With the latest article that’s been going around about the side-impact helmet testing done by an insurance company in Sweden, many interesting conversations have been sparked on social media. The article has been shared by tons of people, and in a lot of different groups, and I’ve read through all of the comments almost obsessively. Safety equipment, and especially the standards by which such equipment is tested and certified, is very interesting to me. If you want to read the full study results, not just a summary, they can be found here. I’m not going to offer my interpretation of it… I feel like people can read and do that for themselves.
I first started delving deeper into all of the helmet testing standards a few years ago after the KEP helmet controversy. The big issue that came out of that situation was whether or not riding helmets are designed, or required, to protect from secondary impact – ie if your head hits the pavement, and then the horse’s hoof hits your head, is the helmet still in reasonable enough condition to help protect your head from the secondary impact of the hoof? Short version: not necessarily.
I thought that was pretty interesting, and started researching all of the different testing standards, how they ran their studies, and exactly what they tested FOR. Do most of us actually know that? Probably not. We tend to just go “well, it’s approved, it must be safe!”. It’s definitely safer than no helmet at all, for sure. But one might not offer as much protection as another. And do we even know what “approved” really means?
I was able to find a lot of information just via Google, and where I needed to fill in some gaps, I was generally able to do so via email. I heard back from all but 1 that I contacted… some sent me very basic “here is what we test for” type of information that wasn’t particularly useful, or was exactly what I’d already found via Google. Others sent me quite detailed information sheets and even videos of their test procedures. And then there’s good ol’ ASTM, who want you to pay $41 to buy the book (or PDF) of standards. Sigh. To be fair, they did answer some of my questions via email. Still, am I the only one who thinks this stuff should be very transparent and readily available?
For the most part I was very surprised to see what the majority of the testing standards actually cover. It’s FAR less than I would have imagined. Some are even just a simple *wham* to the top of the helmet and it either meets their criteria (whatever that may be) or it doesn’t. When’s the last time you got one nice, neat *wham* on the crown of your head? The most comprehensive, IMO, was definitely the SNELL testing standard, which is not a mandatory standard that any equestrian organization actually requires helmets to meet. Because of that, very few manufacturers have bothered submitting their helmets for SNELL testing at all. Even that standard isn’t perfect, and has some room for improvement as far as different types of impact that are more likely to occur during equestrian sports.
Aside from just a general lack of information, or public knowledge if you will, about testing standards, there are also a lot of folks out there who don’t seem to understand what helmets really DO or how they work.
No, a helmet will not prevent you from sustaining a head injury. Just because you got a concussion while wearing X helmet does not mean the helmet didn’t do it’s job.
No, not all helmets are created equal. Just because they all passed whatever minimum testing requirement your federation requires certainly does not mean that one is just as good as the other. Think of cars and their safety ratings (which is a system we don’t have).
No, more expensive helmets ARE DEFINITELY NOT NECESSARILY BETTER.
Also, pretty much any helmet with extensive ventilation is likely to be at least a little bit (or a lot a bit) less durable under impact. It makes sense if you think about it. Any time you start putting holes in a structure, you introduce weakness to some degree. This doesn’t mean that a helmet with bigger vents offers less protection by default, but they require some additional engineering by the manufacturer to help increase the stability of the shell, which they may or may not have. Who knows… we don’t really test that. Paneled helmets (made of separate pieces that are glued together) also seem to be less likely to maintain their structural integrity beyond the initial impact. But again… not something that the majority of the current testing methods would encompass.
Of course, one of the single most important things when choosing the right helmet is the fit. If it doesn’t fit your head correctly, it won’t sit on your head correctly, which means it may shift and/or provide less protection during impact. Buying the best-rated helmet even though it doesn’t fit is just as bad as buying the lowest-rated helmet just because it’s fashionable.
I urge everyone who is interested in helmet safety to do some research for yourself, look into the testing methods, and see what impressions you come away with. Don’t just take ANY studies or “rubber stamp” certifications at face value… it’s very easy to be an educated consumer these days if you want to be.
And by “stuff” I quite literally mean STUFF – mostly clothing. I took quite a few new items with me to Chatt… a helmet, a show coat, some shirts, etc. Nothing like trial by fire, ya know? Or really trial by poaching, as was the case with the first weekend, since I was literally drenched in sweat for 3 days straight. It did, however, provide the perfect opportunity to test out the new items in some literally disgusting weather.
First, the real winner of these two weeks was the Alessandro Albanese Motionlite coat. Admittedly, I’ve been on the fence about this purchase for a long time. I’ve seen them a lot, tried them on, pined after them, felt like I couldn’t really justify it, blah blah blah. Look… just buy it. I’m not kidding. That coat is so light, and so stretchy, and so comfortable. It’s made really well, with so many great details like easily changeable buttons, and a zipper under the buttons so that there’s no boob gapping. You don’t always get details like that at this low of a price point.
