Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Hiatus

I've alluded to it in several posts over the past few months, but my work life is absolutely nuts right now. I'm compartmentalizing the chaos as much as I can, but I'm only capable of juggling so much fire at once! Balancing my work and personal life is still happening, but it's a delicate dance.

Work is progressively eating into more and more of what was supposed to be "free" time and "vacation" time as the days wear on. I keep thinking it can't possibly get worse, and yet it does.

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You know that infograph of the path to success? Where your perceived path to success is linear but the actuality is a jumbled, chaotic mess? In this instance, the path from "normal" to "shitstorm" has been a very steep, linear line that has progressed from March to the present. It's just like life to make the difficult things simple and the fun things difficult.

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I love this space and I like to put time and thought into my posts. But balancing this space with the rest of my life right now has become increasingly difficult. Sadly, it's become a huge chore to write, edit, add media, and schedule/publish a post after my high-stress work days that involve a lot of technical scientific writing.

We're all busy people. We all lead chaotic lives and still somehow manage to balance our passions (horse and otherwise) with life's other responsibilities. Many of us also live with/support others who live similarly busy lives and end up being influenced by them, as well. And that's awesome! Being busy often lends fulfillment to us that outweighs the stress that piggybacks the nature of "being busy".

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But amidst all of this, we need to make time for ourselves so we can maintain mental and physical health. Right now, I need to limit certain areas of my life to maintain a healthy balance in others. As much as I try, I am not superwoman and I cannot do everything, nor should I feel pressure to! I need to practice some compassion toward myself right now.

Unfortunately, blogging is one of those things that will be temporarily limited until my job slows down in October (if things go well...). Fortunately, my hiatus only applies to writing and not actual "experiencing". Griffin and I are scheduled to head to our next event this weekend, I have multiple trail rides planned to enjoy the beautiful fall landscape, I'm signed up to run my annual 5k charity race in 2 weeks, I've got multiple climbing trips in the works, and numerous other Very Exciting Things are in the forecast.

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I hope to return to this space in a month or so and I'll do my best to read along with your adventures in the mean time. If you're a fan of Instagram, definitely follow along on the adventures there (@estout18) - it's the one form of social media I truly keep up with these days.

I wish you all well and look forward to catching back up with you when I'm juggling fewer flaming balls of fire.

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Twilight Eventing: Stadium and XC

With dressage behind us, my nerves in a remarkably settled place, and a smile on my face, Griffin and I entered the warm-up area for stadium jumping. I just walked him at first, settling us both into the new environment and reminding myself of the night's goals once again. Primary goal 1: Give Griffin show miles; primary goal 2: give Griffin the feeling of success in a new job; secondary goal: finish on a number not a letter.

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Emma once again shared some strategy with me and I set off trotting and cantering the crossrail, then trotting and cantering the small vertical, then cantering each the big vertical and the oxer.

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With each jump, Griffin seemed to wake up and come alive. Jumping is what he loves most and he seemed to be all too pleased with the realization that he now would now get to jump instead of flatting.

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Emma called out multiple times, "He looks great!" "Good job!" "You all look awesome." To each, I grinned.

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Happy pony. Also, need to put my stirrups up at least a hole! They've been long as I've nursed yet another ankle injury...

This horse truly loves jumping. And so, without much else to prove, we headed down to check in with the steward and await our turn.

Admittedly, in preparation for this event, I was more concerned about the jumping phases than dressage. Griffin is pretty proven with jumping at home, but new-to-him jumps can sometimes be a cause for pause. I really wasn't sure how he'd handle all of those stadium jumps since they were so much more substantial (fill, etc.) than anything we had at home. I merely hoped that with some verbal encouragement, leg, and the whip, we'd make it through.

When we were allowed to enter the ring, I trotted him in and around a few of what I thought may be "scarier" jumps to let him see them. In mere seconds, the bell was rung to signal us to begin. I knew I had a few more seconds to spare if I needed to let him see things in the ring, but he'd been pretty calm, so I turned him toward the first jump and we were off!

