HITS Culpeper: Winston National

Second show is in the books! And we have ribbons!!! You all know that I love my pony no matter what, but I will admit that coming home with some ribbons feels darn good. Here’s the recap:

Friday:

Got there bright and early to walk my 0.90m course that would be running in the GP. We decided to use this as a warmup to see what kind of horse I’d have under me- always a well behaved horse, but energy levels do vary. Of course I showed up and Francis was lying down for a nap.

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FIVE MORE MINUTES MAHM

But that must’ve been super restorative, because homeboy was LIT. Between the warmup and then our 0.90m round, I was basically grabbing mane and steering at jumps while he jumped the course like it was 1.20m. I’m actually not joking, he was a full 2′ above the rails. I can tell, you think I’m exaggerating. I’m not.

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I know it’s blurry, but I’m sure you can see that top rail. And then if you scroll up about 10′, there’s Francis.

This was definitely the most “up” Frankie has ever been and IT WAS SO MUCH FUN. Holy moly apparently someone told Francis that he’s supposed to be a big fiery jumper and he was like OK SURE SOUNDS GREAT and went for it.

I do think part of that is because the lighting in the GP ring is kinda weird early in the morning and the jumps are harder to see. So he jumped super big juuuust to make sure he cleared them.

Sadly we had one unlucky rail on the very last fence, which put us out of the ribbons (with about 30 people in the class, you really had to go clear for a ribbon). So we went and let Frankie take a break while I learned my next course for the first class of my Low division at 1.0m.

And he promptly decided to take another nap.

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Clearly horse shows really stress him out and he can’t relax.

Our Low class was a liiiittle less ON FIRE, but still definitely powering around. Pics:

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Aww he’s actually picking his feet up!
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OK buddy, the jump is down there
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Cutie over the oxer!
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But seriously Francis what height do you think you’re supposed to be jumping?

We had one rail in this class, but we were fast enough to earn our very first ribbon together!!!!

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I was ecstatic
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Frankie was more curious as to why I would hold something up to his face that he couldn’t actually eat

So overall, Friday was a blast. We got to go in the big Grand Prix ring, my horse was ON IT, and we earned our first ribbon as a team in our division.

Saturday:

Saturday we just had a single power and speed class. Course here:

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I gotta say, I really liked this course. Very straightforward when you break it down- outside line, diagonal line, bending line, outside line, around the end, rollback, across the middle, around the end. To anyone who wonders how to remember jumper courses- this is how. Your related options will always be an outside line, broken line, diagonal line, or something like that. Your unrelateds will be rollbacks, S-turns, or end jumps. That basic concept is to get from one end of the ring to the other a couple times using these combinations. Becomes a lot easier to remember when you think about it this way.

I digress. I could write a whole post about remembering jumper courses.

This was definitely our best course of the weekend. Frankie had settled down a little bit and was listening better- not that he wasn’t listening on Friday, but he felt much more responsive to my aids on Saturday. We tend to struggle with related distances- life is hard when you have a 14′ stride- but he sat back for me (most of the time) and waited to fit it in.

And for the very first time together, we made it to the speed round!!! We had one single rail in that phase because I let him get a little flat and up on it, but I was literally fist pumping as I left the ring. Because we made it to the jump off. I’m grinning just thinking about it. Here’s some pics:

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Bein’ super cute out of the first line. Those ears!
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Launching out of the broken and being ADORABLE ABOUT IT
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Ugh literally the cutest little donkey that’s ever existed on the planet
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Coming out of a one stride LIKE A BOSS

I was really pleased because combos were something we struggled with at Loudoun. Not that he didn’t like them or struggled to get out, but I didn’t support enough with my leg and they were a little messy. So to be able to ride in strongly and then ride out strongly almost every time was a big improvement that I was very happy with. It was something I was focusing on doing better, and we did better. Boom.

This lovely course got us another ribbon! In a different color!

