Monthly Archives: July 2014

Double Clear XC at Rebecca

Two months ago I had butterflies the size of flying squirrels in my belly as I prepared to ride Cairo in our first horse trials over itty-bitty little starter fences. I was delighted when she didn’t make an attempt to jump out of the dressage arena. Now, only a short time later, we zoomed gleefully through a double clear cross country at the Event at Rebecca and judging from the photos, Cairo would merrily have jumped even higher.

We didn’t finish in the ribbons, but we finished happy and had good rides and a lot of fun, and I’m just blown away at how far my sassy little mare and I have come.

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Hmmm, now to get her to have that same respect for the stadium fences.

Kristine and I got to Rebecca on Tuesday night and pulled in with the Polestar crew. Cairo was a gem. OK mostly. She trailered great — drinking, eating and pooping up a storm — the whole 11 or 12 hours it took us to get to Montana. She attempted to eat not only her hay but Tucker’s too and learned how to open the chest bar in the trailer.

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Tucker is giving her a little side-eye here, but really put up with her antics with great patience.

Schooling Day

Wednesday morning Meika gave me a dressage lesson. To my horror, she handed me a dressage whip to hold parallel between my hands to help keep them up and level. I immediately had flashbacks to trainers past who used all kinds of “tricks” to “help” me while I rode horses that bucked, spun, charged and otherwise misbehaved. Because hell, if you can’t fix the naughty horse, at least you can work on the rider’s equitation, right?

Luckily, Meika’s goal was to actually fix the horse who needed me to be more even and up with hands, as well as my equitation, and it worked beautifully. Thanks to that and to Leslie’s schooling before I left, I got a 7 on rider position, which is the best I’ve had all season.

All the work we did to help Cairo stand up through the shoulder paid off — Meika thought she looked stronger than she had three weeks before at Inavale.

After dressage schooling, we course walked. The course at Rebecca is gorgeous and the  2’11” Novice fences looked solid but fun. From bird fences to a Western town where we jumped the hitching post, the course at Rebecca is lovely.

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Cairo did give this osprey the hairy eyeball, but jumped it with no hesitation.

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The Western town and

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the Indian village were among the cool fences on course.

The day ended, like so many of the good ones at shows do, with whiskey sipping and good conversation.

Show Day

Thursday was our big show day. Rebecca is such a large show that it gets spread over more than the traditional three days, so some did dressage Thursday and the upper divisions competed dressage on Friday. The Novice folks did dressage AND cross country Thursday. My dressage was at 9:54 and I got up early for coffee and a course walk. All was well, hungry Cairo was chomping hay and slurping water and groomed to the nines, until I tried to braid her.

I have Raynaud’s syndrome, and between the cold day and my show nerves, my hands went numb. I was failing dismally at braiding with bloodless fingers when Meika dropped by to put a cool compass rose on Cairo’s butt. Thankfully, she and her working student Fieka stepped in and braided Cairo’s mane and gave her rump some decor.

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(This is actually Tucker’s rump but you get the idea).

Our dressage was good … for us. Cairo had some lovely moments. And she had some “Mooo oom I’m sooooo bored of trotting 20 meter circle” moments. I think she might actually have sneered during our free walk. Her good moments gave me insight to what she can do in the future and her less-than-stellar head tosses and eye rolls led Meika to suggest that Little Miss Thing has gotten bored with dressage and we need to engage her speedy little mind more. Lateral work it is, Leslie told me when I got home and filled her in.

We got a 43.5 and slid into … not quite last place. I didn’t care (much), I just felt excited to be there and feel those good moments … also my xc was at 12:08 so I was more concerned with changing tack and clothes!

Kristine’s dressage was at my xc time, so Letty and another of Meika’s students, Susan, helped me school and they were great. I don’t know who asked “Is it time yet? Can I go NOW?” more often, me or Cairo. We hopped a couple fences and Cairo was ready.

