With all the wetness has come tack that grows mold and looks like something out of a haunted house in less than a week, the inability to hack out in the field regularly for conditioning, and BUGS. I live with a forest in my back yard and an inlet off the Chesapeake Bay across the street from me, so at home, it’s been a horrifying proliferation of mosquitoes harassing me and the dogs. My legs look like I have some kind of pox. I just swatted one away from me as I was typing this, because they zip inside every time you open a door.
And apparently as much of an attractant as I am for mosquitoes, Cally is for flies. I was supposed to have a lesson today, but I got to the barn to find her in her stall, practically piaffing and sweaty, as she stamped at flies swarming her. I kind of managed to tack her up, and warned Holly that we might need to keep flatwork light, because she’s always been rather irritated by bugs, but once she gets cantering and jumping, she’s moving enough that they leave her alone. But not today–I could barely trot her, because she was so disconnected, flinging her head around to try and get them off her face and legs, and cantering was only marginally better. They were biting Holly, too, and there were a dozen just resting on one of the jump planks set in the ring. We did a little bit of a figure 8 over a cavaletti, which went OK, but I seriously didn’t feel like it was either fair to her to make her work, or safe for me to jump her, when after slowing down to trot a fence, she did a full-body shake at the trot and I was almost flung off. Holly said she’d never seen so many on a horse at once as were all over her legs and stomach, poor girl. So we headed back down to the barn, doused her in fly spray and put on her fly sheet and put her in front of a fan. There was a serious discussion about wrapping her legs to keep the bugs off of her, but we figured it was too warm for that and would do more harm to the tendons than help, especially if she ended up stamping around all night anyway and torqued them.
So, that threw a bit of a monkey wrench in to my plans for the week, which are now much less flexible than they were before. I’ve got a two week rotational schedule now, so I can only ride two days this week. That means that instead of a lesson, we’ve re-routed to Cally getting a training ride with Holly at whatever point this weekend it seems like the bugs aren’t bad, possibly first thing in the morning. I think that’s going to have to be one of the adaptations I make with this new work schedule, where the aim will be to have a lesson either Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on which day I don’t work, and on my busy work weeks, have the option to reschedule to a pro ride of that doesn’t work for whatever reason. I don’t necessarily think Cally needs to learn a whole lot more at this point in her life, as we’re sort of at a happy plateau in our career, but a nice ride with someone better than me who can give her a good confident ride to fences with great distances every time will make her very happy, and I’m also sure Holly enjoys a training ride that’s really more of a schooling ride on something that doesn’t really need any buttons installed, just refreshed.
On the whole, though, the new schedule is working out well for me. I have a lot of time off on the days I do have off, and I have gotten in some good lessons in the good weather we’ve been enjoying the last week.
Jumping lesson - YouTube
I’m also at the barn later in the day, so I actually see more of my barnmates than just Holly and Liz, which is very nice. Turns out the barn is quite the hive of activity after 3PM, once kids are out of school! And I got to spend some time watching them ride this past weekend while I was off, as I got to judge the middle school IEA team’s practice show.
That was a lot more pressure than I expected, as there was some really good riding, especially in a crossrails flat section, where I may have made them trot around a little extra in the hopes of one of them messing something up and making it easier to pin. That didn’t help, by the way, they all did great.
Hopefully it cools down a bit soon, enough to kill the bugs. And hopefully things to continue just as well as they’ve started off on the new/old work schedule, because as rough as 12 hour overnight shifts are, the days off are actually really nice. I feel like I get a lot more relaxing Me Time, and don’t have to rush off after riding to get ready for work. And to leave it on a super bright note, one of the pro shots from Maryland Horse and Pony Show, by Hoof Print Images!
Me smiling over a fence, and wearing rust at an A show. So much going on there. We’re going to keep it going on.
I’ve been in a bit of a holding pattern for a while. Since falling off and landing on my back while doing the Adults in August, I was literally flat out for a week, off work and doing nothing. Fortunately, it was all soft tissue damage, and once I started feeling better, I felt basically back to normal in short order. But not quite well enough to tackle going sidesaddle at the Harrisburg Classic, so since Holly hadn’t done her entry yet, she just got drafted to ride Cally for me. That worked out pretty well, as Cally loves Holly, and they were great on the flat.
But something was just NQR with her to jump–it’s like she wasn’t pushing off well, especially on the left hind that we’ve been battling some dew poisoning on all summer. It’ll get cleared up and looking better, then whammo!, it’ll be ugly again overnight, no matter what I was putting on it or cleaning it with. The constant damp weather we’ve had hasn’t helped, either. So we didn’t jump her, just filled the over fences class, and we made an appointment for the vet to take a look and advise, and maybe give us something stronger to use on the leg.
Naturally, since it wasn’t an urgent thing, we just waited a week and had him take a look at it when he was coming to do fall shots in a week. Which meant that til he watched her go on the lunge, the comment was “why am I looking at this horse, she looks great?” I was on vacation, but report from Holly was that Cally was looking floaty and fabulous. Of course. They did discuss keeping her on the Pentosan maintenance she’s already on, but adding hock injections in the spring, but vet suggested first putting hind shoes back on her, in addition to a course of SMZs for the leg funk.
Til I got home from Cape Cod, she was looking and feeling fantastic, and it was deluging, with a hurricane threatening our entry at Maryland Horse & Pony Show. But I cancelled the get-together we had planned at our house for Sunday, so that was apparently enough to re-route the hurricane away from us, and we ended up with nice weather. Cally was looking and feeling amazing, and I was incredibly pleased with how well she showed in the Ladies Sidesaddle classes.
