Sunday, October 15, 2017

October 10 Questions

Well, I'm on vacation in Cape May enjoying a quiet mind for the first time in MONTHS. I'd love to update you on a number of things...but wrapping up all of the accompanying media is more than I can handle at the moment. I also may or may not have solely vanquished a bottle of prosecco that gave me extraordinary squirrel!brain. So, instead. I put together a list of 10 October-esque Questions! Feel free to hop along with these, I'd love to hear other's answers!

    1. Most equestrians quote fall as their favorite season to ride. Are you one of those that does? Or maybe not; what is your favorite season to ride, if so?
    2. Do you clip your horse in the fall? Or maybe you wait a little longer? 
    3. Have any costume riding events in October on/near/around Halloween? What will your horse be dressed as? What about yourself? What would you dress as if money/time were absolutely no issue?
    4. Is your horse afraid of any autumn colors? Or maybe has a certain quirk that appears only in the autumn?
    5. Pumpkin spice. It's everywhere right now. Find any natural pumpkin [squash] spice-esque recipes for your horse? 
    6. We're getting to the end of the calendar year, any final few "big-bang" shows to look forward to?
    7. Winter is coming. What are you doing to winterize your trailer/rig/car?
    8. Do you have any autumn traditions you/your horse follow?
    9. October in many places marks the beginning of deer hunting season. Does this affect your riding at all? Do you wear blaze orange or modify your schedule to accommodate the season?
    10. What are you most looking forward to goal-wise as the final months of the calendar year approach?

My answers:
  1. Most equestrians quote fall as their favorite season to ride. Are you one of those that does? Or maybe not; what is your favorite season to ride, if so?
    Fall is absolutely my favorite season to ride. Uncharacteristically dry weather and trails exist at this time. Couple that with the vibrant fall foilage that persists throughout the various elevations this month and you've got a visually-attractive experience wonderland. The smell and sound of fallen leaves also wakens a special part of my soul. Horse camping in the fall is also the absolute best with the crisp mornings: you wake, smelling the smoldering coals of the fire the night before, you unzip your tent to check the horses and see their calm exhales lift a misty fog into the crisp air as they rest head to hind, a hind leg resting on each animal in relaxation, as the rising sunshine strikes the mountainside above making the fall foilage light aflame like the most brilliant fire.

  2. Do you clip your horse in the fall? Or maybe you wait a little longer?
    Typically, I don't clip yet. However, as competition goals expand into this time of year, I absolutely will/do. They've already got hefty between-season coats, it would be unfair to make them workout in them on high-humidity 70-degree days.
  3. Have any costume riding events in October on/near/around Halloween? What will your horse be dressed as? What about yourself? What would you dress as if money/time were absolutely no issue?
    We don't have any events lined up...currently. With Q, I've always dreamed of dressing up as Princess Merida from Brave (I have the dress somewhere). Q is marked like Aengus. Just, you know, about 5hh shorter! With Griffin, we'd be some kind of epic battle pair in one of the LOTR films. Or perhaps a mythological character of old. Stan? No question. Ruggedly rustic outlaws from the wild west days.

  4. Is your horse afraid of any autumn colors? Or maybe has a certain quirk that appears only in the autumn?
    Q is offended by vibrantly royal red berries/leaves. The geldings just quit desperately snatching green things while on trail rides because clearly, trail rides mean death-marches-to-purgatory-must-eat-all-the-things. 
  5. Pumpkin spice. It's everywhere right now. Find any natural pumpkin [squash] spice-esque recipes for your horse?
    The horses have always been given the old jack-o-lanterns and decorational gourds/squash after the holiday season. I'd say they benefit quite a bit from this time of year.
  6. We're getting to the end of the calendar year, any final few "big-bang" shows to look forward to?
    Hoping to make the MDHT Fall Starter #3, the final one of the fall series in November!
  7. Winter is coming. What are you doing to winterize your trailer/rig/car?
    Trailer is getting a big remodel, so that's helping a lot. Also getting tire covers.
  8. Do you have any autumn traditions you/your horse follow?
    I try to go on one beautiful autumn trail ride ever year since 2012. Q has been my partner in many of those, but the annual tradition really started with Stan back when I was a sophomore in college trying to impress my relatively-new-at-that-time boyfriend of how beautiful and fun horses were for adventure (photos of this endeavor featured in this post).