XC was a blast. Cairo was quiet in the startbox and when they said “Go” she struck off into a confident canter to the first fence. I think I was grinning wildly by fence three (that would be the rolltop she’s soaring over in the first picture).

Coming to fence six, which was before a water obstacle she hesitated slightly — it looked at first like you were jumping into water — but she popped over it when I put my leg on. I landed slightly in a heap but Cairo merrily zoomed through the water and up the bank on the other side. I took a second to get oriented,and find fence seven, a ramp. She leaped over that and turned for eight, a little cabin in the trees. I didn’t steer quite how Meika told me to, which resulted in my getting whapped in the face a little by one of the trees. Duly noted: listen to your trainer.

Worried I’d lost a little time during my brain fart, I galloped her a little between the next fences. As it turns out, I was almost a minute under optimum time, so I don’t think I need to worry that I’m slow with Cairo’s big strides! She sloshed through water and happily leaped through the Western town and Indian village. She was still over-jumping at the end, as you can see by this picture of the second-to-last fence.

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The last fence was a train — we jumped the log car while the Advanced riders would later jump the locomotive — and I am just smiling hugely as we sail over it, double clear and we moved up into 15th.

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And I’ll finish the rest of Rebecca tomorrow — it’s time to get away from the computer and go ride Cairo!

Dressage prep

Leslie fit me in for a dressage lesson last night so we could work on those holes that came up at the schooling show Cairo and I went to.

Cairo has come such a long way. My first lesson with Leslie was when I was still trying the mare out and Cairo was not on her best behavior that day — she was tense and fighting me, and Leslie said something mild about perhaps I was a little tall for Cairo. (I suspect what she was thinking was “Oh hell no you are not buying this crazy animal.”)

As I said in an earlier post (and I reference in the name of this blog) when I was horse shopping, people said to get a horse that likes to canter. Cairo adores cantering. Trotting she finds beneath her. She’s actually not prone to jigging, which is nice. I suspect she doesn’t see the point in attempting an intermediary gait when she just wants to canter.

So the next lesson I hauled her over to Kari’s barn (which is where Leslie boards) and rode there.  Cairo remembered the LAST time we were there we jumped. She was like AWESOME, let’s GO.

You can imagine her disappointment  when she figured out it was a dressage lesson. She spent the whole lesson trying to leap into the canter. I spent the whole lesson on a 20 meter circle trying to keep her at a trot. We worked on loosening her base of the neck and getting her to relax. Then Leslie informed me I’d be trotting for the next two weeks. She very tactfully did not ask  “How long til your trial is over and you send the horse back?”

By the third lesson Cairo and were getting our flatwork groove on. It was still an uphill battle, with head tossing and tail swishing galore, but Leslie could see why I liked the little mare, so she wasn’t too horrified when I told her  I was buying her. That was late December.

I knew that while Cairo had some nice gaits in there under all that tension, it was going to take a while to get her to be at all dressagey. Becky warned me of that before I took her on — the mare’s athletic but if you’re shopping for a dressage horse, that’s not Cairo’s area of expertise.

Fast-forward to today when I realize that while Cairo and I are scoring in the upper 30s at the shows (that’s lower 60s in regular dressage), we are doing as well or better than Huey and I used to.

So I’m OK with heading to Rebecca with stuff to work on — I’m just excited we’re going! — because we’ve come so far so fast, but as I told Leslie, I’d like to go feeling like I did all I could to do well.

All the work to get Cairo to stand up through her shoulders last lesson paid off for this test, which has some sharper turns in it as you change directions across the middle. Leslie had us slow and half-halt before the corner, which helped.

We also worked on my position — feeling where my leg should be underneath me so that if Cairo’s tense, I don’t jam it forward but rather keep it where I can ask her to lift her back.

