When we first pulled in to Copper it was dark so from the road we could vaguely make out what we assumed was the cross country field. We had heard it was all packed into one field, and could definitely see lots of dark shapes which we assumed were jumps, but nothing could prepare us for the magnitude of seeing it in the daylight and what they actually had there. All of the cross country were in a smallish field, but holy cow there were so many jumps and such a variety, everything was gorgeous and in good repair and decorated beautifully. There wasn't much variation in the terrain but you bet they utilized fully every single bit of slope or hill they had! There were massive rocks jutting out of the landscape, all throughout the course, it was so cool. I was very impressed!
We scoped out our prelim course first thing Thursday morning and were SO EXCITED. Just one of those courses that you walked and were super excited to ride because it looked like SO MUCH FUN!! Lots of different questions and combinations and lines, definitely not a boring course by any means! Not unusually challenging or too technical for the level either, it looked like it was a good solid prelim with lots of variety that asked all the important questions for the level.
It was also my first time seeing REAL intermediate and advanced jumps in real life, and for some reason I had pictured all these massive impossible jumps and tricky lines, and I walked around looking at a lot of the stuff going "I could totally do this!!" Which is a very very cool feeling! A big realization I had down there is that the upper levels are definitely not out of reach!
We figured we would be ahead of the game and ride before the place got crazy busy, so Jenn and I hopped on and had a dressage school, they had the dressage rings open to ride in all day Thursday, which was very cool because I literally never get to just ride in an actual dressage ring! Had quite a good ride so was very happy with that. By the time we were done riding and had put the horses away it was all of 10:30am, perks of rising with the sun! So we headed into town, grabbed some Starbucks and picked up some groceries. We headed back and walked our course again as well as the intermediate course, then cleaned tack and braided for dressage in the morning!
I lucked our big time with my ride times being all in the mornings, as we checked out the forecast and it was supposed to be in the 30's (90F) all weekend! So definitely HOT HOT HOT for us poor Canadians coming from -25!!!
My dressage warm up started out ok, but the warm up ring was an absolute ZOO, and people were forever cutting you off or circling in front of you, or piling up in the corners causing you to slam on the brakes suddenly. You could hardly make a small circle by yourself without someone wandering in and forcing you to suddenly reroute. Needless to say it was not the most relaxing warm up and Sunny wasn't a fan. She kept getting more and more keyed up and finally I just let her walk around on a loose rein until we were called up for our test, figuring we'd just do what we could when we went in the ring.
Poor Sunny was so tense, and unlike a lot of horses that can manage to hold it together and work through things, she definitely just explodes. So she was fussy, crooked, and flailing her head about, and was breaking to the canter every 5 seconds. Most of the test alternated between, walking, cantering on the spot, or jigging. I had been a bit nervous about having to sit my test, but really, worrying about sitting the trot was really the least of my worries when I was in the ring!! I just did my best to stay quiet and ride her tantrums out and complete what we could of the movements as best we could without making things any worse than they already were. So our test was pretty much a disaster. But that's just how it goes sometimes, and we all know that's part of the package with Sunny!! Came out of the ring and went straight back into the warm up ring. Worked her for a bit longer until she did manage to calm down and relax a tiny bit, and then I made her stand in the far corner of the ring until she relaxed a bit more, before heading back to the stalls.
Not surprisingly, we had blown any hopes of a qualifying score at Copper with a pretty horrendous 56.8 (43.2%). But life goes on, you can only ride the horse you have under you that day. I picked up my test later expecting some passive aggressive comments from the judges about how I was horribly under prepared for this test or shouldn't be competing at this level (can you tell I've gotten some pretty horrendous feedback in the past? :P), but I was both relieved and surprised to find some very encouraging comments, including "Cute horse with lots of potential, but test today marred by unfortunate tenseness." Very refreshing for a judge to realize they were only seeing a small snippet in time, and what they saw in the ring may not necessarily be an example of the entire picture.
Jenn did her dressage in the afternoon on Friday, and it wasn't her best test either. A number of others were having rough dressage days as well, it being the first outing for the majority of the horses, so there was lots of sympathy going around!
The next morning we were up early to prep for cross country! Left enough time to head out to watch the Advanced and part of the Intermediate division, it was so cool finally being able to see that in real life! Very interesting to see all the different types of horses galloping around, the very efficient galloping machines vs the big moving uphill types!
Jenn and I had been kind of excited because we figured at the events down in California, with there being so many prelim riders, and us being in different divisions, we should be far enough apart that we could actually watch each other's cross country rounds. In Alberta we almost always end up back to back just because there are so few prelim riders. Joke was on us because our xc times were less than 10 mins apart at Copper!
