Monday, October 20, 2014

Kelly's Ford Strikes Again or Fox Finds His Inner Crazy

I'm pretty sure that I don't ever want to go to Kelly's Ford again. Don't get me wrong it's a beautiful venue, a lovely slightly rolling XC course, stabling on-site, food on-site but for me Kelly's Ford will always make me feel sad and disappointed.

It all started with an email.  Thursday morning as I was enjoying breakfast with my house guests (Superhubs Dad and Brother came to visit) I received an email from Kelly's Ford reminding everyone that the Intro Division would be doing USDF Intro Test C. This is where I start to panic.  Fox and I have cantered yes, was it pretty? Nope.  Was it presentable to the public? Ermm no.  Would I even be able to get him to canter starting it on a circle? I doubted it.  But we had a lesson that day with our new coach K. and this was one of the things we wanted to work on.  Our canter departs were super ugly.

Later that day I loaded the wonder pony and we trekked the hour west to our coach's training barn where she had a lovely dressage arena with footing and a covered arena for inclement weather.  The first part of the lesson went great. I actually got Fox on the bit for the first time and working through his back. The second half went not so wonderful.  Our first attempts at cantering were....hmmm explosive.  There was bucking, yanking and several attempts to take off with me. Bad pony.

After a couple of less explosive attempts we let the matter rest and practiced the test.  It wasn't fantastic. At this point I was really wondering if I should just stay home.  I should have listened to that inner voice but no. Like an idiot I ignored my inner sanity.

The next day was departure day. Was I packed ? Not quite and I had an errand to run in town as well as the Farrier Fairy coming to do Seneca and Cowboy's hooves.  Needless to say I left way later than I would have liked, got stuck in awful traffic no less than three times but finally made it to Kelly's Ford around 8pm.  A friend helped me get Fox settled and he commenced to munching hay while my friend and I walked over to the pub on KF's property for dinner. 

The next morning dawned clear and I went about feeding Fox, cleaning his stall, and checking in with the coordinators before begining to walk my XC course.  Everything on course looked doable until I got to the first jump after the water crossing.  Jump number 9 was a big black bench that just intimidated the hell out of me.  That was until I saw the stadium course.  Mind you we are in the 18 inch Intro Division but the course remained the same for all the levels.  It was a twisty turny course that was basically two figure eights entwined.  Which included at fence 2 an option to do what was a triple for the higher levels but surely would be an oxer for us or you could jump the up-bank, jump the vertical and then jump down the bank again.  I was thinking the oxer option but that wasn't the scariest thing on course.

No, no that was undeniably fence 4.  It was a hill, oh yes my little eventers, a hill in the show jumping arena with a vertical at the crest. Which was included on every single course for all divisions.  Seriously? For the Intro and Starter Divisions?

But alas all my anxiety about the big bench on XC and the hill on the stadium course were unfounded because we weren't even going to get that far.  After walking the courses a few times I went back to stabling, moved all my tack/gear up to the barn next to Fox's stall then grabbed my camera and went to take photos of a couple of friends who were also riding that day.  But time flew and soon it was time to go back to stabling to get ready for dressage.

I changed in to my show clothes, dawning the lovely coat I hadn't ever gotten a chance to wear with the High Queen and then went to sit in stabling until it was time to tack up.  I had to admit my pony looked lovely all braided and clean.  I'd never braided him before and hadn't really intended to for the Intro division but I figured why not?  Then it was time to tack up.  At this point I had no hint whatsoever what was in store for me.  Fox was his usual mellow self and when I threw a leg over in the barn and headed out I was optomistic. And that is pretty much the last happy moment we had.

It could have been the sheer amount of horses moving about in the dressage warm-up. It could have been the XC/SJ warm-up right next door with its speeding horses. It could have been his routine being messed up. It could have been half a dozen things.  But the moment Fox saw the dressage warm-up he lost his marbles and never got them back.

He was tense, nervous and didn't know what to do with himself.  He yanked at the bit even when my hands were soft and loose, he jigged, he sidled, he spun, he shied, he tried to take off with me a couple of times.  In other words Psycho Pony made an appearance.  I was totally taken aback because other than a moment or two once in a long while he'd never been this upset ever.

But instead of withdrawing I had to make sure I felt the full brunt of shame and embarassment. We tried to do the dressage test but it was ugly. He yanked and was generally disobedient the whole time.  I didn't dare canter for fear he'd really run off with me.  I think in the back of my head I thought if I could get through the test and get him jumping a little that he would settle down. But three quarters of the way through the test I decided enough was enough and I retired.  I made it back to the dressage warm-up and finally after another five minutes got Fox to pause long enough for me to dismount.

