Wednesday, September 30, 2009

2010 Goals

The USDF 2010 competition season is already well underway.   However, so far, I have not competed in any qualifiers for the 2010 Regional Championships.   In fact, I have yet to set my goals for 2010.

That needs to be remedied!

Jeddien, bless her, has had a good long run of competition both in the UK and the USA.   Next year, she is 19 years old.   So, unless she miraculously suddenly becomes ready for PSG this winter, she is retired from competition and will be taking on the title of Head Schoolmistress at Kearsarge Meadows.

Piper.   The goal is to qualify for FIRST LEVEL.   Doable as long as he remains spook free.   In fact, if he can keep his wits about him, he should be able to qualify for SECOND LEVEL as well.   A big if.

Ben.   Now here is an interesting prospect.   Big Ben is turning out to be quite the special horse.   Unflappable.   Super mover.   Gentle giant.   He will be 4 in April.   WIll he be ready to compete?   I think so!   Young horse material?   Maybe so!   The decisions on this will come as Spring approaches.

Bea Yewtee.   Unlike Ben, Jeddien's flashy sharp daughter by DaVinci has not been started yet.   She is still going through awkward growing stages.   Lunging under saddle, she is a good girl.   But no one has tried to sit on her as yet.   That is the goal for this winter.   Competition is not forecasted for 2010.

Winter is a challenging time to train in New Hampshire.   The indoor arena can reach temperatures of 20 degrees Fahrenheit!   But, the goal is to be ready for April, when the USDF Region 8 shows start up again.   Ready to compete and qualify.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Rollercoaster Kur Championship

I mentioned before that I had a chance to chat briefly with Ulla Salzgeber.   What I had not shared was that I had complimented her on how she handled "the disaster" that occured during her Grand Prix Kur with Rusty at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.   Maybe you remember....

....Ulla demonstrated such incredible professionalism in a situation which would be any competitor's nightmare.   The CD player playing her music *fried* part way through her ride!   The music stopped.   She simply rode on.   Then the bell was rung.   And her ride came to a premature end.

Later, after learning of the technical cause of the problem, Eric Lette, the head of the judge jury sitting at C, allowed Ulla to finish her ride at the end of the class.   Yes, finish.   Not restart.   Ulla had to pick up where the ride was stopped earlier.   So she did.   And she did it very well.   She earned an impressive 80.67% and helped the German team win another Gold Medal.   Truly, truly incredible.   For this, she is definitely one of my dressage heros.

On Sunday morning, I rode my 3rd Level Freestyle with Jeddien in the USDF Region 8 Championships.   It was our 4th time riding a freestyle test in competition and our 1st Freestyle Championships.   Leading up to this moment, I had visualised our ride countless times.   I had mentally corrected angles on the lateral movements, worked through impulsion issues, was ready for flying bucks changing to the right, prepared for spooking, and even imagined my Christie's top hat taking flight.

But what I had not imagined...   Happened.   (And in retrospect, I should have!)   On 3 occasions, my music momentarily PAUSED.   The first time really threw me.   I nearly stopped.   The second time, my brain split into troubleshooting mode (why would the music be pausing?) and trying to figure out how to undo riding ahead of the music (should I circle?).   The third time, I was both heartbroken and angry.   A completely useless combination of emotions in itself really.

I later learned that a few other riders had similar issues with their CD's.   And of course our CD tested out perfectly fine after the fact.   Georg's theory is that the IBM PC used for playing the CD's was "context switching", momentarily giving CPU time to other tasks.

Anyway, with my sheer lack of experience riding Musical Freestyles, I didn't cope well at all.   I lost focus on the one thing that counts:   Ride The Horse!   As my husband Georg put it later, NOW I have that experience.   Ah, yes, another "Learning Experience".

As I left the arena feeling rather pitiful, I looked down at my white show gloves and realized I was wearing my best, cleanest pair of "Ulla" signature Roeckl gloves, the ones I always keep in my top hat case and reserve only for the big occasions.   Hmm.   Little events in life find ways to connect.   I smiled and patted Jeddien.

When the scores were posted, I was amazed to see that the expected winner, Grand Prix rider / trainer Heather Mason from Lebanon NJ, and I were only one point apart in scores!   Not one percent.   One point.   She earned 311.5 points (64.896%).   And we earned 310.5 points (64.688%).

