Tag Archives: eventing

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!

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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!