Friday, January 21, 2011

Learning to Love Dressage

I've long believed that a person's interest in a given subject is very largely influenced by one's teacher. It comes as little surprise that because of my trainer's enthusiasm for dressage, I'm now realizing that I can like it too. Up until this point, I had adopted the same view as those I had surrounded myself with: that flat work is something to get through in order to do the fun part - jumping! In fact, when first starting out in eventing, I really didn't like the idea of dressage - it seemed too similar to saddleseat. I'd had enough of just going around in an arena. It seemed too subjective. With jumping, you either go clean or you don't.

Now I wonder how my previous notions could have been so off.  I had no idea what dressage really called for. The buzzwords were so similar to saddleseat concepts, that I didn't comprehend their new meanings. But now I view dressage as its own unique challenge, and I'm really enjoying it. As the USEA "This is Eventing" video describes it, it's like ballroom dancing.

In fact, I find myself really looking forward to my dressage lessons. I've had two this week, and I'd go for two more if I could! It could be that I now have my own dressage saddle (and it's quite comfortable), and that I'm feeling particularly challenged by my new trainer and I want to improve. I've discovered that I'm allowed to like dressage. And I know I can learn to love it. To be completely honest, though, I don't think I'll love it until I consider myself proficient in it. I was the same way about math. ;)

If you currently don't like dressage (especially if you're new to the sport) - find a trainer or clinician who does. It will greatly increase your enjoyment of our sport. Dressage may only be one-third of the competition, but the scores very strongly impact the placing. Loving the challenge will be more empowering when the results are posted. You won't feel like a victim of dressage.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Eventing Levels - Ironic Names

US Eventing Association Recognized levels:
Beginner Novice: ~ 2 ft 7 in
Novice: ~2 ft 11 in
Training: ~3 ft 3 in
Preliminary: ~3 ft 7 in (*)
Intermediate: ~3 ft 9 in (**)
Advanced: ~3 ft 11 in (***)
"Four Star" **** = super difficult, generally Olympic level/International Competition

Un-recognized lower/pre-levels (not regulated/heights not set):
Intro Beginner Novice:  1'8"
Easy Beginner Novice:  2'3"
Starter: 1'8"
Intro: 2'

As a newbie to the sport, I was shocked when I first learned the names of eventing levels. Considering myself a darn good rider before trying this sport (ie, I can stay on anything), it seemed crazy to me that all of the levels seem to be named some sort of synonym for Easy! The longer I've been in the sport, the more used to it I've gotten, so I'm sure that those who've been doing this a long time wouldn't see what I'm seeing as a adult just getting into it. (Don't worry, I've learned that riding skill isn't just about keeping the horse between you and the dirt.)

But getting back to the misleading names... For example, you certainly can't be a novice rider to ride Novice. Preliminary is hardly the first step. Training connotes training wheels. Beginner Novice sounds like "this is so easy, we had to have two synonyms for easy to describe it!" No wonder I still have a hard time keeping the order of the levels straight - they all pretty much have the same name! When I'm watching horse trials, I think to myself "that should be called Difficult rather than Novice." I mean, people have DIED riding Intermediate! Doesn't that merit a name change to "Deathly Dangerous"? What about Challenging, Difficult, or Olympic as level names?

At first I thought the whole star * rating system seemed confusing. But now I get it. Asterisks generally indicate that there's fine print at the bottom of a description - a caveat. When you call something Preliminary then put a * next to it, you're not as surprised to learn that it really isn't "the first step" since the asterisk indicated a "However..." element. And, as in legal documents, more asterisks indicate even finer print, moved further to the bottom of the page.

To make things even more complicated, we've got CCI versus CIC: Concours Complet International (CCI) and the Concours International Combiné (CIC). According to Wikipedia, CCI Competitions are international three-day events, as opposed to a national competition or a one- or two-day horse trial. Contrarily, the CIC may be held over one day, and is thus considered an international one-day event. The CIC is held only at the one to three-star levels. There are no 4* CIC competitions.

The original difference between the two formats was that the 4 phases of cross-country (A, B, C, and D) were held in CCI competition, while CIC competition only ran the D phase. With the advent of the new format (which abolished phases A, B, and C), the FEI agreed to change the distances of the CCI to make it more difficult than the CIC competitions. Thus, CIC competitions have fewer obstacles on a shorter course than do CCI competitions.

