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

Friday, July 23, 2010

Camp Wrap-up-- Friday and Saturday

This week has just flown by and we are already getting ready for Penny Oaks next weekend!  In the meantime, I promised to post about the last two days of camp.  This will be short but sweet.


I did a Ride-a-Test on Friday morning with Jennifer Conour, a dressage trainer and rider.  For non-horsey friends, this means that I rode a dressage test (prescribed pattern at different gaits and in different figures), then she worked with me to imporve my weaknesses, and then I rode the test again.  I quite enjoyed it.  In my first test, I didn't quite get the connection I wanted.  So she set about helping me rev Taco's engine and get straighter, especially to the right in the canter.  She said she would rather I overdo the energy than underdo it (sounds familiar).  On the second run-through, the test was much more energetic.  I enjoyed the lesson-- Jennifer is a fun teacher!

That afternoon, most of the campers left, since camp was technically over.  Susan, Sharon, and I had signed up for the schooling dressage show/ combined test the next day, so we stayed over.  We had a great time that evening finding a lovely Italian restaurant in Carmel, IN.  If you are ever up there and need a recommendation for a great place to eat, try Mangia!


I spent most of Saturday morning packing up and getting organized.  Then I tacked up for my dressage.  I tried to re-create the wonderful energy I had in my lesson with Jennifer the previous day, but didn't quite make it.  Also, I forgot the stretchy circle part of my test and got an error.  My score was 38.6, which is well above what we are capable of.  A little past my sell-by date, y'think?  It had been a long week.  But I was glad to ride in the show as a rehearsal for going back to events this fall, and now I am very determined to ride with energy and finesse.

I was fairly pleased with my jumping round.  Besides getting overexcited about the last fence and forgetting to ride the last line (sorry Taco, good boy), I thought our energy was good, and I wasn't trying to jump ahead!  I tried to think "next" as I landed off of each fence, and kept my body up as I had done with Peter.

Then we loaded up and pulled out, waving goodbye to our home for a week.  The trip went smoothly until we got to Elizabethtown, Kentucky.  My truck's temperature gauge was inching higher and higher.  Hmmm.  I stopped for gas and got back on the road.  It started out cool and then got hotter again.  I decided I had best pull over and look at my options.   I got off the highway onto a quiet side road.

I had delayed the start of our trip when I had noticed the truck running warm as we were leaving Nashville and I got some coolant to put in.  Adding coolant had immediately fixed the problem, and I had merrily driven up to Indiana.  Now, when I opened the hood of the truck, the fluid in the reservoir was boiling.  Not good.  I decided to call AAA (my US Rider had just run out), and found someone who would tow both the truck and trailer to Nashville (the truck for free but the trailer for $$$).  Kate (to my immense gratitude) was willing to drive her truck to Nashville to tow Taco the rest of the way home.

Then one of those traveling miracles happened.  A mobile diesel truck mechanic on his way home from a job drove by, and stopped to help.  He opened up the radiator cap and had me start the truck.  There was an air bubble in the radiator, he theorized, and he thought that he had been able to release it.  We ran the engine for a while and the temperature seemed normal.  He said that he thought I could keep driving.  Yay!  So I did.  The gauge did inch up again, but stayed on the good side of the red.  We arrived home late but safe.  The truck went in for a coolant flush, new thermostat, and new radiator cap, and is now running cooler again.

(Taco says"  "Wow, that was a looong trip.  I am really grateful that Stacy gave me some wet beet pulp while we were waiting for help, but I was incredibly bored.  At least I was pretty tired and I got some good napping in.  I was so happy to see my friends when I got back!  I had a lot to tell Rugie about and he got really excited about going to eventing camp someday.")

Taco's sleepy face (at camp on Friday afternoon)

I slept for half of the next day and I'm sure Taco did too.  He was a complete star all week and I was so pleased with him!

My confidence is high and I am looking forward to Penny Oaks next weekend.  I had a dressage lesson today and we worked on more of that good energy, despite the junebugs that like to dive-bomb Taco's face.  We jump early next week and then we are off to Indiana again.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Camp- Wednesday and Thursday


At home in his stall at camp

Taco and I reported in for our cross-country pace lesson with Dorothy Crowell at 9 AM.  It was held on the lovely galloping track at Come Again Farm, to Taco's OTTB delight.  As we waited for the previous group to finish, we stood watching in a group in a pasture next to the track, where Dorothy gave us a mini-lecture on the five gears of XC riding (5 being flat out and 1 being a coffin canter).  Our first exercise was to ride around the track at about 350 meters per minute at around 3rd gear, one at a time.