  9. October in many places marks the beginning of deer hunting season. Does this affect your riding at all? Do you wear blaze orange or modify your schedule to accommodate the season?
  10. We wear a lot of blaze orange and sometimes avoid riding at certain times of day (dawn/dusk) as much as possible.
  11. What are you most looking forward to goal-wise as the final months of the calendar year approach?
    Final event with Grif; snowy rides with all; beginning our solely dressage-focused winter workouts.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Deconstruction of Q's Spooking

Deconstructing the why/when behind a spook isn't the simplest of tasks when you've got an intelligent, highly opinionated, incredibly stubborn pony mare. [Un]Fortunately for her, I'm just as stubborn!


Setting the Stage

A Different Saddle

Step one was scratching the treeless dressage saddle. As much as I adore that saddle and the contact and connection it provides for riding, it does jack shit so far as helping me stay aboard during a Q-spook. Since Q has been back under saddle, we've been riding exclusively in an Abetta western saddle that had been gathering dust for years at my BO's barn.

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The saddle is an inch too small for me, but that's fine for now. It's a great interim saddle that provides what we each need in this part of our training: security for me and consistency for Q. I feel secure that I won't fall off during one of her spooks, and Q has more consistent riding from me because I'm not tensing up as often in fear of falling off.

Pausing for Processing

Step two was taking things slowly at first, doing what I could to provide Q more time to process the world before she worked herself up to the point where she would spook. I spent a week and a half stopping her and feeding her a peppermint from the saddle. This refocused her mind on something pleasant while allowing her more time to process things.

In no time at all, she was much calmer during our riding sessions and the peppermints weren't doled out as often. Simply halting when I noticed her starting to get tense was enough for her to calm herself so we could move forward again. She began to anticipate being asked to halt and figured out very quickly that the right answer was to relax and not move her feet.

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Slowly, we started adding brief trot sets. It started as just a few strides and evolved from there. The transitions to a walk took the place of our halts to refocus her fretting mind when it emerged. She would still give things the stink eye and throw out a spook maybe once a ride, but by and large, she was improving and learning.

Working Through the Wiggles

One of the biggest things I noticed bringing Q back into work under saddle was how freaking wiggly she is! Griffin and Stan are both so solid and straight feeling. Not stiff-straight, just focused-straight. Q wiggles throughout her whole body bending like this )) and then like this (( constantly as she looks all about. She is just so fluid compared to the geldings!

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I began noticing that those wiggles would increase during the trot. I also noticed that they would often become exacerbated right before she'd offer a spook, so I began asking for a downward transition right in those moments. After repeated downward transition, Q would settle and relax and wiggle less.

Deconstructing the Whens and Whys

Sticky Spots

During the first few weeks of riding, while spooking wasn't common, it wasn't absent altogether. I'd end up riding one minor (for Q) spook every 2 or 3 rides. Fortunately, thanks to the western saddle, I hardly budged.

I began noticing that Q would spook the most at the beginning of a workout. One particular board was cause for a spook right as we left the barnyard (200-feet into our ride) and the burn pile right before the creek crossing (500-feet into our ride) was the second common spot. As soon as we crossed the creek into the field where I work the horses, while she'd be on high alert, give things the stink eye, and high-step a wide berth around suspicious grass, her full spooking behavior was rarely offered.


Over time, the two sticky spots at the beginning of our rides became less sticky. I made sure to sit tall and centered for these areas, and Q would sometimes look at them, but the spooking ceased. She returned to her behavior from days of old, picking up a swinging, marching walk as we headed to the field.

Some days we'd get through whole rides without any spooking. Other days, she'd present balky behavior but nothing more. How novel! Progress indeed.

A New Problem and a Breakthrough

However, progress means new problems crop up as old ones disappear. Progress in this case also meant that our rides grew in length from 20 minutes to 30-40 minutes as time went on. Q's patience for work and being away from her friends (OMG!) grew thinner near the end of our slightly longer workouts. She began spooking at the end when she thought we should be done but I deigned otherwise. Shame on me!

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See, I know she's herd-sour and loves her friends. It's always been her MO. If I'm riding at home and can get 1-2 miles from the barn, she settles. If I haul out, she's always better. The gravitational pull toward the herd when we work in the field adjacent to them is nothing new. Knowing this, and knowing that she's much more forward marching in the direction of the barn (and the end of a workout), I always try to add small easy tasks (serpentines, circles, halting and backing, halting and waiting) as we wrap up to assuage some of her urges to be done. right. now.

