Well, Groton House 2010 is officially over. I had a wonderful time, though it was definitely a weekend of high highs and pretty darn low lows. Here's what went down:
Kiki was first out of the Erickson horses, going bright and early on Friday morning. I did her usual pre-official-warmup ride, and I was thrilled to feel her light, supple, and obedient. She had been equally good the evening before on our first hack around the farm, and so I was quietly confident that she might be able to keep a lid on it for the dressage. And she didn't disappoint! She warmed up wonderfully, sat in the shade munching grass for a few moments (usually one of my biggest pet peeves to do when a horse has its bridle on but one of the only ways to pacify her so I've let it slide), and then trotted over to the rings without batting an eye. She laid down by far her steadiest and most obedient test she's done with me yet; I was so thrilled with her! She ended up with a 34.5 (a personal best mark for the two of us!) for 11th in a very big and competitive division.
(Oh no! "Toxic Tail" attacks!! The lack of hot water in our barn put a serous cramp in my tail-whitening routine. I've got to come up with a new strategy)
Ringo was next, and I must say he was quite bad. In his pre-ride hack, I took him up to the warmup just to let him get a look around, and he nearly ran away with me. When he wasn't barging through my half-halt, he was running sideways and threatening to rear. Bad bear!! But I kept it chilly and spent a good long time doing super relaxed walk-trot transitions, and he came around. By the end of our hack, he was doing half-passes and changes again like it was no big thing and felt relaxed and supple. I was very proud of him, because such a transformation means (hopefully) that he's starting to trust me a bit more. When I got back on for his official warmup, he was obedient and calm but felt stiff and flat. We put in what I thought was a pretty abysmal test, where he felt barely on the aids the entire time, but I guess I was a bit mistaken because we ended up tied for 1st on a 28! This is best best dressage score I've ever gotten (EVER!) and the first time I'd EVER led after the first day. Good man! I'm still not sure how that happened, but I'm definitely not complaining!
So, I won't lie, I woke up on cross country day feeling like I was going to vomit, and that feeling didn't go away until I was out of the startbox on Kiki, my first of the two. Why? I don't really know. It obviously wasn't the size of the jumps. I think I was just feeling a lot of pressure to give Kiki a good ride, and I wanted SO BADLY for things to go well with Ringo. I had such bad nerves that my vision was starting to get affected: when I get really nervous, I go from focused "tunnel vision" right through normal vision and into this sort of a diffuse glazed look. I can only imagine what I must have looked like (probably a zombie) but it definitely hurt my riding because I had a hard time visually focusing on the fence, which is one of the main ways I extract my (quite limited) knowledge of "seeing the distance." I was also struggling because this was the first time I've ever had two horses going at the same level, and I had such big nerves for Ringo that I had a very hard time giving Kiki the proper mental preparation. Every time I tried to sit down and think about what I needed to do for Kiki at each fence, my mind would automatically jump to what I had to do for Ringo.
The end result was that Kiki got a pretty lackadaisical ride around the course. Fortunately, she was calm, relaxed, and totally in her element, so for the most part it didn't matter that she basically had a sack of grain on her back for most of the course instead of a rider. She's such a natural. Less fortunately, at the one part of the course where I really needed to step in and give her a firm and decisive ride, I failed: after jumping off the drop into the water complex field, I made a sloppy turn around to the entrance to the water, never put my eye onto the very narrow entrance into the water or got her completely straight to it, and then to top things gave her a smack with my crop in my left hand (NOT the open side of the question) when I felt her back off a bit, so that the end result was that she just kept cantering right past the entrance to the water to the right and never even saw the place she was supposed to go. D'oh!! I made a quick turn and she trotted right into the water, even from the atrocious angle I presented it to her at, and then jumped super boldly out of the jump out of water (her first!) on the other side of the complex. She then finished up brilliantly, and was even still just a hair under time even with her stop. I was so mad at myself, because the stop was bad riding, plain and simple, and she didn't deserve to have her record screwed up like that. She was so awesome and honest, and frankly took care of me multiple times at only her second time at this level. Sorry, Kiki!!
After getting Kiki done, my nerves felt much better, and I felt ready to actually ride when it came time to get on Ringo. And goodness, he was fabulous!! He was calm and attentive in the warmup and jumped great right from the start. He did still need to be led into the box, but then he went out and after one strong half-halt from me realized that we were NOT going 520 m/m this time immediately slowed down and proceeded to lope calmly around. What a good boy!! It was honestly the best round I've ever had with him, and made me feel like I'd been doing something right these past few months. We came in right in the middle of the Optimum Time window (securing that we were still in 1st place) and he finished barely even blowing. He's so cool.
After such great rides cross country the day before, I actually didn't feel that nervous going into Show Jumping. I was fairly certain that if I actually gave Kiki the ride she deserved, she was going to be fabulous, and I was quietly confident that I'd done everything I could for Ringo in terms of preparation for this test. He was being so calm and happy in stabling, and had been so calm and at ease in the cross country warmup, that I allowed myself to hope that maybe the competition had brought out the best of him and that he was back to his old self (and, part of me was really hoping that we were going to win!).