I could still tell, once we got going around, that my back was not 100% on board with the sidesaddle thing yet. It can be jarring on your back, and the side of my back I landed on was the hip that you really have to weight and have open when aside, and it was just a bit too much for me yet. Plus I think nerves played a big part in the horrible distance we got in to the hack line, where I was worried about jumping our first fence at a show since our fall, and about torquing my back. So that was ugly and we finished 5th in that class. But Dillyn very kindly stepped up and jumped her around for me, since we’d already entered the over fences, and they had a beautiful trip to finish 2nd, so I knew it was all me.
Which left me maybe even more nervous for the 2’6″ Thoroughbred division the next morning. Because I knew that Cally was happy and jumping well, and that when someone let her go and let her do her job, she was keen to go around, and go nicely. But I was still worried, because we’d gone splat, and nerves can be stronger than reason.
We were first in the ring for the Model and finished 3rd, so Cally got a few mints and pats, and I hustled to tack up and warm up on the flat while Holly jumped the horse she was showing for another client around. I don’t normally mind catching a few jumps on my own, but in true A show fashion, all the jumps were either set too high (there was a 3’3″ division going in the coliseum) or being used and adjusted by other trainers. But I also needed something of a mental warmup, so I was glad I had to ask Holly to come jump us as soon as she hopped off her other ride. The first warmup fence was awful, but we came around and fixed it, Holly cranked it up 2 holes to 2’9 and we had a great jump, and headed to the ring.
I’ll lie if I said I didn’t feel slightly like scratching and going to barf behind my trailer, even though we’ve done 2’6 a billion times and I knew Cally will totally take care of me at that height. It was just the “we had a horrible go last time, what if it happens again?!?!?!” panic. So needless to say, despite Holly’s final words of encouragement being to keep my leg on and let Cally Do Her Job, I rode a bit backwards and picked into the lines, and we did an add down every line. I also may have been tempted to peace out when we had to jump into the line set just where I fell. But I did not! We conquered that fence!
And by the end of the round, I actually nailed the long gallop to the final single oxer and left the ring feeling fantastic. It felt like we had our groove back, and by the time I caught my breath and headed in for round 2, I actually could listen to Holly’s advice to not touch Cally’s face and let her do her job. Still not quite perfect, but I was really pleased with our second round.
TB Hunters, MDHP - YouTube
That felt like we were back in the groove, and able to end the show on a great note. We ended up with a 6th and 7th over fences, AND I won a water bottle for being first in the ring for the day! So we ended up coming home from the show with a whole swath of ribbons from 2nd-7th, and with me feeling like I wasn’t a terrified hot mess.
That’s a perfect place to be heading in to fall. Except there are big changes afoot for me personally, as my work schedule changes from the idyllic midshift I’ve been working the past 4 years, and I move back to an overnight 12 hour shift. That means I won’t be able to ride on the M/W/F/Weekend regular schedule I’ve been able to keep us working on for that time, or to adjust my lesson to basically whatever day the weather looks best. It also means that between the days I’ll be on schedule to work and the leave time I burned through while hurt, I won’t be doing either the Penn National aside, or the MidAtlantic Equitation Festival. But it also means I’ll be at the barn on afternoons on the days I am off, so I’ll actually get to see more of my barnmates, and I’ll be getting overnight shift differential again, so I’ll have a little more wiggle room in my budget for things like showing. And I’ve got a week of winter showing at WEC in my sights, since it looks like the barn is planning on going out over a weekend I’m actually off work. So goals continue to shift and adjust, but I think we’ve back on track, even if it’s not the track I had planned to be on at this point in the year.
Finally this weekend we got a break in the weather, and the footing conditions (kind of), and we made it back to a show! Admittedly, having a month off from showing after an intense June was probably mentally as well as physically good for both Cally and myself. We had a simple but great lesson, where we worked on long approaches and two strides, and I was feeling well prepared for our return to the 3′ classes.
As we’ve geared back up for this, I’ve really realized how not prepared I was when I moved myself up to doing the Adults and TBs several years ago. I mean, I thought I was prepared, we jumped stuff that size in lessons and XC schooling, surely it wouldn’t be a big deal. But show fences always look bigger and scarier than lesson fences, and I didn’t even know to expect a two stride, let along have any practice jumping them outside of grids. Now I at least feel like while all our efforts may not be perfect, Holly has me well prepared and going in to the ring with a plan and a good basis on which to build a round, if I can execute it.
Saturday we just did Adult Eq, which is a flat and then a fences. It was ridiculously hot and sticky, so I was glad we were keeping it simple. Cally earned her gold star for the day early, when a horse who had appropriately called “outside” while passing us left-to-left down the long side of warmup (I responded “thank you” I was so pleased to be warming up with someone who knew ring etiquette!) suddenly stopped, spun, and dumped his kid directly under us. Cally sort of quickly sidestepped and stopped, and I patted her a lot while Holly grabbed the poor kid’s horse. I assumed that would be the excitement for our weekend, but I was wrong.
Flat was actually going really well, until after the second canter they called for sitting trot, and Cally was hot and tired of flatting and just not having it at that point. We finished 7th because of that, and I’m fine with that, because I was really focusing on our fences rounds, and our first sitting trot was great. I can’t be mad at her for being hot, because I wasn’t really feeling it either, frankly.
Our over fences round had me feeling slightly like I wanted to barf from nerves, but also slightly excited. I knew we were capable, but I also know it’s bigger and more difficult than we have been showing. And I think I went in and rode those nerves. Only one fence was truly bad (that white fence will come back later in the story of this weekend) but it was all just a bit underpaced and I added in both the lines.
Adult Eq 3’ - YouTube
It’s not a great round, but she was a good girl, and did what I asked, even when what I asked for was picking to a chip or nothing. But the hard parts–the turn to the single oxer, the tight turn to the final fence, all went really well, which gave me hope. We managed a 7th out of the 9 in the division again for that.
I’ll take that as a marker for our return to the ring at 3′, because sometimes it’s not about being perfect, it’s about going out and trying something for the first time in a while, and giving yourself something to build on, which is exactly what we did.