It will be quite some time (perhaps forever) before I'm up to the international level of eventing, so I'm not too worried if I don't have the CCI versus CIC down pat.  But I know that the original format (including roads & tracks and steeplechase) is making a come-back. What do we call those competitions? I'll have to do some more homework.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Starting the year off right

So far, so good for 2011. It's only been 2 weeks, but hey - they've been great!
I had my second jumping lesson on Spirit, and while there's plenty that I as a rider need to work on, Spirit's been getting nothing but compliments! We even jumped our highest jump ever - 3'6". It didn't seem very high when I looked at it, actually, but I definitely got some hang time. Its the best feeling when you're trainer says "this horse is gonna take you far." Pretty nice review of a 5-year old being ridden by a complete amateur. (As an aside, should I start calling her a 6-year old, since the first of the year is past?  She technically turns 6 in May, but for competition purposes she is 6 as of Jan 1.)
Meanwhile I'm trying to do my part to start the year off right by being organized, goal-oriented, and fully equipped for my sport. I'm buying tack, keeping a calendar, creating a three-ring binder, and of course blogging!
Buying tack is definitely an undertaking. Up until this point, the most I'd ever spent on a saddle is $100 when I was 12 years old. After doing lots of research, my brain knows that spending $550 on a used but good quality jumping saddle is a good deal, but that doesn't make it any easier on the wallet. I've also got a dressage saddle on trial - those are so pricey! But, I'm viewing the saddles as an investment in my comfort, and as a symbol of my commitment to the sport. I'm gonna start off 2011 squarely in my own tack.

Monday, January 10, 2011

And we're off!

This weekend I finally had my first jumping lesson on Spirit with my new trainer! She discovered how stiff Spirit is when asked to bend to the right, but was very complimentary about her jumping. Here's a picture of our careful approach to a crossbar:
It was a gorgeous day and I had lots of fun, though it was a bit scary to get some "re-training." Anyone who changes trainers could expect to take a step or two backwards before moving forwards again, to allow for different styles and time getting acquainted. But I was specifically learning to no longer "support" before the jump (ie, help keep the horse off of the forehand by use of legs and hands), to now going to loose reigns to let the horse figure out how to get herself off of the forehand when jumping. Not only were my reigns flopping, but I was told to add more leg! And a tap of the whip! There was definitely a moment when I thought "Are you crazy?" Apparently I even started putting both reigns in one hand so that I wouldn't hold on too much. Don't really know where that came from, but oh well - it worked! Can't wait to do some more work on her, and start making plans for our first horse trials!

Friday, January 7, 2011

2 Goals for 2011

So, last night I was supposed to have my second lesson on Spirit with my new trainer, but she threw a shoe (a first for us) and I ended up riding a fantastic mare my good friend is leasing. As I was tacking up, I shared my two goals for the 2011 season with my trainer:
  1. To compete in a 3-part horse trials at any level.
  2. To compete in a 3-part horse trials at the Beginner Novice level.
Note the terminology "compete in". I'm not saying that I need to place, or even that I can't get disqualified, but I would like to participate in all 3 phases: dressage, cross country, and stadium jumping. And yes, by completing #2 I would indeed be completing #1, but since I have a hunch that I'll be doing an "intro" or "starter" level before moving into BN, I figured I'd make the distinction between the two goals. I am just itching to get away from derbies and do a real trial!

So what did my trainer say about these 2 goals? Did I get her magical blessing? I did! They now have the stamp of approval and we're gonna go for 'em. I know that the intro and starter levels are quite new to the sport and that people were going straight to Beginner Novice for years (in fact, BN itself is a relatively new level). But still, it was a relief to know that based on what she's seen of myself and my horse, we can hack it at entry level eventing. :) I wonder if I will feel this excited about the prospect of an Intro horse trials in 5 years? I doubt it, but I sure am excited now.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My (Brief) History with Eventing

January 2011 - my Eventing in Color blog has been created to chronicle my adventures moving forward with eventing for the 2011 season and beyond. To give you some insight on my eventing experiences and competitions up to that point, here is my brief history:

My first eventing lesson was in May 2009. I'd had practically zero experience jumping, and exactly zero experience in dressage. And, no, I hadn't had any hunter, hunt-seat, or jumpers experience either (my background consists of saddleseat, bareback riding, trails, trail class, and western pleasure, but that's for a different post). I started riding with Taurie Banks of Kings Corner Training Stables in Fillmore and soon became a regular once-a-week lesson-taker, with extra lessons before events.

As for eventing competitions, I've done five combined tests/derbies in the year and a half that I've been in this sport. My first three were before my debut with Spirit. The first was in August of '09 on a lovely French Warmblood gelding named Max (show name: To Knight's Attraction), who I'd been taking lessons on. We got through our combined test in the Intro Beginner Novice division (the lowest division possible, with jumps up to 1' 8") and somehow got second place. We also did the jumping portion only of Easy Beginner Novice (jumps up to 2' 3") and took home a blue! Max was a great horse for my first foray into eventing - he'd been there, done that, and was just as nice as could be. I had been expecting to come in last since it was my very first event, so I was happily surprised to get some ribbons (and I won some Trader Joe's truffles - YES!). Our barn then had a home-based evening clinic/seminar with Daniel Stewart for his Ride Right program. I learned some really nifty tricks specifically for competitions, and of course they apply to pretty much all "crunch-time" life scenarios, not just eventing.

