photo by Diana Rowland

photo by Diana Rowland

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Win a FREE training session!

Kentucky Equine Research is having a contest - sign up for their great FREE newsletters on horse health and horse nutrition and be entered in a drawing for a FREE training session with me! My horse or yours, beginners or other disciplines are welcome!

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Understanding Harness

A very cool project by harnessmaker Barb Lee. 
Check it out!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sunday, Cones Day in Lipica

Sunday dawned sunny and clear. It was the best weather day yet during our trip to Lipica.

We rose early and headed to the barn to feed Cooper and check him over. All the US horses were jogged in hand in front of Michael, Chester and Lisa, the team vet. All looked good. You can't be too careful at this point. Anyone who did not pass the vet check before cones would be eliminated and their scores would not count for the team score. Sometimes the ponies get stiff standing in their stalls overnight and it just takes some walking to get them loosened up.

We groomed Cooper and I braided him. Braiding is so calming and soothing to me, I find it very relaxing. It helps to clear my head and get me focused.

We got ready in our driving clothes and headed down to the arena to have our first look at the cones course. At 8 AM we were all allowed in to walk. The course was long with some twisty turns and some cones at odd angles. The footing was going to be the issue. It would be hard to go fast enough to make the time and at the same time avoid having the carriage slide into the cones.

Fran has been riding with me in cones to give more weight to the back of the carriage, the hope was to prevent fishtailing, or at least lessen it. Michael gave us our split times. The length of the course had been calculated and we had four split times to make. This meant that at specific cones I was to look at the clock and decide if I was on time, too fast or too slow, and adjust accordingly. We had been practicing this at all the shows so we were ready. It's not smart to go too fast - risking balls down, or too slow, causing time penalties. The plan was to use all the time available but not a second more.

We got Cooper ready and headed down to the open grass warmup. We had constant contact with Michael and Chester, and found that the cones runs were going faster than planned, so we had to scurry up to the first warmup ring.

Warmup was uneventful. Lisa viewed us all with a watchful eye. We started in the first warmup arena, then when we were on deck, moved to the small dressage ring just outside. Randy went just before us and had a clear round with just a few time penalties. That took the pressure off us for the team score, so I decided to go for it and give it our best shot. We entered the ring and saluted, then waited for the bell, then we were off!

Cooper was excellent throughout the course. He went exactly where I asked at the speed I asked. Between cones four and five, I felt the carriage slide, then it was on two wheels! Quite surprised, I backed off for a second, then back up to speed. We slid into one cone, and then the dreaded number 19 (a tight turn out of a corner) loomed. I drove the line I wanted but the carriage slid there as well and I was one of the many who took 19 out. I should have slowed down a bit. On to the finish, we were 3 seconds over. Although I wasn't happy about the cones down, I couldn't help but be very happy with Cooper. He was feeling good and did what I asked. Such a good pony!!

We got Cooper cooled out and settled in his stall, then headed up to the ring to watch Suzy, one of the last singles to go. She drove an aggressive round, to move up to fourth in the standings. We watched the rest of the class, where first placed Dennis Schneiders had several balls to move him down and Suzy up to third!! Very exciting!!

Chester and Michael watching cones

We watched as much of the rest of the cones between checking on Cooper and saw some great cones driving, as well as some tough runs. There was a lot of sliding throughout the day in all the classes, which made for lots of movement in the standings. Jennifer had a tough round, Wendy did better and so her score was used. Our team was in good position, now it was up to the fours to bring it home. Laurie had some problems, but Lisa Stroud had a super round to secure the bronze medal for the US.

Some of the many awards at Lipica  photo by Bettina Ruckelhaus

Now it was a rush to get all the ponies ready for the awards ceremony. We quickly got Cooper ready (I had taken his braids out so quickly rebraided him with red,white and blue yarn provided by Suzy) and went to our place in line along with the other individual and team medal winners. In no time we were entering under the arch into the area and lining up in our spot.