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No 7b for our round (as noted in upper left corner)

Grif handily tackled the first few jumps with little issue. He gave them a healthy look-see, but mostly, he was obedient and forward. He knew his job and he went at it.

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Around the 4th jump, I realized I needed to really sit up and ride more to help him out. I mean, I was riding before, but I was spending more time encouraging and praising - which wasn't a bad thing! - I just needed to, you know, be more present in the riding sense, too. (Admittedly, the whole experience was overwhelming in the most exciting of ways and my squirrel brain wasn't keeping up.)

And so I got with the program and gave him more leg to push him more forward over the jumps.

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Hunt that jump, Grif!
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I wondered how he'd take this fan jump...total nonevent! He was in the ZONE at this point.
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He didn't like these colors. NO TOUCHY!
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It was basically The Most Fun. And honestly, it was over a little too soon!


(Video thanks to Emma's friend Rachael who joined the entourage after her Novice round.)

The whole experience only widened the perma-grin on my face. This horse, you guys. <3

Amidst congratulatory words from Austen, Rachael, and Emma, we headed straight to the warm up for XC and I put Griffin over a few solid jumps.

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He was totally game for these and even gave a small buck and squeal which garnered a giggle and, "He feels really good!" from Emma. Yes. Yes he does. Welcome to Griffin the Jumping Horse. He's a different animal, for sure.

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Griffin in JUMP ALL THE THINGS mode
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Twilight events host a fraction of the people that the same venue's starter trials do, which was a big draw for me. The second draw was knowing that the XC course would be setup so that each division's jump height was in a line at each obstacle. A rider could choose to school any height. As such, during our course walk I had picked a few higher option jumps. (Griffin is very confirmed over higher jumps at home, but the "question" of XC jumps were something I didn't want to push unless it was very friendly. See primary goal 2: Give the horse a feeling of success at his first show.)

Only two fences on XC gave me pause during our walk: a friendly log that had been hollowed out to allow for plants to be grown, and a painted jump with some very threadbare fake brush extending from the top. I had a feeling that the log with vegetation would end up being a nonevent by the time we got to it and had a feeling Griffin would give the janky brush jump a pretty hairy eyeball before considering going over. I didn't fret much in the moment though because I was committed to this being a schooling experience for time and miles. If we had trouble, we'd school it.

Two jumps I thought may give Grif pause. 

Knowing we were plenty warm and ready to go, I opted to head right on over to XC and get started.

Wearing my perma-grin with a healthy dose of Holy Shit I Can't Believe I'm Finally Doing This, we checked in with the steward who gave us the go ahead, and headed out on our first XC course.

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The first two jumps were the most basic of basic. Griffin hesitated a titch, but was still forward and game.

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As we cleared the second, we had a bit of downhill dip before a very mild uphill approach to the third. No stranger to working on a grass or in a field or on varied terrain, Griffin powered forward into a strong canter on the downhill and I let him carry it toward the third jump.

In this moment between jumps, cantering on this horse that I've trained from the ground up I couldn't help but tear up a little as I smiled at the realization we were out here doing the very thing I'd dreamed of doing since I was a child. I felt a lot of feels in those few seconds before reining myself in to focus on the task at hand.

The third jumps were all stained a near-black. The elementary jump was a simple log and the others were all coops of appropriate height for their division. As much as I wanted to opt for a bigger height here, I was worried Grif would find the dark color surprising, so decided we would stick with the low option so he didn't have to process more than necessary.

In anticipation of him needing a bit more processing, I slowed his canter a notch approaching the dark jumps. He did indeed take an extra moment to process the jump but decided quickly that it was okay and powered us over it amidst copious praise from me.

We accelerated our canter up the slight hill as we headed to the next jump and the subsequent "jump", a quick up-down hummock that Griffin slayed. #endurancecrosstrainingFTW

The next several jumps were easy breezy and the only notable thing between them was that Grif accelerated into a nice hand gallop that had me giggling all the while.