Walking him back wasn't much better. He jigged, yanked and basically acted like a deranged donkey the whole way.  Until we got back to his stall where he promptly settled down again.  I think I hated him just a little right then.  I untacked him, hosed off all his flop sweat, threw his cooler on him and released him in to his stall. Where he promptly rolled four times before getting up and coming over to me where he put his head against my chest in contrition.  I sighed, hugged him and told him it wasn't his fault then proceeded to pack up to go home.

It was the worst weekend I'd had in a long while and I'm still not really recovered. I still feel sad, depressed and overall unhappy. Not at Fox he just had a bad day. But at myself. I knew when I saw that the test for Intro was the C test that I should have scratched but no like an obstinate child I had to keep shoving forward. I don't know what's next for us except a lot of lessons with K. and maybe have her do some training rides on Fox to smooth out his understanding of the canter.  There is a last HT the weekend before Thanksgiving in November. Do I want to go? I don't even know at this point. I'm sad and tired and discouraged.  So I'm leaving any further plans in the back of my head to be looked at once I've worked myself out of this funk.

Keep it between the flags everyone.


  1. I know exactly how you feel. I've taken a very prolonged break from my own horse for these reasons alone. It's hard, really hard. And I have no real advice to share because I'm still trying to work out of it as well. Many hugs and thoughts sent your way.

    1. The sad thing was I've taken him lots of places this past spring/summer/fall. It's not like it was his first outting. It wasn't even his first overnight event. We had to overnight in June when we went to the Dom Schramm clinic. And he's been places where there was lots of stuff going on and he was a total plow horse every single time. I really wish he could talk and tell me what happened. Was it my fault? Should I have taken him down to the venue earlier in the morning so he could look at everything? Should I have ridden him early, put him away, then taken him out again? Should I have opted to trailer up that day since our dressage test didn't start until 2pm? These are things that continue to circle in my head because I just don't understand what happened. But thanks for the commiseration it helps that I'm not the only one with pony problems.

  2. Hugs of much sympathy to you!! Don't feel alone and don't beat yourself up too much (coming from someone who is a pro at that, so I get it!).

    I could tell you about the one time I got to ride with Jimmy Wofford in a clinic & Solo, my calm, wonderful QH became a bolting, bucking, out of control demon for no reason whatsoever. He refused a crossrail. W.T.F. He was schooling 2'3" with no issues at the time.

    Or how I asked for canter in the middle of a CT dressage test when Solo was at Training (evening T, i.e. supposedly shouldn't have an issue with this simple request) and just to make sure I hadn't forgotten that he hates dressage, at the cue he randomly leaped into the air with all four feet, came down bucking and cross cantered 3/4 of the circle, before he did a flying change to the correct lead. And then proceeded as if nothing happened. :/ At least I knew him well enough at that point that he was just being Solo & the worst thing I could do was fight him, so I just sat there until he was done, but geez, that was embarrassing.

    I can't count the number of times I stomped back from the dressage arena in tears of fury with him (and I am NOT competitive or anything like that). He NEVER did well in the CHP dressage arenas, for some reason, no matter how many times he'd been there or how good he was feeling, as soon as we entered at A, he suddenly forgot everything.

    Oh, but the dressage test in a grass arena in the middle of the XC course where he got so hyped in warmup b/c he thought it was XC time & I wondered if I'd survive our test? Yeah, entered at A, clicked in, and got the best score of his life.

    Horses. They just have days. It's a hard thing to accept, and there are so many things we can't control. We all get upset at the time. With experience, I've gotten better at remembering the big picture and the long game and chalk it up to a bad day. You did the right thing for you AND your horse by retiring. I learned the hard way what happens if you ignore the screaming red flags (see Va HT 2011, snif) and keep on going.

    Horses exist to both fill our hearts & break them, I'm convinced by now! And no one is immune, I've watched more than one horse rear & flip out on centerline at Rolex over the years...and then go on to win a few months later. So you are in good and numerous company!!

  3. "things" happen, don't worry, it will get better. Don't beat yourself up - have faith in yourself and your red pony!
    I enjoy reading your blog. I too am trying to become an eventer

  4. Thanks guys. As the week has worn on some of the sludge of disappointment and shame has rubbed off. I think it was the surprise of it coming from Fox that made it feel so much worse. Because believe me I was always ready for a walk of shame, a fight to enter the arena, a refusal at a six inch log or a crazy beast who could never be left standing at the trailer, EVER with the High Queen. With her I was always aware that Dr. Jekyl or Mrs. Hyde might be stepping off that trailer and was prepared for either. Fox never seemed to have a "Crazy" button so when he clicked it last Saturday I was completely unprepared. Thanks for helping me feel better though.

  5. Everyone has days like that, out of the blue and uncharacteristic of our ponies.

    The last time I overrode my inner good sense when my horse was flipping out, I ended up with a broken arm. (and I hadn't even mounted up yet!)

    A very wise friend of mine is prone to say - good news, bad news - too soon to tell. Who knows what might have happened if you had not retired. At least you lived to ride another day! ;D