One day, Q really thought we were done. We were definitely heading that way, but I never want her to think her decision to be done with work is the reason we quit. We can stop because she's been exceptionally good, but not because she is ready to be back with her friends.

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So when I continued making her do the walk-trot intervals we'd been doing instead of turning fully toward the barn to call it a day, she tossed me a huge spook. I didn't budge or change my tune at all (funny how spooks are easy to ride when you're already riding properly and not anticipating the spook). Well, Q was PISSED. She pinned her ears, snaked her head, and slammed her forefeet into the ground with more force than she'd done moments before as she trotted.

I roared with laughter. Sucks to be you, Q! Life is so hard when things don't go the way you want them to. Woe is the life of a fat pony mare doing work that doesn't even cause her to break a sweat!

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From that moment on, I noticed that Q was more liable to spook when she had an opinion about work that I didn't agree with. I'd ask for something "hard" or "complex" (air quotes because these are truly simple tasks like walk-trot transitions, circles, etc.) and she'd spook to try to get out of doing the task. I'd act as if she hadn't even spooked each time. The more I ignored her, the less she offered the behavior.

Having deconstructed her behavior to this point, Q began trying to seek the answer she wanted in other ways. I began noticing that she would often speed her trot up or try to break into a canter right before spooking. She would use the increase in speed as an excuse to spook. Upon realizing this, I introduced oodles of half halts into our workouts to check her before she wrecked us.

Suddenly I had a very fun horse to ride! She would still look at things, but she was doing it with far less frequency than she had been. She also really started to relax into the work and the environment, asking often to stretch her back during trot work - something she would never ask to do when she was nervous about monsters getting her. It was such a pleasure to be able to do multiple laps of the field without a single spook! We even reached a point where we could trot a whole lap without a spook - a true testament to our progress.

Conclusions and a Path Forward

While I'm a long way yet from having the horse I purchased in 2012 behavior-wise, we're definitely making great strides in that direction. The de-evolution of her spooking behavior in the time I've had her is 110% human error on my part. I'm grateful for the chance to resolve it and build our relationship back to a better place. Q's a hot, athletic little thing and I have no notions of her being completely spook-free, but I do have hope that her former dirty spooking behavior will evolve into something much more acceptable and that we will be able to enjoy our time together again instead of silently warring with one another lol.

She's starting to exhibit Griffin's trademark pose of resting her nose on my cheek


Her confidence is a huge factor in this whole equation, but our slow reintroduction to work is helping her to build that as we go along - my plan from the beginning. The longer I work with her, the more I realize that she isn't the type of horse who appreciates being rushed in any sense. Keeping things slow will allow us to go "fast" later and allow Q to build more trust in me and confidence in our work. She's already interacting with me in ways that demonstrate success in this department, which is so, so encouraging.

We're a work in progress, but progress is evident. I'm looking forward to continuing our forward path together.

So how about you - have you ever deconstructed spooking behavior in a horse? What did you find? Did your horse only spook at certain times/certain places or due to certain stimuli?

Friday, October 6, 2017

Oy With the Poodles Already


Oh man. Where has the time gone? I'm making an attempt to ease back into blogging, but beware, my stress-addled brain is still forgetting things and boggling words in all manner of ways.

The nonsensical things I've said lately baffle even me and demonstrate to myself and the world how much clarity and logic do not exist in my mind. For example, I told my chiropractor I am at my job "40 days a week", and when I left the autobody shop with my keys in my hand  after paying for the repair, I turned back around and asked them to please give me my keys. #somekindofspecial And then, despite slowly writing and scheduling my recap posts from our last event, I totally botched including the placing in the final post until Teresa asked how about it. D'oh!

Work AKA the Reason for the Hiatus


My job since March has been...character building? ...made me a better biologist? ...helped me think and write more critically? ...taught me how to push out quality products in highly expedited [and unreasonable] time frames? Maybe. Mostly. But despite those silver linings, it's been stressful as hell and is resulting in me being a bitter, bitter person.


Most work days I'm ready for a drink by lunch, if not 10am. My dad, whom I eat lunch with most work days when I'm not teleworking, now commonly asks me 1.) how the day is going and, 2.) depending on that answer, offers me a drink - which I typically decline, for the record.


