Days left until the jog: 21

Ah, April. The time of year when winter finally packs its bags and vamooses for seven months. The month started out really well -- I got a job offer from a new company and gleefully left my soul-sucking employer on March 31st, so I took the first week of April off in order to give myself a break and hopefully get a few lessons in before CDCTA on April 9th.

Last Tuesday, I was getting ready to leave the house to haul Cass out to Meadowood to gallop when I got a text from the morning feeder that said that he had a cut on his leg. From the photo, it didn't look too bad, so I was hoping a quick scrub with betadine and a shot of silver spray would take care of it.

Carpal laceration
Ow, Cass.

Well, not so much.  :eek: Upon closer inspection, it was decidedly NOT a minor cut and more of a deep laceration to his carpus (knee) area. How he did it, I'm not sure -- it was a bad enough of a wound that if he had done it the night before, the person bringing him in would have definitely noticed the cut and blood running down his leg. The only possibility is that he somehow injured himself in his stall overnight.

I sent photos to the vet, who called and said, "Yeah... I can come out, but I can already tell you that he needs to go to the clinic, because it might have gotten into the joint" [not AGAIN!] "and they might need to lay him down to stitch up his leg."

Effff.  :P   Poor Cass had been standing in the wash stall for a good half hour, and he kept pawing with the bad leg as if to say, "See? Do you see what happened? Fix it, lady!" I gave him some Banamine, wrapped the knee as best I could, and loaded him onto the trailer and drove to Piedmont.

Long story short -- good news was that the wound did not penetrate the joint capsule, and they were able to sew his leg back together without needing to put him under anesthesia. Bad news was that the location and severity of the wound required some creative suturing and a splint to prevent him from bending the leg and busting the stitches open. Estimated time in hospital: 10 days; recovery/rehab time: 4-6 weeks, depending on how well the wound heals. :wall:

:sigh: And, folks, with that, our HOTC T3D plans have come to a screeching halt. I'm extremely disappointed that this had to happen, but I'm also grateful that it's several weeks before the event, so my level of devastation is fairly minimal. Additionally -- and I cannot stress this enough -- thank DOG for major medical insurance. Cass's hospital bill is likely to cost over $6,000, and thanks to having an insurance policy on him, I only have to pay a fraction of that. I would SO much rather spend $600/year on a policy and pay a $250/deductible per claim than the full bill.

Cass is sad about having to miss the T3D.
Cass taking a ride on the Torb and Dorm train while being bandaged up.

I'm hoping to aim for the Hagyard Midsouth Training 3 Day in October, but we'll see how the summer shakes out. In the meantime, send good (calming) thoughts to Cass, because they want him to stay in his splint for at least another week, and he's really annoyed about not being allowed to lie down and roll. :lol:

Days left until the jog: 38

I'm going to do my best with writing about lessons/shows/etc., but my tendency to prattle on in an attempt to be funny doesn't exactly lend itself to short, frequent updates.

I was finally able to jump Cass at home last Thursday since the arena had finally dried out from the snow/rain. I had a hard time figuring out what to set up, because this is only his second jump school since October and I knew he'd be a bit more fired up than usual. However, I had to be careful not to make it too bounce-y since I'm still working on building his strength, and I didn't want to make him sore right before a show.

I ended up on a variation of the basic Jimmy Wofford trot poles → cross rail → one stride to vertical → two strides to oxer, with some placing rails in between to slow his roll. Normally I leave the preluding trot poles out and do a simple 9' placing pole, but I knew he'd be a little exuberant and the trot poles would help prevent him from blasting right through the first jump.

3/23/17 grid
Checking out the final product

My instinct was right. When I made my first approach to the grid (which was reduced to trot poles, x-rail, and ground rails where the rest of the elements are), Cass shook his head, squealed a little, and grabbed the bit. I laughed, circled him, and he enthusiastically bounded through. :jump:

By the end, I raised the placing pole between the vertical and oxer to a small cavaletti just to back him off a little bit, because apparently 2'3" fences are for babies and Cass is a GROWN UP HORSE, DAMMIT. (His words, not mine.)

On Saturday, I took him to the Morningside Training Farm Combined Test. I had him entered at Novice, which I was having doubts about because I had only jumped him twice before now, and thought he might be a little wild on our first outing. Nevertheless, I figured I could circle him if he was being a total a**hat – ribbon be damned, I wanted a positive experience for the both of us.

