After a month or so in dressage boot camp, Ky and I headed back into eventing land this weekend for one of Area I's most famous and traditionally prestigious events: Groton House Farm. Groton House was the first event I ever went to as a spectator 15 (!) years ago, back when it was truly one of the lynchpin events of the summer season, running big Advanced divisions that drew the likes of Bruce Davidson, David and Karen O'Connor, and Phillip Dutton in droves.
These days Groton House definitely has a somewhat quieter vibe, only offering levels up to IP, but it's still a favorite in our area and the lower level divisions are always very big and hotly contested. I knew with Ky that we probably weren't going to win, but I was really hoping to come home with my first ever Groton House ribbon, as I've always had a poor showing for one reason or another, between missing a jump with Kiki a few years ago or leading going into the show jumping with Ringo only to have him stop at the first fence.
Alas, we came home empty handed yet again, but just like at GMHA, the number only tells a small part of the story. In truth, I think our performance was miles and miles better than King Oak, and I couldn't be more pleased with the little dude. He was perfect in all three phases, I rode well, and we got tons of compliments throughout the weekend. Just no ribbon! So here's how it went down:
Of the three phases this weekend, this was definitely the most disappointing. I thought Ky warmed up really well; he was loose, relaxed, and as steady in the contact as he's currently capable of being. His transitions were smooth, and I was riding well and being really cognizant of my position.
(So soft! So lovely! My hands are miraculously together and not in my lap! ALL THE WINNING)
Ky felt easily as good as he did in our better test at GMHA, if not better--he was smooth, relaxed, and didn't get stuck in the contact in the corners (which is sometimes a problem for us). I did make one very big mistake when I tried to keep him from drifting out on a trot circle by booting him with my outside leg... and instead prompted him to break into canter. D'oh! So I knew it wasn't going to break into the 20s based on that error, but I was really hoping for a solid mid-30s score based on how he felt.
(Nice relaxed free walk - and check out the birds swooping around in the background!)
And... we got a 40. And were 3rd from last in our division. Boo. Over the past few years, between IDA, Ringo, Kiki, and Ky, I feel like I've ridden waaaaaay more dressage tests than the average lower level amateur eventer, and I feel like I have a pretty legitimate claim to saying that I have a good idea of what a good test is and what a bad test is. This was a good test. The judge clearly didn't agree. Phooey.
(Does this look like a 40? I thought not)
I usually am dutiful about picking up my test and poring over the comments for nuggets to improve on, but this time there was such a massive disconnect between what it felt like and what it scored like that I knew it was just going to be frustrating and depressing. So I left the test behind. I know what I still need to work on: connection, connection, connection. Hopefully next time around we'll get a judge that will appreciate our efforts a little more than this one did.
Now this is where the beauty of eventing comes in: at a dressage show, after a disappointing score like that, you have to somehow pull up our big girl pants, put that sour experience behind you, and get ready to repeat the whole experience again the next day. In eventing, you get to put it behind you by going cross-country!!! No comparison as to which is more enjoyable, haha.
(Getting a flying change in warm up - definitely not quite as classy as when I do it with Ringo!)
I thought the course looked up to height and somewhat peeky in places, but not overly technical. Ky is a spooky beast, so I felt like the course could be difficult for us, and that I was going to have to give him a really good supportive ride. But, if I could get him feeling confident, I knew it was going to go very smoothly. The only technical bit that gave me any worry was the water, which is pretty busy and hard to read for the horses at GHF, and was very similar to a water exercise that we did a week earlier in schooling and had some trouble with.
But, I needn't have worried. Ky was AMAZING right from the first jump. I was really happy with my riding--I never picked, jumped up the neck, or lost my position, and I could feel Ky gaining and gaining confidence as we went. It was one of the smoothest and best cross country rounds I've had in years. I was beaming ear-to-ear by the end; Ky made everything feel sooo easy, the bogey water included. We came in nearly a minute under time without me pushing him at all, and he cooled out really well. Who cares about a crappy dressage score?? That was awesome!!!
(Dang. THE cutest.)
I was a little nervous about the show jumping, as it is easily my worst phase as a rider. Ky is a great show jumper, but my nerves are awful. At King Oak I let my nerves get the better of me and had a clear but very hairy round. I really wanted a better round here, because after our amazing cross country the day before I was feeling like a move up to Training might not be out of the cards... but I had to have a good Novice show jumping round first.
Ky was a little deceptive in warm up: he felt nice and energetic as ever cantering around, but at the first few jumps I pointed him at I was surprised at how little adjustability I felt like I had. Normally Ky is like a little accordion: it's almost too easy to shorten and lengthen his stride, to the point where I have to be super careful to not touch his face and inadvertently shorten his stride to nothing right in front of the fence.
(Jumping beautifully, but only from a gappy distance - not ideal!)
But this time, I felt like I had nothing: it was either move up to a long one, or chip. I moved up a few times, but was a little disconcerted that I didn't have a good deep distance in my arsenal. In an attempt to get some adjustability, I came around a few times and really forced him to add. It was a little rough feeling, but fortunately it paid off, and by the time I went into the ring I felt like I had my usual accordion pony back again.
(Chunking a deep one, but I'm super happy with my defensive position - check out that moving towards automatic release!)
And our round was great! He added in the last two lines, but I knew that he might and made sure to really sit up and adjust the balance in the first few strides, then not jump up his neck at the end. The result was that he jumped super cleverly out of the deep distance both times, logging a smooth clear round. Mission accomplished!!
We finished in 11th place, but I couldn't have been happier with Ky over the whole weekend. I wish the judge had taken more of a shine to us, because otherwise we certainly would have come home with a ribbon, but such is life. It was a massive performance improvement from our last outing at King Oak, and that's all that matters!