Unfair Hill & A Disappointing Jersey Shore

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      Well, my friends, the time has come for Nyls and I to have our own bout of bad luck, and here it is. Let me update you on the preceding weeks and the silly mishaps that have become an overall pain in the butt for both of us.


     Fair Hill, although it was weeks ago, was a bit of a disaster. The dressage was very tight and I felt as though he really didn't have the focus that he displayed at The Fork or even Southern Pines. Something about the atmosphere made him almost unrideable, and I felt like I was riding for survival out there in that little rectangle. Not something you want to experience in a dressage test! He scored a reasonable 38, which put him in good placing for XC the next day, but I was still disappointed. 

     At The Fork, I rode XC in the rubber gag bit that I always use, and several times he simply grabbed the bit and ran. I had some trouble steering for a few fences, and I was pretty dissatisfied with the efficacy of the bit, so I made the choice to change it for Fair Hill. In 2010, he ran in a Waterford 3-ring bit for almost the whole year and it was absolutely perfect. The design of the bit is such that it is impossible for the horse to grab or hold onto it, so I thought it would be suitable again. How wrong I was! Nyls was especially wild in the warm-up this time, and he was fighting against me quite a bit. However, he is notoriously naughty in warm-up, and has gotten increasingly pumped for every one of our XC rounds this spring, so it didn't really occur to me that the bit was a large part of the problem. 

Waterford 3-Ring

      When I got out on course, I could feel immediately that something was wrong. Nyls felt unable to pull against the bit, and in turn, it made him very insecure. I figured out over the first two fences that he absolutely cannot be "dropped" in front of XC fences. This means he hates it when you completely soften your contact at the base of the fence. He is so spooky naturally, that he prefers to be held a little bit the whole time, because when you soften that much, he simply looks down at his jumps, and they freak him out. The first three jumps were small fly fences, so I tried to quickly get him accustomed to the new feeling and get into a rhythm. The fourth fence was a combination that was a huge brush jump four turning strides to a very large corner on the side of a hill. The ground sloped away to the left of the point of the corner, so it was tricky. When I landed from the first element, I tried to pick his head up and turn right for him to see the corner, but I miscalculated how much power the new bit gave me, and he absolutely stopped his motion, threw his head in the air and fought me. He didn't even see the corner, and ran into it. When I circled to re-approach, I found that the corner was situated in such a way that you had to come in a very small circle in a small canter, and the horse had about 2 strides straight to see the jump. This was not ideal.  We had another attempt and he again did not focus on the jump and see it. We got over it on the third attempt, and I decided to try the next few jumps and see if he was rideable. I didn't want to quit on a bad note. We jumped two more tables, and through the sunken road, and he was still not himself, so I pulled up, rather than risk having a bad experience that we would both regret. 

     To say the least, this was not the XC experience we wanted heading into a CCI**. I had to go to Jersey Fresh CCI** because my qualifications expired in 2011, and in order to do a CIC3* or a CCI3*, I have to have a current CCI**. So, I went to XC school in a new bit (a regular metal gag) and hoped for the best. 

    The Friday before Jersey, Nyls slightly bruised his left toe, and because we were so close to the beginning of the event, I had to hold off on medication that I would have normally been able to administer. I iced his foot, packed it, wrapped his legs, and he got better, so we left for Jersey on Tuesday. He was jogging sound, and I got the go-ahead from my vet, with the knowledge that I might have to nurse him through the weekend a tiny bit. 

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Schooling before Jersey Fresh


    Nyls was amazing in the dressage warm up, and felt better than he ever has before, and I was thrilled. As we entered the show arena, he pulled a typical Nyls move and froze in terror at the pavilion of people! His head went straight up, and his back froze, and his eyeballs about popped out of his head! I let him gawk, and then asked him to come back to work, which he grudgingly did. Our first few movements were not out best, because he was still tense and distracted, but I was very proud with the way that he came back to me mentally, and after three crummy movements, focused and put in some decent work. He scored a 53, which was good enough for 5th place after dressage. 

     The XC course was longer than I expected (a full 9 minutes) and it had some fairly steep hills and tough questions at the end, so I was a bit worried about his fitness. He is such a big horse, it is not easy to get him fit for this type of event. There was rain for two days straight in the week before XC day, so I was happy with the footing, and I thought that this was going to be good for his foot, at least better than rock hard ground!

     That XC course was one of the easiest things I've ever done. He cruised around that thing like it was novice level, and I didn't have to push him for time at all. He answered all the questions perfectly, and it was a walk in the park. He finished 1 second over the time, and I had no plans for making the time, so I was very happy with him. He recovered exceptionally well in the vet box after the course, and we were permitted to go to our stall and get some fluids and ice his legs. I iced him four times that day, just to be safe for foot bruise. I also gave him some herbal, FEI approved anti-inflammatories and tucked him in.

    On Sunday morning, however, he was a touch sore on that toe, and I was feeling worried about the jogs. I iced him another two times, and gave him more anti-inflammatory herbs. We went to jogs with a horse that was mostly jogging sound, minus a few steps here and there. Sadly, that was enough for the ground jury to send us to the holding area, where you speak with a vet, and they watch the horse jog a few more times, and give you the chance to re-present. I spoke with the vet, told her my story, and she had me jog him a few times on some pavement. She told me that she thought he was "borderline" and she would advise the ground jury that a stone bruise was not going to cause further injury to him for show jumping. I decided to re-present, but the ground jury spun us anyway, and we were eliminated from the competition.

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   I cannot tell you how disappointing this was. I was at this event simply to get a qualifying result and be able to compete at CCI3* level in the fall, and for a silly stone bruise to thwart all of my hard efforts was a huge bummer, to say the least. Nyls is one of the soundest horses in the eventing world, and I am very sad to have damaged that reputation. 

    I have decided to regroup and attempt to get myself and Nyls to Bromont CCI** in a month in Canada. This is a huge undertaking both financially and logistically, but my other option is to wait until the end of October for another CCI**. I feel that with the help of my family and my friends, I can pull this off, and hopefully kick some serious ass in Canada as redemption!

(To read about Bromont, click HERE

© Kate Samuels Eventing 2011