But the majority of the time I'm laughing to keep from crying or tearing up because I am so overwhelmingly frustrated and angry with the direction I'm forced to march. It is what it is, and frankly, "it" sucks!

However, despite the stress (and the absurd number of things I say daily as a result), good things abound in my life and I've been doing my best to focus on them.

The Horses

The horses are all doing well.

A post shared by Liz Stout (@estout18) on

Long-time readers and keen observers may note that the scenery in the video above isn't the norm for my three. That's because they've been temporarily relocated to Canaan Valley for a month!

My "neighbor", used loosely as we live 4 miles apart, offered for me to bring them up for the month of October and keep them at his house. His two horses are on their summer pasture elsewhere in the valley and he's done haying for the year at home and had plenty of grass to spare.

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I jumped on the opportunity and have fully enjoyed seeing my creatures daily again.

Q

I've been getting a lot of rides in on Q since September began, averaging three per week. These rides fluctuate between focus on dressage and hacking out. Originally, I'd wanted to focus solely on dressage with her, but with the realization that I will have only that option in the winter months when it's harder to trail ride, I've decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather to enjoy some time outside of something resembling an arena.

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I've been making steady progress in the "spook deconstruction" department. While I don't have it all figured out yet, I do know with much more certainty about the nuts and bolts of why Q spooks. It's helping in our work, but we certainly have a long way to go.

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She frustrates the living hell out of me more often than not when we're working under saddle, but I know my focus on those negatives is partly due to my mindset about much of life due to work lately. I don't always see the positives at first and, especially with this mare, the positives are measured over weeks and not days right now. You have to go slow in order to go fast later with some things, and Q is definitely one of those things. I do know how awesome this mare can be, so I'm happy to take the time to bring her back around to that place.

Griffin

Following his successful run at Loch Moy on September 10, I gave Griffin a week and a half vacation. Then, Griffin had a bout with an abscess last week and thus had a bit more time off. He was progressively closer to sound from Wednesday to Friday last week, when I finally observed that the abscess was blowing out (yay!).

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Sunday was my first focused ride on him following vacation and the abscess. We focused predominantly on dressage, but I did reward him with a bit of a gallop across the field afterward.

Griffin was very forward and focused in our dressage work which made it easier for me to focus on what I was doing and how I could improve myself. I know there is a very fine line between what the rider is doing and how the horse responds, but when Grif is overly-relaxed/slow, I have to throw my focus on myself to the wind in favor of giving him my full attention. When he is in an overly-calm state, he becomes a "push" ride that really alters what I'd like to do with my body because I'm spending so much of my efforts on driving him forward. On Sunday, I got to really work on opening my hip angle more and cementing that feeling into my brain. Austen's been after me to do more of this and I was so happy to finally work on it. 

THIS frame is what I commonly work with at home! So different from the show version.

Following what felt like a very productive dressage-focused session, Grif and I galloped around a bit. He was feeling exceptionally good and we had two hairy moments where he wanted nothing more than to display some gymnastics above the ground in his joy of galloping. The first was coming up a hill and I was able to get him calmed down relatively quickly. The second though was on a slight downhill and dearsweetbabyJesus I thought I was going to hit the ground from that one! I wish I'd gotten it on film/had a witness because it had to have been quite a show as he dolphin leaped and wiggled left-right-left-right-left-right as I squawled at him, "GRIFFIN, YOU SHIT! STOPPITRIGHTNOW! GRI-FFIN! DAMNIT! STOP!"

Ah, the joys of horses...

Stan

Stan is doing wonderfully, too. He's packing on the pounds and fully enjoying the lush pasture.

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He did have a mild colic scare yesterday, but fortunately this BO is very observant and tackled things quickly, giving him some banamine that cleared him out. It still didn't stop me from leaving work in a panicked flurry to go sit out there and love on him for hours! 

I have a really unique and exciting story to share about Stan in the near future, but that will need it's own blog post once I have a little bit of media to accompany it. Suffice to say, I loaned the big guy out for the better half of September and he had more of an adventure than any of my horses have ever had or probably will ever have in the future. As a result, he's earned a bit of time off now to put on weight and be a horse.

So, stay tuned for a fun tale on Stan in the near-ish future.