Jenn headed out on course first, and had a fantastic run. Her boy Aloan is such an all star, just goes out and does his job, no fuss or excitement, and totally makes prelim look and feel like a casual hunter round. I wish Sunny could learn to channel a bit of that "get down to business" non silliness sometimes, haha. Jenn ended up clear with just a couple penalties for time, which she was very happy with.
Sunny came out of the start box breathing fire! Bolting and wiggly and she blasted over the first jump from a long spot and immediately drifted way left which was the opposite direction of where we were supposed to be headed, and I was like "We are NOT having a crazy party!" Lol. Got her back on track, she jumped huge over jump 2, hitting me in the chest with her wither. Then she settled a bit after that, I made her add a stride to jump 3 which was a big wide table, just to make sure she was listening. 4 & 5 rode alright, although we drifted left again on the way to 5 and were coming at it on an angle, and our only option was a huge long spot. Then we had a long gallop to 6 and Sunny felt that our speed was far too leisurely for her speed demon self and started tanking and yanking her head down hard on the bit every 3 strides trying to pull the reins out of my hands, which is why I sound like a crazy person saying "Hey!" in the video so much.
We did switch bits right before we came to California, she's now in a loose ring Waterford, which I actually really like, she can't just bear down and pull, but she still tries and it definitely frustrates her! Our rideability in general is always crap at the beginning of every season, but improves lots once we get going and do a couple events. No way to really speed things up with the weather and short summer we have up here unfortunately:P So will give this bit some time before deciding if I still want just a little more oomph.
6AB was two fences on a right angle to each other that walked a nice conservative bending 3 stride, I lined Sunny up and we did the more direct forward 2. Then around to 7, a big open air oxer, and then I thought for sure she would take a little peek and back off a bit at 8, the Weldon's Wall, but she was not impressed at all and loped over it quite lazily with a big canter stride. 9AB, she blasted off a bit over B and the water was next so I wanted to make sure I got her back in time since she had been strong and forward through the first part of the course. She surprised me and came right back, and in hindsight I should've just rode forward again from there, but I did nothing and she geared down again as we entered the water to approach 10. As soon as we got in the water I realized I didn't have enough horse to actually jump the jump, so Sunny kind of just petered out. Damn. That was 100% my fault:P
Circled around and approached again and she hopped over, and easily made the 4 strides to 11. Then we had a short gallop until 12 & 13 and Sunny started drifting left again thinking she knew better than me where we were going, but I got her sorted and over the next 2 nicely. Over 14, a table, and on to 15ABC, the second water. I definitely could have rode it better, we came in a bit too forward but Sunny jumped boldly over the trakehner into the water. I didn't help her out at all to B so we had a pretty awkward jump over it, which was a little vertical on a small mound, but I woke up and started riding on the way to C and had lovely jump out. 16, the pergola rode well. 17 was the coffin and Sunny was strong on the approach so we didn't come back as much as I'd wanted. It rode fine though, basically Sunny goes straight and sorts things out even when shit isn't perfect. 18AB was the only thing I had been a bit worried about, it was a big wide table set on a downhill, a bending line to a left facing corner. Again Sunny was strong over the table but I actually did what I was supposed to, gave a huge half halt and rode forward to the corner, which she jumped no problem, even though I was total overriding her and pulling her head to the right:P Felt bad immediately after because I just need to trust her like I used to, not be paranoid about the corners! Hopped over 19 and crossed the finish line. Jenn had waited with Aloan after she finished so she could see me go, perks of Copper is that you can stand almost anywhere and see pretty much the whole course!
We ended up with 20 penalties for our stop and a mess of time as well, but overall I was ok with our round, it being the first of the year. Sunny definitely felt like her old self again, bold and forward and full of running. Rideability left a lot to be desired, but that will come. The stop was 100% my fault and I had just rode forward I have no doubt she would have jumped it no problem first time around. She was dead honest and held her line to everything though and didn't think twice about the corner.
Fences 12 & 13.
Link to the professional photos: https://www.capturedmomentphoto.com/cgi-bin/store/imageFolio.cgi?direct=EQUESTRIAN/Horse_Trials_Combined_Training/Copper_Meadows_%28Ramona,CA%29/2014/March_14-16/Hard_Sun_%2861%29
Took the horses back to the stalls and they got a bath and liniment and we iced legs. Both Sunny and Aloan recovered fine, it wasn't too hot in the morning when we rode, thank god, and they both felt like they had plenty of gas on course so both Jenn and I breathed a big sigh of relief because fitness wise the horses came through great. That was a huge thing we had been worried about coming from Alberta winter down to immediately run prelim in California, getting them fit enough with only tiny indoor arenas available to us and the odd hack outside when the weather cooperated.