Kiki went first, and she was fabulous. She came out a little pissy in the warmup but nowhere near as bad as she's been in the past, and by the time we got to jumping she had calmed down beautifully. The first time we jumped the oxer in warmup she clunked out the back rail rather lazily with her hind legs; she really never hits rails, and I wondering how this rub was going to affect her. She came around the next two times and jumped it the best I've ever felt her jump! Talk about a "good rub!"
(Jumping great in warmup)
We went in the ring and she took that excellent jumping she'd been doing in warmup and cranked it up another notch. She was jumping so extravagantly that, after the first three fences, I was worried she was going to scare herself if she continued that way. Fortunately, she seemed to settle a bit as the course went on, and though she was still giving the jumps PLENTY of room at the end of the course, she didn't feel nearly as frantic as she had to start out. We passed through the finish flags, and I was very surprised to hear the judge's whistle. Turns out I had missed the third to last fence completely! You've got to be kidding me! I've never forgotten my course in my entire life. I was mortified, but at least very thankful that the judge let me finish the last line before telling me. That way, Kiki got to go through the finish flags and feel like she'd done a whole course. She was so pleased with herself! And with good reason; SHE didn't know she'd gone off course! As far as she was concerned, she'd won! Still, I was really kicking myself because Kiki needed this score to help qualify her for the Novice Three Day at GMHA in August, and the stop would have been OK but getting a TE in the Stadium definitely is not. It doesn't look like she's going to be able to qualify, which is a total bummer as I was getting really excited, and worst of all it's because of my error, and not her lack of preparation, that it's not going to work out. Boooooooo.
(wahoo! what a good little girl!)
(Uh oh; here's where I started to worry she might be scaring herself)
(Nah, she's got it; she got more confident as she went)
(High-flying mare over her first ever triple bar!)
Papa and I got Ringo and Dually ready at the same time and walked up together; in the 12+ years we've been eventing, this was the very first time we've been able to do that together, and it felt really special. Being with my dad is the best part of shows, and it's something I really miss when I'm in California. I'm so excited that he's having a great time with Dually; they really seem to be getting along great.
Ringo was a little tense in warmup but nothing bad, and I was proud of the way I worked him through it. He jumped flawlessly, and I was really starting to feel good that we had a shot of having a good round. We went in, last of all, and I felt excited and ready. I made a sort of figure 8 circle to test out his flying change (a good indication of how well connected he is), and when he was late behind I should have made another circle and really gotten his motor going in hindsight, but he felt good enough and so I came around to the first jump, which he jumped fabulously. It was then a square right turn to the second and third, a six stride of two oxers. I was dismayed to feel that he'd landed on the outside lead, and spent most of the turn trying to get him re-organized instead of really sending him forward like my original plan had been. Still, I did get him re-organized, I got his hind legs underneath him, I got him on a decent length of stride, and I got him off the reins: the complete checklist of what he needs before every fence. We got to the 3' oxer on a medium short distance, and he stopped in cold blood. I was so frustrated, but packed that away for the moment, gave him a pat to reassure him, picked up the canter and came again, this time being even more forceful in the application of my approach strategy. Thank you, God, this time he jumped it, and then proceeded to have a not stellar but at least existent round. He added up in both lines (part of his stopping syndrome: refusal to go anywhere except pile-driver into the base) which was frustrating and doesn't really predict success as we try to make the jumps bigger, but at least he jumped.
We finished with 4 jump and 12 time, enough to shoot us straight out of the ribbons. It was just an added sting on a very frustrating round. For a good few hours there, I really thought I had a good chance of winning Groton House, which has been a dream as long as I've been eventing. For the future, I'm really running short on ideas on what to do. I gave Ringo the best preparation I could, and in our last school he gave me as good a feeling over the fences as he ever has. He jumped perfectly in warmup, even over the large oxer they had out there, and never once gave an indication of even hesitation. Then, he came around the turn and was just a bit disorganized, didn't feel for whatever reason that my very focused and direction corrections were adequate, and declined to jump a fence which, let's be honest, he could walk over. This is a horse that I've jumped 4'6" on; I can't describe how sad it makes me to not be able to get him around a 3' course. I don't know what I did to make this horse this f***ed up, but I'm getting pretty tired of it.
So obviously, I'm a bit down at the moment, but I'm not out quite yet. I'm not sure what the future is going to hold for me and Ringo, but we're going to keep trying. I'm going to head up to get a lesson from Suzi in the next few days, which will hopefully give me some clues towards what a next reasonable goal is. I'm just feeling very lost at the moment. Kiki is going to have a light week, meanwhile, and then gear up for Huntington on the 11th, where it will be Rider Redemption time!! She doesn't have to change a thing; I just need to remember to pack my brain!