Autumn

Autumn blew into the Mountain State during early September in the higher elevations and it was really magnificent.

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Unfortunately, with all of the amazing weather (low humidity, highs in the 60s-70s) there has come a complete lack of rain. In order to get really incredible, vibrant autumn foilage, you need rain. Without it, the colors become dull and the trees that haven't changed will ultimately crisp up and fall without any blast of color.

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And thus, I've tried to make the most of the moments I've enjoyed in areas with peak color while it lasts.

A couple weekends back, Hannah breezed through for a weekend visit with the dogs. It coincided with the local Leef Peepers Festival which is accompanied by multiple social gatherings (3 potlucks) and a 5k for charity (off the couch 5k for me @ a shocking 28:09 on a very NOT FLAT course) so I was hither and thither.

Fortunately, we did fit in one hike together! And arguably, the best hike in this region at that...

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I'm continuing to get out and about in this beautiful weather as much as time and scheduling allow. It's such a beautiful time of year!

Photography

I made a goal for myself at the beginning of this year that I would have a public portfolio of my photography on a website by the end of July August September. So many friends have encouraged me to do this over the past several years and I've put it off, not confident enough in my skills. 

This year though, I'm absolutely in love with photos from each shoot I do. Every new shoot becomes my "favorite". I'm learning so much more about the art and honing my craft as I go along. And most importantly? I'm having a freaking blast doing it!

And so, I'm proud to announce that my photography website is finally live at www.lizstoutphotography.com


It's been well-received so far, and I've managed to score some paid gigs as a result. Nothing crazy - this is a side hustle after all - but hopefully I'll be able to meet my unspoken goal of 1-2 paid shoots a month so that the hobby can support itself.

I'm really enjoying the mental break from structured scientific and technical writing that photography brings. Honing the artistic side of my brain helps balance the critical thinking/critical writing side that I utilize more often, which helps me keep sanity.

Kenai

The blog is long overdue for a Kenai update!

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He's doing really amazing following our bout with multiple knee surgeries in 2015. I get queries weekly from people about whether or not he's okay to hike/play/run/what-have-you. More than two years post-op, I can say he's pretty damn fine to do whatever he pleases.

I swear he becomes more puppy-like with each passing month. He's got boundless energy and life in Canaan Valley really suits him well.

But he isn't without a strange malady that plagues him! He's a textbook perfect case for alopecia.

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the back of his neck is also hairless and NOT due to collar rubbing!

Despite my efforts to treat it (coincidentally at first and then with purpose), it is persisting and growing. The only treatment options remaining are hormonal and tend to have more risks than benefits associated with them.

He isn't in any kind of pain from his rat tail, bare bum, and scrawny neck - hell, he's moving better than he has since early 2013 when his stifles started having trouble! My pride and vanity are the only things saying he needs all that hair, and I can set that aside (albeit, grudgingly at first) knowing he's the happiest guy despite his hair loss/appearance.

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He's very much looking forward to winter, and I'm hoping that my gut feeling that we're going to have a legit winter after 5 crappy winters comes to fruition. I'd love nothing more than to have epic conditions for alpine and nordic skiing with this guy!

: : : : :

I have been reading along with many of your adventures during my hiatus. I'm commenting here and there, but I'm afraid my comment game is seriously lacking with the whirlwind that is my life (see: above). I'll continue to do my best to catch up/keep up/live vicariously through you! Looking forward to my life settling a bit as we move into this final quarter of 2017. I'm so ready for my vacation...

I've got lots of updates for y'all in the coming week that I'm excited to finally share, so stay tuned!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

MDHT Fall Start #1: Cross Country (x2!)

And finally, everyone's favorite part about eventing, cross country! And, surprise, this time you're getting a double dose because we not only did our judged elementary round of XC, we also did an unjudged schooling round of XC at the beginner novice level!

Elementary XC

So, first up, the elementary course!

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When I saw the course walk online and when I walked it with Emma, the only fence to give me slight pause was fence 8 because of the color and the cut outs. Grif hadn't seen anything like that before so I wondered how he would handle it. I'm bold enough, and I usually have a velcro butt, so I figured we'd get over it regardless, but it may not be the prettiest.

Other than this fence though, I had few concerns about the whole course. There were a few tight turns, but Griffin excels at those because we practice them all the time at home. I knew as long as I kept my wits about me, we'd probably be okay.