Any time even the barest hint of a breeze picked up, I could feel it THROUGH the coat. It was so pleasant to wear that during week 2 I didn’t even realize I’d kept it on between dressage and SJ until I was tacking back up. It’s worth every single penny I spent on it and then some, and now I kind of want it in every single color they make. This thing is the absolute best value on the market for show coats, hands down, if you live in a place that gets even remotely hot. Also, it looks fantastic. 110% would recommend, with no hesitation.
The other totally brand new thing that I took with me is the TraumaVoid EQ3 MIPS helmet. This is another item that I’ve wanted for a while, and mine arrived the day before we left for Chatt. I had time to try it on, but that’s about it. Luckily it fits me quite well. It’s got a slightly higher profile on the top of the head than, say, my Speed Air, but it’s definitely less bulbous-looking on me than the OneK was. The MIPS technology is quite neat, it’s easy to see it and see how it works since it sits just underneath the removeable liner. The navy color is gorgeous (says the diehard navy lover…) and I like the leather-like material on the brim.
It has two rows of vents, which was definitely appreciated, although IMO it’s not quite as cool as my Samshield or Speed Air. Definitely cooler than my Charles Owen, though, so I’d call it middle-of-the-road as far as airflow. Considering how well the helmet is performing in various safety tests, it seems like a fair enough trade. Overall I’m really happy with this helmet and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it, if it fits you well.
I took a couple of new show shirts with me, too. Well, one brand new, one I’d worn a couple times. The RJ Classics Paige is one I’ve talked about on here before. It’s pretty. It was the natural choice for that one time I dared to go into the dressage ring at a rated show without a coat (look, I was “raised” by a h/j trainer who made us wear coats no matter what the temp, so it’s ingrained in me). This was before I had really become acquainted with just how great the coat is, otherwise I would have just worn it.
But I like that this shirt is color-blocked, so it’s not just one big blob of white. That’s my least favorite part of the waived coats thing… I do not want to look like the Stay Puff Marshmallow man. No thank you.
The shirt did fine, although I have to say the material on the back leaves a bit to be desired in extreme heat/humidity. It’s stretchy and comfortable, but it’s not the most breathable material in the world. For showjumping I busted out the new Dover knit show shirt (stupid Dover website is not cooperating with me today so I can’t link to it, sorry), which seems like their version of a Le Fash, and I thought it felt a little cooler even under the show coat.
I did feel like the collar on the Dover shirt came weirdly high… like… I don’t need a cradle for that second or third chin, thanks. But it was comfortable and pretty and as a supporting cast member in my line up of show shirts it does just great. If I had paid full price for it I would like it less, but at $40 I’m pretty satisfied. I did learn that neither of these shirts are anywhere near as cool or breathable as my Winston shirt, so it will remain the hot weather go-to.
I also wore my B Vertigo silicone full seat breeches for the second and third times. These are really cute, with little rhinestone details on the pockets. It’s enough to be different but not so much that it’s gaudy. I like the material of these, and I like the fact that there is enough silicone to give you a little bit more grip, but not so much that you’re STUCK in the saddle (a problem I had with the Pikeur silicone seats). These are the only type of full seats I have any interest in wearing during hot weather… covering your entire ass with suede in the summer sounds freaking terrible, no thank you. I’ll cover it with little well-spaced dots of silicone instead.
I have to be honest though, I don’t think I like the B Vertigo breeches as much as their cheaper counterpart, the Horze Grand Prix. I have a pair of those in full seat in purple and a pair in knee patch in brown and I actually quite like them. The material is basically the same, the Horze ones just have no frills whatsoever. They’re plain and boring, but the lower leg is closer-fitting, the waist fits a curvier shape a bit better, and they’re almost half the price. I got several of my barnmates to buy a pair of those breeches from a vendor at the show and everyone loved them. The Horze ones are the better value, IMO. I want some in white.
My only real loser of the trip was my Roma ice boots, who’s zipper completely busted and fell apart. I had to duct tape that leg closed so I could ice Henry’s legs. So I guess those things are going in the trash and I get to buy new ice boots. I really like that same suspender style that you fill with actual ice, so I was looking at the Jack’s brand, which seem to have a much sturdier zipper than the Roma ones did.
Anyone have these, or have another brand that you like?
You guys are relentless in your pursuit of Presto updates, which is fortunate considering how much I like talking about Presto. Watching him develop, especially seeing his personality evolve, is one of my single greatest sources of joy. I genuinely missed him while we were in Georgia and Alabama. It’s possible that I’m as obsessed with him as I am with Henry.
When I got back last Monday it was pouring rain and I was exhausted, so while I went out and said hi to him and made sure he was still in one piece, I didn’t get him out and mess with him at all until Tuesday. Considering the fact that I do something with him almost every day, I was concerned that he might go a bit feral having two weeks to himself where his only activity was torturing his pet donkeys. His ego gets a little overinflated with them sometimes.
He was pretty crusty and gross when I got back – dried sweat covered in dirt covered in more dried sweat and more dirt. So the first objective was to give him a bath. He has feelings about that but he knows better by this point than to try anything besides the occasional pawing fit and lots of wiggling. After his bath I tied him in front of the fan to dry for a bit. He had a lot more feelings about THAT.