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MAHM STILL CAN’T EAT THIS YOU HAVE TO STOP

Just the one course on Saturday, then hanging out with the gang and cheering on our superstar junior.

Sunday:

Francis was definitely more tired by the time we reached Sunday. We had a good warmup, but he was taking much more leg than usual and needed more support from me. Our first class was another power and speed:

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Nothing crazy here. I really didn’t like where jump 5 was set because it forced you super deep in that corner of the ring and there wasn’t any way to get from 4 to 5 except touring around the whoooole end of the ring. Not the best course design for a jumper class. We did end up having a rail or two because I wasn’t as present with my leg as I needed to be, so I elected to take a wider turn off the combo at 6a-b around to 7- I had originally planned to go inside the end jump and shave some time off. But with two rails down, I decided to play it safe and try for clear the rest of the power phase since I wouldn’t make it to the speed.

I’m glad I made this choice, because it got us another 5th! I’m just glad that I’m finally getting to the point where I can ACTUALLY MAKE DECISIONS ON COURSE INSTEAD OF JUST POINTING MY HORSE AT JUMPS AND HOPING FOR THE BEST.

Even though I still do that a lot.

We had about an hour break before the last class of our division, the speed round:

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Another fairly straightforward course. Annnnd we went and read Braille around it. Again, I needed to be much more present and supportive than I was, since Francis was getting tired. I’m used to him kinda pulling me to the jumps, and this time I really had to push him up. It’s a matter of me adjusting more quickly to the horse I’m on in that moment instead of assuming he’s the same day-to-day.

Enough to get us 8th though! There weren’t a lot of clear rounds.

I can’t tell which pics are from which course, so here’s some Sunday pics:

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Sweet little feets!
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Coming in for a landing!
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This is how I know that any rails we have are due to rider error- when I set him up properly, this is how he jumps. NOWHERE NEAR THE RAILS.

So overall we won a ribbon in every class of our division! They may not be primary colors yet, but it was an IMMENSE improvement over our first show at Loudoun.

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Geldings love pink

Side note: you may have noticed that I’m wearing my coat on  both Saturday and Sunday. “But Olivia, I thought you loved that you don’t have to dress up as much for the jumpers?!” Why yes, you are correct. But Trainer said that a lot of the serious people tend to dress for their division classes, to which I responded, “I’d like to pretend to be serious.” We always joke that with looks you’re halfway there, but I think there’s a lot of truth to it. I may not be winning my division (yet), but I can go in there looking like I give a damn. Because I do.

Coming out of the ring from my last class, my trainer told me that she wasn’t worried about me anymore. That now she knows I can make it around the ring, and we can focus on fine-tuning and addressing some of the finer points. We’re not just discussing how to get from point A to point B, we’re talking about the inside turns and where we can shave off time. She told me it was “leaps and bounds” from where we were two months ago (no pun intended). And she mentioned that next year the plan is to do the Highs. So clearly she thinks it’s something we’ll be capable of when the time comes.

I also can’t end this post without giving a HUGE shoutout to both of my trainers. They kept us all organized, made sure we were where we needed to be when we needed to be there, and pushed and encouraged us all weekend long. The last thing Trainer said every single time I walked in the ring was, “Go have fun.” They truly worked their tails off to make sure we were equipped to go out there and answer the questions that the courses asked of us.

I couldn’t be happier or prouder of my boy- he was a true gentleman all weekend and gave me everything I asked for. Despite this being only his second show, he was the definition of a packer! He trailered there and back without a fuss, settled into his stall, took naps, got baths, jumped the jumps in several rings, went for walks, grazed, and did everything I asked with zero fuss.

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In fact, our whole barn did great!

Soooo I know that I said I can’t afford to show at the end of September. And it’s not so much that I lied. Buuuuut. I gotta. I just gotta. I’ll be talking to Trainer tomorrow about figuring out a way to get there. I’d love to make it out one last time before we go on hiatus for the winter. My bank account is sweating nervously.