Following our stadium round I opted to do one more short warm-up exercise designed by Emma before heading over to XC. We trotted through the water, picked up the canter upon exit, made a sweeping right turn and cantered the log. Very smooth feeling and a nice note to end on mentally before heading to the next phase; I wouldn't encounter water on the elem. course, but it would be present on BN!

Heading over to the start area for elementary, we had to wait for the rider in front of us to clear the course (she had some [repeated] issues at fence 6). So, I walked Griffin in clockwise and counterclockwise circles while we waited. He wanted nothing more than to eat grass, but I really wanted him to focus on the fact that we were present for a purpose and it wasn't eating (sorry, buddy, this isn't endurance).

Finally, the volunteer at the start signaled I could go when ready and we headed off.

On the approach to the first fence, Griffin immediately lit up! I think I've got a true XC horse in this guy...

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The first three fences, all on a slight uphill, went very smoothly.

As we landed from the third, Grif was on fire and I had to spend the rest of the course trying to convince him to settle and not gallop about like a mad man. One day that may be more acceptable, but right now we're still total n00bs at this and I'd like his brain to be present and not overly psyched.

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Fences 4, 5, and 6, were all on a slight downhill. They didn't jump too badly, but it was a bit of a learning curve for me with my body balance in the saddle. Grif really didn't seem to care one bit, and I tried to do my best to stay out of his way and keep his very excited brain in his head. To my brain in that moment, we had a couple hairy-scary moments, but when I watch the video it doesn't look nearly so bad. My head was just in a very tentative place, I think.

Grif considered giving a healthy look at several of the fences, but I was please when he decided he'd processed all he needed to a stride or two before most of them. That's a big improvement on him being, as Austen has so aptly dubbed him, Mr. Stop-N-Sniff. Progress!!

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Coming off fence 6, I really worked to sit Griffin down with a solid half-halt for the first really sharp turn on course that wound us back toward fence 7. I felt one foot slip slightly, but Grif was completely unbothered and powered forward. He locked onto 7 easily and it jumped fine.

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We had another tight bending line from 7 to 8; learning from our former tight turn, Grif and I both handled this better. Grif did indeed give a bigger look to fence 8 than any other jump on course, but we got over it with more class than I thought we may.

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Fences 8 through 10 were all on a slight downhill and each one of them was progressively uglier from a riding standpoint. (I absolutely need to work on downhill jumps more at home. I know it isn't rocket science but merely me needing to practice the skill.) Griffin was very forward and game, locking onto each jump as we approached the finish flags. I got more air time than I wanted after fence 9 and even more after fence 10, nearly falling off! I remember thinking to myself as my body fought for balance, "Do NOT get eliminated because you fell off RIGHT before the finish flags! No, no, NO."

Fortunately, I was able to regain and maintain my balance, and pass through the flags for a double clear in the elementary division again! Yes! Many pony pats were given.




I was laughing at myself as we left the course as I thought about my totally crap riding. While I was shaking my head as I replayed things in my mind, the photographer called over, "I have to say, your horse is really beautiful!"

Still laughing at myself, I smiled in return, "Thank you! This is only our second event and I'm definitely having an "off" day for riding. I bet you got some spectacular shots of me flopping around on those last downhill jumps as my riding was rather..." I paused, scrunching my face a bit to try to find a PC word to describe my shotty riding, "...special," I finished, to which the photographer had a good guffaw. I laughed, too, waved in passing, and headed toward Emma to discuss strategy for BN.

Beginner Novice XC

When the course map for BN was posted online, I had reservations about a few of the fences, but largely felt very comfortable with the course. I felt confident that Griffin would be okay with 90% of the fences.

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My confidence about the course increased after Emma and I walked it as she pointed out nuances only an experienced eye could see. I nodded with each observation and felt pretty good about every single fence except the cordwood one. Despite Emma assuring that most horses took these well, I just had a bad gut feeling about it. The light/dark contrast of the front of the jump was exactly the kind of thing I have come to expect Q, and sometimes Griffin, to balk at. I guess I have a bit of PTSD over that kind of thing after riding many spooks/hitting the ground.

Meeting back up with Emma after my elementary course, I made the decision to absolutely warm up over some BN fences as opposed to using elementaryh as warm up. I was feeling uncharacteristically nervous about jumping after my shotty riding during stadium and elementary XC.