Sunday morning was MHSA Adult Medal and Adult Amateurs. I was looking forward to it being slightly cooler, and having a second round so that we could go in and fix what problems we had on the first go. Well, it was no cooler, because it felt even stickier outside, and I downed a bottle of water before I even left the trailer for warmup.
We did not warm up as well as the day prior, but we ended on a good note and went to the ring to learn our course, which had not been posted when I took my ring bucket over before getting ready. Some challenges that were hard but not scary, starting the course with two long approach singles then a tight turn to an end jump, long gallop to another single, then our nemesis the two-stride, then a rollback to end on.
I tried my best to listen to Holly’s advice, which was simple: LEG. Even when I think I don’t need it, put leg on and allow her to take me forward to the fence. Which is difficult for me, I think, because I spent so long trying to keep her from doing exactly that, but it turns out it’s what we need, so allowing that is a real challenge for me mentally.
The round started off fantastically, and I was really pleased at how Cally handled the turn to fence 3, which caught her a bit by surprise.
MHSA Adult Eq at BEST - YouTube
Then we had a stop at the two stride. On reapproach we made it around then were once again sticky to the white fence (which I think was caused by the morning shadows making a weird false groundline in front of it, which you can kind of see in the video, and in the photo below), but rolled back and had maybe our nicest jump of the weekend to finish our medal round with.
Everyone came back for the flat phase, and she was just stellar there. The judge was smart (it was Wayne Eubank, who’s been doing this long enough to learn not to kill riders and horses in the heat, so thank you, sir!) and kept the flat portion tidy, with us reversing at the canter with a simple change and then trotting on in to lineup. We managed to finish 3rd!
Not our best round ever, but had some of our best moments ever at 3′, and I was really pleased with it, so wanted to use the Adult Ammy rounds to fix our issue with the two stride. I told Holly as we were waiting our turn that if we got it right in the first round, I would scratch the second one, because that was really the one thing I wanted to fix; it’s not the individual fences or the height that’s the problem for us. And Cally and I were both soaked with sweat that was just coating us, because there wasn’t even a slight breeze to cool us off.
The AA course was pretty straightfoward hunter round, single, diagonal, outside, single oxer, two stride. We could do it! Or at least wouldn’t have a mentally disruptive fail to the end, when we’d hopefully be in a groove. So I felt pretty confident as we headed in, picked up a great canter, and totally nailed the first fence. Gave her a pat and told her good girl as we headed around the end of the ring to the white diagonal, to which I finally saw that perfect spot…and she did not. (Holly said she saw it too.) I’m not actually sure what she did, sort of propped and popped, and I somersaulted over her left shoulder over the fence, and landed on my lower back/hip. I’d been smart enough to roll, so wrists/shoulders were good, but I had to just lay there a minute and be helped up by the EMTs because my back hurt so badly. I was able to walk out, sit down, take off helmet and coat and have some water, all while Cally was looking a little confused at this turn over events and was a perfect angel to be held by Holly’s 3 year old child.
With some assistance, I managed to get her back on the trailer (thank you Cally for being basically a self-loader and unloader) and back to the barn, but Holly and her husband had to help with the trailer ramp and unhooking the trailer. I went home and took some of the nice 400mg ibuprofen that WBBF picked up in Italy this spring while he was having some issues while we were there, and basically laid on an icepack for the rest of the day, with forays into sitting for dinner and then “Sharper Objects”. This morning I’m not feeling as stiff as I was last night, it’s become more of a twingeyness, especially when I bend or twist, which is definitely making me think it’s all soft tissue, but I’m heading to the doctor’s in an hour to get it all checked out. And hopefully get whatever the human version of robaxin is.
Cally’s going to get a few pro rides with Holly while I’m down and out, and hopefully I’ll be back in fighting shape in time for Culpeper in two weeks. I’d also really like to find somewhere to have Holly take her around at a show at 3′, so she gets that good forward ride and perfect distances to everything, so when I’m less than perfect, she can take over and help me out a little.
Weather continues to be a problematic issue this year. Cally was just not feeling 100% back to her old self the other weekend for BEST (not lame, but starting off a little stiff, which made me want to stick with some more flatting rather than going to show over fences), so I scratched there and planned to re-route to our barn show and then a MHSA show at McDonough, which offers several different adult medals and eq classes, with the goal of getting us back up to 3′ there. Sadly, we set records for daily amounts of rainfall–like 7″–and our barn show was cancelled. McDonough still ran, but I don’t have 4WD on my tow vehicle and there was so much roadway flooding that I was not sure I’d be able to get us safely there and back. Plus the Drama Queen does not like sloppy footing, so she wouldn’t have been particularly keen anyway. So another weekend at home. And not even riding, really, because the skies looked like this most of the time, and all of the ground was saturated. I managed a walk, briefly, on Sunday afternoon.
This is a shame, because she’s looking and feeling great. Our barn switched feeds at the end of the spring, and all of the horses are looking fabulous on it. She’s also been feeling fantastic since she’s come back from the little bit of leg puffiness (which is not atypical for her in summer, ever since issues with that leg years ago).
We did manage to squeeze one lesson in around the weather, and it felt amazing and left me confident in our moving back up to the 3′ classes. Because while Holly’s whole plan was to keep it simple, we did jump a few bigger things, as that’s a good way to keep Cally engaged; she tends to tune out little fences if you’re doing simple exercises with them. So in order to get her using that hind end a little better, Holly set something that did the work for us, which was a 3.5 stride line. All I had to do was trot in and keep us steady, and the line did the work for us.
Four stride - YouTube
She made it feel so easy, so I’m excited about getting out and doing things again. I think a little time off, combined with bringing her back with some solid flatwork always does wonders for Cally, and it definitely shows in how well she performs afterwards.
On the fun front, I did bust out the helmet cam last Friday, pre-deluge, and had just a little bit of fun with it. Take a ride!
