The Fork & Hunter Trials

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Photo courtesy of The Chronicle of The Horse


    Well, this blog is a bit tardy! I have to say, the whirlwind of activity including packing all of my belongings up to go to The Fork with my two horses, and then moving back to Virginia has served as a reasonable excuse for lack of writing, right?

   As for The Fork, it is always regarded as one of the most difficult events of the season. The entire event has so much atmosphere, it gets spooky horses like Nyls a bit jazzed up sometimes, which can make things interesting! The cross country is notorious for being quite difficult, and Mark Phillips never disappoints with something new and challenging at each level. One of the most trying things for the horses and riders is the GIANT hill at the end of the course, which you have to gallop all the way up, and all the way down. Most of the horses have been doing fitness work in South Carolina or Florida at this point, which means they haven't seen many hills. Luckily, I tagged along with Jess Hampf and Doug Payne a few times to a hill in Aiken where Nyls and I did the same workout as the horses headed to Rolex! 

   Dressage was actually quite nice, I was very pleased with his performance and his result. I really feel that he is growing up and starting to have a better grasp of what his job is every time we go out. He knows on dressage day that it is time to relax, be obedient, and prance around in the square without thinking of cross country. He was almost lazy, which was a little bit of a shock, but I prefer to have a horse I am kicking in the ring than a horse I am trying to contain when it comes to dressage. Nothing is worse than feeling like you are riding a ticking time bomb in there!  He performed well, and improved quite a bit upon his performance two weeks earlier at Southern Pines. He even let me prepare him and ask for his changes (which he did!) without anticipating the movement and launching into space (his preferred method). I have to mention also that history happened, in which Nyls garnered TWO NINES in his test (see photo for proof). I'm thinking of framing it. 

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   We finished Friday on a 31.9, which was good enough to take us into 6th place in a competitive division. Room to improve, but as of now, that is our best score at this level, and I was very happy.


  The cross country course looked big (which it usually does at Advanced), but do-able. It is nice when walking the course you think, I can do that, yeah, that looks good! Nyls was....a little enthusiastic...when he got to the warm up. He was dead asleep when I tacked him up, and barely sauntered up there, but once he saw what was happening, he was a little wild. He tends to spend a minute or two staring, dead still, at the course when we arrive, and then he is nothing but motion. I had to get assistance from Doug in order to actually get near/in the start box this time, because at Southern Pines we had a little bit of an issue and I almost didn't get in. Nyls gets SO pumped, he can't stand it! I also have to request that the starter not count down, because as soon as the man says, "TEN, NINE, EIGHT..." Nyls absolutely loses his mind. I swear that horse can count. 

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    He FLEW around the course. And by flew, I mean, he ran off with me a little bit between 3 and 4....which I attribute to his enthusiasm. He was brilliant everywhere, if a tiny bit wild. I would prefer that he listen a little more in the beginning, but I am thankful that he is so excited to get out there and jump. He is still acting a tiny bit ditchy, and he does do some funny things with his body over ditch jumps, but he still jumps them. He answered all the questions like it was nothing, and I can tell you, after the long gallop up the big hill, he was listening a tiny bit more to me. I think for next time, I will be changing bits just to see if I can get more respect early in the course. 

   I wanted to see if he could go a bit faster than I have been letting him, because I usually run horse trials very conservatively. My approach is generally to take more time than I might need to prepare for the jumps, just in case. I still feel like the both of us are a little bit green, and I do sometimes worry about his reaction time when it comes to paying attention to what I'm saying. However, after such a good run at Southern Pines, I decided to let him run a little bit. So, I let him run. And for the first time ever at horse trials, we made time! We were one of only a handful of double clears during the day, on a course that caused a whole lot of troubles all day long. I was pretty excited about that, and to boot, it moved us up to 2nd place, only .6 behind Michael Pollard and his Pan American Games mount!


   I have been experiencing some anxiety about Show Jumping, which I know seems silly after cross country, but for me, it is much less instinctual. They say that the problem with athletes who have anxiety is that it increases the amount you think about your performance in a mechanical way, and the way to solve this is to STOP THINKING. Easy, right? I have an incredibly careful and scopey horse, so I have no idea why it worries me, but I experience more worry about this phase than the other two. I tried to go out and ride forward and stop thinking quite so much, and it worked much better than my round at Southern Pines. We were having a lovely clear round, when we turned a sharp corner to an oxer and on the approach, Nyls stuttered in his stride, and somehow did not read the jump correctly, and could not figure out how to jump it. We had an unexpected stop, and I felt terrible that he was confused. I patted him and restarted, and the rest of the course rode beautifully, with not a single jump down. As disappointing as the stop was, I think it was simply a matter of confusing shadows, and an honest mistake. I could have ridden the approach better, but there is always a "coulda woulda shoulda" in every experience. 

   Our faults moved us down to 4th place overall, but as Sally Cousins said to me in the awards ceremony, "Don't be upset, if you knew coming into this weekend that you'd be fourth, you would be thrilled!". 

    

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Ella in the 2'6 class

   Some other exciting news is that my young horse, Ella, went to her first show at a Hunter Trials down the road that week! She was a superstar! She is a really cool horse, I still have to pinch myself sometimes at how well behaved she is all the time! She was very quiet at the show, not putting a foot wrong, jumping all the weird jumps and hanging out napping in between classes! Anybody who has bad experiences with chestnut Thoroughbred mares must come meet this one, because she will change the way you think about all of those stereotypes! Ella will be going to some more local functions, and maybe attending the VA Horse Trials after Nyls and I go to Jersey Fresh. 

   My student Bevin Lexa also attended her first Hunter Trials that day, and she had two wonderful rounds on her pony Andromache. The pony was purchased for Bevin as her first pony as a four-year-old last year, and Bevin has done a wonderful job of training the mare and bringing her up from scratch. She is a very cool little pony, and did quite well at the Hunter Trials.

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Bevin & Andromache

© Kate Samuels Eventing 2011