And positive it was! Dressage was decent – I had, and still have, a hard time getting him to NOT curl behind the vertical. It's especially vexing to me, because when Cass does curl, his noisy breathing/gurgling becomes that much more pronounced, and I worry he's unable to get enough air. Occasionally he'd do a head tilt or shake, which could mean anything from a bug flying up his ear to trying to get his epiglottis back in place. When I put my leg on him to try and push his nose out, he ends up getting stuck behind my leg and curls even MORE or falls onto his forehand. Frustrating, but that's our life story when it comes to dressage. :roll:

Showjumping was a perfect re-introduction into course work. I'll admit that I had a bit of nerves before going into the ring – I hadn't had time to walk the course, so I trotted a lap around the ring to check out some of the lines and wake up Cass. The first line was a little squiggly – he spooked at the first fence in the line and twisted a little weird over it, so I did my best to keep him straight to the second. The only other barf-y jump was over a single fence at the end of the ring – I let him get a little too slow, so he chipped and jumped to the left. I kicked on, and the last three fences were great. :yes:

Overall, very happy with Casspants! I was able to reorganize when we needed to do a simple change (his flying changes usually arrive later in the season :evilP:  ), remembered to try to keep him straight, and didn't let my mistake dictate the rest of the course.

Now, if I can squeeze in a lesson or two before CDCTA, I'll be ecstatic!

Original quote:

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley."
-Robert Burns

In February/March of every year, I commence my annual nerd fest of color-coding my calendar with Area II competitions. For the past three years, I've looked at the calendar and mentally mapped out theoretical Preliminaries. Normally I eyeball June, as it's well enough into the season that he's competed enough times to be fit and focused, and it's before the heat of summer dries out and hardens the ground once July rolls around.

Cass Prelim SJ at SVPC
Well, at least we got some decent SJ pics at Prelim.

And every year since 2013, I manage to not make it to those Prelims. Last year I had to put Prelim plans on hold until the fall season, which meant bringing him back in early August, running him on the hard ground, and continuing to compete until late October. My first attempt at Prelim in early September had us basically stalling in mid-air and me falling off at Fence 2 on XC (and the nice big gouge on the back side of the jump from Cass's hoof/shoe scraping against it will forever be a reminder of my blunder), and the second one (after a successful Training at Marlborough) had me in a full-blown anxiety attack after a rocky showjumping round, so I withdrew. :sadbanana: By the time I did my last event in 2016 – yet another Training – we were both burnt out, and it showed. Cass was slower off the ground, he wasn't as strong as he could be, and I basically had to kick him around showjumping, which is normally his best phase. :P

Giant, scary ass tables at Prelim
Giant, scary-ass Prelim/Intermediate table. Not very fond of these.

This year, I'm not going to try and "plan" for Prelim. Going on six years at Training level is humiliating, sure, but it's no longer worth the stress of the buildup and subsequent letdown. (Not to mention the absurd amounts of money I've spent in change fees bumping him from a Prelim entry to Training.)  As I said in my last post, I had such a good time at the T3D last year at Southern Eighths that I’m adding it to my calendar. It's helped that we've had mild weather and it's allowed me to get Cass back into work a lot earlier than I normally would have. The benefit of having the T3D on the schedule is that it gives me a deadline: it forces me to get organized, to get him out to shows and do conditioning work, and basically get the best ROI (return on investment) even if we don't end up doing the T3D. (Dear God, I hope we do.)

The one thing I want to focus on this year is dressage. I've been lucky enough to have a horse that scores well, but it causes me to not prioritize it. His habit of drifting left when we jump needs to be addressed with strengthening exercises, which dressage can do. There's only so much open multi-tasking I can do while jumping, and sometimes I literally cannot straighten him over fences without neglecting to remember to adjust his stride, keep him forward, see a distance, remember my course, etc. :dunce:

Right now I have three set-in-stone-provided-Cass-doesn't-break-himself dates on the calendar: March 25th, April 9th, and April 23rd. The first is a combined test, the second is CDCTA (our first HT of the year), and the last is Plantation, a venue I've never been to but have always wanted to do. If I could squeeze in several dressage lessons in between those dates, I'll be happy.

The biggest monkey wrench is my work schedule -- I was lucky enough to have a flexible work Friday in past years, so I could do a jump lesson on Friday and then gallop him on Sunday. Now I might need to gallop him during the workweek in order to keep him on schedule, which means seeing if my new job will allow me to come in early so I can leave early to take him down to Meadowood before it gets dark! (The opposite plan, "Lesson during the workweek and gallop on the weekend" is significantly harder, since lessons = driving out to Loudoun/Fauquier Count = rush hour on 66W = akin to having a hot poker shoved up your ass while while you listen to Nickelback on repeat.)

