Dorothy was a huge supporter of the long format as she was very animated about it, in addition to the sacrifice she made in helping us out. We then had a practice jog where Dorothy showed us how to do it and let us each practice. It's not as easy as it looks folks! But Dorothy had some great tips and we all felt much less nervous about the official jog in the morning. After that it was a quick lunch and then the in barn inspections. This is basically a baseline veterinary exam to make sure the horses are all healthy. But it allows for the vets to make note of any initial issues. With that done, we cleaned tack, grazed the horses, and then set out for a quick hack to find the dressage rings. Fleck was full of fire and ready to go since he had a few days off prior! It was fun. The Kentucky Horse Park is such a beautiful place and our short hack to the dressage rings was fun too. Then at 5:30 pm we had another meeting. This one was with Dorothy and Dr. Peters and we discussed before and after care of the event horse. It was all pretty much stuff I knew, but that made me feel good. Both agreed that we shouldn't change our routine just because everyone else is doing it and that sometimes we can do too much. In other words... too much soaking and icing can soften the hoof wall and soles and make them more sore. But if your horse has a known problem, then we definitely want to be proactive. Dr. Duncan is a fan of poulticing and believes it really helps. As does Dorothy... as she has even used it on herself. We also discussed feeding. The basic thought is to decrease the grain before a cross country run because of the sugar spikes. The general recommendation is no grain 4-5 hours before the start box. However, Dorothy said she feeds a small meal in the morning if it's an earlyish ride instead of depriving them completely of grain. As far as hay goes, you don't want them overloaded, but hay can increase thirst and anything we can do to get them and keep them drinking is beneficial. And speaking of drinking, I'll say it again...let them drink as much as they want as soon as they are done! It is an old wives tale that you shouldn't let them drink cold water immediately after exercise. That is when their thirst is the greatest and we have the best chance of getting them to drink. And oral fluids are so much more effective than IV fluids. So... let them drink! And grazing is another good way to get water into them as grass is about 95% water. The other thing mentioned that I thought was important is to do lots of grooming and massage. Currying is a great way to help them feel good, get the muscles warm, and find out any areas of tension. And then... let them rest! They need their beauty sleep too.

Thursday morning was a not quite so early morning and we were able to enjoy our free hotel breakfast. We then had a competitor briefing which went over some of the concerns particular to the competion. Then we ran back to the barn and braided our ponies. Then it was back to another meeting. This one was about how to ride the roads and tracks part and we also walked steeplechase. How exciting!!! But man, were those steeplechase jumps big looking. The meeting was very helpful as the roads and tracks part is the confusing part. It was explained in detail about how to ride it, how to set your watches, and where to go. And the steeplechase course walk was great too because we metered out the distances and we could hang duct tape on the ropes to use as markers! And it's not illegal :) Although Dorothy pointed out we'd be going awfully fast and may not have time to look at our meter markers. Wheeee! After that it was another mad dash back to the barn to get the horses cleaned up for the First Official Jog!! Fleck was a good boy despite being a little too enthusiastic and almost running me down! We looked all pretty and got to hear "Accepted"!

Then we had a quick lunch and then tacked up for the steeplechase school! I almost didn't do it because the ground was so hard but I figured that I couldn't turn down the opportunity and we'd be taking it easy anyways knowing the ground was hard, so.. we did it! And man was it fun! Dorothy had us gallop a stretch to get up to speed and then jump a triple bar she had set up. All in my group, Cindy on Perry and our new friend Ellen on her horse Joe and another nice girl, all did it fine. Then she had us jump the real steeplechase jump. WOW!!! So much fun!!! Fleck was all fired up and I was too! We wanted to do it again, but nope... we had to wait another two days. So we went for a hack and then untacked and grazed. Then at 5 pm we had the cross country walk with Dorothy! (Told you she went above and beyond with her time). The course was pretty straight forward. Lots of uphill jumps, some downhill jumps, and really nothing too technical. There was only one jump that really scared me on the course. The rest... really not exciting or scary looking. The one that scared me was at the second water. We had to drop in to the water and then head out over a fairly large log that was set in the water. Fleck and I have done water to water jumps before, although this one was barely water to water.. it was more water to half-land/half-water, but.. it was big. And for some reason bothered me. Anyways, Dorothy explained to us that at some point in the course our horses will likely get "jelly legs". Jelly legs are where the horse starts to feel the strain of just having trotted for 16 minutes on A, then jumped steeplechase, then trotted and walked for 26 minutes, and then is now out on cross country. At some point, they get tired and land a bit wobby and weak. She explained that at this point, it was our job to help them out a bit by supporting them a tad more. Otherwise, the course should ride pretty much like our normal cross country course aside from a few horses that might think they are still on steeplechase for the first few fences. Ahem coughcoughFleckcoughcough.

