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

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hagyard MidSouth Training Three Day! Part I

Well, we did it!  Or, sort of.  We made it to the T3D at Hagyard Midsouth Team Challenge and Three Day Event, and through the all-important Endurance Day, but I withdrew Taco at the final jog.  It was a letdown not to finish, but there will be other three day events. I am thrilled with my horse and I had a truly fantastic team of folks helping me all weekend.

In the lead-up to the event, I had some great help from Amy.  She got me confident over showjumps again (forward, forward, forward!) and gave me some really great comments on my dressage test.  She also rode Taco when I had to go to California for a couple of days for work.  Talk about trying to pack it all into my schedule—what was I thinking?

Anyway, when we pulled out Wednesday morning I felt that I was as ready as I would ever be. Taco, of course, was born ready, so I had not worries on that score.  His recovery times on his last gallop had been ridiculously short.  He had also been checked out by Dr. Tony, who found that Taco was dragging one toe a little after a flexion test.  We decided to treat that hock with Surpass and to try Equithrive, which contains resveratrol and hyaluronic acid.  By the time we left, he was feeling and looking good.

We had a smooth drive to Lexington and went through the first in-barn exam smoothly.  I had to hurry to get Taco settled and bathed before a lecture by Dorothy Crowell, the main clinician for the T3D, and Dr. Duncan Peters, who was the veterinary delegate.  They spoke on care before and after Endurance Day.  Much of what I heard was familiar, but I took careful notes and heard several helpful things.  After the lecture, I let Taco graze on the lovely green WEG track for a while, and then tucked him in for the night. As I moved around the Kentucky Horse Park, I kept thinking that the competition I had been working toward for the last three years had actually arrived.  My task at this point was, I thought, to put all of my preparation to the best use possible.

The next day was completely packed with activity.  It started with the mandatory briefing for the T3D, P3D, and CCI* riders, continued with Dorothy's lecture on timing A, B, and C and a steeplechase walk, then the jog, and finally a steeplechase school.  I woke up pretty nervous, thinking about doing all of these things and managing to braid and clean up Taco, too.  But my strategy was to make a good plan and then just to concentrate on whatever task was before me.  This turned out to be a helpful strategy all weekend.  Whenever I found myself getting jitters, I asked myself, "what do I need to concentrate on now, at this very moment?"

The briefing and lecture left little time for braiding and primping for the jog, but just before the jog my number one groom and sports psychologist, Carol, showed up.  She had brought the shoes and jewelry that I planned to wear for the jog, and she also did her magic on the buckles and clincher browband of Taco's bridle.  She has become an expert metal polisher, poor thing!  There was a scary moment when I realized that the hoof polish I planned to use had comfrey in it, which is not USEF-legal (although external use is probably fine).  So off I went to find some hoof dressing.  I arrived back at the stall some minutes later (the vendor had been very talkative) with pine tar.  Big mistake!  It was cold and went on like molasses, and then proceeded to pick up every speck of dust his hooves encountered.

So it was a hurried pair that made our way to the jog lane—but once there, it was wonderful!  I stood Taco up for Dr. Peters and the ground jury, and then we jogged down the lane (the same one used by world-class horses at Rolex and the World Equestrian Games!).  Taco floated along beside me and I felt like a million bucks.  We were accepted easily and went back to the stall.  On the way back, we met poor Carol, whom I had delegated to find a dressage whip for the jog.  She had rummaged through the trailer and come up with both a long jumping bat and my Wonder Whip, but by the time she found me again I had already jogged!  Note to self: jogs always go faster than you think they will!

Handsome Face


Will Stacy stay on during the hack to the steeplechase school?  Stay tuned for the next episode! 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Wake-Up Call

This weekend was the annual Middle Tennessee Pony Club Horse Trials.  The short version of our weekend is that we won the dressage and then I fell off in stadium.  I am unhurt except for my pride.