Victory lap

Jennifer with Chester



We watched proudly as Suzy was awarded her medal, and applauded all the individual medal winners. Soon it was our turn to leave our carriages and mount the podium. Dottie rode along with me and took the reins when I stepped down and made my way to the third step.
 The American flag was raised as we watched. Miss Slovenia came out along with Richard Nicoll from the FEI and other officials to give us flowers and our medals. One of the German team members fell off the top step as he struggled to see Miss Slovenia :).  The announcer mentioned that our team was all female, the German team all men, and the Dutch team  had both men and women. There was lots of waving, clapping and laughing and photo taking, then back to our carriages for the victory lap. 
Dottie, Shelly and Fran

Wow, it was finally over! Many months (really years) of preparation and training, of drivers and of horses, countless shows and trips, the help of many friends, family, students and sponsors had brought us to this point. The US team had not been a favorite for a medal. We had done our best and stayed tough as a team and brought home the bronze. Suzy had given her all and brought home the individual bronze. We did it!!!

Team Vet Lisa Casinella riding with Wendy

It wasn't quite over, though! Lots of packing now as the horses were leaving in the morning for Michael's, where they would get a rest until flying out on Thursday. We got everything ready and took the rest of the afternoon to load the trucks and trailers with all our equipment. Finally time to get some dinner and relax. There was a team dinner at the hotel restaurant where we had a chance to chill and have a glass of wine.

LIsa and Koos


Michael and Sonja finally have time to relax

The Captain and his crew :)

The Team Medal Winners
 Fran and Jeff had one more mission, though - to get two of the show posters for us to take home. They had scoped out the possibilities over the weekend and disappeared for a while, only to resurface with the two posters in hand.

No problem falling to sleep Sunday night, we slept like babies :). Up early once more to load the ponies on the trailer. Our plan was for Jacob to ride back to Michael's along with Taz (Jennifer's groom) and Andy(Wendy's groom), while we headed off for a few days of R & R with Lynn and Jeff. Jacob got plenty of international experience throughout the show, and the clean up and pack up was all part of it. Once at Michael's, all the equipment had to be unloaded and cleaned, all carriages had to be pressure washed. Everything would be inspected when it arrived in the US and if it wasn't clean, the USDA would not let it in without being cleaned by their personnel and billed to the owner. Thanks, Jacob!!

Fran and I say goodbye to Lipica

Jacob traveled along with Cooper and Josie to NY, where they were unloaded and whisked off to USDA quarantine station in Newburgh, NY. They would spend the next few days there until the results from their blood tests came back and they were cleared to leave. We had a load of Aiken ponies ride together, with Wendy's, Jennifer's and mine bonding further as they made their way home.

 Many, many thanks to Bettina Ruckelhaus and Marie de Ronde for the great photos and allowing me to use them for this blog. Thanks to all who supported me and all of us so we could make this journey and represent our country. Thank you most of all to Fran and to Cooper, who made it all worthwhile :)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Saturday, Marathon Day

Up early, still dark. Made our way to the stable and got ready. Singles were first, then pairs, then fours. We were off first, followed closely by Suzy, then Randy a bit later.

It was a beautiful cool morning with a breeze. It was supposed to get in the upper 70's during the afternoon.

Dottie, Lynn and Jeff and Jacob helped us get ready. It was easy to stay focused with all that help. Soon we were headed down to the start, and off on course.

Ready to head out on course, photo by Marie de Ronde

Some last minute words of encouragement from Chester,
photo by Marie de Ronde

Off we go! Photo by Marie de Ronde
 Cooper came in the vet check with a temperature of just over 100. He looked great and was barely breathing. Jacob and Dottie met us there, got water on Cooper and scraped it off. Dottie had searched high and low for ice, Cooper is not a drinker at the vet check but we learned this spring that he would eat ice (thanks, Sue Dougherty!). He was happy to see the ice and happy to have Dottie hand feed it to him :).

 After a quick briefing from Michael on how the hazards were going, we started on Section E. Michael told me that Hazard Two was getting deep in the turns to B, C and D.