Yeah, so he definitely didn’t go feral while I was gone, but he DID forget about patience. I suppose things are easy to forget when they don’t exactly come naturally to you. He got to stand in front of the fan until he gave up and stood politely, which is only about 5 minutes in Presto-land, because he’s just not that dedicated to being naughty.
The next day he came in for a grooming
and then I took both boys out for a short walk and a hand graze. Which… why I ever think it’s a good idea to try to handgraze both of those idiots at the same time, I’ll never know. I’m a slow learner, I guess. They are Tweedle Dee and Tweedle ZeroAttentionSpan. They go opposite directions, Presto spends a lot of time pestering Henry, and they inevitably react differently to different things. Their Big Brother/Little Brother dynamic is strong and I get to play Mom the Mediator.
Throughout the week I slowly started adding all of Presto’s normal activities back in, as he remembered his place in the world. He’s FINALLY got a nice shiny coat coming in underneath all the gross remnants of long bleached hair on his shoulders and stomach, so I’ve been currying the heck out of him every day. If he looks like crap for FEH Championships it won’t be for a lack of trying. He’s already REALLY faded though, and we haven’t even hit the worst of summer. Not much I can do about the buckskin part… he’s not gonna live inside all summer just for the sake of a horse show.
After his grooming I turned Presto and Henry out in the little front paddock with the best grass. I never really get tired of watching them interact. Henry is so smart about dealing with him… he does not put up with the baby bullshit, but he also knows not to be too rough with him. Luckily Presto is also very easily intimidated by Henry, so Henry never really has to escalate beyond pinned ears, a raised foot, or some squealing.
On Sunday my plan was to hop on Henry and pony Presto a bit, just for a short walk. Technically Henry is on summer vacation, but a) he likes hacking, b) sometimes being a big brother with actual responsibilities sucks. So I tossed my half pad and sidepull on, jumped aboard, and out we went. Oh, and the Significant Other wanted to bring the dogs to the barn to run around a bit, so I actually have ponying pictures. It was also the SO’s first time seeing Presto since he was just a wee tiny foal. Fun fact, it doesn’t matter how many times you ask the completely non-horsey SO “BUT ISN’T HE STUNNING/AMAZING/MAGNIFICENT/THE BEST?”, you will never get more than a halfhearted “um yeah, he’s cute…” *nervous laugh as he realizes he’s in the presence of a genuine Crazy Horse Lady* in response.
At the end I hopped off and handed Henry to SO to hold while I did a little bit of in-hand work with Presto out in the field. With horses in the pastures nearby, dogs running around, etc, I thought it was a good opportunity to practice his Pay Attention skills (or lack thereof). When we were done I led Presto back over to them and he immediately reached up, grabbed the half pad off of Henry, and flung it. SO found this hilariously funny, and I think Presto actually won him over at that point. They are both turds.
So Presto did lose a little bit of his patience skills, but otherwise he made it through the 2 weeks of inattention without going feral. If anything, he seems even more eager to see me every day. I’ll never get tired of that face meeting me at the gate.
Now that the Chatt recaps are done and dusted, I want to talk about something else that happened at the second show. Something that left me, honestly, pretty miffed. Nothing to do with the show itself, Chatt was AMAZING in basically every regard… but something to do with the behavior of other competitors.
We all know what good sportsmanship is, I’m assuming. If not, see definition conveniently located above. To me, having good sportsmanship is almost as important as having good horsemanship. Nobody likes a bully, a whiner, a condescending winner, or a sore loser. And I’m proud to say that in eventing, I don’t think I’ve seen very many examples of poor sportsmanship as it relates to competition. Most people have quite a good attitude. It’s the kind of sport that humbles people real quick and always keeps you feeling quite mortal. For the most part, people generally want to see others have a good day and are encouraging and positive.
I saw a slightly different side of things at Chatt. Not related to the horse show itself, luckily, but in regards to – of all the ridiculous things – the totally “for fun” bouncy pony race on Friday night. You know the big bouncy ball pony things?
Teams of 5 people each squared off on bouncy ponies in a relay race where each person raced down over a “jump” (pole on the ground) to a bucket, picked up an apple, raced back with said apple, and tagged the next team member. The only rules? You had to bounce on the pony, and you had to get the apple. Pretty simple. Fun, right? Especially if you’re the one watching (me) and not the one going face first over the front of the bouncy pony in some kind of weird, hilariously funny, slow-motion rotational fall (Kate).
Our barn conveniently had 5 girls under of the age of 18 in attendance at Chatt, so we had an instant team. I’m too old to go flying off a bouncy pony, but I make a pretty good cheerleader on the sidelines. Trainer, of course, acted as Team Coach.
Our girls went all out for this. They range in age from 12 to 17 years old, and they looted an Alabama Walmart on the day after the 4th of July to get stuff to make their outfits. They made tutu’s, they sported patriotic hats, stickers, face paint, sweatbands, glow necklaces and bracelets… you name it, they had it. Outfits: on point. But really, all of that just showed a lot of camaraderie and team work. They were excited and they were ready to go head to head with the other teams and duke it out – in a fun way. They might not win, but they were there to have fun. That’s the entire point of stuff like this, right?
