photo by
Tales of Taco the Wonder Horse and his ammy rider on their way to a Training Three Day

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jumping, Rolex, and Now an Unplanned Break

Things have been going fairly well in Team Taco land over the past two weeks.  As Amy suggested, I upped the frequency of my jump schools and I have definitely noticed a positive difference in my focus and Taco's rideability.  They are just short sessions of cantering around over different fences, but it is so much more productive to jump when both of us are more relaxed and ho-hum about it!

After about a week of regular jumping, we had a lesson in which we just jumped a crossrail BUT I really concentrated on untwisting my body from its usual right-shoulder-forward contortion.  At one point, Amy asked me to lengthen my reins so that I could exaggerate bringing my elbows (especially the right one) back.  Wow, that felt strange!  Amy took a video with her cell phone and guess what-- I looked perfectly normal.  I understand that this is par for the course when trying to break a bad habit but still, I was amazed.

Last weekend I decided to travel to Lexington to watch part of the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event.  I was a little bit apprehensive about going since I was worried about seeing more falls.  As it turned out, I did see Dorothy Crowell's fall directly in front of me, and it was completely terrifying, but both she and the horse got up and walked away.  I am grateful beyond words for this.  Dorothy is a lovely person and I had the good fortune to enjoy her company a couple of times last year, at the Indiana T3D and at the USEA Convention.  Had she been seriously injured, I would have been devastated.

But enough about falls and fear.  I did enjoy going to Rolex with Lauren and Megan, and it is always fun to see the Kentucky Horse Park in all of its Rolex glory.

I soaked up as much knowledge as I could.  I got a lesson on how to warm up for dressage from William Fox-Pitt on Saturday (below)-- I was very impressed watching him and then, lo and behold, he won the dressage (and the whole event!).

I stayed for cross country and the Sunday morning jog, and then raced back to Nashville to ride Taco.  He was rather muddy.

It was fun (cough, cough) getting the mud off.

Then I tacked up to lunge and ride.  But when I asked Taco to pick up the trot to the right, he was definitely off, seemingly in the left front.  No obvious heat or swelling.  I lunged him to the left and he looked OK, and then tried the right again, but he was still off.  So I took him back to the barn and untacked him, and got down to the business of going over his left front leg with a fine-toothed comb.  All I came up with was a tiny cut under the cuff of his bell boot, perhaps caused by a speck of remaining mud.  I removed the bell boot and scrubbed the area, then tried lungeing again.  He maybe looked a teeny bit better, but still not sound.

I thought that perhaps the cut was stinging him so I slathered on wound ointment and decided to check on him the next day, which was yesterday.  When I got to the barn he was sound jogging in a straight line, so I tacked up again.  Unfortunately, when I got on and picked up the trot, I could definitely feel that he was off to the left.  It clearly wasn't the small cut, since it was healing very well and he did not react when I manipulated the skin around it.

I was very lucky that Dr. Tony of Franklin Equine was already scheduled to come today for some other horses, so I called the clinic and told them to add a lameness exam to Tony's list.  I had to teach this morning, but Amy was gracious enough to hold and jog Taco for Tony.  He tried hoof testers (negative), a navicular test (negative) and low diagnostic nerve blocks (no change).  His thought is that Taco must have tweaked a soft tissue structure by somehow landing wrong on that foot.  The plan is to bute and rest for five days and on Monday we will see how he is doing.  He can have normal turnout until then.

I am relieved that Tony thinks it is not something major and I certainly hope he is right!  When Taco is not 100%, I am not quite 100% either.  So everybody keep your fingers crossed that he is all systems go come Monday.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

And now, a word about the Training Three Day

Some readers of this blog are eventers who are very familiar with the Training Three Day event (T3D), but others may be wondering what a T3D is.  There are some links to the right of the screen that explain in great detail, but the short version is that a T3D is a Training (1 meter jumps) event in which dressage, cross country, and showjumping are on three consecutive days and in that order-- AND the cross country day includes four separate phases.  There are two phases in which the average speed is a brisk trot, one phase of steeplechase, at a gallop over brush fences, and one phase of the usual cross country course, with varied fences in combinations, done at a more moderate gallop.  In addition, veterinarians monitor the horses throughout the weekend and determine how well the rider has done at preparing the horse's fitness.  Finally, all T3Ds have an educational component.  Experienced eventers give lectures and clinics to the participants.

About four years ago, I decided to make a 2010  T3D my goal.  In order to make sure that the competitions were still around in 2010, I began volunteering and trying to help promote and support them.  Somehow I came to the attention of Cindy DePorter, the Chair of the T3D Committee, and she drafted me into being on the committee.  I am happy to serve in that capacity, because I do care so much about the competition and want to make sure it is still there even after I have met my goal.

Part of my service on the committee has been to write or co-write educational articles about the competition.  My most recent endeavor features Doug Payne and Gina Miles discussing how they feel the T3D (and Preliminary Three Day/ P3D) help to educate horses and riders.  They were both tremendously helpful and down-to-earth when I spoke to them, and I truly enjoyed writing the article.

I am also the regional rep for the Long Format Club to the MidSouth Three Day Event, which means that I will promote the T3D and P3D at the event and serve as a liason between the organizer and the Long Format Club, a grassroots organization that provides financial support to Classic three day events.  If you care about the Classic three days, make sure you send a few bucks their way!  It is  funded entirely by small donations from people like you and me.