Helmet cam! - YouTube
Hopefully it’s done raining in week long monsoons for a while, because we’ve got a lot on our plates for the upcoming month. Starting with a schooling show this weekend, where conditions are looking optimistic for a few 3′ eq courses. I’ve got my entries in for sidesaddle at the Harrisburg Classic, and for eq at Culpeper. It ought to be a fun month, if we can stay on track rather than getting soaked!
Back in January, as usual, I made some goals. It’s about the time I do an annual mid-year check-in on them, and sort of reevaluate them. That’s going to be a big thing this time around, because all these overlapping things haven’t necessarily been fitting together, or around everything else in life.
Firstly, Adult Eq. I think my sub-goal of Championship at BEST for the year is falling by the wayside, if for no other reason than we’ve missed more shows than we’ve attended. I was in Italy for one, I skipped one for sidesaddle at Loudoun, this weekend is looking a little uncertain for a few reasons…. I’ve made it to two of their shows so far, which I’m not sure is even enough to qualify for a Year End ribbon. It’s just a specific subgoal I’m going to have to let go. But I’m going to work on Adult Eq in a few other ways, namely by adding a HITS Culpeper target with a bunch of eq classes. And I’ve been happy with how we’re doing there, from a riding point of view.
Sidesaddle is going great, I was delighted with our go at Upperville, and we’re currently sitting 5th in the Zone for this year, just like last year. I’ve got entries in for the Harrisburg Classic in August, and plans for MDHP and possibly big Harrisburg, depending on schedule. I need to make it a point to lesson more aside and work on my jumping skills, but overall I feel like this goal has been the one working out most according to plan. (Other than not being able to get off work for Rose Mount’s July show.)
Dressage has gone well, too. I made the decision not to really try for a year end award at First this year, just focus on Dressage Seat Equitation and our Musical Freestyle, since we only need three scores each there, and I can do that with just one more show. We got good scores on all our tests at Ride For Life, and I was really happy with our First Level test there.
Minding the budget has become the bigger factor at this point, as I plan out the rest of my season. Mainly because given an unlimited budget, I’d happily be showing every weekend. I love horse showing. I love getting Cally looking her best, and going out and showing off how well we can do all the things. I’m also kind of competitive.
But I am also not wealthy. In a relative sense, obviously, because I have a horse and live in a nice house in a fancy city, and enjoy vacations and good tea. But not in a greater horse-world sense, where there are people wearing helmets that cost more than my horse. I’ve always been doing this on a budget, doing (almost all) my own braiding, hauling myself (and only attending shows we can haul in to, rather than stabling), being my own groom and being beyond grateful if I just have someone to hand me a little water going in and out of the ring. Honestly, if it weren’t for sharing living expenses with WBBF, I wouldn’t be able to regularly afford any rated horse showing. What I do get to do, is very planned, and very budgeted. Since we can actually have a shot at a Zone award, Ladies Sidesaddle has come first in that realm the last couple years, and I am in awe every time I step into the ring that we are where we are with that.
This month I chose to skip going to HITS Culpeper with others from the barn, because I had to prepay entries for the Harrisburg Classic. I’m doing post-it note math now, trying to figure out if prepaying that show and not doing much else in August will allow me to afford to actually go and stable at Culpeper for the weekend the barn’s going down in August, rather than just shipping in for a day, which would be easier or Cally but harder on my budget. I’m leaning towards the making it happen option, because there’s not a lot on our fall agenda, other than MDHP, Harrisburg, and MAEF. I need to see how much I need to prepay for Culpeper, but especially if we end up not showing this weekend, I think I can make it work for us; the opportunity to do two big shows a year where we stable–one HITS and MAEF–is one I really like the idea of setting up and budgeting for in the future. If I go in to the year with that as the plan, I can definitely get us on track for that for the future.
June has been an incredibly busy month for us, and it’s been hard to keep up. The month kicked off with a fabulous show at Upperville, where we got lovely photos and memories and I had a grand time. I adore this photo from Middleburg Photo!
Then we headed back a week later for Loudoun Benefit. It was even hotter, and I feel like we were sort of an afterthought there, going very last thing on Sunday afternoon, the last class of the show. Vendors were packing up, most of the food vendors on the jumper side weren’t even open when I went to check in at lunchtime, but I did manage to get a lime fizz again, which is my second favorite horse show treat, after walking tacos. It was once again a very competitive class, but I was happy with how she went, and we took home two 7ths for the flat and hack classes. I had a bad distance in to the hack line and it was all just a little sticky and I wanted an over fences go for Cally that really reinforced the “gallop to the fence” so I asked Julie if she’d jump her around for me, as she has in the past, and she agreed. They had an absolutely fantastic go, forward and relaxed, and managed to finish 4th! I was very pleased with our day, and how nicely she went. Also, I just love purple ribbons.
Then I let her have a really light week this week, as that was two long hauls and showing in hot, humid weather. We did a little light flatwork, but that fell right in line with our plans for this weekend, which was the annual Ride For Life. I had really great ride times–not too far apart, not too early–and a mix of rides that I was hoping would be enough to keep Cally from being too cranky about a weekend of dressage.
Our first ride on Saturday was at the very decent time of 11:54, so I didn’t even have to wake up too early, since I can bathe and put in dressage braids in an hour, so we rolled in around 10:30 and had plenty of time to get ourselves ready. In some pink, of course, because the show benefits the Johns Hopkins Breast Center.
It was our musical freestyle, which I hadn’t ridden since the fall show, so I had to do a bit of reminding myself what it was supposed to be, but Cally warmed up nicely, and was mostly good about going down the scary ramp into the big indoor but found the potted plants inside scary, which is weird, because she’s seen them at like every show she’s ever been to for the last decade. But whatever, she put in such a lovely test anyway, that we even made it on to The Equiery’s social media for the day!