So when I saw an adult member (I’m assuming she was an adult, since she chugged a beer right before the race) of the team next to them yelling at one of our girls (a 13yo), getting right up in her face, and then pulling the hat right off of her head – taking some hair with it, I might add – I was shocked. When members of this same team picked up some water balloons from another team (water balloons were not part of this activity at all, but okay) and chucked them deliberately at our girls’ faces – shock turned into fury. Those people did not know our girls. That wasn’t jovial or friendly or funny. It came across as mean-spirited and inappropriate and out of line. At a friggin bouncy pony race! The prize was a big basket of chocolate, for crying out loud!
I have all of this on video, by the way, so there’s no disputing what went on.
To cap it all off, the teams were neck and neck until their last team member (the hat-yanker) decided to eschew the rules and just run her entire leg of the race carrying the bouncy pony instead of actually sitting on it at all. A person on this team was also later heard saying “there’s nothin’ wrong with cheatin’!”.
If that team had been comprised entirely of kids then ok, sure, kids are definitely jerks to each other sometimes. But there were adults participating in and witnessing this behavior. To teenagers. That they don’t even know. Their attitude and their actions really kind of stunned our girls, who know better than to ever act this way toward other people in any kind of competition. Luckily they are all good humans and they did not retaliate in any way, but it bothered them, and it ruined the good time.
It wasn’t so much that the other team cheated (which was lame but who really cares about a bouncy pony race?) it was how they went about it and the behavior that was displayed.
To me good sportsmanship does not start and stop as you pass through the ingate on the back of a horse, it’s something that should be on display at all times. ESPECIALLY if you are an adult. Extra-especially if you are an adult among children. Good sportsmanship comes from who you are as a person. It takes class, it takes humility, it takes kindness, it takes empathy, and it takes strength of character. I was happy to see that our girls displayed those things, even if some other folks didn’t. It’s not about whether you win or lose – it’s about how you do it. Maybe that team didn’t intend to come off this way, but they did. If nothing else, it’s a good reminder to all of us that in competitive situations we have to be mindful of the things that we say and do, and how those things might impact others.
What do you guys think? Ever seen behavior like this at a horse show? How important is sportsmanship to you – on and off the horse?
Well, I finally did it. I made a mistake that even Henry the XC Magician couldn’t completely pull us out of. He sure gave it an impressive effort though, poor guy, and saved us from total disaster. That halo of his is glowing brighter and brighter.
First of all, let’s talk about this course. If I thought week 1 was a bit simple, the course designer came to play on week 2 because wow, all the courses were pretty tough. Big AND technical. People were getting eaten for dinner left and right at all levels. Bloodbath is the most accurate way to describe it. It was also Area 3 Championships, which had a couple of slight differences to their courses vs the regular horse trial divisions. They also experienced a bloodbath.
Our course (link to the full course walk here) had four combinations, all of which were serious questions for the level. There were a fair amount of maxed out height/width fences, but also a few “breather” ones scattered around the course as well. It wasn’t unreasonable, but it was definitely a challenging course. The most technical we’ve seen to date, for sure. That’s what I wanted, and that’s what I got. There had also been a lot of rain the day before so I put some bigger studs in, hoping that the footing wouldn’t complicate things further. The weather though – it was perfect. Around 80 and mostly cloudy with a nice breeze. This was Henry weather for sure.
Coming out of the start box you had a slight uphill to a simple hanging log at fence 1, your standard starting fence. From there we went up the big massive hill to fence 2. Like… you basically climbed out of the startbox and had to REALLY ride forward immediately to get going. This was a hint about how you had to ride the rest of the course. One I did not heed well enough later on. But fences 1 and 2 rode fine anyway, because we always come out of the box like our butts are on fire.
Hope you’re buckled in tight, cuz shit got real right off the bat. After you climbed your way to 1 and 2, fence 3 was a max square table, off of a sweeping turn after you came down that giant hill you just climbed. Better sit up. It actually came up out of stride really well and Henry pinged right over like he was enjoying a delightful brunch.
I couldn’t really take the time to enjoy it though, because right after that was the first combination on course, and it was tricky. I mean, on paper it seemed fairly straightforward. Cabin, downhill to skinny cabin on a slight bend. But there was an unused corner for another level behind the skinny cabin, in such a place where if you came down that combo straight middle-to-middle, you would land on the corner. I really only saw two options here: you either had to jump the first cabin angled a bit left to right and then veer slightly right to B, or you had to put a lot of bend in the line while you were halfway down the hill. I chose the first option, figuring it would be easier for my horse. Tons of people had runouts here. I watched 3 in a row go skirting past the B element (including my barnmate on her experienced Prelim horse). There wasn’t much room for error.
Luckily Henry latched on to B like a heat seeking missile, and marched right through that shit like he’d done it a million times before. He’s baller, y’all.