And we worked on my halts. When Kory and Flash had a crooked halt in their first test, I had her even her legs and hands. Boom, next test, a square halt. That didn’t work for Cairo. Making sure my seat was relaxed has helped the whole tap-dancing at the halt thing, but she still wasn’t square. What it was was the standing up through the shoulder thing. Leslie pointed out that Cairo leans more on her right shoulder and surmised that was affecting her halt. Next time down the center line I added extra right leg, and suddenly we got much straighter.

We finished off working on our walk. Cairo has a huge walk and overreach (to go with her huge canter stride,  she’s got a 16.3 hand canter on a 15.1 hand body Leslie says)  and if I keep it steady and don’t let it get hectic, I think we can get some decent scores there. We’ve gotten some 7s on our medium walk and I’m thinking given that 6 months ago she didn’t walk without tossing her head and shaking her booty, that’s pretty good!

This weekend I’m thinking a Saturday jump outdoors and a relaxing trail ride Sunday. I’ve already started packing!

Heading to Rebecca

I got the email today — Cairo and I are heading to The Event at Rebecca Farm on Monday. I’m excited — I admit I’ve checked the entries just about every day. I decided I would just act like I was going, so I got Cairo a health certificate and a Coggins, and last weekend I booked her a full show-prep weekend with a schooling dressage show on Sunday and a jump lesson with Karianne on Saturday.

And yes, that’s a little bass-ackward to jump before dressage but I wanted Flash and Kory to have their dressage debut together and have it be all about them on the first day.

Flash, who I used to call my “little” horse, but at an extremely solidly built 15’3″ is really a big boy, has been doing great with Kory, the young woman who has been riding him dressage, so we signed her up for two days of dressage showing at the local Twin Rivers Chapter Dressage schooling show.

Two years ago at this time I thought I was going to have to put Flash down. He survived stepping on a nail and a traumatic street nail surgery not long after I rescued him and I was told if he survived he would never be sound. He survived and indicated he was DONE with recuperating when he jumped out of his stall at the vet’s. That was back in 2008.

Flash is a huge jumper, a lovely mover and a hard-luck horse. He was bred by accident when a yearling warmblood bred a rescue OTTB mare one fall. I tried to buy him because I liked both of the parents, but he was sold to someone else, who then didn’t take care of him. When I finally got him when he was around three, he was starved and feral — you couldn’t put a halter on him. I got him started with the help of an amazing cowboy and then disaster, in the form of a nail struck.

It was a horrible fluke. He was boarded at a lovely facility with safe pastures, but an old nail had come up through the mud — there was probably an old burn pile in the pasture he was  in — and the nail went all the way to his coffin bone on his right hind.

He recovered from the surgery for the nail and I started riding him. Then he got Potomac Horse Fever. He survived that, too. Then after a year or so of riding, he went lame on the surgery foot. I turned him out and he came back sound. After a year of competing him at Beginner Novice, he went lame again — badly. So badly I thought he was crippled. My shoer another shoer and a couple vets figured out a shoeing package for him that let him walk instead of hobble and I turned him out again. Six months later he pulled both shoes in the mud, and trotted away sound.

It breaks my heart I can’t jump him, but I feel like it’s too much to ask of a compromised hoof. Flash has a forever home with me and he seems to enjoy dressage more than he did jumping, so it’s all good in the end.

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Kory is a girl I’ve known since she was in her early teens and she has a good way with animal. She began to play with Flash in the pasture while he recovered. When he came sound last fall, I asked if she wanted to ride him. She began to ride him in earnest this spring and started taking dressage lessons in March. I think she’s barely had six or 10 lessons and she and Flash rocked their Training level tests at the show — three seconds and a first, scoring a 65 percent on test 3. Not bad for her first time in a dressage ring and Flash’s return to riding! I’ve resolved it’s not fair to jump him, and that if he goes lame again I will nerve him, but for now I’m just so happy my sweet boy is doing so well!

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So I decided Saturday would be all about Flash. We hauled over in the morning, Kory rocked her two classes, I dropped her and Flash off and tossed Cairo in the trailer for a jump lesson with Kari where we worked on getting her to use her hind end on the turns, stand up through her shoulder and get straight to the fences.