Of the fences I worked over for BN warmup, only one really felt good to me.




Reviewing the videos, none were really as bad as my head made them out to be; I was just very stuck in my own headspace and needed desperately to get myself back on track. My mind was getting in my way because I was hesitating in my reactions as we jumped. This is a fault of mine in all sports I do -  I worry, I hesitate, I make errors.

The schedule was running very far ahead at this point. They were ready for me whenever I could get my shit together. I took my feet out of my stirrups, took a deep breath, looked at Emma with consternation and said, "I need a minute. It's not a horse thing, it's a me thing."

Emma smiled back with empathy and proceeded to give me one of her infamous morale-boosting speeches while I sat forcing myself to breathe and focus on reality and not my illogical, manic mind.

The combination of my stubborn determination, breathing, and Emma's speech put me in such a place that I decided I was ready to go to the starting box.

Upon reaching the starting box, still a bit nervous, I was greeted by the most enthusiastic and happy volunteer. His positivity about the day was just what I needed to rally me and make me excited to get out there and Do The Thing.

Emma called last minute encouragement as the volunteer counted me down, "...3, 2, 1, have a great time!"

And I was off on my first BN XC course!

The distance from the start box to the first fence was short, but fortunately I was able to get Grif up and into a good, albeit slow, canter rhythm. We soared over the first jump and it felt great! Just what I needed mentally.


As we cantered away from that first fence, I allowed myself a big smile and a moment of oh-my-goodness-we're-finally-pursuing-this-goal-I-set-ages-ago amazement/gratitude. I set a goal of riding BN, knowing XC was going to be our weakest link in accomplishing that, at the beginning of the year. It was so surreal to be pursuing it finally!

I reined my wandering thoughts back in time to tackle the second fence, which felt just as great as the first. From there, it was onward to the third fence, a tootsie roll, preceded by water.

During the course walk, Emma recommended schooling this fence by planning to circle through the water the first time and approach the jump on the second go, ideally picking up our canter in the water. I executed this...kind of. We trotted through the water on the first entry, and Grif was immediately looking forward and locking onto the jump. I confused him a little when we circled, but ever accustomed to me switching gears on him, he went along with the new plan. Re-entering the water, Griffin wasn't super onboard with wanting to canter, but he did look up toward the jump again, so we just went for it. Our approach was very blasé, but the jump was nothing impressive and Grif popped over it like it was nothing and powered off toward the woods.


We powered into the woods to fence 4, a darkly stained pheasant feeder that had been in full shade upon the course walk but was perfectly half lit/half shaded now. Too familiar with how Q has reacted to such contrast in the past, I put my leg ON and let Griffin's enthusiasm for galloping and jumping carry us forward and over. It felt great!

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As we approached fence 5, the cordwood, I gave Grif a couple half halts to balance him through the sweeping turn and approach. As we approached, I kept my leg firmly on, my eyes up, and used my voice and whip to encourage him. I felt surprisingly confident that we'd conquer this with no issue!

Despite this, he came to a SCREECHING halt in front of the jump, eyes bugging, nostrils flared, blowing air in dismay.

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Fortunately, my defensive position with a deep, downward heel and forward leg saved my ass, and I barely lurched forward. In a fraction of time, I checked in mentally with myself wondering if I had relayed my earlier hesitations about this jump to Griffin, thus causing the refusal, but felt very confident that no, I had not displayed that feeling to him. The previous fences had all gone so well that my feelings of concern/hesitation were very much behind me other than briefly registering and accepting that I'd had the thought. In the past, if I'm hesitant, my position tends to suffer and my hindsight notes how many things could have gone better to improve; my hindsight registered nothing this time.

As I comforted a snorting Griffin and tried to encourage him to step forward and sniff the jump, I acknowledged the jump judge and noted, "This is our first time through BN and we are just schooling it. I will be skipping this jump once he sniffs it." She made a rude face and scoffed something under her breath, but I'd already mentally dismissed her. Her judgement didn't matter in this moment, what mattered was Griffin having a good experience.

Sure, I bet if I'd approached the jump another time or two he absolutely would have jumped it, but historically when we have moments like this at home, he will over jump in a dramatic way, toss me slightly off balance, and then power forward. With my mental state and questionable riding on this day, I really didn't see how that experience would help us at all. We had 8 more fences to experience and I didn't want Griffin to feel stressed about anything.