Fences 5 and 6 were let-up fences at this point – another table (Chatt really likes tables, I noticed) and then a small house on a curve as we kind of serpentined back toward the first water. We cantered through the water to a decent sized up bank, two strides out over a rolltop. Well, we were supposed to anyway. Here’s where I messed up. Knowing that last week I came through the water a little too fast and flat, I was determined not to repeat that, especially to an upbank.
But I took one too many half halts and lost power going into the water, then tried to correct it too late, which caused us to get to the bank too close and without enough energy to jump up out of water. Henry didn’t have enough room or momentum to get his feet up on the bank properly. He hit the edge with his knees as he floundered up it, but somehow managed to twist around, find a 5th leg, and get us up in one piece. How, I don’t even know.
And yes, I’ve already purchased all these pictures (I bought every picture they took from both weeks, actually!). Just waiting on the digitals. I thought it was too important of a photo series to leave out of this post.
For a second I thought we were both goners. That he managed to get his feet back under him and stay upright is pretty impressive. THIS is exactly why I have no interest in eventing a horse who isn’t clever with his feet. On a sloppier horse, or one with slower reaction time, I’d have been in real trouble. As it was, our near-fall left me up on his neck, about a millimeter away from going right over his shoulder. I felt him look at the rolltop and make a move toward it to try to jump it. Yeah, for real, he totally thought about trying to keep going. Trainer said later “I really thought he was gonna jump that with you on his head!”. Yeah, you and me both! Luckily he very wisely decided to veer left instead (thank you Henny) while I got myself back together. I managed to scoot back into the saddle, and we turned around, circled back through the water, and jumped up the bank and over the rolltop just fine on the second attempt.
From that we went directly to an open oxer at 8 (it had MIM clips. Fancy.) before we FINALLY had our first little open stretch to breathe as we went from the front field to the back field. I let Henry open up a bit here since we actually had a couple of galloping fences in a row. Two tables. Shocking, right?
Those rode really well. I was wondering if my snafu at the water would affect his confidence at all, but he just galloped up to both and launched right over, feeling as happy as always. Which is good, because fence 12, coming into the second water, was freaking massive.
It was a max rolltop with a good 8-10″ of brush on top at the middle, and very tall brush on either side. It was pretty damn close to 4′ at the center, and set a few strides out from the water. You couldn’t see the water on the other side until you got a few strides away, which made it even spookier. This was legit. This was gnarly. It was my favorite fence of the whole two weeks (I might be a little sick in the head, y’all), and Henry jumped the shit out of it. I had to sit and ride him a bit, he flicked an ear back at me a few times like “Mom? You sure this is safe?” but he trusted my judgment and he went. I’m so bummed that there wasn’t a photographer at that one.
We had a little jump in the water itself here too that you can see straight ahead, mostly just a speed bump by this point, then came out and turned left to… oh hey, another table.
Hope you enjoyed that short breather, because now we went to the coffin. A full coffin. With a really wide ditch in the middle. And a skinny fence on the C element. We had yet to even meet a half coffin on a Training course in Texas, something that I’ve been kinda grumpy about. Chatt made up for that in one fell swoop. Henry was absolutely brilliant here, it could not have ridden any better.
Fence 15 was a small bench (kinda like a “congrats, you’re not dead yet!” by this point I guess.) then down through an ominous bridge crossing and back into the front field, before immediately swinging left to another hanging log. That was all fine. Well okay, Henry’s eyes bugged out of his head a bit at the bridge crossing, you could hear running water below, but he never faltered from his gallop.
Then was our last combo on course – something they called the Helsinki Step. There was a decent size (about 3’6″) drop with a bit of a downhill landing, slight bending line right to a skinny log in 3 strides. Or on my horse – a cannonball, some flair, and then 2 normal strides. Because why drop down off a bank when you could pause at the edge and then launch straight into space like a rocket? And why launch straight when you could launch to the right? He definitely popped me loose here, but we dug in and made it out over the skinny. Not cute, not cute at all, but we did it. Someday he’ll actually just step down the drops. Maybe. Ok, probably not.
After that we had the iconic Chatt stone table before turning to the last, another hanging log, and through the finish. Those were both great, and he finished up feeling really good.
It would be easy to feel disappointed with this run, on the surface. Henry’s previously pretty beautiful USEA record is sporting a big ugly 20 on it, and it’s no one’s fault but mine. Those are definitely my 20 penalties, not his. He did nothing wrong. He didn’t say no, he wasn’t naughty, he wasn’t disobedient or lacking confidence. Quite the opposite, actually. But this was a hard course, and the combinations were tough enough to where you couldn’t make a mistake, and I made one. It’s that simple. It’s going to happen, I am an amateur after all, and I’m still learning my way at this level. Some days you get away with mistakes, some days you don’t. That day I didn’t. This is eventing… shit can go wrong in a heartbeat. Especially when you actively seek out bigger challenges for yourself.