Finally Friday morning dawned and the competition began! Fleck and I had a fairly early dressage ride at 9:44. And it was the coldest morning that week. BRRRR!!! I was freezing! Luckily Fleck got bathed the day or two before and stayed clean so we just had to rebraid and groom and clean his feet. I got on and got him warmed up with the help of Cindy. He felt pretty dang good! We went in and started our test and I only had a small moment of panic. There was two judges and the head judge stayed standing until I started my turn. In my brain I thought "halt and salute" and he'll sit down and then thought... "but not in eventing dressage'! so I panicked a bit as I kept trotting and listened for the whistle. Nope, just a really polite judge. So we continued on and had what felt like our best test to date! Sure, there were problems. He was still haunches in at the canter to the right. And then the canter to the left, which is our better side... I got that nice lovely canter that he gets just before he breaks... and then we broke to the trot. Doh! We immediately picked it back up but the damage was done. Our lengthens really felt lovely at the trot as he really started to push. But when he did that, it became very obvious that he's so much weaker in his right hind and the pushing was uneven. Our leg yields were lovely and his free walk was great! We came out feeling pretty dang proud of ourselves. But alas... the judges weren't quite as pleased as us. We scored a 43.9. But that's okay... I am still proud of Fleck for trying and doing all I asked. As the day went on the scores got better so my ranking dropped and dropped throughout the division. When everyone had ridden we ended up in 23rd place. Out of 34. Doh! But still, not last :) After a breather, we tacked up again and hacked the horses along the roads and tracks paths so we knew where to go. It was great and was definitely starting to make sense now :) Then at 6pm we had yet another rider meeting and then our "Team Building" meeting. This was where we figured out who did what on endurance day. There were three lovely volunteers who were pro's and offered to help us all in the Vet box, which was oh so helpful. So we got that straightened out and then I had Dorothy go over the watches and their timing again once more and then it was time for one more graze and bed!

Saturday was much much warmer than Friday and we were pysched to get going on the endurance phase. Nervous, but psyched! I had everything all ready to go and finally it was time to go. I kept telling myself "It's just a trail ride" to help keep myself calm. And it was! With some really fun stuff added in. Fleck and I started out on phase A, which is basically 14-16 minutes of trotting. We started out a bit drunkenly because Fleck was looking for some friends, but we managed to go through all of the gates (Flag markers to keep us all on the same path and make sure we all went the same distance) and timed our arrival at the start of B about perfectly. Peri checked us and made sure we were all set and then it was off to the steeplechase start box.
 WHOO HOOO!!! Fleck was so excited he could hardly wait, but they finally announced 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and have a great ride and we were off! Fleck shot off and we flew to the first fence and rounded the turn to the second. The second fence was probably the best fence EVER!!!! He launched over it in perfect stride and we just felt like we were in the air for eons. I had to stop myself from fist pumping, but couldn't resist letting out a yahoo!! We then flew down the path and changed leads and flew around to the next fence. Fleck took that turn a little wide so we sorta jumped fence three icky, but we recovered and soared over fence 4! I realized after fence 1 that I hit the wrong button on my watch, so I had no idea what our time was. But it was obviously faster than the 520 mpm allowed because we had no time penalties! Fleck and I both loved phase B! Fleck proved it because as we hit the finish line there was a patch of gravel that had filled in a hole and Fleck jumped that too! Yeehaw!

So then it was on to phase C. We didn't make much of a pit stop but continued on our way. Pat, superwoman of the D box, explained that the whole point to phases A, B, and C were to warm the horse up best for cross country. So by doing a long trot before steeplechase, then steeplechasing, then doing a cool down after and then going cross country, our horses were best prepared. After steeplechase there was a build up of lactic acid, so the best way to cool them down and reduce the lactic acid load, was to do a gentle canter/gallop off the finish line, and then as they relaxed into it, come down to the trot. Pat said that most horses will trot for a bit and then when they hit their "easy rolling trot" they usually sigh and visibly relax. That is the point where homeostasis has been restored. So that was my plan.. easy canter after the finish line, then trot til Fleck relaxed, and then do some walking. We stuck to that plan, although the whole walking part was not quite what Fleck was interested in. He was anxious to keep trotting and find his friends again and get on to some more jumping! We managed to walk over the section of really hard ground, but trotted the majority of the way. I figured it was better to trot happily than fight him the whole way. So we ended up in the D box a little earlier than necessary but it worked out well.