Ah, yes. Adult ammy problems. Welcome back! :evilP:

Day 3: Showjumping

All smiles after the jog. Cass NOT happy about having to stand still for yet another photo.

The TL;DR version: we passed the final jog, I rode well over the first three fences of showjumping, and let a rail completely unravel my composure and almost missed the last fence.

Rather than focus on the negative, let's try to apply some of the ridiculous process improvement crap that I've been subject to for at my "new" job... aka utilizing "Lessons Learned:"

  • Next time, ride Cass before the jog. It'll help loosen up his joints more than handwalking, and it'll also address his prerequisite pipe-clearing. Let me explain: Cass prefers to get out a good cough within the first few strides of trotting... doesn’t matter what time of year, he just likes to snork one out before getting down to business. Needless to say, there's a great sequence of me jogging him with snot flying out of his nose:
  • Learn how to block out distractions, etc. while showjumping. I had a rail at the third fence, which was completely unexpected as the poles were heavy as hell and he barely tapped it. My mind went from "5 strides down the next line" to "OMG I HAD A RAIL, I JUST LOST MY 3RD PLACE SPOT, WHERE AM I GOING, BARFFF." [Side note: I had 3 rails in hand, which somehow I did not remember going into SJ, so I didn’t lose my placing. :yuck: ] I will spare you the ugly photos, because believe me, they're all burned into my mind and will stay locked up in my Google Drive for the next 100+ years.
It started out OK...
  • Buy a meter wheel or extra long tape measure. I normally don't have too many issues walking, but I don't think the course designer had them move the fences in when they lowered it from Prelim height to Training height. A 24 feet one stride in-and-out is standard. 27 feet is not. I walked that in-and-out about 32 times, and every time I came up with 27 feet. When I rode it, it was SUPER long, even for a big striding horse like Cass.
Handsome boy!

Despite our hideousness over the last half of showjumping, we ended up third, which earned us a pretty neck ribbon and top placed Thoroughbred. (I still jokingly maintain that Cass should have won the best turned out award. Considering how FILTHY, disgustingly dirty his normal state of being is, getting and keeping him that clean and shiny with no groom or help was a goddamn miracle. :dunce: )

So! Where does that leave us?

As much as I'd love to say, "Cass and I went home, the T3D prepared us super well for Preliminary and we rocked around the green numbers all summer and fall," I can't. Between letting him down from the three day, trying to pinpoint a mystery NQR (not quite right)-ness in his hind end, dealing with a kitchen remodel from hell and a new job (also from hell), hot weather/hard ground, etc., etc., my plans to move up within a month or two of the T3D basically fell apart. My two attempts in the autumn ended in a fall on XC and a meltdown in showjumping, so yeah, there's that.

Dealing with abject failure after managing to nail the T3D was disappointing, to say the least. The T3D is lauded as a means of preparing the Training level horse and rider for the Preliminary level. Riders and horses are supposed to come off a T3D brimming with confidence and self-assurance, ready to tackle the next level with gusto. I almost feel like I'm failing the system; we've demonstrated that we have all the parts to succeed at Prelim but can't seem to put them all together at once.

Writing these past few blog posts almost a year after the event has given me a lot of time for reflection. It's caused me to rethink my goals and approach for 2017, especially now that I have a horse in his mid-teens who needs more TLC and maintenance. That being said, I'll continue writing in the blog, because I do have the intention of going to the 2017 Southern Eighths T3D. I had a BLAST doing it, and it's the type of event that just gets better and better with each year.

Or, "Dope," "Divine," "Dominate," and maybe "Dynamite."

As I said in my last post, Phase D warrants its own entry.  Even eight or nine months later, I can still re-ride [most] of the course in my mind.

I walked the course three times – once with fellow competitor Jodie, once by myself to do my minute markers, and lastly the "official" course walk with Carol Kozlowski, which was incredibly helpful. It also made me feel better that the other competitors had the same fears about fences that I did! (My Jodie, on our first walk: "There's a f***ing ditch and wall on this course. DITCH AND WALL. Dude!")

Horse eating ditch
Not shown: crab people living in the ditch.

The two fences that scared me the most was Fence 7, the aforementioned ditch and wall rails, and 9A, an wide oxer with a downhill landing. Cass has always been weird about ditches: sometimes he'll go right over them, other times there are imaginary crab people living at the bottom of the ditch and he'll choose to a) not jump, b) jump it but at a super awkward angle/height form spooking, or c) some combination of (a) and (b). That, combined with the knowledge that some horses have a hard time reading the question (at the upper levels, a horse jumping down into the ditch isn't completely unheard of, many times with serious consequences), made me extremely queasy.