But Henry rose to the occasion and answered all the questions eagerly. He was brave, he was smart, he was clever, and he was confident. He didn’t seem deterred by the fact that we almost lawn-darted up the bank, and he was still quite pleased with himself at the finish. How could I possibly be unhappy with that? He showed a lot of maturity and professionalism, and we were able to recover from the mistake quickly, put it behind us, and go on to have a really solid rest of the course. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more proud of that horse, and I’m proud of him pretty much all the damn time.
I think the worst part was that they originally did not have my 20 recorded, and I had to go to the office and tattle on myself. That’s not a fun task. But honesty is always the best policy (I don’t want that bad karma!), and someone else deserved the ribbon spot that I was unjustly occupying. Without the 20 (and the 2 time penalties from all the time I took clinging like a monkey and then circling back to re-jump) we would have been 3rd. Big big ouch. But we still managed to hang on for 6th, which tells you just how much havoc that course wreaked on everyone. It felt a little bit like a dirty ribbon, but my horse absolutely deserved it, so I happily took it. This one is all his.
Even though I didn’t get the storybook ending that we competitors always pine for, I still had a fantastic time. We learned a lot, we had fun, we made improvements in some areas, and we found a few things we need to work on in others. I’m 100% satisfied with that, and really proud of my plain little brown horse.
My stadium time was only about an hour and a half after dressage, so I didn’t have a lot of time to waste in between phases. Or, alternately, a lot of time to stress about stadium. We saw the course for the first time that morning, walked it, and then went off to do dressage things. I kind of prefer that.
Henry wasn’t even sweaty after dressage (the weather on the 2nd weekend was SO MUCH NICER than the first! It was cool and overcast and breezy.) so I didn’t bother bathing him. I also didn’t bother looking at scores. I was happy with the test he’d put in, so what did it matter? I went and watched a few Prelim rounds to get a feel for how some of the lines were riding, then by the time I cleaned him up, changed all my tack, and got us both ready, it was time to get on.
While my ultimate goal for stadium is always a clear round, my REAL goal this time was to not make any stupid mistakes. Specifically don’t crash, or don’t do something so stupid that my horse can’t bail us out. Aka don’t repeat Week 1’s performance.
When I first got on, Henry still felt really quiet… a little bit behind my leg and just not as sharp as usual. I figured the previous 10 days were catching up with him, so I opted to take my whip with me in the ring (I usually don’t) for some extra oomph. Turns out, all that really did was make him more flat and strung out, so… maybe not next time.
Some of the rounds I saw before mine had been pretty rough. Really, a large percentage of the rounds I saw all day were rough. The courses were quite demanding, and rails fell left and right in every division. I haaaaated the start to our course – an oxer to vertical line coming diagonally across the ring, followed by a quick 8 bending strides to another oxer heading directly at the gate. I mean… way to come out swinging? Who made the course designer mad?
That rode fine though, and then we turned up to a double in the same spot as the one I messed up the first week. This time I didn’t mess it up (yay, redemption!) but I didn’t whoa enough in the line after the double, causing us to get a little too close to that square oxer and taking the front rail with us. Womp womp.
The rest of the course actually rode nicely though. The weird little rollbacks toward the end of the course were just fine (sat up! did not pull!) and Henry jumped them well. The last line was a little oddly placed but we got in fine, and came down to the last double – oxer to vertical. By this point Henry was just a little too flat. He tapped the oxer, but it stayed up, then tapped the last jump, and it fell. Womp womp again.
When I was in the warmup Trainer asked if I knew my dressage score and I said no. She asked if I wanted to know before or after stadium, and I said after. I don’t need incentive to feel pressured! So I was kind of bummed when I came out of the ring and she told me, and found out we’d been in third. Adding two rails to that sucks. But most of the division fell victim to that course, so I still only dropped from 3rd to 6th.
At least I didn’t try to kill us this time. Baby steps?
Okay, now that I’m back to a real computer let’s kick off this Week 2 recap party!
Since our new pre-ride tactic seemed to work really well Week 1, I repeated the same kind of prep. On Friday morning I hopped on him before we left Alabama, just for a quick 10 minute walk trot, going from stretchy to regular walk and trot. Just enough to get him to take a deep breath, basically. On Friday when we got to the show grounds we did the same thing. I think I was on him total 10 minutes again, maybe. He went right to work and was super, so we quit while we were ahead.
On Saturday my ride time was at 10:51, so I got on at 7am and did another 10 minute session. There’s something about these quick little 10 minute rides that really help settle his brain. It’s like they’re enough for him to loosen up and relax, but not so much that he starts feeling pressured or gets worked up. I took him back to the barn, bathed him, braided, and slowly got ready.
I got back on at 10:30 and walked up to the ring to find that they were running early. My ring was finishing up a break, and then there was only one person ahead of me. I think I warmed up for maybe 8 minutes before the steward asked me if I was ready. Henry felt relaxed and happy, so I went ahead down there about 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Another few minutes in warmup wasn’t going to change anything for the better.
They had all new judges for week 2, none of which I was familiar with, and we were in a different ring. As soon as I got down there, said good morning, and gave them my number, she asked if I was ready and blew the whistle. Alrighty then. Nobody needs a full lap around the arena anyway, right? I see how they were already running so early.