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Jump 7 was a hanging log that had been hollowed out in the middle to allow for the installation of flowers. I wondered if this would bother Grif at all to only be proven that nope, he didn't give a flying damn about it. Over and onward we went to, eventually approaching our first water complex where he absolutely took pause to ask, "Um, I'm thirsty, can I drink this?" No, buddy, you can't drink right now, I'm sorry, but MOVE forward. C'mon!

From the water, we headed to jump 10, the one I thought may bring Grif the most pause of any jump on course because it wasn't a natural color (it was lavender) and it had the jankiest "brush" fingers extending from the top of it.

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Sure enough, son gave it healthy stank eye and balked a bit as we jumped it. But we were over and off and that's all that mattered!

Between 10 and 11, Grif felt more downhill than he had the whole course. In review of the video, this was because he was taking a dump! Well, I'll take that! Any horse that can take a crap at speed is okay with me.

Jump 11 was a complex of very inviting logs, so I opted for the BN option here and Griffin jumped it the same as he'd jumped the majority of jumps on the course. He was rollin' at this point and it was no big thang.

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#creepstar3000 #helicoptermom

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From 11 to 12, I needed to take a wide approach to hit my line. I, uh, forgot this until the last minute and whipped out and around to make up for it. In the process of taking this wide and laughing at my near folly not doing so, I looked up to see Austen and Rachael and the orange side-by-side/Gator/ORV that had seemed to maybe be following me during the course - a fact I'd dismissed in my focus on Griffin. In these few seconds of reconnecting with the world outside the one of me riding my horse though, I recognized a particular fluorescent pink/orange in the side-by-side... Emma?!, my head questioned, but I quickly dismissed the thought and focused on the upcoming jump...

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Jump 12 was similar to the janky lavender finger brush jump at 10, so I wasn't too concerned about a refusal from Grif. I clucked and added lots of leg and over we went!


We were through another water complex for 13 with less hesitation than we'd had at 9, picking up a powerful canter as we exited and headed for the final jump where I ended with the BN option once more.

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From the landing of the final jump to the finish, I congratulated and praised Griffin, my smile bigger than it had been all day. That. Was. AWESOME.


What a freaking thrill! I am honestly not sure who had more fun, the horse or me. Remember how I noted that Griffin came alive during the stadium warm-up? That "aliveness" only grew in an exponential fashion as we proceeded from the stadium warmup through the stadium phase into the XC warmup and finally through the XC course. I had an inkling of an idea before we'd ever tried our hand at this sport that Griffin would be one of those horses that lives for XC, and I feel pretty confirmed in that hunch now that we've tackled our first event.

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Ohmygoodnessgracious. Seriously. SO much fun.

Austen, Rachael, and Emma (IN THE SIDE BY SIDE) quickly met up with me at the finish, everyone smiling and congratulating Griffin and I. We all laughed at the fact that Emma had been stalking me the whole ride in the gator like a #creepstar3000 #helicoptermom

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So let's review my goals for this outing: give Griffin some show miles,  ; confirm his confidence in this sport,   We tackled each - with ease! And then we went on to go double-clear and finish on our [sub-40] dressage score to boot! All of this resulted in us finishing SECOND of NINETEEN competitors in the elementary division.


Um, WOW. Completely and totally unexpected, but I'll take it. Griffin doesn't know or care where he finished; he only knows I'm PSYCHED with him right now for doing something he really enjoyed. Damn, do I love this horse.

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We've got our next even lined up in the very near future, so look for another recap soon. I am, once again, only shooting to give Grif a positive experience, so cross your fingers he has as much fun as he did this time.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Twilight Eventing: Prologue and Dressage

Making Your Own Reality

It isn't easy to dive into a new discipline. There's a big learning curve that comes from multiple directions no matter how you look at it. Add in the fact that you may not live anywhere near professional resources or an established community within the new discipline and the difficulty level ratchets up a few degrees.