Why do I want to do the T3D?  First, it will further my education in all of the ways that Doug and Gina mention.  Second, it is a goal just far enough out of my comfort zone that it will feel like a real accomplishment when I complete one.  Last, but most certainly not least, it will bring Taco and me even closer together.  And what better reason is there?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

It's been some time since my last post, mainly because my job (yes, actual history professoring-- I have to pay the bills somehow) has kept me quite busy.  In addition to the usual teaching prep and grading I've gone over the copyediting for my book (Fedexed out today!) and gone to Washington, DC for a conference.  But I digress...

Taco is his usual gorgeous self, and is full of energy in the spring weather.  Ideally, I'd be preparing for the Area III championships right now.  However, I probably don't need to tell the readers of this blog that competing is expensive, and my competition budget is rather tiny at the moment.  We have big competitions planned for later in the year, including the American Eventing Championships (AECs) and of course our Training Three Day.  I also want to do an event camp in early July at Come Again Farm in Indiana, with Peter Atkins, Dorothy Crowell, and Holly Hepp Hudspeth.  So I am having to make some hard choices about shows in the immediate future, including the Area III Champs. 

Given the revised show schedule, then, I need to concentrate on practicing, practicing, practicing.  I need to keep a consistent connection in my flatwork so that I don't rush him in the test.  Jumping, I'm still working on my *&$%! right leg and the same connection that I need in dressage.  As Wofford is fond of saying, "practice doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect."

The problem with this is that I am far more easily distracted at home.  Without the pressures of a competitive situation, unwanted thoughts and anxieties show up.  Witness, for example, the I hate wind post from a couple of weeks ago.  I got over my fear of Tidbit the miniature horse, but there will always be something for me to fret over (today it was having my right stirrup tied to the girth again).  My task is to focus in on my job despite the distractions, just as I would at a show.  I feel that I have made some progress, but if anyone has suggestions or experiences to share on this topic, please comment!

 Tidbit doesn't scare us!

Despite the above challenges, my practicing has been going fairly well.  On Easter Sunday I decided to try jumping again.  This time it went better.  We conquered the crossrail...
(See that right leg?  Damn!)

and then a few other little fences.

I've felt like we've done some good flatwork in the last week, too.

I had a mini-breakthrough when I realized that I've been riding with my right hip always cocked forward, which is sending my right leg back.  I go to the chiropractor on Wednesday and will ask her about this.  In the meantime I've been bringing my right hip back every time I think about it, with some good results.

Today I had a lesson and, as I mentioned above, my stirrup got tied to the girth again.  And I broke the string three times!  I think Amy was a little annoyed, especially when I freaked out each time she tied it up again.  But I freaked out far less than I had in our previous lesson, so that was progress.  Taco was plenty fresh, since he hasn't been jumping so often in recent weeks, so she suggested that I jump over something twice a week, preferably at a balanced, rhythmic canter.  I find that it is helpful for me to pretend I am in an equitation class and that I have to make smooth, but effective, adjustments between fences.

I know that a few Team Taco fans will be disappointed about Area III Champs, but look for an improved Team Taco at shows this summer and fall!  Until then...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Remedial Lesson and Many Adventures With Lauren

This week, we finally had some spring-like weather.  We seem to have skipped the 60s and gone right to the upper 70s and low 80s, and it has gone almost a whole week without raining.  The change is welcome, I must say!

In Team Taco land, we've gone back to basics.  Amy (Provost) read my last blog post and decided that I needed to jump in this week's lesson.  We walked up to the jump field... and had a walk-trot lesson.  I was a remedial student this week.

What happened was that, after a short warmup, Amy tied my right *stirrup* to the girth.  As I have mentioned before on this blog, my right leg has a mind of its own and tends to slip back and up. By tying it to the girth, Amy was hoping to give me the feeling of where that leg should be.

However, instead of absorbing the sensation and practicing using that leg in the correct position, I panicked.  My body has gotten so used to riding with it too far back that it felt incredibly strange to have it where it belonged.  I felt like I couldn't ride at all, and that Taco was on the verge of flying out of control.  Not a good feeling!

This exercise and my subsequent meltdown exposed a key problem.  Amy got on to show me that Taco was not wild and out of control, and she said that he was far from wild but that he did think that he was in charge.  That translated into heaviness in his forehand and rushing, which was what I was feeling and interpreting as "wildness."  She worked for a few minutes on his lightness and adjustability, and then had me get back on and try it for myself.  I had to use my core muscles much more than I had been doing-- instead of riding defensively and collapsing in my chest, I had to engage my back and abs and become much more stable.  And, surprise, surprise, I got some lovely, light movement from him.  End of wildness.

Here's the thing: Taco is so athletic and capable, and he has a terrific work ethic and willingness every day.  My job is to channel the willingness and talent into brilliant work.   Even though Taco supplies so much, I need to ride and not sit there on top admiring him and being a passenger.  On some days, he adds some spicy salsa to the taco, and if I have been coasting and not riding, I find that my aids do not work as well as they should!  This is what happened the other day.  It was a good reminder of the necessity of checking in on the basics.  Even on the mild salsa days, I need to check in that my aids are working, and add half-halts and practice adjustability.

After that hardworking session, yesterday was a play day.  I took Taco and Crescent to Southern Promise Farm, headquarters of Lauren and her many adventures, for a nice long hack.  We went out for about an hour and 40 minutes.  It was excellent for Taco's ligaments and tendons, and for all of our mental health (Crescent has a doggy friend there, Bandit, who came along too).  We can hack around the track at Amy's, but it is lovely to go for miles through the fields, across streams, and up and down the hills.  I am going to try to get over there every few weeks this summer for long rides.

First I had to get out of the driveway at Amy's.  Boyfriend the dog was in the middle of his nap.

Boyfriend eventually moved.  Here are some pictures of us after our fun ride.  Thanks, Lauren!