The next day we went back to the show, Kory and Flash rocked it again and Cairo and I got a respectable 4th and 2nd at Training and the judge said I rode a “hot little unit” capably. I found some stuff to work on — my tendency to jam my legs forward when nervous in dressage — and when I found out I got into Rebecca, I pestered Leslie for a dressage lesson tomorrow. Cairo and I practiced our test bareback tonight. I figure if you can ride it without a saddle …

What’s in a Name. And Coffee.

I was really excited to find out that the father of a girl who rode with Meika had taken some photos of Cairo and I at Inavale. Check out Lee Schaber’s pictures and videos at NWEventingAction — they are great.

Cairo looks like she’s pouncing in this one.

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Becky named her Cairo, as I remember it, because when she was born she was reddish and hot. Becky has a thing for place names. In fact, I like to joke that the way I got Cairo was kind of like a girl who gets a crush on a guy … and then meets his brother and thinks the brother is WAY hotter. The same year Becky bred Cairo, she also bred Farallon (named for the Farallon Islands). Farallon’s mother is Cairo’s grandmother, and Farallon’s sire is Cairo’s grandsire’s half brother.

Right, it’s like a Southern picnic over at Becky’s place. Everybody is somebody’s cousin.

Cairo’s mother is ½ Irish draft (sire O’Leary’s Irish Diamond and HE is a Breyer model horse) and Cairo’s father is the racehorse Baquero. No one believes me that she’s got Irish draft in her. They look at me with this “Oh, sweetie, you got taken,” expression when I say she’s Irish sport horse. I think the name Cairo makes folks think she’s Arab, that and her little refined nose.

I rode Farallon last summer while I was having a really crappy day. Farallon looks much draftier than Cairo does, but is about the same height. Huey was on trial and I really wanted the possible buyers to love him and I was stressing about it. Work was having problems. Everything sucked.

Becky invited me over to ride and go swimming and I spent the weekend and I rode Farallon and was charmed. I knew she was probably out of my price range — Becky breeds really nice Irish horses and I was shopping with what I sold Huey for and a little savings — but I figured I would give it a shot. Becky was super nice about it but I wasn’t surprised to learn that Farallon was more than I had saved. But then she called the next day and suggested I try Cairo, who she said was more difficult and would be harder to sell, but she felt might be more athletic. Between injuring her leg, an abscess and Becky’s show schedule, Cairo hadn’t been doing much.

I liked Farallon. Cairo I loved. Her little green four-year-old canter was more balanced and athletic than the full grown trained horses I was trying. So yeah, I liked Farallon … then I met her sister. Beneath all that head tossing, tail swishing and scarred hind leg there was a cute little horse and I am in love with her.

At Inavale, realizing the fences there are a bit wild (zebras and flamingos anyone?), I decided I would take Cairo over near the stadium ring and graze her, so she could eye the fences from a distance. So go-cup of coffee in one hand and Cairo in the other I led her over. There were a couple other horses around, also grazing and, as it turns out, an evil scary golf cart.

Just as we walked up to the arena Cairo stopped, flung her head out and bulged her eyes at something behind me (the golf cart zipping by, on the other side of the ring, and half-hidden by a hill as I figured out later). She half reared and began to back up very, very fast.

I played out her lead rope, luckily avoiding a rope burn, and basically found myself being slowly, steadily, dragged across the field. I kept talking to her, trying to get her attention on me and not the evil, scary Thing behind me. As this went on I began to realize that while we were not running out of space, I was running out of lead rope. I weighed my options. Drop the rope? I didn’t see Cairo as a run back to the barn girl, I saw her as a race around the venue and party kind of girl, so that was out. Drop my coffee? Also not an option.

Luckily, Cairo is pretty smart and she finally simply stopped racing backward, looked at me and came forward to see if maybe I had a treat for her, like I usually do when I’m talking to her in my cajoling voice. I did. I even gently set my coffee down to get it out of my pocket.