Hesitantly, he finally reached a nose toward the jump and gave a shuddering exhale/sigh. I praised him and we trotted forward to fence 6.

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As we approached, I processed the jump and landing. I didn't think Grif would care about the jump, but the landing was slightly downhill immediately followed by a steeper downhill. My riding of such terrain had already been questionable at best, so I called to this jump judge knowing she'd seen the fence 5 situation, "Hi, we're just schooling so I don't know if we're going to jump this fence or not." She was an older woman with a tough appearance who appeared as if she'd seen her fair share of horses, courses, and riding through the years and she replied, as Griffin walked nonchalantly to the fence and touched it with his nose, "Oh come on, just keep your eyes up and you can do this."

A bit surprised by this gruff stranger, and pleased with Grif's completely unbothered reaction to the fence, I turned him around, trotted away, turned again, picked up the canter, and jumped the damn thing.

Thanks, abrupt, blunt lady! That was EXACTLY what I needed in that moment.


Approaching the steep downhill, I transitioned a now excited Griffin into a trot, transitioning back to a canter as we approached the bottom.

Heading up the hill toward the fence 7 option of swoop brush or a ditch (ditch, duh), Griffin squealed with delight at being allowed to gallop up the hill and rocketed forward. (At home he often bucks going uphill so I usually hold him back.)

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I wasn't overly concerned about the ditch, but didn't know how Grif would handle it. We do have a faux-ditch we practice at home, but when we practiced a real one in July, he was awful balky about it in the beginning. Today, he decided it was a total non-event, powered across, and on we went to fence 8, an easy log we'd jumped during Twilight a week prior.

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Griffin was on fire by this point and I spent much of my time between fences 9 through 11 sitting hard, half halting often, and trying to bring him back to me.

The planter log at 9 was NBD, he executed the bank at 10 like a boss, and was growing awfully annoyed with my persistent requests to slow down by the log at fence 11.

As we approached our penultimate jump, we had quite a downhill.

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The footing was perfect, but I still asked Griffin to trot the majority of the downhill before letting him pick up the canter a few strides out.

At Rolex, I LOVED the boat complex near the end of the course and declared to Austen et al. that I would absolutely try to tackle it given the chance. I don't know why, I just knew I liked it. So now, presented with a boat of my own, I was so inwardly pleased at the prospect of jumping it!

I didn't know what Griffin would think about the jump, but he really didn't seem bothered on approach and rocketed over it. I finally jumped a boat! I may or may not have squealed at this point.


The final jump, a purple and green produce stand, was upon us! As Emma discussed with me, it had a slight uphill approach which meant I need to focus on not pulling and he should have no issue.

I felt Griffin sucking back a bit as he looked at the jump upon approach, but I verbally encouraged him to GO GO GO and he launched over it like a boss!

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And just like that, with one jump skipped, we'd completed our first BN XC course! Eeee!

Conclusion

Skipping that cordwood jump was absolutely the right decision on this day; why push things? It was just a schooling round after all. Griffin was confirmed in knowing he'd done a great job and hadn't had a bad experience and that has been the first objective each outing. However, you can bet that I'll be prioritizing the construction of a cordwood jump of our own with some firewood at home!

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Second place finish in the elementary division!

Overall, it was  such a phenomenal day. Grif was a total star and while my head got in the way a bit, but we moved forward despite and I am happy to know that the issues we had on this day weren't horse problems so much as rider problems. I can think through an analyze my own issues much more quickly than Grif's!

Endless millions of thank yous to Emma for being there for us all day; your guidance is so appreciated and helpful for Grif and I! It's so intimidating coming from 'podunk' West Virginia where I do all of the training myself; jumping into this big world of eventing is daunting and you have really helped ground me and make me feel like it truly is possible at each event so far! And thank you again to Austen for being there throughout this journey, too! Y'all are the best <3

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This blog world is awesome for support and hopefully I'll be able to meet more of the eastern eventing contingent in the next year or so as Grif and I continue our foray into this sport. It's safe to say we're hooked. And I'm pretty sure I have a solid eventing partner in Griffin to pursue this endeavor with. I never would have dreamed that the ugly long yearling that entered my life in winter of 2012 would turn into this horse, but I'm so, so thankful he has and that he loves this job so much!