The USEA is following along with Cortney McDaniel and her horse, Charlotte the eventing Clydesdale, on their journey to compete at the Novice Three-Day USEA Classic Series Event at The Event at Rebecca Farm. Click here to catch up on her first installment!
Prepping for our road to Rebecca Farm has been busy indeed! Charlotte and I have kept up on our fitness plan, well actually she has kept up on it. I on the other hand have been slacking on my own personal fitness. It’s very difficult to find a place for myself on top of prepping, work, and family life. My schedule includes 10-12 hours as a 911 dispatcher, then a few hours at the barn maintaining Charlotte's fitness levels, then home to walk my dogs and sleep – repeat!
Along with our busy week we have been even busier with an abundance of schooling opportunities and then off to our very first recognized event of the season. Schooling opportunities are a great way to try out different ideas and tactics, see what works, than implement them at the next show. I have teamed up with my outstanding trainer and knowledgeable veterinarian to strategize the best way to bring a Clydesdale through the Novice level successfully.
"One, two, three, four . . . Staying alive!" Photo courtesy of Cortney McDaniel.
We started the season with our extremely helpful Hawley Bennett clinic, which was mentioned in my last blog post. All the new tools we learned were then tested out at the various schooling shows, derbies, and outings for the next few months. Our goal was to take the new information and sharpen our skills to become a more confident team. And we did just that. Our trainers can tell us something a hundred times and we feel that we are doing just that thing, however they see something different. Sometimes it takes an outside opinion and a slight change of wording to fully understand what you have been taught time and time again. Take the rhythm of the canter for example. I was struggling with seeing a distance and if I did see a distance I would struggle with how to complete that task and jump successfully. Charlotte is a huge horse to maintain through a course and I do not have a lot of time for error. It takes great strength, dedication, and practice to implement a new skill we learn. At the Hawley Bennett clinic, one of the huge take aways from the clinic was the importance of your canter rhythm and staying straight after the fence. Trust me, I have heard my trainer Jenny tell me the same thing over and over, but it did not start to form in my mind until Hawley suggested counting. If you listen closely to our jump rounds you will hear me continuedly counting, "One, two, three, four...one, two, three, four," to the same rhythm of the song “staying alive” which is the same counting and rhythm we use as a 911 dispatcher while giving CPR instructions over the phone. The calming nature of counting throughout my jump rounds has started us off to a great start!
Jenny continued to remind us in our lessons about our counting and the importance of maintaining a rhythmic canter. We brought the new skill with us to our very first schooling show of the year at Donida Farm. An outstanding and beautiful event was organized at Donida Farm to prepare eventers in the area for the upcoming show season. Charlotte and I signed up for Novice dressage both days and a jump rouns at Beginner Novice and Novice. After a very successful weekend with dressage score of 29.4 and 30.9 along with educational stadium jump rounds we placed fourth and fifth. We even scored closest to optimum time on the first day. Always gathering more tools for the tool box, we signed up for our first Novice Derby at the lovely Aspen Farms in Yelm, Washington.
It's always nice to drive home with a ribbon or two hanging from the rear-view mirror! Photo courtesy of Cortney McDaniel.
Charlotte and I entered into both Aspen Derbies which included stadium jumps with a few cross-country obstacles. I noticed that walking our course the jumps look huge! I remember thinking to myself, "I don’t know if I can do this." Finding the strength and maintaining that canter played a huge role in our success at both derbies. We cantered up to that “scary” fence and I could feel the partnership between myself and Charlotte. I helped maintain that canter, set her up for success, and she bravely jumped the table with ease. After that moment of clarity, I knew that this is what Charlotte wanted to do. She absolutely loved the challenge, questions, and height of the Novice courses and we were well on a great path to our first recognized event of the season.
Between the derbies and our first event, Jenny did exceptional job of making sure we were prepared for our first Novice event. Each week we continued Charlotte's fitness plan and added in cross-country schooling at various locations to practice our skills, build confidence, and get her used to being away from the barn. Charlotte travelled to a plethora of facilities to gain mileage before our long trek to Spokane Sport Horse Farms Horse Trials. One of the challenges in our horse world and working full time in a different career is balance. I worked three 12-hour shifts that week leading up to the show, then when I was off at 11:00 a.m. I raced to a graduation three hours away to support my largest supporter in life. I then had enough time to get home, pack, and nap for four hours after being awake for over 27 hours, and we were finally loading the horses in the trailer and setting on our road to the Spokane Sport Horse Farm Horse Trials. I would not trade my crazy busy life for anything!
Flying over a Novice fence with ease at the Aspen Farm Derbies. Photo courtesy of Cortney McDaniel.