When we all moved out to the spot where we were to begin the exercise, Taco fired right up!  Four other horses riding off together was very exciting.  When I first got Taco, Annika was very clear that I might wish to avoid foxhunting and large group rides, and I was reminded of her admonition at this moment.  Megan was there watching and put a hand on T's bridle to help get us to where we were supposed to be with a minimum of jigging and jumping sideways.  Then we were off, and met the pace easily, despite a couple of little bucks.

Then Dorothy taught us the in-between fences, exercise-jockey position.  Wow, it felt weird!  Stirrups all the way home, toes down, very short double bridge, elbows straight.  This is useful, she explained, because it requires the horse to use very little energy in the topline and can help preserve both the rider's and the horse's energy around a longer course.  Even at Training level, it is possible to be fatigued at the end of the course, and conserving a little bit of energy helps.  First we practiced this position at the trot and canter, and then we added it to a longer exercise: gallop position along the back side of the track at about 450 mpm, "come back" aids (moving the hips under and doing a little hop in the saddle to change the position of the stirrups) around the curve, and then the sitting C approach position to a little triple bar halfway down the next stretch, to be jumped in 3rd gear.

I failed at this exercise the first time.  I did the galloping position and the come back position OK, but I never tucked my hips under enough as I approached the triple bar.  As a result, Dorothy explained, if Taco had done anything but jump the fence in his usual honest way, I would have been in danger.  So she made me do it again.  This time I was better BUT, she pointed out, I have little flexibility in my lower back and my sitting C was barely a "C".  She recommended stretching my lower back before riding.

After I managed to pull Taco up (he was having way too much fun), Dorothy changed the jump to an ascending oxer, to be jumped in 2nd gear.  I had the sitting C concept down a little better and managed to accomplish this fairly well.  We ended with that.

That afternoon, it was on to our showjumping lesson with Lauren Kieffer.  I watched a couple of lessons before mine and saw that she was doing very basic stuff.  Everyone warmed up over a crossrail and then moved on to practicing adjustabilty and winding up over a little course.  When I got out there, our warmup fence was an oxer.  I got a little nervous and asked Nancy if I had somehow gotten placed into the Prelim group.  She said she didn't know, but that she guessed we both would have to step up if it were a Prelim group.  I decided I could do that and, what do you know, everything was fine.

Actually, it was more than fine.  After our warmup, we were instructed to ride a six-stride line in seven strides to work on our thinking skills and adjustability.  Then, in Lauren's words, we played a "turning game."  Three fences on a sepentine, basically.  I was a little skeptical that I could do it, but when I followed Lauren's instructions and concentrated on the next fence in the air over the previous one, it was actually much easier than I expected.  It was fun!  I was pleased because I have been having trouble focusing on what's ahead instead of what I just did in my jumping.

We ended over a course that included some more turning questions, plus the original question of putting 7 strides into the 6.  This last one caught me out and I had to repeat it.  Horses do tend to get longer as the course progresses, I learned, and this line was headed back toward the barn.  But I nailed it the second time.  Taco was perfect through all of this and Lauren gave him a nice pat when we finished up (as did I, plus many carrots upon returning to the barn).  One of the other people in our group told us that we made the exercises look easy!  And a little bird told me that Lauren said our group had been fun to teach.

On Wednesday night we were the guests of Janssen Veterinary Clinic, where we were fed in grand style and treated to a lecture on soundness in sport horses.  After fruit parfait, several glasses of lemonade, and cookies, I was on a total sugar high.  Egged on by Megan and Nancy, I was an active audience participant. My favorite part of the lecture was a series of three case studies that allowed us to follow along the diagnostic trail of bread crumbs to diagnosis and treatment.  We three geeks in the front row had a great time, and then we got a personal tour of the facility (wow!) afterward.


Thursday was cross country day with Peter.

Peter helping me buck up my courage-- it worked!

The lesson was a continuation of what we did in our gymnastics session two days before.  He was very adamant that we stand up at the point of takeoff (up, up, up!), thinking of putting our belly buttons in front of our chests (we used a different word but this is a family-friendly blog).  Because the front of the horse jumps (the back end provides the energy, but it is the front end that must get out of the way first), we need to free it up as much as possible.  Legs under us or a little bit forward and squeezing to the base.  Then hips continue to push forward on landing.  Hallelujah, it worked.  I felt really confident and I'm sure Taco appreciated more freedom from my lumpy self weighing down his shoulders.

We got to do a lot of jumping, and after working on ditches and banks, we moved on to some Prelim questions: skinnies!  First we did a little palisade, down through a swale, and around a turn to a skinny palisade.  I had to do this twice because the first time I didn't ride straight (i.e. forward) enough after I made the turn.
LAZ's beautiful palisade skinny (she built this one herself!)

