This weekend (and all eventing weekends) are such a mental game.
Its taken me awhile to get here, and I'm sure it will ebb and flo, but you have to be absolutely, completely and totally 100% sure when you come out of the start box that you ARE GOING TO MAKE IT AROUND. And no one can make that happen except for you. (In the words of a different coach who I've met once and is stuck with me by proxy!)
I can tell you the first time I felt this was at Chatt Hills on Ari. I had an incredible warmup and I was READY when they counted me down. And we went out and we succeeded!
I was a little "hohum" when I came out of the start box on Brandy at Poplar. After all, it was Brandy. And it was NOVICE. And we were "so. ready." for training... I wasn't worried. And I landed on my head in a ditch. In some ways, that may have been the best thing that ever happened to me because it made me realize I have to ride every horse, every jump, every time, right off their feet. Fortunately for me, Brandy is pretty agreeable and when I give her a good ride, she gives me a great response. I will be interested to see how this translates over to Ari when he's going again.
At Maydaze, I was going to make it around. I wasn't going to fall off. The last two events, I've been wide awake at about 4:30 in the morning thinking through my course. No, it's not healthy, but it is what it is. I spend the time I'm laying awake visualizing a PERFECT jump through whatever it is that bothers me. I have to. Then when I get there, going 350 mpm or 420 mpm or whatever, I've already ridden every stride over and over to where it has become second nature.
This time, Midsouth, I was Going To Make Time. I know I've mentioned before that I have the greatest coach ever, but I think she has more sports psychology techniques than I've even began to understand. Either that or she's just tricky. We were chatting about making time and she said something like "That horse can gallop at 420mpm. You can maybe have 10 time penalties, that would be okay. But not a minute over like last time." Well, the weather was nice, my perchie is fit and by God, I know what 420 feels like, so I was headed out there to MAKE TIME.
Megan and I talked about wheeling the course but I just wasn't sure I wanted one more thing to worry about, so I didn't. I made time. Optimum was 5:15 and we swung through the flags at 4:54. It appears that this course was easy to make time on, so I don't want to get too excited, but when you start eventing a draft cross, you live with the thought that making time is maybe not always going to happen. Well, it did, this time! The other thing that made me want to make time is that we've discussed Brandy going Prelim and "time" is always one of the factors. My feeling is that if she can consistently make time at T, Prelim time is more in the realm of possibility. Is this true? I dunno... but if it helps me to make it around in time, I'll go with it.
So anyway, after I made time on XC (yay!) and moved from 7th after dressage to 5th, I wanted more than ANYTHING to jump clean stadium. I always assume I'm going to have a rail because I'm just not that good 100% of the time. Of all the rails I've had, I would say I can think of 2 that haven't been (blatantly) my fault. I'm sure they WERE, just not because I jumped ahead or put them at some ridiculous distance or galloped at it with no balance. Anyway, I had tunnel vision going into stadium. We had an AWESOME warmup. Brandy was "on" and it was all just there. I knew my course, it was twisty and the ring was small and that favors Brandy's way of going- all the turns would help her sit up and have to listen. The small ring is great for a small, catty mare like her and the questions would encourage her responsiveness. Brandy is really good at tapping rails with her front and back feet and leaving them up- if she is going to take one out, its generally because she absolutely chests it. So, she tapped maybe the fourth fence and it just made me more determined.
Big names will always talk about how "time slows down" in stadium and I felt it happen. I had time to change the balance, change my position, ride forward, balance, leg on, WAIT and I didn't give up till we landed off the last fence, double CLEAR! I can't think of a time I've been more excited. Going double clear will ALWAYS be exciting for me. It seems that it happens so rarely but I hope it starts happening more. And I think its all about being "in the game" before you go in the ring. Riding every last step. Not giving up or just being passive or accepting a rail or two.
The other thing happened twice this weekend- once in each jump warmup. We have to do a very strategic warmup for Brandy, because she doesn't wait around well. She either has to be stopped or is doing something that wastes energy. There is no passive walking. So usually, about 10 minutes out from my time, we start jumping and jump straight through. Then I stop, catch my breath, talk last minute tips with Amy, check girth, get a drink and then when I have two people in front of me, Amy says "Get your canter, and go jump that vertical/house/ramp/oxer again." I half heartedly pick up a canter that feels loosely related to the driving, balanced, forward, full of energy canter that I'd had previously and lope to the afore mentioned fence, thinking I'm going to get there just right. And then we trip over it or knock it over or I jump ahead or we have a stupidly short distance or something. Then Amy says "Now GET YOUR CANTER and do it again." and then I realize I suck, I'm never going to make it around, my horses put up with an ape on their back and grit my teeth, get the canter, have a great fence and go "I DON'T SUCK, I will NOT let my horse down and now I'm READY!" and off I go.
So, this weekend Brandy and I both had our head in the game and had a stellar weekend. A fifth place finish on our dressage score in the open division. Our XC felt just about perfect and we jumped some of the biggest jumps I've ever jumped in my whole life. Like this one:
Which, you'll notice, had an OPTION for training. Which was a log. And I'm pretty sure I was told that I WOULD jump the brush. And if I had a run out, I would attempt it again. So, no option for me! It rode well, Brandy cruised right to the base, hunkered down and looked at it hard and went "poing!" and jumped way up and over.
Also, this giant grey table.
Photographers don't have pics up yet, but the ones I saw weren't all that great, which is disappointing, because I don't have much proof of how awesome our weekend was, besides the pretty pink ribbon holding its place of honor on my blinds.
Ari's injury turned out to be a GIANT abscess. I don't know who was more surprised, me or Dr. Peters, when he pulled the first nail and it popped through. Lest I hear "you couldn't figure that out on your own?!" one more time, the scope of this abscess was pretty impressive and we ended up xraying the foot to make sure it was all we were dealing with as it had the potential to have compromised his coffin joint. If you want all the nitty gritty details, I'll be glad to fill you in, but suffice it to say, this wasn't a normal "oops, Ari got a bit of sand in his tootsie!" abscess.
Fortunately, my farrier works with Dr. Peters and they were on the same page with how to treat the hole in his foot. He is currently cleared to go back out and back to work as soon as it dries out, which will hopefully be tomorrow morning. Ari has been a trooper in the stall all week. I just found yesterday that the natural calming supplement "Vita-calm" has a really good effect on him (it's tryptophan based, so basically he's in a turkey-coma.) and he's been on that the last two days to keep him from spinning in his stall. We're all much happier this way.
And here's the champ herself, observing XC after she was done for the day. I'm pretty sure she was saying something to the effect of "I did better than that. Amateurs."