Downhill landing, turn left uphill to 9B.
Downhill landing, turn left uphill to 9B.

Fence 9A, the oxer, also worried me as it's airy and you land downhill into a hollow. Like the ditch and rails before, the fence was somewhat see-through, and sometimes horses focus behind/through the fence rather than its face. I did have some comfort knowing that the back rail had a frangible pin, so if we completely ate it I knew I'd have a better chance of not breaking every bone in my body.

A couple more fences had my attention while I was walking, but none so much as 7 and 9A. I knew the half coffin and trakehner later on wouldn’t be an issue if I could get him over the ditch and rails, and the corner was a perfect combination of being narrow in width but not spectacularly big.

When I left the startbox, the effect of doing steeplechase and having Cass in front of my leg (for once!) made him go into brave-but-controllable mode. When he took Fence 1 a little too aggressively, I asked him to come back and settle, and he did with minimal drama. Sometimes he mistakes my whoas for "Oh, I need to be concerned about this next fence and back off her leg," which makes for ugly, slow jumps. This time it was, "Oh, she wants me to jump bravely, but at a reasonable speed... understood."

I almost got into trouble at Fence 6A/B, an angled brush combination. When we were walking, there were two lines you could do – approach A straight ahead and curve the line in seven strides*, or angle 6A and get to B in six on a straight line. My intent was to do the seven, as I didn't know if he'd be confident enough to do the angle, and I didn't want to rock the boat before the dreaded ditch and rail at 7. Additionally, if you were too forward coming into 6A for the angled line, you could get five and land too strung out at 6B en route to 7. As Carol said, "If you get to B on less than six strides, you're too fast."

However, when I rode the course, I made a mistake – I changed my approach. There was a tree in front and to the right of 6A, and when I walked, I approached the fence from the left side (which would put me in place for the seven stride option). After I walked the seven, I went back and looked at the line from the right to see how the six would look just to reassure myself that the seven was my plan.

Wellll... not so much. On course, I mistakenly approached from the right of the tree, and in the span of about half a second I found myself on the line to angle A. It was too late to circle, and Cass was being bold and honest, so I had to commit. He jumped A beautifully, and he was so brave/forward that the six stride was actually short. I could practically hear him gleefully saying, "I got it!" As exciting as this was, I got lucky, as he could have left out the last stride and we would have been in trouble.

Fence 7, the Dreaded Ditch-and-Rails**, came up on stride and Cass didn't bat an eye. I was thrilled, letting out a whoop of joy and slew of pats. Then I sobered up, knowing 9A was approaching fast.

Fence 7. Photo ©Brant Gamma
Ditch and rails, conquered

As I landed from 8 and steered Cass toward the oxer, I shoved my heels down, kept my leg on, shoulders back and my eyes up. I can't remember him jumping over, but I do remember keeping my shoulders back, slipping the reins, NOT looking down, landing, and turning left up the hill to 9B.

I think we nailed it.

The rest of the course went well. I actually ended up taking an unintended shortcut after 9B – the course was wheeled to the right around a grove of trees to 10 (you can see it behind me in the photos above going over 9A), and I went to the left. (I had originally walked it this way until the official course walk, so I knew the line to 10 was possible from that approach). This screwed up my minute markers a bit, as I had cut off about 10-15 seconds by taking the shortcut. Even though it put me up on the time, I didn't want to get too complacent with his pace until we were on the home stretch.

Cass: "Who put this owl here?!"

My least favorite line was 17A to B (brush to the corner), as we kind of puked over the brush and I didn't swing out enough to the left to get to the corner as straight as I wanted to. Can’t be perfect to every fence, but given Cass's tendency to bug out at corners, I mentally added it to my "don't do that again" list.

Later, I listened to the commentary during my round, and the announcer (in his very British accent) said I was "making it look easy." The best part was when Cass gave a little head shake when I had to collect him for the 180 degree turn to the half coffin: "Ooh, he's giving her a little fight there!" Awesome.

As we cooled him off in the vet box, I was on cloud nine – absolutely thrilled. Seriously one of the nicest XC rounds I've ever done on Cass, and believe me, there are a lot of ugly ones to compare it to. This topped finishing my first Prelim XC, hands down.

