We had expert, encouraging help from the peerless Hilda Donahue. When I initially realized that Amy could not come to coach me, I did despair somewhat, but then I was lucky enough to arrange coaching with Hilda. I had met her while she was volunteering at Pine Top Advanced HT during the infamous rainy 2009 event-- yes, she was volunteering at an event where she was riding! In the rain! Then I had heard great things about her from my friend Seema, and when I asked Seema whether Hilda might be a good coach for the AECs, I got an enthusiastically affirmative response. Hilda fortunately agreed to coach me, and we had a wonderful phone conversation the week before the event in which I told her all about Taco and me.
The week before we left, Amy worked with me on both our jumping and dressage. In both disciplines, we concentrated on me riding every moment, and responding to what was going on underneath me instead of relying on a formula of what I thought I "should" be doing. I decided to set riding in the moment throughout all three phases as a goal for this event. We also worked on angling a three-stride line, a practice session that I was very glad to have done come cross-country day! All in all, Amy did a fabulous job of preparing us, both last week and throughout our partnership. Hilda was very complimentary of my preparation.
When we arrived at Chattahoochee Hills I was instantly blown away by the magnitude of the event. I believe almost 700 horses started! The trailer parking alone was a ginormous area.
The trailer parking was surrounded by the circle of road dubbed "I-285" by some participants.
We were fortunate enough to be stabled in the rear of the property, in one of the lovely permanent barns. This is the nicest show stabling I have ever seen. Each stall had rubber mats, and was slightly deeper than it was wide so that the horses could retreat to the back of the stall to get some peace and quiet.
The beautiful barns in our section (ours was the one to the left).
Taco just after arrival.
Dressage went very well. Hilda had me practice each movement of the test in turn, and emphasized correct bend and energy. We practiced lengthenings with well-timed half-halts, and the turn in the center of the 15 meter figure-8. Then it was was showtime! Taco pumped up a little bit when we entered the arena, and he put in a lovely, fluid test. I could have changed the bend in the figure-8 better, and done a better job preparing for my left canter depart, and kept the energy in the transition from free to working walk better, but all in all it was nice. The judges agreed, and my two scores came to a 28.2, putting us in 2nd place out of those 50+ horses.
Hilda discussing our performance after the test.
Cross Country (click here for photos of the jumps and a course map) was more technical than anything I have seen to date. But when I walked it I thought that Taco and I were ready for it!
The ski jump bank down to the angled cabins. Lots of people decided to circle here, but I correctly thought that we could handle the straight route!
Hilda had really emphasized correct line and balance when we walked the course together. She always looks back from each fence to the one before it to check the line that she plans to ride. This helped me tremendously. In the warmup, she had us do a variety of rides to the fences-- off of turns and angles, and also working on getting him out in front of my leg. I was nervous leaving the start box, but I knew that we had done everything possible to set ourselves up for success. Taco came out ready to do his job, as usual. He jumped clear around over everything, including the combinations at the water (a rolltop on a mound, down a bank that looked huge to me, and out over a very tall skinny brush), the ski jump to angled cabins (thanks for the angle practice, Amy!), and the coffin. He was very careful and patted the ground a few times in front of the drops, so I just tried to support him with my leg and let him do what he needed to do.
I rode at a pace that felt comfortable to me, which turned out to be over 20 seconds slow. I wanted to make sure I jumped around safely, the ground was hard (remember we have a little thing called a three day event coming up!), and my riding at speed is definitely still a work in progress. I thought we were going pretty fast, but on the video it looks like we are just loping around!
Our time penalties dropped us down to 20th place, so we had little pressure going into showjumping. Still, I wanted to ride a good round here. Taco was definitely a little stiff after XC and standing up in a stall for several nights, so with Carol's help I got him out and walking as much as possible and our Aunt Lynda brought us plenty of ice to soothe his feet and ankles. He felt good in the warmup and Hilda once again gave us exactly what we needed to get ready for our round: some jumps off of a shorter turn to give me the feeling of revving T's hocks up underneath him. The course was maxed out (the concession to making the first fence a little softer was to not max out the oxer's width!) and very gallopy, with several long approaches. Then we went in, and Taco just jumped out of his skin. I felt like we could have jumped anything-- he was so elastic and responsive. We had one rail after I rode a less than stellar turn, but I really felt that I pushed through to a new level of eliciting Taco's best jumping. Big pats for him! I told Hilda when I came out of the ring that I felt like the event had been a very productive clinic for me.
We drove home in the heat, as I relived my favorite moments of the weekend. While each phase had room for improvement (watch out for us next year, folks!) I was tickled that we had put in three very solid phases that built confidence in each one. I loved spending time with Taco in this way, and seeing friends, and getting to know Hilda and her lovely fiance (thank you so much for the taco dinner!!), and having the devoted help of Carol (she is getting really good at picking stalls, poor thing). Thank you to the USEA and the AECs organizers and volunteers, and to Carol, and Hilda, and Seema for the lovely, unexpected gift, and Lynda for the golf cart rides and ice and water, and Dad for my fancy new helmet, and Mom for the camera with which the above pictures were taken! Thank you Team Taco!! We could not have done it without you!
This is what it's all about.