Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Inavale Derby Report

Hi all - I know you're still waiting for the camp report, but you will have to wait just a bit longer. I want to do it justice with good pictures and video, so it takes larger chunks of time to put the whole thing together. I promise you that by the end of the week you will see material about camp.

In the meantime, let me tell you about the derby at Inavale this weekend!

Going into it, I basically had no idea what kind of horse I was going to have in the ring. Sure, we've been to Inavale and ridden there quite a bit, and I took McKinna to the show jumping rally a couple months ago - but really I haven't done any showing with her in several years, and she's a completely different horse now. Would we see fire-breathing monsters in every corner, or at every dressage letter? Would she be quite displeased with the bright stadium jumps out in the XC field like she was last time? So mostly, I was glad to have this chance to get a better idea of what McKinna's going to act like at bigger shows (i.e., the horse trials).

So on Saturday morning, I tacked up my (sparklingly clean, gorgeous, wonderful) horse for dressage and headed out to the warmup area. I got lucky and the dressage ring I rode in was the one out on grass. It was a little soft from the rain, but good practice for the horse trials since they hold dressage on grass there. Plus, there was plenty of room to warm up, which was a very good thing for my warmup policy.

See, at my dressage lesson on Wednesday, Leslie showed me how to longe McKinna in side reins. I'd never tried it before, but it didn't take long to learn how I could use the side reins and longe line to ask her to soften and supple at the base of her neck just like I do from the saddle. So I headed out to the faaaaaaar corner of the great big grass field, let her warm up a bit at all gaits with her nose poked out as usual, and then stuck the side reins on. I had practiced a few times, so she knew the drill.

I'd say the side reins definitely did their job. McKinna was a little 'up' and wanted to go faster than I really preferred, but better too much forward than not enough. I alternated short periods of side reins on, asking her to round and carry herself, then giving her a break by unhooking them for a bit. It's still pretty hard for her to canter with her back up and the base of her neck soft, but she's getting there. I just asked for a little bit at a time.

Then I hopped on and alternated trotting around with walking on a loose rein, and a few canters here and there to check my transitions without getting her too worked up. It seemed to work. At times she wanted to just power through me at warp-speed trot, but I concentrated on keeping my elbows soft and bent and half-halting with my body, and she responded well.

I hung out and chatted with the arena steward for a moment, a very nice lady, and watched the test a few horses before me to make sure I hadn't memorized anything wrong in the test. Then I went up for one last bit of trotting, where McKinna started off wanting to run through my aids but then came back for some lovely, connected, polite work. Then it was my turn to trot around the ring!

I said hello to the judge and trotted several laps. I admit that on my first one I rode close to every letter, saying, "Look - this is A, it's a friendly letter. And this is F, this is also a friendly letter. And this one is B, also very friendly. Here's M, a nice letter...oh look, here are the judges, they're very friendly!"

I did say these things QUIETLY, at least. And besides, I think it worked.

Then the bell rang and we headed in! My first centerline was a little crooked. But, lo and behold, McKinna's head did NOT shoot straight up in the air as soon as we entered the ring! "Breathe," I kept reminding myself (silently) as we headed down the line. Left turn, where McKinna locked on to the little fence and kind of wanted to jump it. It made for a little bit of an abrupt turn and we walked for a step before picking it up. Okay, so I know better for the next centerline. Trot circle, then up the centerline again, this time much better (we got an 8 on that one!), turn right, and though she wanted to lock on to the fence again it wasn't as bad.

Anyway, we went through the rest of our test and all things considered it was pretty darn good. The canter work was a little "hectic," as the judge put it, but for a horse who could barely put together a decent canter a few months ago, I will take it. At least it had three beats! I was surprised that I had a hard time getting her to come back to me in the canter-trot transitions. Normally she's only too happy to come back, but in this case she got so worked up about the canter that she had kind of tuned me out. So both our downward transitions were pretty abrupt and she threw her head up. Good thing to know: next time, really work for the softness in the last quarter of the canter circle so my aids go through instead of stopping at a braced neck.

Overall I was really pleased with dressage. It's the first time the horse I have INSIDE the ring is actually similar to the horse I had OUTSIDE the ring! And when I was able to soften and relax, like on the long centerlines, she responded very well. I think if we can continue improving the canter and her relaxation, we'll do pretty well. We scored a 38, and hey, I'm happy to break into the 30s.

Jumping was awesome, except when it wasn't. Let me explain.

The course was holding up well but pretty soft in places. Water was actually running through the ditches, if that tells you anything.

McKinna was awesome over the first fence, a black-and-white stadium vertical. Last time I did a derby, she was fine with the XC fences but really spooky about the stadium fences - not this time. Bold and confident. Sweet. Then a turn to a big rolltop, which was fine, and another stadium fence snuggled up perpendicular to the Training trakehner, which proved to be spooky for some horses. McKinna ignored the trakehner and jumped the stadium fence just fine. Then through the extreeemely deep water, which we trotted, and canter forward off a big down bank, McKinna's forte. Then another stadium fence and a turn to...the evil fences.

It was a one-stride combination with the first element set in the ditch like a mini-trakehner. Well, that's no issue for us, but remember how I said there was water in the ditch? The ground around the ditch had a lot of that water in it too. The footing right in front of it was pretty chewed up. McKinna stopped at the first element and slid at least a foot with her forelegs. Not good. Turned around, re-presented, got her over it, but then (I'm not entirely sure what happened) she landed already stopping and moved a bit to the side, where I popped off. I landed fine, had to untangle my leg from the fence but didn't knock anything down and didn't hurt myself.

I remounted and they allowed me to finish the course. I skipped the evil combination and the rest of it rode brilliantly - a big house on top of the hill, long downhill to a big quarter round, then over the Novice ditch and one last stadium fence. McKinna was confident and easy to control, which also makes me think the combination problems were because she was just uncomfortable with the footing. The mud was thick enough that even horses with studs all around were sliding and having refusals.

So, overall, I was very happy with my rides. I still have a brave, honest horse, just one that's not quite used to jumping in mud! And it was a great way to scope out what McKinna might be like at the horse trials.

I just finished my last final this morning. Tomorrow morning I'm headed up to Washington with my boyfriend's parents to help him move out for the summer. I'll stay the night, we'll go out to breakfast, and then boyfriend will drop me off in Yelm on the way home, where I'll stay for the rest of the weekend grooming for my trainer Devin at Aspen Horse Trials. I'm really looking forward to it. Then it's headlong into summer!

1 comment:

Albigears said...

See you at Aspen! We're hauling in and out every day. Look for a skinny little bay TB, our dressage is at 2:50 on Friday... Megan Ferney & Calcedon.

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