Cass cooled out quickly, jogged out for the vet, and they released us. He happily power walked alongside me with pricked ears, and everyone I passed said, "He looks like he wants to go out again!" Given the choice between running XC again and eating hay, I'm sure he'd pick the latter, but it was nice to have that feeling that I had conditioned him well enough. Admittedly, this course was not as long as the one at Midsouth (5:34 optimum time versus the 7 or so minutes in KY), but Midsouth is later in the year and I'd expect horses to be much fitter by that point, so I am definitely not complaining! The owner of Southern Eighths keeps expanding his property, so I wouldn't be surprised to see the course take up more space next year.

*I can't remember if the lines options were seven-six or eight-seven. The point is that the straight line was one less stride. ;)
**I can only think of the Dread Pirate Roberts when I refer to the fence like this.

Yikes. I’m a bad blogger... Like, really bad. It's been nine months since the T3D, less than three months until the 2017 one, and I haven't even recapped the second and third day of the T3D!

Then again, once I got home I was dealing with a demolished kitchen, a new job, and other things that made me forget that I have a responsibility to document this stuff. Not that it wasn't on my mind, but when you're neck deep in the s***show that was 2016, you tend to focus on other things. Like maintaining your sanity. :P

Day Two (Endurance Day)

Ahh, yes. The day everyone looks forward to! We were fortunate enough that the forecast was going to be sunny and relatively mild, because excessive heat would have been troublesome for cooling off purposes, and rain would have made for slick footing.

Cass and I were the fourth horse scheduled to go, and around 9:30 we headed out on Phase A, Roads & Tracks. I won’t bore you with the details of 20+ minutes of trotting through the woods, since that’s exactly what it was: trees, a dirt path, and more trees.

A wiener dog doing a dramatic interpretation of Cass before Phase B.

I came off of A with a few minutes to spare, as planned. My game plan was to have the nearest spectator/groom/warm body hold/hand walk Cass as I adjusted my stirrups for steeplechase (the original idea was to have the competitor before me’s husband do it, but the timing didn’t work out), but I had to resort to Plan B: wait until Cass got distracted and stopped moving long enough to shorten my stirrups. It sort of worked. I got one done and Cass resumed his whirling dervish routine. As he spun in circles, I subtly tried to get Tim Murray’s (the Technical Delegate, or TD) attention to see if he could just hold onto one rein while Cass walked, but I’m pretty sure he was purposely not trying to make eye contact. (I’m also not entirely sure if the TD is allowed to offer assistance.) Nevertheless, I managed to get my stirrups in place and did my best not to hyperventilate as we went through the start flags. :willynilly:

Steeplechase did not go entirely as planned. The general steps to a successful steeplechase are:

  1. Leave start box.
  2. Gallop.
  3. Jump over fences, preferably out of stride at a gallop.
  4. Hit your minute markers at or before your watch beeps.
  5. Stay on.
  6. Repeat steps 2 through 5 for three minutes.
  7. Go through finish flags, immediately start second stopwatch for Phase C.
Steeplechase practice
Practicing Step 2 the day before Endurance Day.

Step 4 posed a problem. My XC watch, a very cool but apparently flawed Timex Ironman, has this feature that allows you to tap the face to get it to stop/start. That includes any sort of tapping, even if it’s an accidental bump. When the watch would slide down my wrist and hit the second watch I was wearing, it’d stop... or start. As a result, my watch was inaccurate, and by the second lap I had NO idea if I was up or down on the clock. The best I could do was to keep him at a pace that I felt was a little too fast for my comfort, which in the past has meant I’m actually right on the money. [Side note: to this day, I have no idea if I was way too fast or not. I know we made it under the 3:00 optimum time, but if I came in at 2:30, then that’s too fast. Ideally you want to be in within 10 or 15 seconds, max. :yuck: ]

Phase C, Roads & Tracks, was not ideal as well. Normally the pace is 160 meters per minute, or trotting interspersed with walking. The organizers decided to make it the same speed as A (220 mpm, or a decent trot), as previous years’ competitors were coming in several minutes under time as they likely trotted the entire phase. I made the mistake of walking for a minute or two to lengthen my stirrups, so at the first kilometer mark we were over the time for that kilometer. A couple stretches of canter got us back on schedule, but it would have been nice to not have to worry about expending more of his energy than was needed.

The 10 minute box was uneventful. I anticipated Cass being a raging beast as he had been last time, but this time he was quiet and cooperative. He recovered quickly, jogged out great, the vet gave us her blessing, and before I knew it, we were walking to the D start box. :eek:

Phase D (Cross Country) deserves its own post, but here's a small preview of the type of fence I was about to jump*:


*Jump may appear larger than it actually was.