Jeddien and I worked hard to reach the 2009 3rd Level Freestyle Regional Championships.   It was an interesting, fun, and challenging journey.   How awesome to finish the year as Reserve Champions in not one, but TWO Championship classes!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Day Three

Today, as planned, was a day of rest, work without a competition timeslot deadline, bathing, and hand grazing.   Jeddien snoozed, ate, enjoyed some pampering, and rested in her stall.   Georg and I spent time watching FEI level classes, including the big afternoon Grand Prix class.

After the GP, award ceremonies took place in Ring One.   In the top placings were some fabulous horses, including a 4th Level Dutch pony and a paint named "Mustang Sally" who we are assuming IS actually a mustang!   Gonna have to double check the program tomorrow.

After the awards, during which competitors were treated to hors d'oeuvres and drinks, sound checks for the freestyles were done.   Now, this was a first for me.   And a bit of a thrill.   I wandered out to the middle of Ring One and listened to a snippet of my freestyle music played over the arena loudspeaker system.   And of course, I used the opportunity to just FEEL the arena and imagine.....

....You see, six months ago, riding my first Freestyle was just a dream.   Tomorrow, we contest the 3rd Level Freestyle Championships.   Talk about a whirlwind.   And, how cool that, barring elimination or other disaster, we will at least be in the Top 8.   There are only 3 are in the class!   :-)  

I am soooo ready for tomorrow.   But as with all things horsey, I know nothing about tomorrow is certain until AFTER our ride at 8:33 am.   However, if all else fails, I can honestly say that the journey to get to this moment was absolutely a blast!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Day Two Ends

Horses are NOT motorcycles.   Each time you ride them is a little bit different...   Unlike my Suzuki 300.   Today, Jeddien reminded me of this in spades.   She was in a wicked little mood this morning, but a complete super star this evening.

When all was said and done, we failed to place in the Sweepstakes.   To say I am disappointed would be an understatement.   However, that may have fired me up a bit for the evening competition.   But as I said a moment ago, horses are not motorcycles.   They are not machines.   They have their own minds, their own personalities, their own moods, their own aches and pains, their own ups and downs, and their own opinions.   And it is all of this that adds constant elements of variation when competing with these large prey animals.   Sure, the consistent top leading riders learn how to limit those variations.   It is not, however, a skill in which I claim to excel.

This evening, Jeddien and I worked hard to get back in sync right in time for the 3rd Level Open Championships.   The test we rode resulted in us becoming the 2009 USDF Region 8 Reserve Champions at 3rd Level Open.   Now THAT is a wonderful result!   And truly quite a surprise!   It is our best competition result at this level.

Tomorrow is a "rest day".   We will go for a hack.   Do a bit of training.   Enjoy some hand grazing time.   Maybe I'll give Jeddien a bath.

Whatever happens tomorrow, it will all be done with an ear-to-ear grin.

Managing Poo

At the HITS Saugerties New York showgrounds, each barn of 80 stalls shares one manure trailer.   And believe me, even when only 50 or 60 horses are in residence, we are talking about a lot of used bedding and manure being mucked out to the trailer on a daily basis...   A trailer which can get filled up fairly quickly.

With so many horse owners sharing a muck heap trailer, you would think they'd all do their part to make it as usable as possible for as long as possible, right?   Ha!   Within hours, the floor of the trailer gets covered, but only to a depth that makes very inefficient use of the trailer.   And then, without any boards or planks to make it easier, very few people will try to push their wheelbarrow over the low soft piles of bedding & manure to build height to the whole muck heap.

But at home, you can bet most of the horse owners do maintain more efficient muck heaps that are well over 2 feet tall.

This morning, the trailer was emptied and by the time I got out there with my morning contributions, already the back 6 or 7 feet was "filled" to a whooping height of 24 inches.   With nothing else to do while Jeddien rested, I did what I was taught to do many years ago.   I worked the muck heap, making it taller and buying everyone a few more precious feet of muck heap trailer space.   And so, the muck trailer at Barn 11 was looking managed instead of just used.

For a few minutes anyway...

Day Two Begins

With our hotel bed a mere 60 metres from New York's Interstate Highway I-87, a full night's sleep was not to be last night.   Nonetheless, we made another early start this morning, got to the showgrounds early to feed the beast, and then enjoyed a little rest before preparing for a 9:39 am ride of 3rd Level Test 3.

The Sweepstakes at each level consists of two components, using the two highest tests of the level.   So, for 3rd Level, that means Tests 2 and 3 are ridden.   The average score is used to rank the winners in the Sweepstakes.   The two tests are held on consecutive days.

The reason I enter the two classes is to use them as a warm up for the 3rd Level Championships.   The reason I pay the extra entry fee for the Sweepstakes aspect is just in case I do fairly well and can win a bit of cash and a nice prize.   Last year we did and that was pretty cool!