That bit of star cred and a great score (65%!) would have to do us for the Freestyle, because it was a big competitive class and I did not get a ribbon for it. But that’s OK, we had a good ride, and it was a nice warmup for our second class of the day, Dressage Seat Equitation. I wasn’t sure what to expect, since I’d only done the class once before, and it was just me then. This time, there would be 8, a mix of Adult Amateurs and Juniors, some of whom were on ponies, which made trying to keep pace around the ring doubly interesting. We basically trotted around both ways, changed direction down the centerline, then did a lap of sitting trot. Then the judge divided us in half to canter, but just based on where we were in the ring, not like keeping the ponies together. All we did was canter each way. No circles or anything. I was a little disappointed with that, I thought we would do more interesting things. The judge talked to us all a bit, told me I was probably very successful as a hunter but thought it was great I was giving this a try. We ended up 5th there, and I’ll give it a try again, both at schooling and recognized; we only need one more score to qualify for a year-end award in it, anyway.
Sunday I had earlier ride times, and I was glad for that, because it was disgustingly humid. Like, Cally didn’t even dry from her bath by the time I finished braiding her. I was a little less sure of the turnaround between tests, but several people asked if I was going aside again, so aside I would go. The 40 minute turnaround actually ended up being fine, as I didn’t need to warm up again, just move her around a bit to make sure the girthing was all adjusted properly.
The first test of the morning was First-1, in the ring out in the middle of the track I’ve never seen used for anything but warmup. Because of all the rain we had, the footing was absolutely atrocious–mucky, with soft-serve like consistency in places. Which is exceptionally weird, as all of the other rings, and even the old race track footing at PG holds up incredibly well to water. This was…not, and Cally was not so sure about it as we trotted around the ring before entering. I felt like we put in a very solid test; it was accurate and obedient, except for a few bobbles like a head fling when mucky footing splashed up in her face or when she slipped going from a lengthening into a canter circle. It was the same judge as our DSE class the day before, and a big class of 10, so I wasn’t sure what kind of score we’d get, and I was certainly not expecting a ribbon.
Coats were waived, so I considered forgoing my wool jacket for the sidesaddle musical freestyle, but I actually had plenty of time during our tack swap, so I went with it despite the atrocious humidity. I tried to get down to the ring early, since it’s air conditioned, and just let Cally chill in the cool air. But I think by that point we were both well past our best, and while the test wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t sparkly good like it had been the day before. After the mid-test walk work, as I asked for the trot, I could really just feel she’d run out of gas and was not feeling the rest of it. Fortunately, there wasn’t much more to the test, just a trot and canter circle. It wasn’t bad, it just felt like it totally lacked energy, whereas our test the day before was full of pleasant energy.
Then we both got undressed, she got double-rinsed, and I let her handgraze on the lush grass behind the trailer parking for a while. I knew there would be a wait around for scores, because it was over an hour from my ride time to the last test in each section. But apparently one of the tests went missing, so it was really a goodly wait around until it was found and scored and classes were placed. I was over the moon to see we’d finally broken 60% at First at a recognized show for 5th place, and managed a 4th in the freestyle as well!
I could not have been happier with our performances this weekend. Even if Cally wasn’t loving the dressage, she was obedient and using herself well, and we had some really, really great work. She’s getting most of this week off. I’m planning on learner-judging at our barn show this weekend, and giving Cally the weekend off from showing before we head down to HITS Culpeper for some equitation the following weekend. Lots of big plans for the summer are in the works, and I’m really looking forward to moving up and getting back to doing some over fences equitating!
Does everyone have a Bucket List show? For some people I’m sure it’s a regional finals, or Devon, or one of the fall Indoor shows. For me? It’s always been Upperville. For those unfamiliar, it’s the oldest horse show in the country, held at an amazingly beautiful showgrounds where there are a bunch of old oak trees and an old wood grandstand. Once they added the Back From the Track Hack classes, I thought that maybe, maybe, one day I would splurge, and could take a Tuesday off work and just go get to hack around that ring once for funsies. Never did I ever think I’d be in a real, recognized division that would go in the Main Hunter Ring.
But Cally’s been going great aside, and Upperville runs the Ladies Sidesaddle divisions on a weekend, making it convenient, if not inexpensive, to go get in that Main Hunter ring. So I decided that this year would be the year, and on the very first day they opened for entries, I put mine in! It was very much in our sights from the start of the year, and we were really gearing up as it got closer.
As has been a running theme of late, getting ready has been somewhat complicated by the weather. It’s not been unusual for Cally to get a little hivey this time of the year–surely something that comes into bloom–so we decided to try putting a fly sheet on her for turnout to help keep her skin and coat protected from whatever was causing the outbreak. That did help…but it also helped trap moisture in this perpetual rainfall we’ve been having. So when I body clipped her a couple weeks ago, I realized that some of what we thought was hiveyness was actually a bit of rainrot-ish skin funk. Being not unfamiliar with the Skin Funk Struggle given her hind white stockings, I gave it a good cleaning with some clorhexadine wash, then sprayed down with some Fungasol. Then I came home and did some Googling, as I’ve seriously tried what I thought was everything under the sun on her hind legs. But the internet seemed to swear by Equiderma, and as it’s sold at a store just a few miles from the barn, I decided to try picking up a bottle. Boy am I glad I did; after applying it for less than a week, the funk had almost totally cleared up. I’d also tried it on her hind legs as well, and it actually helped clear them up better than anything I’ve ever tried, from vet-concocted-mixes to Desitin.
The skin issue being taken care of, it was just a matter of actually preparing me as a rider. I’ll be honest and say I probably don’t do as many sidesaddle lessons as I should, for as much as we compete and show in it. I school in the sidesaddle a few times a month, but it’s shamefully rare that I do a lesson, and I really need to be better about taking a lesson aside every other month or so. But we did do one this week, and it really boosted my confidence and had me feeling more secure in my over fences ability.