I trotted up centerline on the most rideable version of Henry that I have ever had in the dressage ring. It’s amazing how much easier things are when they’ll let you use your legs and ride them forward into the hand. It’s taken literally years to get him okay with that. The first half of the test was pretty decent… he came bangin up centerline like a real horse, then we tracked left and went straight to those stupid 10m half circles. These have always been challenging for us, it kind of takes away some of your momentum there at the beginning and tends to get a tense horse a little stuck. They weren’t amazing this time, but they were the best we’ve done in the ring. From that movement you go straight to canter. He was reasonable about that, a bit hurried in the transition, but for him decent. The lengthenings on the circle will never be great, so whatever. Next time we redo the tests can we please keep the canter lengthenings on a straight line? My horse is built too downhill for this crap.
From that you go to stretchy trot. His was fine. He stretched a little but he’s never as good with this movement in the ring as he is in schooling. Tension makes that difficult. Then it was the walk work, medium to free to medium. All that was actually quite good for him. Last fall/this spring he was going through a serious jigging phase, or would try to launch back into canter as soon as I touched my reins. That seems to be gone now, knock on wood. I only did about eleventy billion walk transitions at home.
After the walk he definitely was more tense. The canter this direction was not as good, and the transitions weren’t as balanced, and the trot lengthening was bleh. He stayed with me though, so that’s okay. At no point did he tune me out and turn into a panicked 2×4 (his favorite go-to panic maneuver).
For the first time I felt like we put in a test that was kind of reasonable. It’s still not up to what he’s really capable of, and we still have a lot more tension through his topline than he does at home, but he never really got stuck or up and down or on the verge of explosion. As usual the comments were mostly about improving suppleness in his back (trust me I know, I’m sitting on it!) which really is just his tension showing.
Our score was 32.4, his best ever at a recognized Training, and was good enough to put us 3rd after dressage in a field of really nice horses. THIRD. Henry. What?! He also got his first ever 9 on a recognized test. There were still plenty of 6.5’s but nothing scored lower than 6.
I’m pretty darn pleased with that. There’s still a lot of room for improvement from both horse and rider, but to see such immediate payoffs from the little bit of tweaking we’ve done in the past month has been really encouraging. We were near the top both weeks of Chatt after dressage, which is NOT a place we typically are, we have always tended to land solidly in the bottom third of the field. Plus he improved from week 1 to week 2. I really feel like we’re on to something with this and for the first time I think maybe, just maybe, he’s finally starting to get this sandbox thing. Maybe?
Sorry about the radio silence on Friday. I really really hate trying to write blog posts on my phone and by Friday I just Could Not deal anymore. Apparently I don’t skip days very much, since I had several people message me and ask if I was okay. Ha!
And I definitely have a whole lot to recap from the past few days, and the show, and all that stuff. Buuuuut as I type it’s midnight on Sunday and I’m in the backseat of a truck somewhere in the middle of Louisiana, and of course that means I’m still limited to my phone for writing posts. For my sanity, the real recaps can wait.
Mostly I just want to say that my horse was so spectacular these past couple weeks and I couldn’t possibly be more proud of him. My heart almost can’t handle how fantastic he is. He’s not perfect, I’m not perfect, but he’s my wildest dream come true. That horse tried his little heart out for me both weekends, and I can’t ask for more than that. He is a quirky little weirdo but I wouldn’t trade him for all the tea in China. How I got lucky enough to stumble onto this horse, I have no idea.
Chatt Hills was also really fantastic. The barns are incredible, the footing is lovely, and the courses – both stadium and XC – were challenging. It was 100% worth the trip and I’m so glad that I decided to go, even if it was pretty spur of the moment and a little last minute. The venue is top notch, Georgia was beautiful, and the weather this past weekend was phenomenal.
The second weekend also drew a lot of vendors since it was Area 3 Championships, and I got to meet a few people from companies I knew through Instagram. Everyone was so nice and great to talk to. I can’t wait to share a couple of these great small businesses with you guys. Also, shout out to the $2 snow cone vendor. They’re the real MVP of the show series.
I learned so much that I can’t even wrap my head around all of it right now. About my horse, about myself, about riding, about showing, and yeah… even about life. There’s always more to learn and more perspective to gain. The group that we went with really pulled together and rallied, and it felt like a genuine team effort in every regard.
I feel pretty lucky to have had the opportunity to go, to own the horse that I do, and to be able to make these memories. Is this even real life? It was a great time and I can’t wait to do it all again next year (although I admit my vote would be for Coconino again). But for now, Henry gets to go home and enjoy an extremely well-earned summer vacation.
After the show ended on Sunday we packed all our stuff up and headed back to “base camp” a couple hours away in Alabama. That way the horses could get turned out, the humans could get a little R&R, and we could do some schooling before heading back to Chatt Hills for week 2.
And what have we been up to since then? A lot.