This has been a monster post, so congrats for making it to the end! Short version: huge improvement over our first show, Francis continues to be the absolute coolest, and I love horse shows.

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Chapter 6: Our First Rated Show at HITS Culpeper

Hello beautiful people.

I would apologize deeply for my radio silence (yet again) by exclaiming that I’ve been sick as a dog, crazy busy at work, and just plain lazy, but you don’t need to hear that. (I’m feeling much better despite the lingering cough, work is still busy but I’m learning how to manage it, and I gave myself a kick in the ass to get movin’.)

You’re here to hear about our first rated show! And if you’re not, then too bad because that’s what I’m talking about today. Get with it.

I had my lesson last Wednesday thinking very positive thoughts: it didn’t matter that I was sick and exhausted and couldn’t take a full deep breath! My pony would take care of me! It’s fine that I accidentally took the drowsiness-inducing meds before hopping on! Beastly is a saint!

I’m formally removing my petition to have the Big White Unicorn canonized. Not that she was bad, but she is definitely the type of horse to get her confidence and gumption from her rider. When said rider is flopping around barely conscious and alternately flapping the reins/pulling at her face? Yeah, she’s not going over any of those jumps.

I’m surprised I didn’t fall off, because she ducked out HARD so many times. A couple were dirty stops where she was being lazy, but the majority was me not sticking to me guns. We eventually ended on a good note, but that was probably our worst ride to date.

I was feeling SUPER not ready to show on Friday. All my trainer could tell me was that “you have to have a bad dress rehearsal before the real thing.” Somehow that didn’t seem super comforting.

But Thursday I had a great school where I basically rode Addy in circles til she was sleepy, gave her a nice bath, prepped everything, and went to bed at 9pm.

Friday was show day! Up at 4am and at the barn by 4:45am. Beastly had naturally slept in her poop, so we got to re-do the bath from Thursday. She then got to run around the indoor for a while to get the beans out of her system (thank goodness, she was tearing around in there like crazy). She loaded on the trailer like she does it every day, and we were off! I actually really need to get a video of her loading, she turns herself around and backs right into the narrow slot like one of those self-parking cars. She’s such a champ.

Once there, we got checked in at the show office, used the permanent bathrooms (not porta-potties! So classy!), and went to walk the course. Bonus side of long legs: course walking is my normal stride, not big goofy steps. The course was really cool- none of the turns were that crazy, some cool combos, and nothing was too spooky.

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The power phase started up the diagonal oxer, right turn down the single and continue out the gate, up the two-stride, down the diagonal line in 5, up the one-stride to six out. Then if you were clear the speed phase started, and it continued to the end oxer, rollback over the blue waves, left to go quarter-line bending out over the gold, rollback again over the blue waves, then hard right to end over the same jump as the power phase.

At least in theory. We had a great warmup, but I was still nervous going into our first class. My girl picked up on that, and we had a stop at the third fence and again at the in of the one stride. Not dirty stops, but I was staring at the jumps. So she said “OOH what’re we looking at?!” And stopped so she could see too. Womp womp. Note to self: we are not trying to get to the jump, we are trying to get over the jump. Stop staring at the jump.

So for the second round I grabbed a crop, they put spurs on me, and we changed the way I rode. We’re always holding her back and trying to keep the control, but we threw that out the window this time (to a certain extent…I still wanted control). The goal was to get the momentum going and have her carry me to the jumps so that stopping would just be too difficult. I was to let go of her face, guide with my legs, and let my horse do her goshdarn job.

And wouldn’t you know, when I got out of her way and encouraged her forward, my pony LOVES her job. She was thundering around with her ears pricked and I could feel her hunting down the next jump! We completed the power phase clear and continued straight on to the speed phase- we was one bobble at the first rollback where I didn’t set her up and she didn’t see the jump early enough so we had to circle and come back at it. We then finished off the rest of the course on a big huge step, which was crazy fun. I was beaming when I left the ring!