Holly left me with one key piece of advice: dig my left spur and gallop on. And when I did that, it felt amazing and we got great distances. The very last thing you want in a sidesaddle is a chip; the long spot is really your friend, and we were nailing it.
Even given that, I did not have any hopes of a ribbon. Aside from Devon, Upperville is the most competitive of the sidesaddle shows and there were 14 entries already showing on Horseshowsonline, and there are always same-day adds. Cally’s a good egg and I love her to bits, but I know she’s not an undersaddle winner, and as I looked down the pre-entries and saw several horses I knew were capable of winning on the flat at any given show. So I was aware going in that we were going for the experience, and for fun. And I was totally OK with that, because why do we do this if not for fun?
And oh, is showing at Upperville fun. It’s an experience, really. The grounds are gorgeous, the rings are gorgeous, and it has a totally different feel than almost any other show I’ve been to. It feels historic, guess, the same way you feel a part of something old when you wander along the Pont Neuf early in the morning before the tourists are out. It felt like a dream come true as I picked up my number and stopped to get a lime fizz on the way back to the trailer to wait our turn.
I had posted on a Hollins alumna horse FB group about getting a helping hand, since WBBF would be staying home to manage the two dogs for the day. And one of the students I’d met at the Careers conference I went to last fall generously offered to meet up with me and help, since she was there grooming for her sister too. Which meant that I ended up with a lot of pictures and video, which I so rarely get and totally delighted me.
Cally warmed up nicely, and lightly, just a little WTC and a lovely forward canter to one little fence and we called it good, because it was hot & muggy, and I was wearing 3 layers of wool. She was really dozing while we waited, because she is The Best Show Horse Ever. I got to watch a bit of the Family Class, and the Foxhunter hack, while we waited our turn. And then finally, finally, a dream came true and we stepped in to the Main Hunter Ring.
As we made our way around the ring, Cally took it all in, just figuring out everything she was looking at as we went around at a walk for the first time. But she then settled right in, and it really felt like she went the best she ever has. But oh my goodness we trotted so much.
Sidesaddle at Upperville, trot - YouTube
The judge had us trot, then apparently after we’d gone once around, decided our numbers weren’t turned enough to the inside for her to see, so she had us all walk, readjust numbers, and trot around again. I was not the only lady who thought she might be trying to kill us, because as any aside rider will tell you, the trot is the least pleasant gait. The canter is so much easier on the rider, and probably on the horse, too. And ours felt really good!
Sidesaddle at Upperville, canter - YouTube
I was so very pleased at how well she went around, as the flat classes are really not her strong suit, and it was really some of the best she’s ever flatted.
There had been some bobbles I saw, so I thought given how nicely she went that we might have an outside shot at a low ribbon, but sadly, in a class of 15, we just had a lot of really good competition and didn’t get called for the lineup.
Then we had a few minutes to catch our breath before the Hack, which I was slightly nervous about, because the fences there are seriously AA show built up, gorgeous jumps. So they look big. But Cally once again flatted great, and I was determined to follow Holly’s advice to dig in that spur and go to the fence. In fact, I was chanting that to myself as I left the lineup and headed to the fence. And while we ended up doing the add in the line because there was no way in hell my horse was going to get a 7 in that line without flat out actually galloping, I was over the moon thrilled with how nicely we did it. It was an add, but it was a smooth one.
Sidesaddle Hack line, Upperville 2018 - YouTube
I actually think it’s the best line we’ve ever jumped at a show, and I could not be happier that we stepped up and did it at the biggest show we’ve ever done. There’s nothing more than I could ask for than that, and I do not care one whit that we did not get a ribbon for it. We went and did our very best, and I cannot be happier than I am with that.
Oh, wait, it could get better! Because not only is my horse a wonderfully performing show unicorn, my fellow blogger Hellomylivia was at the show doing the Adult Jumpers on her unicorn Frankie and managed to catch the end of the sidesaddle after they got done rocking their round, and I offered her the chance to get on and take a quick spin aside. So Cally gave her a glorified pony ride aside, and she was a natural, managing to walk, trot, and canter around the warmup ring in style.
I’ve told her she now needs to do a legit sidesaddle lesson, because I think she’d be amazing at it.
How many horses can make your dreams come true, and then go on to give someone else the opportunity to try something new, all in the same afternoon? What more can you ask for in a horse? Especially as someone who’s brought their horse along doing most of the work themselves, it feels really amazing to know that not only did we accomplish getting in the big ring, we were able to accomplish something bigger than that–passing on the smiles and fun.
Given the fact that it feels like it has been raining every day for the last month, I feel like Cally and I have been pretty solid. Perhaps not where I would like our fitness to be, given that the weather has meant I’m unable to ride as often, or with the intensity, that I’d like to; but solid enough and working well together. We started the week off with a good lesson, where I felt like we were a little sluggy and impulsionless on the flat, and worked on really pushing her forward through that, and then channeling that into straight, forward jumping work with a few fun grid exercises.
Little grid - YouTube
That left me feeling very good, if perhaps not quite ready, for our first dressage show of the year. I wanted to try Dressage Seat Equitation this year, since we’re kind of max-ed out, capability and horse-enthusiasm-wise, at First, and I like trying new things. It’s basically a flat eq class, in dressage tack. They can ask for movements from the Training and First level tests, some collectively, some individually. I’d watched half a dozen YouTube videos of the class, but wasn’t really sure what to expect, as I’d never seen it run at a PVDA show before, and I’m sure every judge has their own preferences for what they want to see. But I figured, we’ve done plenty of regular hunter seat eq on the flat, how much harder could it be to do it in dressage tack? I mean, they can’t even ask me for a halt-to-canter transition. (Which is kind of a shame, because Cally can nail those.)
So with some trepidation but very nice ride times, I loaded up Cally and off we went to dressage show on what was the hottest, stickiest day of the year so far.