Monday was your typical post horse show day of errands and laundry. The horses got turned out immediately when we got home on Sunday and stayed out until early Monday morning. They seemed happy and refreshed. I got to work washing all the saddle pads from the weekend in the barn’s washer and dryer, and getting all that red Georgia clay out of my XC boots.
Then I ran some errands, including a trip to the real fancy Walmart in Leeds, Alabama. If you have never been to a Walmart in a small town in Alabama, I highly recommend. It’s everything you would expect it to be. 10/10, must see.
Due to the possibility of someone coming to pick up the jumps that were in the ring, we moved our jumping day up and did some grid work on Tuesday. We set up a crossrail, one stride to vertical, one stride to oxer, and then a small plank 2 bending strides to the left of the oxer and a small plank 2 bending strides to the right of the oxer. You had to think fast, have good body control, and slow the feet down a bit. This was a good exercise for pretty much all the horses.
The only real casualty of the day was my finger, which got a plank dropped on it while we were setting jumps. It doesn’t hurt enough to be broken, it’s just swollen and kinda funky-looking. I rubbed some dirt in it, it’s fine.
Yesterday morning I got woken up at 3am by flashes of lightning and distant rumbles of thunder. Sound familiar? Yeah I pretty much had a repeat of last week’s warrior dash, just a new middle-of-the-night version. I’m getting pretty good at dragging lots of horses up the hill to the barn at once. Seriously Alabama, we aren’t friends anymore. There was a 5% chance of rain overnight. FIVE. I released a lot of expletives when I opened my radar app.
After a change of clothes (because I was literally soaked through with sweat) I managed to get back to bed for a couple more hours of sleep before getting up to feed the horses. Once everyone else showed up we all hopped on for a quick dressage school, then headed out for a trail ride over the mountain. We went up, we went down, we went through, we went under… it was legit. We’re definitely not in Texas anymore!
Today we’re doing more intensive dressage rides and running through our tests, then tomorrow morning we head back to Chatt to do the whole thing over again.
I could really get into this whole adult summer camp thing that I’ve got going on here. I’ve got my pony, I’ve got some books… all I’m really missing are the s’mores.
And Presto of course. But the barn worker sent me a video of him the other day and said he’s doing just fine. I’m sure I miss him way more than he misses me.
I wish I could say that, after sitting in 3rd place over night, Henry and I came into showjumping and found some glory. But, uh… that’s not what happened. Because I’m dumb and make poor decisions. Not Henry’s fault at all, it was 110% rider error and I legit tried to kill us both. Sigh.
I was really freakin determined to go in there and focus and ride the plan. I went over it in my head, stride by stride, several times, and I wasn’t feeling particularly nervous or anything. And honestly, for the most part I actually DID execute that plan pretty well and keep thinking my way through it. Exceeeept to 4ab, a double coming diagonally through the middle of the ring.
We warmed up well, which was an encouraging start. Sometimes I go full-on dingbat in stadium warmup. We got in the ring, picked up the canter, and I had a good pace pretty much right off the bat. I was encouraged. The course started with basically a rollback from 1 to 2, which was a little tricky but a good opportunity for redemption after my mistake 2 weeks ago at Meadowcreek where I pulled through the turn to the rollback and had a rail. This time I did NOT pull, but kept my leg on, moved up out of the turn, and the first vertical, then oxer to vertical bending line all came up nicely.
And then… well. I lost my stirrup through the turn to 4, and instead of just rolling with it and focusing on the double, I focused on fishing wildly for the stirrup. Henry ended up crooked and behind my leg, I missed the distance to the oxer spectacularly because of it, and he rightfully slammed on the brakes rather than trying to climb his way through the double like that. I don’t blame him one bit, it was the right choice.
What was I thinking? I don’t really know. As soon as I lost that thing I had a flash vision of trying to ride through the double with one stirrup and landing on my face, so I guess I just froze and did nothing. Which, ya know… always works so well (heavy sarcasm here, clearly). I know without a doubt that I could have kicked on, jumped through without it, and it would have been fine. I do that all the time. It’s no big deal. But in the moment I just… chose poorly. Really poorly.
We circled back around and this time I rode the oxer like I was SUPPOSED TO and it was fine. He did have a rail at the vertical coming out, probably because I was riding a little defensively after the stop. It doesn’t take much for him to have a rail.
After that, the rest of the course rode according to plan. Well ok, Henry did trip spectacularly on the landing side of 5, but he got his feet back under him and we carried on down the bending line to 6 like it never happened. And he jumped the poop out of that oxer, for good measure.
Honestly, after 4ab he jumped everything really well. The outside line of oxers, the plank, and the last double were all super. If not for my idiot mistake at 4, it would have been one of our best rounds ever. He felt great, and I rode the rest of it just the way I’d planned.
So, while I absolutely did bungle that thing for myself, I wasn’t as disappointed as I could have been. Yes, I definitely have to make better decisions in the heat of the moment, and I have to recover more quickly. Henry was great, it’s his pilot that needs to step it up. I feel like I finally did a good job with the rest of it though, much better than I’ve been doing, at least. Now to just take the dumb mistakes out. Maybe this weekend I can finally put it all together?