With a pleasing start yesterday in the 3rd Level Sweepstakes yesterday, I really believed we might continue on a roll.   But that was not to be.   Jeddien was not on form and ran out of gas.   And any insistence on my part was rewarded with a head toss.   Nice.   The old chestnut mare has a way of sharing her opinions at times.

Since my true purpose is to practice for the 3rd Level Championships, I rode both tests so far without a whip.   Good practice, since they are not allowed in Championship classes.   But I do wonder....   What did it cost me in terms of Sweepstakes winnings?   An occasional little reminder may have made a difference.

This evening, we ride the 3rd Level Championships.   Sans whip, of course.   In the rain.   The goal is to make it into the Top 8 out of a class of 24.   We'll have to see what Jeddien thinks of this plan....

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Big Event - Day One

At last, after a year of working towards this one goal, we are at the USDF Region 8 Championships & NEDA Fall Festival of Dressage.

The 5 hour drive from central New Hampshire was easy and uneventful.   By 5pm Wednesday evening, Jeddien was settled into her stall on the showgrounds.   And after a couple hours of "nesting", organizing our tack stall, we checked into our hotel.

Today was our first day of competition, where we contested the first half of the 3rd Level Sweepstakes early this morning.   Putting in a performance that was obedient and close to the best Jeddien can do, we came 6th with a 63.333%.   Unlike some shows were the first test tends to be the throw away score, this start was much better.   So, I am happy with it.

The rest of the day, we ate, walked around, and spectated, watching a lot of PSG and Grand Prix rides in Ring One.   At one point, much to my surprise, I realized we were sitting near one of Germany's star dressage riders, Ulla Salzgeber.   Ulla is in the USA supporting her student, competitor Chris Hickey, who won the PSG Regional Open Championships this afternoon.   It was a pleasure to chat briefly with Ulla and even nicer to hear that her famous partner, Rusty, is well and enjoying his retirement.

Sitting above Ring One provided me with time to mentally ride through my 3rd Level Freestyle a few times, imagining how it will feel to ride Jeddien there on Sunday.   Should be great fun!   I'm really looking forward to it!

So, one full day done.   At this moment, I feel dusty, tired, and quite content.   In another hour, we'll go back to the showgrounds to tuck Jeddien in for the night, then head "home" to clean up and call it an early night.

Tomorrow, rain comes.   Not a problem for us.   We'll just pretend we're back in England.   :-)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Massage & Diets

And of course, before the big competition, it certainly doesn't hurt to get a bit of a massage followed by a day off.   Aside from having her pedicures, Jeddien also gets treated to top quality massages by her equine masseuse, Angela LaFave of Centaur Massage. (The photo shows another of Angela's equine clients.)

Jeddien's rider, meanwhile, has been making an effort to shed a few pounds, thus lightening Jeddien's workload a tad.   However, a couple of evenings spent wandering around and eating at the Hopkinton State Fair probably reversed any good progress made in that area.

Now it is Sunday evening.   The 3rd Level Open Championships are this coming Friday.   The Freestyle Championships are next Sunday.   Training time is over.   Now, we are just focusing on quiet consistency, harmony, and getting completely comfortable with the test patterns, with whatever we have to work with.   Problems can't be fixed now.   We have what we have.

Before Friday's main event, we have two other tests, which combined, comprise the 3rd Level Sweepstakes.   Last year, we came 5th in that, winning some cash and a gorgeous black leather halter which still had the $129 price tag attached.   This year may prove to be more challenging, as there seem to be a lot more horses & riders competing, and Jeddien (and her rider) are not getting any younger!

(Jeddien & Piper in their stalls at HITS in Saugerties New York, venue of the 2008 Championships)

Saturday is currently a rest day.   It may turn out to be a last minute entry kind of day.   Already, there is one 4th Level Test 2 opening which we could fill....   Sunday morning, just before 9am, we contest the 3rd Level Freestyle Championship, riding to our German Folk Music in the international arena.   Ring 1 is where the CDI (Concours Dressage Internationale) classes and awards ceremonies are held.   It's a beautiful arena, situated in a bowl surrounded by grassy banks where spectators can sit with a fabulous view.   I know riding in Ring 1 will be great fun.

So, with only a few days to go, while some riders may be starting to get nervous and worried, I've started to shift into happy mode.   World peace is not riding on our scores and it is not an Olympic trial.   And, as we say every year, this could well be Jeddien's last year competing.   So, we go to the Championships one more time, with pride and joy and a sense of adventure and good fun.

2010 will be Piper's year!