Ah, Saturday. Cross country day! [Part 1]

Honestly, I should have written this post like a month ago, because the content here isn't really specific to the T3D I just did, and I've put off writing about my actual XC day at Southern Eights because I was waiting for my show photos to come in. People like looking at pictures, so I figured another week wouldn't hurt.

Technically, during a long format event, cross country day is referred to as “endurance day,” because you’re covering close to seven miles of terrain, all at varying speeds in four different phases (listed below). The traditional three day format was originally done at higher levels, so the Training version’s speeds are a little lower. For example, steeplechase at the Preliminary (next level up) is at 640 meters per minute, which is faaaaaaast.

Phase A: Roads & Tracks. 14 minutes at 220 meters per minute (mpm) – a "slow trot." Meant to warm the horse up for Phase B.

This is NOT how you're supposed to jump a steeplechase fence. Usually the horse has a much flatter trajectory and is "brushing" through the brush on top. However, Cass did not get the memo...
This is NOT how you're supposed to jump a steeplechase fence. Usually the horse takes off much further away, has a much flatter trajectory, and is "brushing" through the brush on top. However, Cass did not get the memo...

Phase B: Steeplechase. 3 minutes at 520 mpm. Horse and rider to jump over brush-type fences at a gallop. Basically you're supposed to go the same speed over the ground AND fences. This is a really good helmet cam video at a now-defunct long format preliminary... basically, it's balls to the wall.

Phase C: Roads & Tracks, part two. Starts immediately after Steeplechase and is meant to cool the horse down before starting Phase D. 21 minutes at 220 mpm. (Historically, Phase C is done at 160 mpm, which is a lot slower – obviously – and allows for more walking/cooling off. However, Southern Eighths changed theirs to 220 because the previous year, people were coming in off C a good 5 minutes early, and it was causing all sorts of issues with timing.)

Phase D: Cross Country. About 5 minutes, 30 seconds (approximately 2500 meters long) at 450 mpm, over 20+ fixed obstacles.

(Note: This is the typical "cross country" phase we refer to during a one day and/or "short format" event. Phases A, B, and C do not exist. Also, some courses are longer and/or at a faster pace. Midsouth was probably the longest XC course I've ridden, I think it was around 3000 meters, which is a 7 minute long ride, whereas most one-days are about 5-6 minutes tops.)

Vet box activities. Photo courtesy USEA.
Vet box activities. Photo courtesy USEA.

In between Phases C and D is the 10 minute box, where you rest the horse, get him/her checked out by the vet to make sure they’re fit enough to do the final phase. It involves a lot of checking vitals (temperature/pulse/respiration), lots of walking, and then doing a final jog to check for soundness before you get back on to start D. You also have to return to the “vet box” after you’re done with D to fully cool out your horse and have them checked out again by the vet to make sure they’ve recovered in an adequate amount of time.

Having been lucky enough to complete all four phases at Midsouth, I knew what to expect and was anticipating Cass being in full on Thoroughbred Mode: throwing hissy fits in the vet box, going sideways, jigging all the way on Phase C, etc. And, of course, the pre-emptive near-explosion before Phase B:

When I competed at Midsouth in 2012, I had no idea what to expect of Cass's behavior, because we had never done a long format three day before. My biggest concern was making it through steeplechase (Phase B) alive because I’d never run him that fast over fences, and I was relatively convinced I would a) fall off or b) get 200 time penalties for going too slow. Even though we practiced "riding" steeplechase fences, I still felt like it was going to be a complete clusterf*** of crazy that I was not equipped to handle. It ate at me to the point of where I was literally nauseous and light-headed during the entire “what to expect on endurance day” briefing the day before cross country.

Well, it turns out that was a non-issue. The next day, we set out on Phase A, my stomach churning and feeling anxious as all hell about what was going to happen next. The Kentucky Horse Park is very open, so you could see the steeplechase field from the end part of A. As I hit the last quarter kilometer or so, Cass could now see horses on steeplechase. (We go one at a time, not like a true steeplechase race with a field of 20+ horses. We’re not that crazy.)

As we got closer to the track, Cass completely lit up. I mean, full on batshit f***ing crazy. He was so amped up and excited (I assume it was his way of displaying excitement) that I couldn’t get him to stand still, let alone walk in a semi-straight line. As I’m trying to shorten my stirrups, he’s literally running sideways with legs flying everywhere and basically throwing a gigantic hissy fit because HE wanted to go NOW. It got so bad that at one point the timers got up from their table and ran off to the side, because I basically could not keep him contained and he was essentially going to run them down.