I then did two combined test schooling shows at my trainer's barn in January and February 2010, and I was focused on using the techniques I learned from the Daniel Stewart Clinic. I rode my trainer's broodmare, Soda (show name: Yours for a Knight), a fun little paint. At the first show I got eliminated on my first round (fell off in front of the entire barn, my friends and family, and a bunch of strangers), but then won my second round. I was competing against a group of kids aged 12 and younger, but I was darn proud of myself (those pre-teens are good!). At the second schooling show we got either second or third - and no falls ;).

Around that time I was paired up with Spirit, who was pretty young and green (my first several rides on her were nicknamed "bumper babies" to practice steering) and started riding at least two times a week. Originally I was riding her just to help my trainer out and give the mare some mileage (I wasn't scared of her acrobatic bucks), but it wasn't too long later that I was riding her in my lessons and thinking about some shows. We started off at local ETI hunter-division shows, and we managed to snag some ribbons from each one we attended. In March, we headed to the local eventing facility, The Meadows of Moorpark, for a schooling (picture below). In June came our first combined test: we skipped over Intro Beginner Novice and went straight for Easy Beginner Novice (who's fancy now?). I believe we placed 4th or 5th, but really would have been 2nd or 3rd if my dressage score had been calculated correctly. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way about the 30 minute contestation rule (and also to always go get your dressage score sheet yourself, even if you have a broken toe!). It's not about the 10-cent ribbon anyway - it's about doing your best under pressure, and learning from each experience to make the next one even better.

In July we did our first multiple-day show (alas, not an event) which was the ETI National Convention at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank. Going 4 days in a row at a new location, getting introduced to the equidome, and doing our first set of jumpers classes was a tiring but very rewarding experience for both Spirit and myself. By fall we were ready for some more eventing. In September we schooled cross country at RAM TAP in Fresno (picture below!). It was exciting to actually travel out for eventing! In October we did another derby at the Meadows of Moorpark, and entered into full on Beginner Novice (up to the incredible height of 2' 7") and we very proudly took home third place.

In November 2010, it was time to make a change. I had a healthy sit-down with my trainer, then began taking some lessons with other trainers. It didn't take too long before I found the fantastic Laurie Canty. I took some lessons to make sure we were mutually compatible, then started to make arrangements regarding Spirit. Meanwhile, I had a blast riding two fantastic, completely trained horses owned by some of Laurie's clients. I really enjoyed riding them, and hope to still take some lessons on them in the future.

So that's the scoop on my year-and-a-half of eventing so far! I feel like I made steady improvements in my skills and understanding of the sport, and I felt more and more confident about each derby. I can't help but wonder if my first entrée into eventing is similar or different to other peoples' - how long does it take most people to reach their first true horse trial? Do most people start off on an old schoolmaster horse? How much time (or how many schoolings or events) do people spend on the baby levels below Beginner Novice? I'm sure its different for each individual, but from most other blogs I've read, people seem to jump straight into BN or even Novice! But most people seem to have some previous jumping background...I haven't found other adults with no jumping experience starting out in eventing. It's me and the pre-teens, and even they have more experience jumping than I do!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Introduction to Eventing in Color

Hello and welcome to my Eventing in Color blog! I'm an adult amateur eventer (I'm stretching the term a little bit here) with a lovely, young grey paint mare named Spirit. With this blog I hope to track our immersion into the sport of eventing, give my 2 cents as an adult amateur new to the sport, and of course, showcase an unusual breed for this discipline: the paint horse!

When I say I'm an eventer, I feel compelled to clarify that I haven't done an actual 3-part horse trial at this point. So far, I've done a couple of combined tests/derbies at our local eventing facility and at my previous trainer's barn. Five to be exact. In my next post, I'll give you the history of my eventing and competition experience so far. But for now, here's my current status: I'm in Ventura County, CA. I've just started with a new trainer, and I really enjoy her so far. I took a few lessons before Spirit arrived at the facility, and I just had my first lesson on Spirit this past weekend. My horse may have been covered in mud, and it may have been freezing, and in fact it even started raining halfway through our lesson, but I had a blast and I came away feeling both proud and excited. I can't wait to see what the 2011 season will hold, and I finally felt that the time is right to take the plunge into blogging. I hope you enjoy!