Up and over (mutant right leg starting to look a little better here!).  Megan's photo.

Then Peter asked us if we were "happy" to jump the skinny Prelim rolltop chevron thingy (see below).

I gave him an honest answer: no.  He said that was fine, and had me watch the others.  Of course I got antsy and decided that I could do it.  On the video (below), you can hear Megan and Peter debating over whether I was going to jump it or not.  In fact, I believe Peter was taking bets.  When I finished the exercise, he gave me a big hug!

We ended by doing a terrain exercise (one downhill fence followed by an uphill one) and then at LAZ's brand new water, which is not finished yet but had a nice bank for us to jump off of.

Here is the video (thanks Megan!)

I was then scheduled for a steeplechase lesson with Dorothy, to begin right after XC, but we had jumped more than I'd expected to with Peter and Dorothy assured me that I had gotten the skills I need for steeplechase in the pace lesson with her on the previous day.  I do want to do a clinic with her someday, though, because I'd like to work more with her on jumping.

Wow, we were tired at this point.  Taco and I spent the evening relaxing.  Here we are chillin' in the barn with Peter.

(Friday and Saturday posts to come...)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Camp- Monday and Tuesday

Last week, as regular readers doubtless know, was a highlight of 2010: Eventing Camp at Come Again Farm.  I was unable to post comprehensive descriptions of Team Taco's daily activities while I was there, so my little mini-posts had to suffice until now. It was a whirlwind week!  I barely had time to call home and check on my family, let alone write real blog posts.  Plus I had to carve out a little time to go over the page proofs of Stormy Weather (have to pay the bills somehow).  But I loved having four entire days to ride, hang out with Taco, and soak up as much information as I could from watching lessons.  All in all, it was a great week for having fun and building confidence!


We arrived at camp in the early evening, having caravaned up with Megan and Flo.  Taco was bright-eyed and interested in his new surroundings.  The farm was beautiful!  It is on 40ish acres and Lee Ann Zobbe (LAZ) has been doing a ton of work on turf and fencing, not to mention a bunch of cross country jumps.  We got the horses settled in and moved into our quarters over one of the two indoor arenas, an air conditioned big room.  We were first to arrive so we got to choose corner spots for our air mattresses.
One of five barns (LAZ only uses one for her teaching/training/boarding business-- the rest are only used at camp and shows).  Megan took this.  Taco's stall was the first one on the right.

The West indoor with entrance to the air-conditioned lounge and our quarters to the right of the Airstream (it belongs to some friends/students of LAZ).  Megan took this, too.

Then we helped LAZ move jumps for the next day's lessons, and fired up the grill for burgers (veggie burger for me) and fresh corn from the farm stand at the end of LAZ's road.  Delicious!  It was also at this point that I realized I had forgotten the six-pack of beer that I had promised to LAZ.  Ooops.

We chatted for a while with Susan and Sharon, fellow students of Amy's, and Nancy, a COTHer from Ohio who also stayed in the indoor with us.  I had exchanged emails with Nancy when she shared her conditioning schedule for the T3D to appear with one of the EVENTING USA articles I co-wrote, but we had not yet met in person.  Then we went to sleep in air-conditioned splendor.


I had a dressage lesson with Mary Lowry of Alta Vista Farm in Kentucky and a gymnastics lesson with Peter Atkins of VT and FL.

Megan and Flo during a break in one of their lessons with Peter.

Mary and Amy know each other well, as they have both been students of eventing legend Ralph Hill.  With Mary, as I wrote in my quick post from camp, our lesson was about 1) straightness and 2) setting ourselves up for success in jumping.  Regarding the first, she was very adamant that the horse's chin should remain between the shoulder blades, and warned us to stay off of the wall of the indoor to ensure that we did not allow the horse to run through our outside aids.  She immediately picked up on Taco's and my overbending to the right.  To the left, our stiff side, she had me use an opening rein to ask for more bend.  Regarding the second topic of the lesson, she introduced us to a favorite exercise of hers, the canter-halt-turn on the hunches- canter series.  It is designed to build more "jump" into the canter.   During the turn on the haunches, the inside hind leg in one direction becomes the outside hind leg in the new direction, and it is the outside leg that strikes off into the canter.  Engaging it through the turn allows it to be ready strike off into canter and usually yields at least one stride of nice jumpy canter.  We got some great transitions and canters that way.  Then we added canter lengthenings into the mix.  She had us add leg in the phase of the stride when the horse moved our hips forward.