Fortunately, the facility we were showing at is very close (10 minutes from the barn!) so I wasn’t too worried about her getting hot in the trailer, and it has a nice grassy parking area, so we were able to warmup a little on the grass before going into their outdoor for more serious warmup, which helped keep things a little cooler. Cally was feeling great, if slightly not thrilled with the heat, making me glad I had on my rolly spurs, as opposed to the lack of spurs during my lesson, since there would be no jumps to help wake her up!
The actual tests were in their very nice indoor, which was pleasantly shady. I rode around, said my good mornings to the judge and scribe, and told them I was there for Dressage Seat Eq. Judge asked what level I was showing at, since it was just me, and I replied I’d also be doing First-1 later on, so he said he’d keep it at about Training for us, which would be a great warmup. It wasn’t too complicated, trot down the long side, make a 20 meter circle, change directions on a diagonal, repeat the circle, canter, freewalk. The hardest part was hearing the judge from the far end of the ring (maybe giving them a megaphone would be good?), and the fact that Cally felt just a little sluggy, and I did what I tend to do in that circumstance, which is give her a little too much rein thinking it will encourage more forward, when really it just disconnects her and lets her be sluggier. But, the best part of the test was that instead of just the written notes you get on a regular dressage test, I got a little chat with the judge at the end, and basically got called out on the long-rein-disconnectedness, and on cantering like a hunter. He also very helpfully made the suggestion to fix my hand/arm position by thinking of bringing my pinkies in just enough to see the tips of them, which really leads to me keeping my hands straight upright, and brings my elbows in.
I was able to take that advice and put it to use in our next test, which was 1-1. While there were things I know we could have improved, like the fact that our lenghtenings weren’t quite where I know we can be, and that I need to really bring her back a bit more between the canter lengthening and the 15M medium canter circle, overall, I felt like it was one of our most consistent tests. I sadly do not have any pics or videos, because as I learned showing there last year, the light in that ring is not very good for video.
But! By the time I was done and untacked, and went into their barn to use their wash stall to rinse off a hot Cally, our DSE test was scored, and we got a 72.5%!
Very, very happy with that. And now that I’ve done it once and am no longer slightly freaked out by the idea of something unknown, I’m looking forward to doing it again. Especially knowing that if I put her together a bit more I can improve my score.
Since it was so hot, and there was a big “afternoon scramble” class of various tests at various levels that our First test was part of, I opted to take her on home, get her settled in her stall under her fan, and stop back by the farm on the way home to get our results. And boy was I happy with how we did there!
We were second in the big mixed class behind only an upper level eventing pro, and a solid score to start the year with. Again, I know there were things we can improve from how we did on that test, so I’m really looking forward to doing that this year. I rewarded myself with a pit stop at Rita’s for a big twist cone, which was perfect after a hot morning of horse showing!
We do have more dressage on the horizon. I just did our entries for Ride For Life, where we’ll be showing both days, doing DSE, our freestyle (hopefully aside, if scheduling works for a tack swap!), and First-1. I also did something which made me feel super fancy, and sponsored the Thoroughbred breed award, so if you’ve got a fancy prancing TB, come show and try to win it! On one level, it seems odd to be sponsoring an award that I could technically win, but I also know that we’re far from the fanciest TB in the area that will be there, so I know we’re unlikely to win it, and I’m delighted to encourage others out there on TBs to get in the dressage ring.
So I went on vacation for two weeks, during which Cally got some training rides and a few rides from one of our barn’s excellent Juniors. I wandered around Italy and drank a lot of wine, so needless to say, when I got home and tried to ride on Tuesday, my eye was a little off. As in non-existent and I’m pretty sure I could feel Cally rolling her eyes at me as I nearly flipped over her head after misjudging our distance to a 2′ vertical, since she’d had two weeks of textbook trips.
I scheduled a lesson for Wednesday, since I’d already pre-entered us for the BEST show on Saturday, and I didn’t want to completely embarrass myself and my trainer. I mean, I will do silly things like wine classes and wear rust breeches, but that’s only funny because I do know what I’m doing and am having fun with it, not because I’m an idiot who’s doing her horse an immense disservice by riding like a monkey drunk on chianti.
There’s a good reason I board with Holly–because by the end of the lesson, we may not have been perfect, but we were looking pretty darn solid. We did a lot of work on singles and balance and my turns, and in the end managed to put together a reasonably respectable course.
Lesson course - YouTube
That left me feeling like we were ready for the 2’6″ this weekend, anyway. I’d been hoping to step us back up to the 3′, but with having so much time off that my eye was crap and the fact that the forecast was for 90* weather, I figured it was better to play it safe and keep us at 2’6.
I’m not at all sad I did. The weather was miserable, and I made the decision to not even flat in the TBs to save her energy for the Eq. I tried to keep our warmup minimal, and it took us about twice as many jumps as usual (so, 4) to make sure my eye was working before we went in for the TBs. Our first round was actually pretty decent, which was a surprise to me since the first round is usually where I’m horrible, but this felt good! There was just a bit of play through the lead change after the second fence, and I was crossing my fingers for a ribbon there, but it was a class of 18, so we did not get lucky.
TH Hunters, round 1 - YouTube
The second round was actually a better round overall, but she’d had a couple minutes too many between rounds and gone a bit to sleep and dragged her hind toes over the first fence, pulling the rail and knocking us out of the ribbons. It’s the kind of rail that would be no big deal in an eq trip, but absolutely killed us in a hunter round. I was actually very pleased with it as a go, even though it wasn’t going to bring us home a ribbon.
TB Hunter round - YouTube
Since we weren’t flatting, she got a nice vetrolin rinse, a drink, and put back in the nice cool trailer with her hay–I was so excited to find one of the like 3 shady spots at PGEC to park that morning. Cally pretty immediately went to sleep, and I headed over to get something cold at the concession stand. Sadly, they did NOT have the ice cream promised on their sign, and I had to make do with the one random smoothie flavor they had. Cherry smoothie, really?