Spent the rest of the day wandering around and watching more cross country. It was so hot that weekend, I definitely burnt to a crisp immediately but coming straight from winter I couldn't get enough! Found myself a huge rock to perch on in the middle of the cross country field and watched the horses and riders go around, basking in the sun and warmth, reveling in the amazing atmosphere, and just the plain awesomeness of everything!! We hadn't even been in California for a week and I'd already decided that I never wanted to leave!
That night was the dinner and party. It was catered, we had amazing Mexican food, and they had free drinks and live band. They really went all out for the event! Since there was quite a few Albertans down, we all found each other and had a fun evening, just hanging out and chatting.
Sunday morning Jenn and I were both supposed to do stadium around 10:30am. We were up and 6 and went to take care of the horses and that's when the excitement started.
I pulled Sunny out of her stall for her morning hand walk and graze, and could immediately tell something wasn't right. Just walking I could tell her front feet were ouchy, the right more than the left. I trotted her a few steps and she had a major head bob, so I knew it wasn't just stiffness or something she might work out of in the warm up, because Sunny is usually the iron horse and is hardly ever never stiff or sore. I had already blown my potential qualifying score with our crappy dressage, so there was no question in my mind, I withdrew from stadium. Her legs looked fine, aside from some fill on her right ankle. Which is not exactly alarming, ever since last fall's cross country crash, she's had windpuffs on that ankle, but me being paranoid I thought maybe it was something else. So I told myself not to panic, she had probably just bruised her hooves on the hard rocky ground, we'd give her the royal treatment and see how she was in a day or so. We were planning to give the horses a couple days off anyways after the event, so not the end of the world. She got iced and linimented and wrapped and lots of out of the stall time on Sunday to stretch her legs a bit and nibble some grass.
Jenn pulled out a fantastic double clear stadium round and moved up to finish in 7th place. We spent the rest of the day pampering the horses and watching stadium and cross country.
Monday felt very weird for us because we didn't have to do anything!! We'd been run run running and busy every day for the week we'd been in California so far, so we took care of the horses in the morning, went to Starbucks to use wifi, and then decided we'd take a drive and go exploring for a few hours!
Our first stop was Mary's Tack in Del Mar, holy cow, what an amazing store!!! Definitely recommend stopping there to anyone who ends up in the area, it is very epic! So huge and they have an absolute amazing selection of everything. We just picked up a couple necessities, some Magic Cushion and vet wrap so I could pack Sunny's hooves to see if that helped any, as she had still been quite sore in the morning as well. Then we walked around the Del Mar Horse Park as it was right beside Mary's, and marvelled at the huge grass grand prix ring, all the different rings they had, and all the different trainers and lesson strings that operated out of that facility.
We drove over to the Del Mar racetrack, but it was still closed for the winter, so nothing interesting there. We realized we had ended up right by the beach so we found some parking, paid for an hour and went to check it out! We walked up and down the beach for a while, played with some random dogs (so many cute pitbulls, yay!), found some sea shells, and waded in a little bit. It was so beautiful, the waves were huge and the water was nowhere near as cold as I thought it was going to be!!! We hadn't planned on swimming or even going to the beach so we didn't come prepared, but we decided to come back the next day so we could check out a different spot, bring a towel and a change of clothes and swim!
Tuesday morning, Sunny was still ouchy, and her ankle was still a bit puffy, so more icing and wraps and another day off for her.
We headed back to Del Mar and went to Solana Beach for a couple hours. We wandered around and checked out some rocks and little tide pools. Then we kind of waded a bit, it wasn't the warmest day but we had kind of planned on going swimming. We probably spent a good hour out there, we went out as far as we felt was safe while still having lots of bottom to touch, and played in the huge waves and let the ocean slam us around a little, haha. The waves were pretty big that day, there were some surfers near us, and we could definitely feel how strong the undertow was, so we were careful to not get too far out or too far down the beach from where we started. It was incredible though, just being in the water and feeling the power of the ocean. I didn't want to get out!! Tweaked my knee a bit while in the ocean, I have the worst knees ever:P It felt ok at the time, but ended up being REALLY sore and stiff for 2 days, but then on the 3rd seemed pretty much back to normal. Which was perfect because I wasn't doing much riding anyways! We had an absolute blast in the ocean though!!
Wednesday we stuck around Ramona and checked out the tack and pet stores and did a little bit of local exploring. Sunny looked a little better so Jenn and I decided to get on a do a easy hack to just see how they felt. If anything I wanted to just sit on Sunny to see if I could tell if she was just ouchy "I've bruised my hooves" type sore, or ouchy "I've ruined a suspensory and my leg is going to fall off" sore:P The horses seemed very happy to be out about about! We hacked around the cross country field. Sunny seemed fine walking on grass or dirt, but she was extremely tender on the hard packed driveway and the gravel. Trotting she still felt really sore though, she was still mostly on her front right.