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Still beaming like an idiot ten minutes later. No, the bay is not a pony. Addy is just a very big girl.

Even with our circle, we got around 48 seconds in the speed phase- the winner was around 41 seconds, so we weren’t that far off! I think if we hadn’t circled we would’ve been in the ribbons for sure.

I had the option to do one more class, but I called it a day after that. I was feeling great, Addy was feeling great, and I want her to associate these shows with getting to have fun doing what she loves best- jumping over colorful sticks. So we only did the 2’ and the 2’7”. Big step back in height, but huge step forward in learning how to communicate.

We then spent several hours hand grazing before she got to take a nap on the trailer, I did some shopping (bought a pair of breeches that I didn’t really need, but I reeeeally wanted them so close enough), and we watched AT totally beast the TB hunter division. I also spent way too much money getting one of the pro pics of us in the 2’ division. It was stupid expensive and the jump was super tiny, but I wanted a memento of our very first big show together. I’ll share it when it comes in!

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Addy liked watching the Grand Prix ring. She told me she wants to do that next show.

All in all, it was an incredible day. The hustle and bustle of the showgrounds, the feeling of being in the big jumper ring, getting to hang out with my pony all day, and every single other thing about it was amazing. Would I have loved a ribbon? Obviously. I don’t pay all this money without some hope of recognition. But I wouldn’t trade a single part of that day because holy moly we learned SO MUCH.

A few takeaways:

  1. Let go of her face! Picking and picking and pulling is never the answer. Have enough feel to guide, but push her up into the bridle instead of pulling.
  2. Forward is good. It’s not what we look for in the hunter ring, but it will save our butts in the jumper ring. Let her turn into that snowplow and beast around the course. She’s naturally careful, stop worrying about that as much.
  3. Carry a stick and use it on the approach. Not necessarily hard, but just as a reminder that yes horse, you do have to go over this obstacle. She likes the reassurance that I’m up there and paying attention too.
  4. Get in the rumble seat. Forget that hunter half-seat. Forget that equitation perch. Get my ass in the saddle, sit up, sit deep, and drive. It’s ok to get left behind a little bit at this height- focus on getting the horse over the jump. This is not a horse that needs some minor steering, this is a horse that needs me to be in the driver’s seat during every stride.
  5. Deep breaths! Every so often I made a point to breathe and smile on course. It made a world of difference keeping me and the beast relaxed and having fun.

So there you have it. We survived our first rated show and LOVED every second of it. Addy didn’t blink an eye at all the craziness going on- loudspeakers, buzzers, 120398 horses up her butt in the warmup ring, tractors across the street, anything. Beast mare don’t care. Time to start saving my pennies so we can go to more!

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Forever kisses

PS- I’m super bummed that I have no videos of either of my rounds. I would’ve loved to look back and review how we did!

Olivia, you ride a strong horse.

Lesson recap time!

Since the Beast has been making a habit of dragging me around over fences in our last couple lessons, I decided to pop the Pelham in for our lesson yesterday. Ain’t no way I was dealing with that crap any more.

We had a nice warmup WTC, lots of no stirrup work (ow) and lots of work on extending and collecting our canters. I focused on sitting deep in my saddle and squeezing her up into the bridle to attempt to get her to soften into the collection. Definitely a work in progress, but being able to engage that curb rein when she got strong helped a lot. I also made a point of making Addy wait until I gave her the cue to canter. Picking up my reins, changing direction, going around a corner: none of these are cues to canter. She’s gotten much better at waiting instead of anticipating, so I’m going to have to stay consistent with that.

On to jumping! We trotted over a crossrail a couple times and this went surprisingly well- she didn’t try to launch over it, just trotted nicely to the base and cantered away. Very civilized. Then we started building up a course:

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Our first was: A-B-C-D-E. Up the stone wall, down the other stone wall/oxer, up the quarter line, and down the oxer. Lots of long approaches!