Treat accepted, we walked back to the arena where several people, also grazing their horses, had watched the whole thing.

“Nice job not spilling your coffee!” one of them cheerfully called out.

I’m glad that no one got any photos of that.

 

From the beach to starter to Novice

A lot has happened since April! That’s blogger-speak for I’ve been a total slacker about updates.

Our beach trip was amazing. I went to Nehalem Bay State Park with Kristine, my best-eventing friend and by the end of the trip Cairo and I had our galloping on the beach dream come true. Well, mine anyway, but Cairo was game for it. I wrote about it for my job at the Eugene Weekly here.

Cairo and I canter along the shore.
Cairo and I canter along the shore.

Not that long after Cairo showed how lovely and brave she was about crashing waves, I took her to a little schooling show at Avalon in Cottage Grove where we did the 2’3″ classes at the end of May. I hadn’t jumped her over a course since October, but you couldn’t tell by her attitude. She was unfazed. I won the itty-bitty equitation (there were adults in the class, but as always, it’s the kids you have to beat). The fences were little but Cairo demonstrated her signature tail flip anyway.

Yes, that's her tail behind my head. Photo by Wildtree Farm
Yes, that’s her tail behind my head. Photo by Wildtree Farm

As we next got ready for our first event at Equestrian’s Institute (EI) at the end of May at the Washington State Horse Park I got a little nervous. OK, I got a lot nervous.  I hadn’t competed at a recognized show in a year. Our dressage needed work. One night in early May as I schooled alone in the arena I burst into tears because Cairo was just so tense.

And I worried too that my trainers were not going to see the potential I see in her. The more I thought about people judging her and me, the more tense I rode. Finally I realized first, that my trainers, while they might have had reservations about my buying Cairo, they are above all, supportive and helpful, and two, I bought her because I loved her so I needed to worry a little less about what other people thought.

Leslie Chapman, my dressage trainer, was incredibly helpful. We’ve been working on my tendency to brace my elbows against her, and getting Cairo to more and move pick up her topline and be on the bit. Leslie has these little fixes that make all the difference. I give with my seat and suddenly we have better halts. Leslie rides Q, her gelding she’s trained herself, in the grand prix, and after she rode Cairo for me on a weekend I was out of town, she told me she loved her canter. I was proud. Cairo’s head tossing is almost gone and her tail swishing is more … in rhythm.

EI was a blast. I entered starter (aka grasshopper) since Cairo had never jumped ditches before and had only done a couple cross-country fences . We got a less than awesome dressage score — a 51, but I didn’t care because I knew from the way she focused and listened that she was going to improve every time. I got ridiculously nervous about cross-country. The fences were adorable mini-versions of real eventing fences — most barely 2 feet high, and I still managed to feel sick to my stomach. Clearly I wasn’t quite over my last couple falls off of Huey at the last two shows I took him to.

Cairo was adorable. She loved the xc and we galloped the course easily, as you can tell from my grin below.

Cairo at EI
Cairo at EI

We had a great (little) stadium and finished in 7th. When we go out on course, she looks a little at the fences, but she’s all about doing her job, flying tail and all.

The photo is by Michele Stevens, who owns Cairo’s mom. Cairo’s uncle Loki was at the show, too. It was an Irish horse family reunion! Cairo squealed at and tried to kick her mom. Brat.

The day after the show, Kristine and I stopped at her cousin’s barn outside Portland so Cairo and I could school ditches. Cairo leaped the ditches bravely. No problem. We walked up, I grabbed mane, she popped over them. Ditches had been a battle for Huey and I — he learned them poorly and never quite got over it, and I had developed a tendency to tense up and stare down at them. Even when I kept my eyes up, Huey remembered the times I didn’t, and would sometimes spin away from the ditch at a coffin like it was a gateway to hell.

