Sunday, October 19, 2014

Amato Rosso

As I've said since he got here, I really like Red. He's a big old doofus, even though he is pure evil when he is in a stall. He's fun to hack around, he's fun to do a proper flat school on, and he's really fun to jump (if you like them hot, which I do).

Because I like him and he's working for me right now (and for my mom, who enjoys flatting him--this guy has three very nice gaits), I haven't been too concerned about what his past history was. I know what I know from riding him. My friend who hooked me up with him told me he did "the big jumpers." But she's a dressage rider, and she doesn't show at all, and hasn't been to many jumper shows if any. So when I asked for further clarification about divisions and whatnot, she didn't know.

The thing about jumping is that, as I said in my rules change post, a jump that looks tiny to you might look huge to me. So if you don't jump at all (and are perhaps afraid of it), or you're just starting out, or you're riding a horse without a lot of ability, or hell--if you've been schooling 2' in the indoor all winter, a 3' square oxer could look enormous to you. That's fine. So my friend doesn't have her eye up as far as jumping goes. But when you say "the big jumpers" to me, I think Open Jumpers and up. Big jumps. Money classes.

I got bored the other day so I decided to dig around and see what, exactly, the "big jumpers" were that Red did. It took a bit of digging because I didn't have his USEF number and I wasn't sure of his registered name (Amaterasu, my friend thought). Then I got smarter, and looked up his owner's USEF page. Sure enough, there was an Amato Rosso. There's our guy!

From what I can tell, his owner started him in the 80cm classes in 2009. This is perfectly reasonable, about 2'6". He moved up to the 90cm (2'9") and then the 1.0m (3'3"). This is the standard progression. I kept scrolling, kind of expecting to see a meteoric rise in height, but I didn't, because he's a normal horse and she's an amateur. They had some good results, but the highest they did was the 1.15m (3'7", or prelim height).

Does that mean I like him less than I did before? Hell no. I also don't think this means AT ALL that his scope tops out at 3'6". I know the difference between a good jumper and a bad jumper, and I have personally trotted a 4' jump on him. Who knows why he didn't make it further. Perhaps he would have if he hadn't blown his suspensory. Or maybe he wouldn't have. It doesn't matter one bit.

So there you have it. An "I don't know anything about this horse in my barn" story that doesn't end in the fairytale "holy shit he did mini prix" stuff that people love to write about. Red had an average career in the low-level jumpers and that's where he stopped. While I am very unlikely to take him to rated jumper shows because I am poor and I have to focus on Mo's career first, I have a good feeling about him jumping around 1.15m again with me if it sounds fun and a show comes up. I wasn't likely to show him any higher than that anyway, in consideration for his leg. He's SO much fun to ride and that, at the end of the day, is what matters.

Oh, but one cool thing: his dad was a famous GP stallion, Amaretto D ii. Cute, huh? Looks just like my guy, but a hand shorter and a slightly more refined face.

Not that I would trade these big loppy old ears for any face.

They don't even fit in the frame!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

USEA Rule Changes: Perspectives of a Once and Maybe Future Eventer

Wow, Facebook is hot today. And I have a opinions. Always a good combination. So even though I published the Red post this morning, here's another one coming atcha. I figure most of you won't read it until tomorrow anyway.

My opinions are at least somewhat informed. My coach is on the USEA Board of Governors, and she's integral to the decision-making process here. So I've gotten a lot of information straight from the horse's mouth, if you will.

The US Eventing Association has two proposed rule changes that people are talking about at the moment: Increasing the cross country speed a little bit at beginner novice through training level, and also adding one jump in the stadium phase that is up a hole and a little wider (so, essentially, a jump from the next level up). You can read more about it on Eventing Nation. Let's take these one at a time and go from there.

Increased XC Speed
Here's the thing: If you're on a horse of quality with a good canter, barring a stop on course, you're going to get a speeding ticket at BN through training level. A rider with a close eye on her watch could theoretically avoid this by circling on course or trotting. This creates problems, though, because it interrupts the flow of the course and the horse's rhythm. Horses that will be expected to move up need to canter from jump to jump and not waste time. It's stupid to circle on XC, but everyone does it. Or they take the penalties, but in this case, the horse is being punished for doing things correctly.