I finally got my stirrups to where I wanted, and my anxiety about riding steeplechase was pretty much eliminated, because all I wanted to do was get him out on course before he exploded. When I finally got him in the start box and the timer said "zero," he rocketed out so fast that I nearly got whiplash.

I imagine we looked something like this
I imagine we looked something like this, only going from a standstill.

Needless to say, we weren't too slow. The downside was that I spent much of Phase C trying to lengthen my stirrups back with him in full a**hole mode, jigging and prancing around like he'd just run the Derby. When we got to the ten minute box, he continued on with the dramatics as we tried to cool him out and prep for D.

Anyway, despite the fact that I got TE'd at the end of D, it still gave me a good idea of "what to expect" in Cass-land when we did endurance day at Southern Eights this year... which I'll cover in the next post.


Thursday Friday: Dressage day!

I think I'm one of the few eventers that likes doing dressage. Most view it as a means to an end, one step in the way of getting to the "fun stuff" that is cross country. At the same time, at big shows like this, it's hard not to feel not to feel outclassed by other horses and riders. Cass isn't the fanciest mover, his brain doesn't exactly lend itself to being calm and level-headed, I'm not the greatest rider, and not having a trainer there to help warm us up usually means I don't get the best ride out of him. Is he too slow? Too fast? Is he dropping behind the vertical? How do I get him to actually lengthen instead of quickening his steps? It's hard for me to answer these questions without a third party on the ground to tell me that yes, my angle in the leg yield was too much; I needed to ask for bigger steps, etc. FWIW, I had really hoped to talk to my own trainer at home before dressage just to get a "plan" from her, but I never got the opportunity. It just sort of reiterated the fact that I was alone out here... on my own, yet again. :sigh:

I arrived at dressage warmup with plenty of time, because I knew I wanted to walk him for a good 15-20 minutes before starting to work him. Good thing I did, because he was amped up and tense as all hell. Like It took me a good 20-30 minutes before I could get him to relax, but he was still very sensitive off my leg and would try to scoot into the canter when I asked for a lengthening.

Cass, we want this.
Not this.
Not this.

The test felt pretty good when I rode it. I made some mistakes -- he started getting really short in his neck and his body was bent too much in our leg yields, and he was going more sideways than forwards (normally we have the opposite problem), my trot lengthenings weren't much to write home about, and I almost forgot one of my downward transitions, so we left a bit of a skidmark on the sand when I had to ask him to trot RIGHT NOW. However, he was obedient, forward, and didn't spook, so I consider that a win.

Better yet, Southern Eighths had a live stream, so my test was videoed! And the great Sally O'Connor gave commentary for the test, which was really cool to hear. She said he looked "quite comfortable with me" [in his behavior/acceptance -- believe me, there's nothing comfortable about sitting his trot!] and had a nice rhythm and balance, which are great compliments. I wish my score reflected her commentary, as the judge at C didn't seem to agree with her (although the judge at E did), as the difference between the two scores was almost 10 points. Still, even with the discrepancy (the two are averaged), it was good enough to put us into 4th place with a 32.3. Not too shabby for my fire-breathing thoroughbred!

You can see my test in its entirety here, starting at 22:35.

On our way!
Finally on our way!

Despite the giant cauldron of crap I had dumped on me between Sunday and the time I left for Southern Pines on Tuesday (first stop en route to Southern Eighths), I managed to hold it together pretty well throughout the drive. I-95  blessed me with no traffic, and I only got slightly lost around Durham.

I wanted to give Cass an extra day or so to acclimate to the weather (which turned out to be a non-issue, as it barely reached 70 degrees for the first two days we were in South Carolina), so we spent Tuesday night at my friend Allie's farm in Southern Pines. I've never been to the area before, and I almost immediately fell in love. Gorgeous farm after farm line the roads, and the Walthour-Moss Foundation is simply amazing. If I ever escape D.C., I'm moving down there. Cass apparently really liked it, too, as I didn't see (or hear) him crib once the entire time he was in his paddock/stall at Allie's.

We arrived at Southern Eights Wednesday afternoon. I'd heard the facilities were nice, but DAMN. It is incredible. Usually one is relegated to a temporary stall under a tent, but this place has a barn full of permanent guest stalls, which are WAY nicer than the ones we have at home! And they have hot water in the wash stalls!

Cass trying to figure out where his BFF went
Cass trying to figure out where his BFF went

Once I deposited Cass into his stall and set up, he did his usual "become best friends with the horse adjacent to him and throw a complete hissy fit when they leave" routine. This relationship is usually very one-sided, as the mare behind him could have cared less when he wasn't around. It'd be funny if it weren't so annoying when he starts acting like a total moron by running in circles around his stall screaming his head off!