Fleck was cleared and I got back on and headed to the start box and on we went! Fleck flew over the first three jumps in steeplechase mode. We even veered way off the path and had to realign to fence 4, which was a really cool A-frame trakenher. He jumped that great and then we jumped the corner smoothly and then started on the uphill jumps. Fleck was cruising but listening at this point and jumping well. We got to the first water and he was great and then he jumped the sharp turns to the fenceline jumps awesomely! We then cantered down to the second water, which was my buggaboo fence. I think I backed him up a bit too much because he broke to the trot, but jumped right in and then.... I lost my stirrup! Drats!!! Not here... I need my stirrup for that jump out of the water! I managed to barely grab it and poor Fleck jumped that big ol' jump without any help from me. But he jumped it. However, when he landed he felt a little jelly legged. I thought it may have been because of my stirrup issues but at the next fence, he also landed a little wobbly almost. I totally get what Dorothy meant because that's exactly what it felt like! It was like all of a sudden he was just a bit weak and wobbly. Nothing to the point of having to pull up or anything! Just that feeling that he probably felt like I feel sometimes when I run and it starts to burn a bit. So I took a little bit more of a hold on the reins, added a bit more secure leg and helped him. And man did it work! He jumped the table to trakenher on the bendy line great and then galloped on nicely balanced to the downhill coop and onto the coffin. We slowed down a bit because of it too, but still were doing okay on time. After the coffin we only had two fences left and Fleck also jumped those nicely and we crossed the finish line just a few seconds under optimum. Whoo hoo!!!

Fleck got vetted and untacked and within less than 10 minutes he was grazing and calm. We got the all clear to head back to the barns, but waited for Cindy and Ellen so we had company. We walked back and took our time, letting the good boys graze! All three of us went clean :) Back at the barn Fleck got iced, walked and iced again and then I put him in his stall for some quiet time. We grazed again and his legs were tight and cool, so we poulticed and put him to bed. Oh, and on the way out we checked the scoreboard and Fleck and I had moved up to 17th :)

Sunday morning was an early morning as we had the final jog at 10 am. That meant I had to braid Fleck, hose the poultice off his legs, groom him, and change into my jog outfit. We got there with plenty of time until they notified us that they had changed the jog to about 9 am. EEEKS!! We made a mad dash and managed to get ready in time, but poor Fleck didn't get any grazing or walking before hand. Luckily it didn't matter and he passed the jog easily. After that he got to graze and he was happy. We then had to distract ourselves until about 2:30 when our stadium started. It wasn't easy, but we managed. Finally it was time to warm up. We headed to the rings and started to trot around to loosen Fleck up. He was a little stiff to the right so we worked on that. Because of the pounding his feet took yesterday, I didn't want to do too much jumping, especially since stadium is not normally an issue for us. We jumped a cross rail and then headed to the big vertical and ... stopped!!! Doh!! I totally got carried away and nervous and threw myself at it, so I apologized to Fleck and tried again and he was fine. Then we jumped the oxer and continued to walk him and stretch him out. Finally it was our turn! Deep breath.... We went in, saluted to the judge... figured out how to get a good approach and cantered on. Fleck jumped beautifully!!!! It was one of our best stadium rounds ever! He was forward but not speedy and jumping lovely. He did the bendy line oh so lovely and didn't even blink at the liverpool. Then fence 5 was a bunch of small boxes painted to look like those toy blocks with letters on them. I felt him back off so I tapped him with the crop once and forward he went. He jumped the double beautifully and then around to the other double just as beautifully!! I was sooooooooo proud of us!!! We had just finished the T3D on our dressage score with no penalties on cross country or stadium. Unfortunately our dressage score wasn't quite good enough to get us in the ribbons but we moved up to 13th place.

Fleck got a nice long graze and more grazing and then we went to dinner to celebrate! Since it was so late we decided to leave the next morning and not have to arrive home at 2 am. Fleck I think appreciated the sleep and graze the next morning, but was glad to be home. As soon as we unloaded from the trailer he rolled and rolled and then drank and then neighed for his dinner. And he's been enjoying just being a horse for the past few days. He definitely earned his days off.
So yes... Fleck is now officially a long format event horse!! His resume now includes "Completed and finished on his dressage score.. a T3D!". I'm so proud of him. He did everything I asked and then some. He truly is a superstar! I am so glad we took this journey together and now my eyes are set on the Prelim 3 Day! But first things first... prelim ;)

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