Training Griffin from the ground up (my first experience doing this with a horse) was both eye-opening and confidence-building. Through the process, I learned a lot about the resources I did and didn't have available in my area. I also realized that if I wanted certain things to happen in my equestrian life (eventing, jumping, or dressage), I would need to create my own reality.

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This horse has turned into quite the handsome devil

And so I spent the past few years delving deeper into distance-resources (e.g., books, internet, blogs) to build my knowledge-base on jumping and dressage. To practice things I learned about, I purchased and built my own jumps at home to practice with, delineated a dressage court in the field to practice in, and asked copious questions to friends and acquaintances that were involved with the eventing and dressage communities.

As my skill - and Griffin's - advanced, I moved us into the next steps: we had a lesson with Stephen Birchall, we schooled XC, and we competed in a dressage schooling show. Nothing happened quickly, it was hard to do what I did with a 3-4 hour one-way drive, but the important thing is that I got us out there and we experienced the experiences.

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Like a true endurance professional, he dove right into the grass

All of these things were pursued with the eventual goal of competing in eventing. This goal that was finally realized Wednesday night at Loch Moy's Twilight Eventing.

Getting There

Twilight events are always held on Wednesday evenings which meant I'd asked for the time off from work at the beginning of summer. Originally, I was going to attend two Twilight events, one in July and one in August; unfortunately, my work life has been beyond crazy since March and the July event just couldn't happen. Instead, I threw my eggs into one basket and planned to definitely make it to the August 30 event, enetered at the elementary division.

Grif overnighted at my house as he'd done in July to help take an hour off our trip the next day. He handled his overnight with much less stress than last time and walked right on the trailer the next morning like a professional.

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Calmly perusing his surroundings - and view of stadium and XC!

Fortunately, we didn't have any trailer tire snafus on our eastward journey and we made great time. I rendezvoused with Austen at her barn. We had a late lunch and visited a bit before we headed to nearby Loch Moy where the event was held - and where Emma would be meeting us!

Once on site, I set to organizing the mess of things in my trailer while Austen checked me in. Things were well underway and I knew time would move fast, so Austen and I struck out to walk the XC course and check out the stadium jumps before getting Griffin ready for everything to come.

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I'm convinced everyone who rides at Loch Moy needs a photo with this view

Dressage

Due to the expedited format of Twilight events, most competitors ride dressage in their jumping tack. Despite not practicing this much at home (only 2 rides), we went along with the crowd.

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Active?

I'd originally hoped to warm up for ~40 minutes. Due to my complete lack of organization at the trailer, that time dwindled down to a mere 15 minutes by the time I reached the warm-up area! Fortunately, it was totally okay.

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Emma giving us all the beta

My nerves that had been such a bother at the schooling show weeks before were completely and totally nonexistent. I was more flummoxed from my lack of organization back at the trailer than I was with the actual act of riding my horse in front of people. After a few minutes of aimlessly riding my saintly horse around, I organized my mind enough to start focusing on the present moment and the task at hand. I reminded myself of my primary goals: give Griffin show miles & help him find success and enjoyment in this job; the secondary goal was to finish on a number and not a letter! The primary goals were more than achievable, which further settled my mind.

Emma discussed various strategy with me as I warmed up. Primarily, she pointed out that warm-up was a time to polish the things that would make us stand out to the judge. I nodded along with her, understanding and agreeing with that logic.

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Soakin' up the learnin'

Griffin was his typical away-from-home sluggish self. While it's great that he isn't a basketcase, his chill demeanor doesn't bode well for dressage at all! To get him more round on the contact with any consistency, I need him to be much more "up" in mentally and physically. It's hard to get a horse consistently round in the contact without impulsion.

Knowing this show was more about time and miles spent Doing the Thing, I decided strategized that I wouldn't pick a fight with Grif about contact at all. We'd do the bare minimum and focus on being consistent within that bare minimum with the idea that consistency would benefit us more than inconsistency.