But what about horses who can't handle the higher speeds?
There are a couple reasons a horse might not be able to handle the higher speeds: it is slow or short-strided, or it is hot and needs those trot transitions or circles to get its head on straight. The thing is, those circles are still going to be allowed. And we can't gear XC speeds towards the short-strided, we just can't. Most eventers are not ponies, and a pony or horse going BN that can't go 350mpm isn't a novice-level prospect. And it isn't true that all ponies can't make that step. Teddy O'Connor clearly could. I coach a BN kid on a 13.2hh pony who has to circle to avoid the speed faults. I live in Virginia, too, and all our XC courses are plenty hilly, which should slow things down but doesn't on most horses.

So what? I want to stay at BN anyway (or my kid does, or I am just raising this as a theoretical argument). Your "that horse isn't a novice prospect" point doesn't work on me.
That's fine. You can stay at whatever level you like. Not everyone is or should be looking to move up a level. But we still arrive back at the point that too many horses get punished for having a good, appropriate canter--far more than will get punished for not having the step. It's just as easy to say "who cares about time faults for going too slow, just go at your horse's pace" as "just take the speeding ticket, assholes."

Consider this: when do we want horses and riders to get comfortable jumping at a forward pace? At BN through training, when the jumps are small, or at prelim and up, when they get more challenging? I think it will actually make eventing safer if everyone learns to gallop or at least canter forward when the jumps--and the stakes--are lower.

Shouldn't eventing be trying to make itself more amateur-friendly to get people into the sport? It's had a lot of bad press lately. You'd think the USEA would want whatever advantage it could get, and making XC faster and one SJ jump higher isn't going to help.
I hear this. I'll return to this point in a minute, because M had some pretty good insight here that encapsulates both the XC speed and the SJ height. But as far as the XC speed itself is concerned, remember: one can always make the choice to go slower. It isn't as though the guillotine awaits anyone who wants to take their time on XC on a green horse or at their first time at a new level. In jumper land, we don't even think about the jump-off for like a year at least. If you get there, huzzah, but it isn't the goal.

Making one SJ jump higher and wider
The deal with this is, you've got the possibility of one SJ fence on course that's like a move-up to the next level. It isn't a requirement, I don't believe (or won't be if these rules come into effect).

This one seems to be ruffling more feathers than the XC speed, and I find that very curious. I get that we all have to get our eye up and that a jump that might look like a tiny warm-up fence to one person looks insurmountable to another, and I'm not here to tell anyone that their comfort level is wrong or not good enough. Not at all. But let's keep a few things in mind:

1. These are rated events we're talking about, not schooling events (this goes for XC time as well--plenty of schooling horse trials around here don't even have an optimum time for XC). In theory, if you're ready to compete at a rated horse trials, you're probably schooling a level up at home. Every trainer I know would be working on that with their students before sending them off to spend the money at a rated show. So one jump at a height that you're schooling at home shouldn't make or break you.

2. A little bit of trust for course designers here, huh? That one bigger and wider fence could be in the toughest spot on the course, I suppose, but that isn't likely. I bet good, conscientious course designers--the ones that tend to get paid to design for rated horse trials--will put it in a thoughtful spot. I mean, if you're riding in a championship and everything is tough, then I wouldn't expect that. But I bet most course designers will keep in mind that the one bigger jump could come somewhere towards the late middle of the course where canter rhythm is established but before the horse is out of quarters.

3. It is, in fact, the case that in every other country, the SJ jumps are higher. US eventing has had a tough go of it in international competition lately (including a cringe-worthy performance at WEG). If we want to deepen our bench, we have to get it together and get our riders up to the level that other riders are doing. This should better prepare our riders and horses for moving up. The jump up can be kind of a shock, especially from training to prelim, and this should ease the blow.

Which leads me back to...

Okay okay! I hear you.  And I don't disagree. This is the dilemma, though. Do we let the lower levels stay super easy compared to international standards and keep people in the sport? Or do we focus on the horses and riders with upper level potential at the cost of adult ammies?