After a short break, I put Taco's jumping tack on for our gymnastics lesson.  Peter immediately asked us to warm up with high-quality working gaits.  He reminded us that muscle grows stronger with use and that correct muscle strengthening will take some of the load off of the horse's joints, which tend to degrade with use.  Then he worked on teaching us two things: remaining very present in the moment to what the horse is doing underneath you and lifting up out of the saddle on takeoff.  He set up trot poles in a pick-up-sticks pattern that forced us to support our horses as they figured out where to put their feet.  Then he added some fences and instructed us to literally stand in the stirrups at takeoff.  The rider's keet must be at the girth for this to be possible (and we all know how my legs like to swing back...).  This was completely new to me and felt strange at first, but Taco liked it because it allowed me to be much more still over his back.  This technique would become even more important during our XC lesson with Peter on Thursday.

Here is one of our run-throughs:

Wow, I'm still only on Tuesday.  Well, I will have to post a Wed/Thurs and  Fri/Sat account later.  So watch this space.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Two days, four instructors

This will be a very short post as these tired bones are headed to bed! After my lesson with Mary yesterday I had a gridwork lesson with Peter. He told us to lift ourselves up out of the saddle on takeoff-- not forward, but straight up. It felt different but I think I liked it. I will ride with him again for xc tomorrow, so I will get more practice. Today I did a galloping / pace lesson with Dorothy Crowell and a showjump lesson with Lauren Keiffer. Both were very different from each other and both were very helpful and interesting. I'll have to post later in more detail. I'm taking notes!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


We just finished our dressage lesson. Mary taught us one of her favorite exercises, canter-halt- turn on the haunches- canter off. I loved how springy it made his back legs! Mary got on my case about my left hand creeping back and allowing Taco's neck to overbend. Gridwork next...

At camp!

We arrived last night after a long drive. Taco traveled very well, as usual. He has a nice big stall next to Megan's Flo. I'm watching their dressage lesson with Peter Atkins right now. Earlier I watched Susan and Tate's gymnastics lesson with Mary Lowry. They both did great!
I ride dressage this afternoon with Mary and then some gymnastics with Peter. I'll try to post tonight!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Safe Speed

I've been thinking a lot lately about riding safely at speed. It's a hot topic these days in eventing in general, because of the increased attention to safety in the last several years. But I am thinking about it even more because I co-wrote an article about riding the steeplechase at a Classic Three Day event. My friend Holly and I interviewed upper-level eventer Pam Wiedemann, the steeplechase clinician at Waredaca. She gave all sorts of tips about preparing for the steeplechase, which you will be able to read in the August issue of Eventing 2.0.

The most important preparation, it seems, is to learn appropriate speed by marking a track at various distances and trying to cover those distances in a set amount of time. As many times as I have gotten the advice to do this, I never have (hanging head in shame). Until this week, that is, when I measured out the track at Panther Springs. I measured out to 220 meters (should take one minute at a brisk trot), 350 meters (should take one minute at a nice forward canter), 400 meters (should take one minute at an easy gallop), on up to 420 (the lower limit of Training level cross country speed), 450, 470 (the upper limit of Training level cross country speed), and 500 and 520 (the range of speeds for the steeplechase phase).

The 400 meter marker (orange cone)

Then I tacked up and hopped on. I did my trot sets (220 is indeed a brisk trot) and then tried some canters. My idea was that I would do what felt like an easy gallop and see how far I got in one minute. So I did that, and found out that I was going a whopping 350 meters per minute. I was a little surprised since I thought that it was more like 400. Lesson number one—I was not going as fast as I thought. I was riding with the hand brake on—partly because I did not want to set off a green horse that Amy was riding, and partly because I was wondering whether Taco would go nuts and take off. Both concerns were unwarranted. But I felt it was a good session because I know what I need to do next time—take the hand brake off! I can't wait.

This has been a challenging week in other ways since I took my truck in for a leaking brake line. I went to a garage in Nashville, which specializes in heavier-duty work than my usual garage. The mechanics discovered major work that needed to be done, including brakes (pads, rotors, and drums) and the front end (tie rod ends, ball joint, radius arm bushing). Ouch! Apparently the garage that I have been using for oil changes has not been lubricating the chassis properly or inspecting the brakes, and thus missed some developing problems. I am angry with them, to say the least. I am just grateful that I had the brake line problem when I was not hauling so that it was discovered before I was on the road with my precious cargo.

I am out of town (again) for July 4th, and then I return for about a week before eventing camp at Come Again Farm in Indiana. I will blog as much as possible from camp to update on everything I'll be learning!

Taco says: "C'mon! Let's go fast!"