Then I got to wait. And wait, and watch our jumper rider warm up for the Child/Adults, and a few rounds there, then finally go get Cally ready for Adult Eq. She warmed up great, we jumped two fences and called it good, then headed to the ring. I honestly hate that they have us do the Flat first, because while it might be a nice warmup for some of the horses, it’s just a giant energy drain on a hot day, and that energy would be better put towards jumping, because it’s so much easier to do an eq on the flat on a hot tired horse than a fences round. As I found out, because we had a nearly perfect trip until the last line, where a saw the perfect longish spot in, and I could tell Cally saw it too, but when I asked she just didn’t have the gas to make it happen. So we had the world’s worst chip there, but I managed to overcome that, get out of the line perfectly, and finish with a great rollback to the last fence. I don’t have video to share, sadly, but I cannot be at all upset with our 5th for that round, because while it wasn’t what I was hoping for, it was a good round that I was proud of in spite of the chip, because I feel like I actually rode well for all of it, and that’s far far more important than any ribbon I could bring home.
This week has been a pretty great one, horse-wise. Cally and I started the week off with a really great lesson focused on gymnastics. They’re a great tool to focus my eye, and get a feel of the pace and step we need, and they force Cally to use herself properly and build up good muscles. Plus I think she just straight up enjoys them.
We’ve been working a lot on my eye, because at this point Cally knows her job, and it’s just a matter of getting me to put her where we need to be to make things work nicely. She’ll go from almost wherever I put her, it’s just a matter of me putting her in the right place for her to jump her best. So we started off small, just a canter circle over a groundpole, then building to a line from the groundpole to a small X five strides away. It’s the kind of thing anyone could do, with almost any level horse, small and easy, but crucial to do well if you want to build up to doing anything else well. Then Holly had me do a long approach to a single set at an angle off the rail a few times each direction, and I feel like we really nailed it every time.
Then it was time for the real fun, a bounce-to one-to one grid. We kept it low the first few times through, letting Cally figure out the footwork because bounces are hard, then we put it up a bit which let me work on my eq a bit as the exercises took care of really getting Cally doing what she needed to. My lower leg can get a bit loose, so we’ve been doing a lot of work on what gets me keeping it down and tight; thinking “heels forward” seems to be the thought I need to go with on approach. And it seems to be working.
That lesson left me feeling pretty confident about BEST this weekend. What did not leave me feeling encouraged about BEST was the 7AM text from my trainer saying that the scar tissue on Cally’s left front had been bleeding a bit that morning, but she was sound on it and it wasn’t swollen, so she was going out. Oh, and she was taking her baby to the ER for a massive fever, so I’d be on my own at the show. Which initially might seem really worrying, but actually was probably a good thing, because stuff going sideways as I’m trying to get to the show usually means we end up having a really great show.
And we did, really. I hauled myself and Katie and our horses down, since we we’re both competent adults doing the TB Hunters, and it was great having someone else along to ponder the schedule and the courses and the day with. The horses decided they were BFFs too and were happy to have another horse to wait around with.
While our first round certainly could have been better–I managed to have a Space Cadet moment and go off course and jump the wrong last fence– from a Cally point of view it was pretty good. Little chippy to the first fence and slow with the change after it, but once we got rolling after that it felt great and she didn’t know I’m a moron and pointed her at the wrong last thing, so I was mad at myself and happy with her. That’s usually a good way for me to be feeling, and it paid off in our second round, which I was over the moon pleased with.
TB Hunters @ BEST - YouTube
The fact that we ended up 5th (out of 13, I think) with that round only shows how very strong the TB Hunter division is in this area. There are a ton of really lovely TBs competing around here, and they never really went away as part of the hunter culture in the MidAtlantic the way they did in some other parts of the country. When we do the division again next month, I’ll probably skip the undersaddle for it, as it was a big class and not our strong suit anyway, so not worth the energy expended by the horse on a long day for it.
Then we had a long wait around for my Adult Eq division. We had lunch, which was another bonus of being at the show with someone, as they say “what do you want for lunch?” and I actually remember to eat something besides a Rice Krispie Treat and Vitaminwater Zero Lemonade. The concession stand cheeseburger fueled a long wait, as we kept watch on the “ring status” feature of Horseshowing.com and I believed the woman at the gate when I checked in and was told there were only 20 rounds. There were not, there was a whole ‘nother section she wasn’t counting, so around we waited. Finally tacked up, made a valiant effort at not dying in the warmup ring and got two fences in, and headed back over to go.
Adult Eq - YouTube
Cally was a little tired by the end, but I was really quite pleased with that round, and compared to the others I saw go, I thought we’d end up pretty nicely placed. Mentally I had us 3rd. So I was a bit disappointed to pin 5th for it. Our flat wasn’t great, as she was getting cranky at the end and giraffed through the sitting trot and ended up on the wrong lead for the second canter because she was just DONE. Not at all surprised with our 6th there, despite feeling like we were starting the class off quite strong.
Overall, though, I was really pleased with our performance. None of the distances we got were gasp-inducing bad (unlike a few other rounds I saw that day) and I felt like on the whole we were very consistent, which is a big thing for us. So while it may not have been the primary colored placings I would have liked to come home with, we put in trips I’m proud of and offer us a great foundation on which to start our astride show year. Both these divisions offer a 3′ option, which looked totally doable to me on Saturday, so the hope is to move up to doing that at the next show or so, and get feeling just as solid and consistent at 3′ as we are now at 2’6″, which really feels like too little for us at this point.
I also, just before starting to write this, did our first Dressage show entry of the year! I’m trying something new for us this year, too, and doing Dressage Seat Equitation classes. I’ve never even seen one run outside of a YouTube video, so we’ll see how that works out. It will at least give us something new to play with this year, and who doesn’t want to rock two different equitations?