The longer version:  I had an amazing weekend at the World Equestrian Games eventing competition a week ago, got totally behind on sleep and grading, put in a long week of teaching, writing, and meetings while I tried to get caught up on the sleep and grading, squeezed in some rides, and peeled myself out of bed yesterday morning to go braid.

Despite my preoccupations, Taco went quite well last week.  Amy had ridden him while I was at the WEG, and I came back to a newly tuned-up Taco.  When I had a lesson on Thursday, she showed me how to do the suppling work that she had done and then we had a productive jump school.  So I felt well-prepared coming into the show.

I should have known I was in trouble when I woke up and was not excited about the day.  This is very unusual for me on the morning of a competition.  I am usually nervous on show mornings, but I have a spring in my step and a sense of purpose.  Not so yesterday.  I kept catching myself thinking negative thoughts.

I got to Brownland Farm, which is where the dressage and stadium are held, in plenty of time and made my way over to the warmup area.  Taco felt a little "stuck."  I felt overheated and ineffectual.  But Amy talked me through it and by the end of my warmup we were looking credible.  I made a few mistakes in the test (breaking in a lengthening, walking at C instead of H, doing my signature flub of a canter transition), but we scored a respectable 31.8, which put us in first place.

Taco looking handsome during the canter lengthening (Palmer Photo)

I walked the showjumping course one more time and then tacked up, all the while lacking concentration and focus.  Longtime Team Taco member Elizabeth expressed concern over my mental state, and started pushing the Powerade and encouraging me to think more positively.  I drank the Powerade and tried to get my head in the game.  In warmup, I was on my own because Amy's dressage time was at the same time as my showjumping, but she had given me instructions.  I tried to work on Taco's adjustability, get him in front of my leg, and ride in a powerful rhythm to the jumps.  However, I did not get the job done.  I let myself get distracted by a dispute between two trainers and never established that forward ride that I would need for the showjumping course.

The result was an underpowered ride all the way around until the third to last, which was the final element of the triple combination.  As I jumped in I thought that I would be OK-- I knew that it was a one-stride to a two-stride, and I started to count my way through.  Unfortunately, because Taco was underpowered coming in, he landed close to the second element, took two strides, and was still too far away from the final element to jump safely.  Rather than take off from that distance, he wisely chose to stop.  The thing about Taco is that he (almost) never stops, and the very few times that he has stopped have been when he has felt that he absolutely cannot jump safely.  Anyway, I fell off the side of his neck and landed on my feet, holding the reins.  I left the arena in a cloud of embarrassment.  What is that saying that Jimmy Wofford likes?  Experience is what you get a moment after you need it.  I immediately realized that I had not given Taco the ride that he needed that day.

After some soul-searching, I decided not to ask the Ground Jury for permission to ride XC the next day.  I was obviously not 100 percent, and I did not want to risk my horse's and my safety over solid obstacles.  So I loaded Taco on the trailer and took him back to the farm, where he gratefully ate his dinner and went out to his field. I went home and got into bed until nine this morning.

I just hate that I let my horse down in this way, and we have now missed our final gallop, but there are some positive lessons to take from this:
1.  I can't do everything that I want to all at once.  I need to have appropriate amounts of sleep and rest in order to be at my best in competition.
2.  It is imperative that I ride forward in showjumping (and in all phases).  If this requires recruiting a ground person for my warmup who is willing to yell at me until I move my @$$, so be it.
3.  We missed a gallop, but Taco is incredibly fit already and the ground was hard this weekend.  Not running XC reduces wear and tear on him in advance of the T3D.
4.  If I'm going to screw up, I might as well do so at a local horse trials than the T3D.  Now I have gotten *that* out of the way.  I will be on my toes more at the T3D.
5.  Taco is an extremely safe horse.  Not only is he a lovely jumper, and extremely honest, but he will also decline to jump should I get us into a problem spot.  I am so lucky.

I went out to the barn and clipped him today, then hacked him around the fields.  Carol came with me and did some bike riding with the dogs.  It was a lovely, restful afternoon.  I was happy to be with my wonderful horse and my wonderful family.

Losing some fur

Showing off the new haircut

After adding some dust