There is no greater feeling than the barn family packed in the truck, trailering Charlotte to her Novice debut at the Spokane Sport Horse Farm Horse Trials. I was extremely nervous and excited while I went over my dressage test, double checking I remembered everything, and making a plan for the upcoming weekend. Upon arriving on the grounds, horses settled in and camp set up, we hacked the horses and did a small jump school round before tucking them into bed for the night.
The butterflies of pulling on your white breeches in the morning and taking the extra time to braid Charlotte’s mane really gets you excited for Dressage day. The night before I had taken the time clean and whiten Charlotte’s signature Clydesdale feathered feet, and upon getting to her stall in the morning I realized the ground was dusty, resulting in black feathers! After the initial shock I dug out the box of corn starch I keep in her trunk and went to work whitening again. The show life hacks you pick up along the way are always there to help you. Her mane is also a struggle, no matter how many times I pull it or thin it I still need to do yarn braids. I personally love the look of them, but I might be a bit biased considering the only time I tried to use rubber bands I had 10-15 rubber bands in each braid and with only one stretch of her neck Charlotte pulled most of them out. Show coat on, tack polished, bit check and warm up ready we started our test at “A”. I implemented our strengths in the dressage test and tried to play off any weaknesses, including the part when I almost forgot where we were going! Leaving the ring, we scored a 31.1 with room for improvement but starting the weekend off strong.
All dolled up for dressage. Photo courtesy of Cortney McDaniel.
Saturday we were up extremely early for our cross-country round at 7:50 in the morning. With a time as early as that you don’t have nearly enough time to get as nervous. I took what time I had to walk the course again, gather my thoughts and form a strategic plan on a challenging and hilly course. Jenny’s advice of, “no need to risk breaking the horse on the first event,” stuck with me. As we headed out of the box and up to the first fence, you bet I was counting to 4 and maintaining my rhythm. I took my time reserving Charlotte's energy, counting out load and whispering encouragements as we continued through the course. One of Charlotte’s weaknesses is water obstacles. A bit hesitant at first, with a little extra encouragement we were making our way through the first water and soaring over the jumps. Approaching our second incline about half way through the course I decided to let Charlotte open up a bit more. Making our way through the 12AB combination, in between some tricky trees down over our ditch we were heading to the second water and the last three jumps of the course. Charlotte felt fantastic and full of energy, leaping into the water with ease and over the last fence with so much gas left in the tank. That feeling of all our endurance and hard work paying off was such a relief. We ended the day with an additional 10 time faults added to our dressage score. I was not in the least bit disappointed, I took the time to make sure we approached each fence in the best way possible. Always setting Charlotte up for success and in the end building on her confidence is my number one goal. I left the field knowing with how difficult that course was for our very first Novice move up, she still had energy to keep going.
On cross-country at the Spokane Sport Horse Farm Horse Trials. Photo courtesy of Cortney McDaniel.
The last day of competition is always the hardest. We rode late in the day, during the warm eastern Washington sun. Show jumping is our stronger day, we practice at home at least once a week and Charlotte enjoys the technicalities of the course. With feathers whitened, stock tie pinned, and show coat buttoned we sauntered off to complete our successful weekend. As we waited our turn, watching the competition ahead of us, learning from their rounds, I noticed multiple riders missing jump 8. That particular jump was a bending line off a combination and very easy to forget. Entering the ring, locking in on our first jump, and of course maintaining that canter with our counting we set out on our first Novice show jumping round at a recognized event. Coming around the corner to the combination I was determined to remember jump 8, unfortunately resulting in a short approach we pulled the top rail of the B element of the combination. Lesson of the day: jump one jump at a time. I knew the moment I came out of the corner and heard that rail fall to the ground. No time penalties this round with 4 added jump penalties, ending our Novice level debut on a 45.7.
Words cannot explain how proud I am of Charlotte. She has a heart of gold and the partnership we share is unstoppable. We went into the weekend with the goals to build on Charlotte's confidence, gain Novice level experience, practice and adjust our tools while having fun and enjoying our time, gaining courage and skills on our road to Rebecca Farm. Charlotte and I would not be on this journey without the continued support of our friends and family. From our coach to our teammates and horse friends with the pep talks and encouragement, I am extremely blessed by the outpour of support. Spokane Sport Horse Farm was a blast, but also a learning opportunity on how best to implement our skills. With one successful recognized event done, we are looking forward to the next three qualifiers on our Road to Rebecca Farm. Gearing up for our next event, armed with new ideas and tools, we are excited to be with our horse family and complete another successful Novice event.
Can’t wait for the next installment? Follow along with Charlotte and Cortney on their blog!