Tag Archives: dressage

10th at Caber

Ribbons don’t actually matter in eventing — that insanely good feeling you get when you come off a well-ridden cross country is one of the best parts of the sport. But it is nice to come home with a pretty ribbon sometimes, albeit a powder blue one for 10th. I called it a war of attrition at Caber —Cairo and I got a ribbon because the rest of the folks in my group fell off.

But hey, as that T-shirt I want to get says: “Stayed on! Won prizes!”

My partner in eventing crime and I Kristine got there early and Cairo and I had a good dressage school, where Meika had me fight my instinct to try to lower my hands to try to get Cairo to give at the poll and release at the base of the neck and rather let her relax and come to me. Relax is a key word with Little Miss Thing.

(On a side note, Little Miss Thing is an expression Southerners and often gay men use to refer to a woman or man who thinks she’s all that. I recently discovered that Kristine thought I was making a Munsters reference.)

Originally I was delighted to see that the same dressage judge who judged us at almost every other show this summer (including the schooling show where she called Cairo a “hot little unit”) was judging us again. Cairo has been progressing beautifully all summer. She still swishes her tail and makes faces but her gaits are rhythmic and she lacks the tense high-kneed trot she used to have. Sadly for Cairo and I, judges judge you on what they see right then and there, and not on your great progress. Each of these events has at least five dressage arenas with five different judges, so it’s rather impressive this poor lady keeps having to judge me.

Cairo was, as always, a good girl. She is clearly disgusted by dressage, but she never tries anything bad. She never leaps or bucks or even breaks gait. She just swishes her tail and gnaws the bit, and pretty much the judge’s comments were “Unhappy mouth” and “tense.” This time she had nothing to say on my position (which I have been working hard on!) but we finished dressage DFL — dead fucking last.

Meika pointed out that her own wonderful currently-prelim horse Lear didn’t score great at the lower levels either in dressage, and that my goal is to move her up.  And I reminded myself that there’s nowhere to go but up, and that this time last year Cairo was hanging in a pasture and very, very green with a head-tossing issue.  We got a 45.7, possibly our worst score since our very first show at EI at starter where we got a 57. Same judge. Heck, technically we’ve improved!

Before Caber I had Leslie double-check the fit of Cairo’s dressage saddle, and I’ve also talked to Kari about getting Cairo’s teeth done again and then some more bodywork. I’ve done all that before, but it doesn’t hurt to double check that her mouth fussiness is just tension and not discomfort.

I had a nice late morning (9:42 am) ride for xc on Saturday, which gave us plenty of time for course walking (I walk it three times, every time).  For the first time in forever, I was really not worried about anything on course. That’s not to say I didn’t look at a fence or two and think really hard. Fence four was a palisades-looking ramp set on the side of a slight rise near trees and then it was just a couple strides to fence five (a log and drop) and I knew Cairo would be fine as long as I rode her well, but she’d never done a fence like that.

As you can probably guess, based on Cairo’s track record, she was amazing. Optimum time was five minutes and we did 4:39 so maybe a little fast, but not fast enough for time faults. She headed for the first fences with her usually cocky enthusiasm, log, brush ramp, house, whatevs. She didn’t look at fence four and the log drop at fence five didn’t make her bat an eyelash. She skittered a little on a long gallop to fence six at the sight of a fence judge but soon got back on track. And she slowed just off my voice after the gallop. As strong and hot as she appears, I’m still riding her in a soft rubber mullen mouth xc.

A wanna-be-coffin after we rounded the loop and head back to the finish? No problem. The only problem there was she jumped the ditch so big we got rather close to the fence three strides away (or more like two-and-a-half strides the way we did it).

The water complex was super fun:

First, a table heading towards the finish. I’m a little tense there — not sure if she will land and grab the bit and head for home when I need to make a show-jumping type turn away from home toward the brush fence and water!

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Signature tail flip on landing.

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Left turn to the brush? No problem.

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So then I was all in show-jump brain and headed for the water in a happy two-point.


Cairo remembered last time we schooled water at Inavale we had jumped off a drop. She saw the water and rocked back. I merrily fell forward onto her neck:

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And I’m now laughing wildly because Cairo is bunny-hopping through the water, and I’m relieved my brief moment of stupid didn’t result in my being IN the water while she splashed on without me!

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And out of the water to the next fence? No prob.

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We finished double clear and I was over-the-moon happy!

Then we got randomly selected for a USEF drug test. The nice vet tech was almost no match for Cairo’s stubbornness, which apparently extends to peeing while someone holds a cup. She drank and held her bladder for over an hour. When she finally peed, she pressed her booty up against the stall wall and kept trying to hold it so the urine came in fits and spurts while the vet tech chased it with the cup on a stick. We made taking blood easy on the vet — I held a small bucket of beet pulp and Cairo snarfed that and ignored the blood letting.