I don't think we really have to make this choice. There are a lot of things that USEA wants to do that would help even things out a bit. For instance, a little birdie told me that they're talking seriously about allowing coaching on course in the lower levels. I think this would help tremendously in coping with that one bigger SJ jump for BN riders. I wouldn't be surprised (though the birdie did not say this) if we heard that the eventing scene is going to look more like the h/j world in other ways, like having BN through intermediate or advanced at more shows so that the lower levels can get the important education of watching upper level riders do their thing; or that having a trainer hop on a jerk horse for a few minutes in the warm-up wouldn't be grounds for elimination in the BN and novice levels.

So as is probably clear by now, I'm in favor of these rules changes. I feel more strongly about the XC course time than the SJ fence, but I'm in favor of both. And I will eventually have to put my money where my mouth is, as M and I have eventing plans for both Mo and Red in the spring.

I eagerly await your comments. I'm sure this will get interesting.

ETA 10am: I forgot something. One thing I'm hearing from the people opposed to the rule change is "people need to learn to ride to pace." But that is exactly why I am in favor of the rule change. Learning to ride to pace means finding your horse's appropriate pace for the level. Circling at the end of the course is not riding to pace. It's wasting your horse's legs and energy to avoid getting penalized for having an appropriate canter through the course. Of course, some people do ride hell bent for leather, rule change or no rule change. But that shouldn't happen, and the technical delegate ought to be (and usually is in my experience) on the lookout for dangerous riding. 350mpm is not a crazy fast gallop.  I really do think that most people who are at a lower level on a short-strided horse are going to be able to make the time still, without riding like crazy idiots. The idea behind the rule change, in other words, isn't to make anyone ride faster. It's to prevent the circling at the end of the course. I hope that makes sense.

Catch-up Post: Red

Dudes, I love this big goofy red guy so much.

Red is two horses. At home, he's the quiet chill boy we all know and love. He's the one I can practice on without stirrups or cruise around in two point in all day (no official 2pt challenge for me this year, as I have two bad ankles and I'll get mad at myself if I can't be in the top tier, but I'm working on it anyway). At M's, though, he is AMATO ROSSO, the SHOW JUMPER, and you'd best not forget it. He won't even walk. He'll jig, he'll trot, he'll canter, and he'll rush fences, but he will not. freaking. walk.

I can only walk when I'm in my stall.

It's kind of funny, though. He's not scary, he's just like "LEMME AT 'EM!" He doesn't want to warm up. He wants to jump, and he wants to jump right fucking now. This is not an attitude I dislike, really.

I've taken several jumping lessons at M's. In the first few, we were in a plain snaffle. I needed more brakes, but a Smartpak snafu meant I didn't get the Waterford I ordered (fortunately, E found my old one and mailed it to me so I wouldn't break my neck). It was fine, but there were some moments that it would have helped to have a little more brakes.

First vertical in our first jumping lesson.
We did some pretty fun exercises over several lessons because M is a genius. Among my favorites was a bascule exercise (a trot vertical, starting about 2', with rails 7' out on either side so the horse has to bend his back over the jumps; over the course of the exercise, the jump goes up and the rails roll out a bit--we ended at 4' with rails 8'-8.5' out), a simple canter jump on a 20m circle (stay in the goddamn rhythm), a double bounce (haha Red, can't jump through THAT launching); and using the circle to slow him down (get his eye on the jump, and if he feels launchy, be all "oh damn actually I was just circling" until he stops anticipating and canters to the base).

Here's what I've learned about his jumping:
*He will take over. Ride the horse or find yourself in the next county.
*He doesn't like to touch rails. Yay.
*The way he uses his body means that he feels like he lands going much faster than he felt at the take-off, but he isn't. We've had a couple stops because I've half-halted when I shouldn't and taken his eye off the jump (but remember that thing about how he will take over? Be ready to ride? Yeah, except when you just need to count strides).
*He feels GREAT in the air, especially when he looks for the quiet step, canters to the base, and jumps. Heck yeah, former Open Jumper.
*He needs me to keep a feel of the corners in his mouth until he's in the air. He also needs me to keep my leg on at the base. Figuring out that dial is hard, because if I take my leg off he'll sometimes stop, and if I use too much leg he'll launch. We're getting that sorted out, though.
*He loves, loves, loves his job.