Caught the farrier out later that day, and he hoof tested Sunny. He definitely found some tenderness in her sole, but cut away a bit and didn't find any bruising. Said to keep packing her hooves and to let him know if I decided I wanted shoes or pads put on her, as he was out there almost every day anyways and would have no problem fitting me in.
That night Jenn had the idea to go find some of those firm foamy floor puzzle pieces so we could duct tape them onto Sunny's front hooves to see if that made a difference before I potentially wasted a bunch of money putting shoes on if the bruising wasn't actually the problem. So we found what we needed at K-Mart and on Thursday that was my project!
I was very happy to report that those silly foam pads definitely made Sunny very happy because she was WILD when I got on her! She was full of energy and silliness, bucking and bolting and spooking at nothing and carrying on like a big idiot, so I breathed a big sigh of relief! Rode her for a bit and then hacked for another good hour because I was going to need her to find a brain by Sunday, the combined training show!
Thursday night we decided to splurge and rent a hotel room for the night so we could shower and have a good sleep in a decent bed! We had a relaxing night, I uploaded some photos and videos, then we ordered pizza for supper.
On Friday, Sunny got front shoes and pads put on,
Saturday we watched James Atkinson teach some lessons and I finally was able to have a good solid ride with Sunny. Had a good dressage school and then went for a long hack around the cross country field again.
Sunday Jenn and I loaded Sunny up and headed a little ways out of town to the International Equestrian Centre, for their little combined training show. I had entered the training level combined test, which was the highest they offered, and was also doing an extra stadium round. I also arranged to do the prelim eventing test, just HC. I just wanted to get a bit more ring time in before heading down to Galway.
For the dressage tests Jenn braided Sunny and I wore my show coat and everything to make it as REAL as possible for Sunny, haha. She was a rock star for the first test, the training one, nice and relaxed, and we put in a good effort for 64%! Had a bit of a break before our prelim test, which went alright. No explosions this time, just some minor tenseness and I felt like I couldn't sit the trot worth a crap in the ring, so 59% for that, which was fine.
Jenn had offered me her jump saddle to ride in while we were down in California, even through it didn't really fit me properly since Jenn is an amazingly tall amazon, haha. I had been thinking that I should be maybe start looking at getting a new one, so we threw hers on and I warmed up and jumped the tiny X set for warm up and holy cow what a huge difference just over that little jump! My leg was able to stay right under me at the girth, instead of sliding around and throwing me off balance! Sunny was being quite good so I only jumped a few fences, then went in the ring. Went clear the first round for our combined test round, although Sunny was not really taking the little jumps seriously, she immediately woke up in the ring and was bombing around and was very strong but we worked it out. Our extra round was a little more relaxed, but we had one rail. Went to pick up my dressage tests after I'd sponged Sunny off and was surprised when the secretary handed me a blue ribbon for the training combined test! So that was kind of cool:)
Monday was my birthday!! Since Starbucks had somehow become our daily go-to in the mornings after we took care of the horses, my birthday was no different! Every single morning we sat outside at Starbucks, so even when it was 8am and chilly and raining, there I was in my shorts, we'd wipe off the chairs and sit on the patio! And sit there on our phones taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi, haha. I'm sure we looked like crazy people sitting out there not talking to each other for an hour every morning!
Managed to arrange a jump lesson with Taren that day as well! Sunny was surprisingly not that crazy, so we were able to get lots of good work in! Tried some different strategies to work with Sunny's exuberance and independence, and kind of letting her do her thing, then picking her up and putting her back together 3 or 4 strides before the fence really seemed to help. Did some fun angled lines, they had a 4 stride line in a combination that you were supposed to really compress and bend into a 5, and that was the one thing we just couldn't manage! Did just that line by itself at the end though, and got the 5! Coming back is hard for us, Sunny would rather just ride forward and leave one out, instead of actually sitting down and waiting and using herself, so that is a big thing we need to work on. Was lots of fun though, and Taren was great and very helpful! She said Sunny was a pretty cool horse:)
Jenn and I went out for supper for my birthday that night, I wanted sushi so we went to Da Tuna Shack, a little hole in the wall place right in Ramona, and it was AWESOME! I definitely recommend it!! Ate way too much food, we shared an amazing appy platter, and then I ordered a maki roll and sashimi, and Jenn got a non fishy maki roll and had a huge burger. Jenn took me out for ice cream later that night, I made an epic bowl at Cold Stone, cheesecake ice cream, cake batter ice cream, graham cracker crumbs, white chocolate chips, skor (heath) bar, and cookie dough, lol. It was so good! And I was so full I almost died, haha.
Stay tuned for the third and final installment! :)