Stadium was another learning experience. Cairo jumps better if I let her be a little gappy to the fence, and I know that. But the horse of the girl before me slipped in the grass twice and fell, and I found myself trotting into the arena while people called for a vet to check him out. I was thrown and worried about the footing and held Cairo to a short choppy canter. It wasn’t slow but it lacked power and when we get a tight distance on that canter, she whacks fences. We had two rails right off the top and then I sat up and rode.  Once I let her flow, the course finished beautifully. We had one more rail after a drunken swerve turned a two-stride into a three stride but it was enough to stay in the ribbons and be the caboose on the victory gallop.

Ribbons or no, Cairo and I are finishing each show thinking “Damn, that was fun!” and I’m plotting what I can do to improve. I gave her a couple days off and yesterday in my lesson with Kari, we worked on developing a bouncy strong canter Cairo can jump even tight distances from. Kari leaves for Spruce Meadows tomorrow and then Cairo and I will work on dressage til we do a little combined test at EI to finish she season.  Tentative plan? Do Novice dressage and stadium Saturday and then Training stadium Sunday. Ack!








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.


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!




Demon Hussy

Demon hussy is what I call Cairo when she goes into heat and gets to be sassy-on-steroids. I rode her in the outdoor Monday evening and she bucked (which she never does) and spent the entire ride attempting to leap out from underneath me or just leap. The next couple nights we worked inside and she was slightly more chill. Slightly. Tonight we worked in the outdoor again and she started the session with a squeal and some overly expressive swishes of her tail.

Ironically, given I spent most of the ride trying to get her to give and use her topline instead of brace and try to leap into the canter, when we did transition up into the canter, her transitions were lovely.

One week until our first beach ride, I’m very excited. And one month until I move her to the same barn Flash is at and have both my horses in the same place for the first time in more than a year.

In media res, sort of, and always at the canter

At some point I’ll start more at the beginning, but for now, I’ll start with today and just a little background.

Cairo turned five on Monday, March 24 and I’m pretty darn sure she’s not going to grow much taller, but I really don’t care. When I began horse shopping, after painfully selling Baby Huey, my sweet and silly 16’3″ hand thoroughbred, people asked me what my dream horse was. I kept saying I didn’t care about height or gender or color, I just wanted a horse who though he could jump the moon. The most specific I got was thinking I’d like a draft cross or an Irish horse because Merlin, the horse I loved to jump, was an Irish draft and I loved his spirit and boldness.

These parameters, or lack of them are more of less how I wound up buying a sassy bay 15’1″ hand Irish sporthorse filly, who thinks she can jump the moon.

Cairo was bred by my friend Becky, and I used to watch Cairo’s dam, Ruby Contessa at events and point out how much I liked her. Because Becky is a good person and because Cairo is little and way too sassy, I lucked out and got Ruby’s baby for myself for Christmas.

My event trainer, Meika, told me something to look for in a jumper is a horse that likes to canter. Well, that’s Cairo. I think she’d rather canter than eat. When Meika met Cairo, she gave me her blessing, albeit with a furrowed brow and the caveat she had hoped I’d find myself an easier horse. Kari, my jumper trainer and Leslie, my dressage trainer had similar reactions. I’m lucky I ride with incredibly talented and incredibly supportive trainers.

Cairo is not easy. She tosses her head; she swishes her tail; she chomps the bit and demands we stop walking around and just CANTER. But at four she just felt so balanced and so bold, I loved her. Becky let me take her on trial and after a trip to the mountain trail course, a horse show and a group trail ride, all of which she did happily and boldly, I was sold.


She’s come a long way since October, when in our first dressage lesson all Leslie would let me do was trot on a circle because Cairo was such a wild thing. I tried her in a Micklem bridle and that helped the head tossing. When we started, she was avoiding the bit — tossing her head mouthing it, but never contacting it. Now in the Micklem and with a thin Herm Sprenger duo mullen mouth rubber bit, she’s wanting to grab the bit and strong-arm me into what she wants to do — canter. So today we worked on getting her to give up the bit. and pick up her back.

Certain words tend to resonate with me and today it was keeping my hands dynamic. Outside shoulder back, seat even in the saddle, open the inside rein, ask her to go deep, but not low, and give up the base of the neck, all the while keeping my hands dynamic. By the end of the ride, Cairo was releasing through her neck, picking up her back and reaching way under herself with her hind legs. One minute I’m cantering, and her head’s tossing and she’s up against the bit and the next minute, she uses herself and gets it. Then suddenly for three or four 20 meter circles she’s cantering and really using the muscles of her back to lift and rather than just cantering, we have a gait that feels relaxed and powerful. Now to just do that again my next ride without Leslie chiding me in that Texas accent of hers …