I was pretty happy with this- Beastly got a little strong in places and took some flyers, but overall was fairly responsive. The quarter line was set to a long 3/short 4, so I just let her open her stride a bit more and carry me for the 3.

We played around with different combos of that for a while, and then gave this course a try: H-F-G-B-C-D-G-B-A. Pink outside vertical towards home, up the outside line in 4, down the stone wall, up the quarter line, down the outside line in 4, up the other stone wall.

Honestly I’m 99% sure we had another course in there somewhere but I already forget so we’ll focus on this. Our first attempt at the first jump was a launcher from downtown because Unicorn got super psyched about it, so we came around and started again. She still got psyched, but we got to a much more reasonable distance. We had to hold a bit going up the outside line because it was set for a short-ish 4, but it wasn’t so bad going away from home. We got nice and close coming down the stone wall, made a nice turn to the quarter line, and recovered our canter nicely around the short end coming to the outside line. This was really tough to fit the 4 in because we were heading towards home, and took a couple tries for me to get it without resorting to the pulley rein, but we got there. Then we got nice and close to the base going up the other stone wall too.

Phew! Overall, I was super happy with this course. It definitely had some sticky moments, but I felt like I was calling the shots instead of climbing up Addy’s neck and hoping she wouldn’t take a flyer. I’ve been really bad about tipping my upper body forward and getting light in the saddle lately. This works in the hunters. This works for lots of horses. This does NOT work on a big ol’ draft cross who gets REALLY excited about jumping. I made a point to sit up, sit deep, keep my leg on, and close my hand to make her wait to the base. Thrusting my hips a little forward and using my core as an anchor made a world of difference in getting Addy’s attention: I finally felt like she was cantering under me and ready to go where I asked instead of carrying me around and occasionally checking to see if I was doin’ OK up there.

My trainer seemed happy with how I rode this too- she liked the quality of our canter between jumps, and was super happy that we waited to the base instead of leaving the stride out. That’s exactly what we want for the jumpers! Pretty Girl has a huge step, so I never want to be that team galloping around trying to make time. We don’t need to do that. If I can get Beastly packaged up under me, we can be efficient with our turns and careful with our jumps. The time will take care of itself if I give my girl a good ride. It was also pretty gratifying because my trainer said to me, “Olivia, you ride a STRONG horse. She will drag you around if you let her. You didn’t let her in that course, and even though it wasn’t perfect, you made the best decisions you could make based on what you had to work with.” I’m still cheesin’ about that one. Addy definitely has been challenging me a lot lately, but I’m so excited that I’ve been able to keep up and continue progressing. I definitely feel like a much stronger rider than I was a couple months ago.

In other exciting news, Beastly and I are going to our first ever rated show!! I’m pretty sure it’ll be her first ever rated show, and my first in roughly 10 years. We’ll be trailering in to HITS Culpeper for one day and doing two jumper classes- level 0 and level 1 (0.8m and 0.9m). I was a little disappointed because I so badly wanted to do the Low Adults (1m) but Trainer made a very good point- this is Addy’s first rated show, and we want to create a good experience for her and not overwhelm her. Does she have the scope for 1m? Absolutely. But there’s going to be so much going on, we’d rather keep the jumps a little lower and have this be a confidence booster for her. We have all the time in the world to move up. I’m glad my trainer reminded me of this, because my tendency is to kinda rush into things. It’s hard to remember that my pretty pony is VERY green when it comes to shows! Anyways, I’d love any advice that y’all have for surviving the jumper ring at HITS.

In even MORE exciting news, I have a brand new pair of Pipers thanks to Allison from Pony’tude!!! They’re in such a cool (discontinued) color and I’m always thrilled to add to my collection. I’ve got a big Smartpak post coming up soon where I talk about all the gear I’ve gotten recently, so keep an eye out for that!

I’ve got another lesson this afternoon, so get pumped for yet another lesson recap tomorrow. Get into it. It’ll be awesome.