Last year was the first year I’ve ever been fearful on a horse. I’ve never been scared of jumping big; it’s always been my goal. Heck, Merlin and I jumped five foot oxers in the high jump contest. At three foot Huey happily zoomed around. But when the fences got bigger and the pressure was on, he got unhappy. He was sound (vetted just fine for his new owners), but I realized that forcing him to jump bigger was stressing him and scaring me. I didn’t trust him anymore and he didn’t trust me. He adores his new little girl and she is merrily jumping him and dressing him in cute costumes. I used the money to buy Cairo and alls well that ends well, but I started getting nerves and then I get upset that I get nerves because I never used to be that way.

To get ready for Aspen Horse Trials two weeks later at the beginning of June, I took Cairo back down to Avalon and schooled her over some slightly bigger fences (more like 2’7″ instead of 2 feet!) so we would be ready for Beginner Novice at Aspen.

I was a little less tense at Aspen — more show nerves than that icky fearful feeling. Our dressage was better — scoring closer to a 36. We had two rails in stadium that were my fault, not Cairo’s — I held her off the fences and forgot that despite her small size, she has a huge stride. But I was pleased at how she tried and how she listened. Cross-country was amazing. (I say that a lot about Cairo lately, amazing) and she galloped everything beautifully. We came in 10th.

After my xc, my trainer Meika cheerfully informed me that I ought to move Cairo right up to Novice. I blinked at her slowly. What? Meika is a lovely rider and is my hero because she’s competed at Rolex (and for other reasons as well) and if anyone knows what she’s talking about when it comes to eventing in the Northwest, it’s Meika.

Meika felt like keeping Cairo at BN would lead to me  holding her off the fences and Cairo not respecting them, and do more harm than good. So I entered Inavale at Novice and got some wine in me and entered my “goal” show — Rebecca Farm in Montana at the end of July.

Inavale HT here in Oregon was last weekend, and it was wonderful. We got a 38.3 in dressage. I stopped locking my elbows but apparently used my hands too much. She got 7s on her medium walks and I’m pretty sure when I figure out our free walk, it’s going to be amazing. I love that each time I feel like we get a little better, and each time I feel like I know what to do to improve. (Kristine got a nine on her trot down the center line at Training level, whoohoo!).

I walked the cross-country and felt some of those nerves coming back. I’ve fallen off three times at Inavale, twice at the Trakhener, and it has me spooked — not all Trakheners, the ones at other shows don’t bother me as much, but let’s face it, when you’ve been a jumper rider for 20 years, this log over ditch thing is weird and Inavale’s is downhill, which just makes it all the easier to stare down at it.

Meika and Kristine were funny and sweet. Kristine knows me well by now and knows when I get silent, I’m freaked. I had some silent moments on the course walk. Some of those fences looked big! Kristine had struggles of her own — Tucker had terrible hives at EI and she had to scratch stadium, and then at Aspen she got no sleep because Tucker was upset at his stabling situation off site, and then she had trouble in her stadium. She was great at Invale and rode like a total champ with an awesome clean cross country and just one rail stadium. She’s striving for the Training Three Day at Rebecca, and I’m crossing fingers we both get in.

Cairo and I did stadium Saturday, and that was actually helpful because I got over those bigger fences in the area where I’m more confident. Before going, I had a jump lesson with Karianne (who won two grand prix jumper classes in one week this past week because she’s talented and a really thinking rider and rocks the pink fashion). Kari is on the road a lot, so I’ve only had maybe five lessons on Cairo with her since I’ve owned her.

Stadium was a blast. Fence height was not an issue. Cairo and I had a rail because she looked at a fence and I held rather than pushed, but I really didn’t care — she jumped huge and she was super brave. We got three time faults. My theory is all her air time slowed us down.

Cairoinavale

Cross country was even better. I had so much fun and I think Cairo did too. She leaped over everything with room to spare and went double clear — even the Novice Trakhener.  Meika was totally right, we needed to go Novice.

We finished in 9th and I was over the moon with happiness over how fun she was.

Now we cross fingers that we get into Rebecca!