Thursday was jog day, and I wanted to take the opportunity to hack Phases A and C (roads and tracks) before the jog at 3:30. Cass is usually pretty good about hacking alone, but only if he knows he's the only horse out there. When you have an entire show full of other horses, he's a totally different beast and does NOT want to leave them. Believe me, I tried. When he caught sight of other horses schooling in the dressage ring, he started crow hopping, spinning, and rearing when I tried to get him to walk down the trail away from the ring. I started having flashbacks of when he was trying to fling me off his back while I was rehabbing him, and I started to panic that my time at the T3D would be cut short by me falling off and breaking some bones. I decided my time would be better spent schooling him in the ring with the other horses around. That was short lived, as he threw yet another temper tantrum when those horses finished schooling and left the ring. :sigh:

Fortunately, I came across my new "neighbor" in the guest barn and she and I hacked Phase A together. Turns out she's also from Area 2 and lives in Northern Virginia, like me. And it also turns out that her horse was at Piedmont the same time Cass was there during his antibiotic-palooza -- literally in the stall right next to him! Crazy small world, it is.

Thursday afternoon was the jog. For you non-horse people out there, three day events include two "jogs," where you present the horse to the ground jury for inspection and trot them out so they can determine whether the horse is sound to compete. It's a fancy affair -- horses get braided, people wear nice clothes (a.k.a. not dirt-stained jeans and paddock boots), and there's usually an award for best turned-out.

The jog strip. Where dreams begin (and end...)

The jog is always nerve-wracking, since this is a situation where your journey can end even before it even begins. And, of course, there's always a few seconds of panic when you don't hear the announcer say, "Accepted" immediately and you start to freak out that you're doomed.

Fortunately, Cass was accepted. I'll add some jog action photos when the photographer puts them online, but for now I only have this post-jog picture to prove that yes, we do clean up well.

Well, so much for keeping up-to-date with this blog! After I wrote my last post, everything went to hell in a handbasket. Despite the fact that the T3D has already come and gone, I figure I should just do a Twilight-Zone-esque review of the events leading up to the show, since Murphy's Law seemed to be in full effect.

After my Friday jump lesson, I trailered Cass home only to find he had managed to spring a heel on his brand new shoes. Stress level: 6. The bigger “FML” response to this was that my farrier was physically AT the facility where I had just brought Cass to for his lesson. :yuck:

Saturday rolls around, and my usual farrier is out of town. On top of trying to find someone to come over and fix Cass's shoe, I also have the pleasure of driving up to the granite place to pick out the new granite for my countertops, and knowing I have to be back at my house by 2:00 because my IKEA cabinets are being delivered between 2-6 PM. I try calling all of the other farriers in our barn's phone book, and no one is available. I need someone to fix his shoe, otherwise my XC school on Sunday is not happening. Stress level: 7.5.

Finally, my farrier's assistant is able to come to the barn (for an extra fee, naturally) and fix Cass's busted shoe. I pay him, fly back home in fear of missing the delivery guys, and proceed to twiddle my thumbs waiting for them to show up and deliver the cabinets... at 4 PM. Typical.

Meanwhile, it's been raining pretty much nonstop over the past few days, and there's no end in sight. My XC schooling date is rescheduled for Monday, and my own ring is so saturated with water that it's unrideable. I end up having to trailer him out to an indoor in order to run through my dressage test since my XC is now rescheduled for Monday... which is also when my kitchen demolition is supposed to occur. Stress level: 8.2. I stay up until 1 AM clearing out the remnants of my kitchen since they're supposed to arrive at 9 AM to start removing the old cabinets.

Funnily enough, it's both literal and figurative of how everything was turning out!

Cass and I have a great XC school with Jan Bynny (minus the part where he tried to slide into the trakehner, the little snot), and I get home around 8 PM only to find absolutely NOTHING has been done to my kitchen. This, in itself, should have been a huge warning sign to me that I needed to start getting after the contractor and his “supervisor” to actually do the work they intended to do, but at this point my stress level had risen to approximately 9 and I was more concerned about packing the truck and making sure I could leave before noon on Tuesday.

By the time I left the house on Tuesday, the entire contents of my living room/kitchen were in my bedroom – basically, you couldn't even get to my bed without tripping on my coffee table, TV, toaster, or dishes stacked on the floor. I reassured myself that by the time I got back from Southern Eighths, I wouldn't have to live with the situation since my kitchen would be ALL DONE by then! (Ha. Hahahahahahahaha.)