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Final words before we head to the ring

Due to his relaxed mood, Grif was also having trouble picking up the correct lead. This wasn't a huge surprise to me either given his mood and lack of impulsion. Intro C doesn't give much opportunity for correcting a wrong lead though! I discussed with Emma my options for if we botched it during the test and resolved to try to correct it one time if it went awry.  If one correction wouldn't resolve it, then so be it! I'd move on to the rest of my test.

I looked over at the ring after making my decisions about strategy to see the rider in front of me finishing up her test. It was now or never and I found myself wishing I cared a little more than I did in that moment - I was SO MELLOW.

I walked and trotted Griffin around the dressage court, smiling and greeting the judge as I did so. After my second pass by the judge, she rang the bell and we headed in!

Intro C

A: Enter working trot, rising. X: Halt through medium walk. Salute - Proceed working trot rising.
Score: 6.5
Judge's remarks: Salute with hand that doesn't hold whip
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Perma-grin, already in effect
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Yeah, yeah, salute without the whip hand. I swear I'll practice! 

C: Track right, working trot rising
Score: 7.0
Judge's remarks: Correct bend
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I was smiling, the judge was smiling, Grif, are you smiling?

B: Circle right 20 meters.
Score:7.5
Judge's remarks: Nice energy
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Good boy listening to me

A: Circle right 20 meters developing working canter in first quarter of the circle, right lead. Before A: Working trot rising.
Score:7.0
Judge's remarks: Slightly on forehand
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One of our better canter pictures...ever!

Transition in and out of canter
Score: 7.5
Judge's remarks: Obedient

K-X-M: Change rein, working trot rising.
Score:8.0
Judge's remarks: Straight! Active.
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Grif loves the diagonal trot work, though he looks worried here, haha

E: Circle left 20 meters.
Score: 8.0
Judge's remarks: Nice activity
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Still smiling...

A: Circle left 20 meters developing working canter in first quarter of the circle, left lead. Before A: Working trot rising.
Score: 7.5
Judge's remarks: Correct size
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I can't believe I got a good note on my geometry...admittedly it's something I worry about a lot!

Transition in and out of canter.
Score:7.5
Judge's remarks: Obedient.

Between F & B: Medium walk.
Score: 7.5
Judge's remarks: Fluid.

B-H: Free walk. H: Medium walk.
Score: 6.0
Judge's remarks: Nice march, needs more stretch
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I felt like his walk was a bit better than early July

Between C & M: Working trot rising to A.
Score: 6.5
Judge's remarks: Slight abrupt bending left before M
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re: left bend, yeah, he wiggled a bit about something he saw and I told him to get back over

A: Down centerline. G: Halt through medium walk. Salute.
Score: 6.5
Judge's remarks: Hindquarters slightly left.
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Ugh, these crooked halts! If he'd been straight we'd have scored even higher! We have been and will continue to practice...

Collective Marks
Gaits: 7.0
Impulsion: 7.5
Submission: 7.0
Rider's position: 7.5
Riders effectiveness of aids: 6.5 (correct bend is circled)
Geometry and accuracy: 7.0
Further Remarks: Nice job, good energy. Keep reins shorter in canter work to keep balance off forehand.

For those of you who didn't have your calculators out as you went through the above, our efforts earned us a [shocking] 28.8! This was NOT anywhere what I was expecting. In my head, behind my primary goals of giving Griffin show miles and making sure he felt confident in this job and my secondary goal of finishing on a number and not a letter, I hoped that my dressage score would be sub-40. That was it. Never in my wildest dreams would I have dreamed we'd be sub-30!

Fortunately, I didn't get to be surprised and shocked by my dressage score until I was about to leave. All I knew finishing dressage was that we'd remembered our test and it felt better than the schooling show had in July because I'd been much more mentally present. That was more than enough for me in that moment!

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Walking by stadium on our way to warm up!

I had a perma-grin through most of the dressage test and it didn't diminish at all as I headed to warm-up for stadium.

Stay tuned for details on the jumping phases soon!