Sunrise hack a few weeks ago. Funnest thing ever.

And here's what I've learned about me:
*Since this has been a year of flatwork almost exclusively, I've reverted back to some bad old habits that come from having mostly ridden horses who launch. I need to stay in my half seat, not lean back (which sends him forward), and look for that quiet canter to the base step myself.
* My jumping position, however, is still fine. Would Denny Emerson love it over a 4' jump? I dunno. Haven't cantered any of those recently. But over the 3'ish stuff we're doing, my leg is stable and I'm out of his way.
* Jumping is still the most fun thing I can think of to do. Come on, Mo, let's get this canter sorted out so you can get back to it!

I need to jump at least another 100 canter jumps on Red before we begin to figure each other out, I think. But we get along, and it would be hard to find a nicer buddy to get my feet wet again with. He only jumps at M's, so we jump once a week if I'm lucky. It's fine, though. I don't want to wear him out. He's super cool.

Here's some stuff I want to talk about soon, since I really do want to do this blogging thing, despite my fits and starts with access to posting ability:
Tack reviews (KY Horse halter, Smartpak halter, Nantucket bridle, Wellfleet bridle)
Specific discussion of Mo's canter work
A discussion of the USEA proposed rule changes (as my trainer is on the Board of Governors and I have a lot of thoughts)
My mom's horse Teddy and our struggle to get him sound (Is it a bone chip? Neck arthritis? EPM?!)

Anything in particular y'all want me to start with?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Catch-Up Post: Moses

Good grief. I'm the worst at this. Again.

I'll do one catch-up post per horse, I suppose. I wish I'd done a better job of writing up each lesson, because Mr. Mo has been up to all kinds of things.

Let's see: we've trotted cross-rails, verticals, and cross-rail oxers. Oh, and one bounce. He's pretty good at all of this, but he wiggles sometimes. Steering isn't perfect. One thing that makes me feel good is that even when Mr. Stripey is trying to run out, I can still get it done. He'll get over that. His shape in the air is sometimes green, but is usually quite nice. M thinks this is an upper-level horse (well, she'd say "an advanced horse," but I still haven't committed to eventing).

Even though I'm not sold on eventing yet, we did have a lot of fun babysitting M on an XC school. I just hand-walked him, but he went right over the ditch, into the water, on and off the bank--all like a pro. After about an hour of leading around, he was plenty quiet, so I lunged him for a minute and hopped on. I just trotted him around the parking area for a few minutes because we had to head out, but he was great. I was thrilled 

As far as his flat work goes, he's making good progress. His trot work is really good now, even though he's still fresh and green sometimes. He still has moments of needing to remember that it's my bridle and I get to put it where I want, but when he yields to the pressure, I can now close my leg and get him on the bit. He's not 100% consistent in the contact all the time, but I've only had him for six weeks. Overall, I'm thrilled with his trot work.

His canter work is coming along. He's getting his leads without TOTAL meltdowns now. We had a bucking/rearing fit in front of my mom one day, and he does buck hard when he gets frustrated, but he bucks in a straight line and moving forward. And, knock on wood, he hasn't done any bucking in a week. If this is his flaw, I can totally live with it. His canter can still be a bit wild. I don't have much control. It's getting quieter as we go, especially to the right (his better direction in general--homeboy hates bending left. I may have created this problem because I can hang on the right rein a bit, but I'm working hard to kick this habit and help him be more even).

Also, today I had the wonderful fortune of learning that Breyer already has a Mo model. So we'll be all set when he's big and famous.

It says "Thoroughbred Horse/Excellent Jumper" RIGHT ON THERE.
So overall, very happy in babyland. If he didn't have some green horse moments, I'd be bored. I can't wait to see where he is in another six weeks!