The outer course was a busy place, with some drivers walking their ponies and some trotting. Soon we were in the first hazard, then on to the second, and before we knew it the marathon was over. Everything went pretty much according to plan, except in Hazard Three where I whizzed by my gap and had to make another loop into B. The water hazard was tight and slow as we had imagined it might be for us. Otherwise I think we worked our plan well. All our section times were right on.

Cooper, Shelly and Fran in the Water Hazard, photo by Marie de Ronde

More Cooper, by Marie de Ronde

Cooper going for the finish by Marie de Ronde
Interestingly at this event, there was a cool down section after the end of Section E. You went through the end of E, turned in your green card, then you started on a two Kilometer cool down section where you could walk or trot, your navigator could stay on or get off, and you could all relax. Once we finished this part, we pulled in to the vet check. Cooper looked terrific at the vet check. His temperature was almost normal and his breathing was. We finished with that and now the most exciting part - we had to unhook Cooper from the carriage, pull the carriage over to a crane and straps were attached to it so it could be lifted in the air and weighed! Hadn't seen that method before. Cooper seemed only mildly interested in the airborne carriage.  It landed back on earth, we hooked and drove back to the stable.

Once Cooper got settled, we went off to watch as much as possible. The day grew warmer and coats came off. We saw some great driving and some scary driving, all sorts and sizes of ponies and all ages of drivers. There were a few accidents, very well handled and no ponies or people were hurt that I was aware of. In one spectacular incident, a team of smaller ponies were galloping around a turn when one of the leaders tripped and fell. The other ponies ran on top of him, and then the carriage. There was a mix of legs and harness. The driver and navigators quickly untangled everything while the ponies laid quietly, then got up and stood calmly while they and the carriage were taken out of the hazard. The ponies were hooked and walked back with no apparent injuries. They did cones the next morning and looked fine.

Suzy getting it done, photo by Marie de Ronde
The serious US contingent watches, photo by Marie de Ronde
There were a lot of mistakes on course - at a World Championship everyone is going for it and mistakes happen. Some course corrections and some eliminations juggled the results for individuals and for the team competition. A Hungarian team driver knocked down a post in a gate, thus unable to go through it the gate, he continued on and was eliminated, then that decision was overturned, then reinstated from Saturday to Sunday morning. Other issues eliminated some top competitors - when a team driver was eliminated, all his/her scores were dropped and no longer counted for the team, including their dressage score.

This is probably a good time to explain the Pony Championship Team score calculations, since it is different from other Championships for Single, Pair and Four in Hand horses. A team is comprised of two singles, two pairs and two fours. One score from each class counts toward the team competition. So the one best score for single, pair and team for dressage counts for that competition, then again the same for marathon, the lowest one single, pair and four in hand score is counted for the marathon score. Cones just the same. So these eliminations and mistakes changed everything around.

I was judging at the CDE at Innavale earlier this summer. At the competitor's party, a man who was navigating at the show came over and introduced himself to me. His name was Alex, and he was from Slovenia. We had a nice conversation about what I could expect during my time in Slovenia, and what the area was like. Alex said he was coming to Slovenia for vacation in September, and that he would try to come to the Championship to watch.

Imagine my surprise while we were watching at a hazard and Alex came over to see us! It was fun to ask him lots of questions about Slovenian things that were a mystery to us. He stayed for the afternoon and we enjoyed his company. He was inspired by the driving he saw. It's a small world.....

Laurie flat out, photo by Marie de Ronde

Lisa coming up the hill, by Marie de Ronde
It was a long, exhilarating, exhausting day, followed by an award party. This one started at eight but the awards were delayed while the protest played out. We were pretty sure our team had ended the day in third place, but this could change according to what was decided about the protest. Finally a decision (albeit short lived) was made and we watched (and cheered and clapped) while Lisa Stroud received her marathon award.

Cones were scheduled to start at 9 the next morning, with walking starting at 8. Off to bed once again as the music played on.....

Friday, Dressage Day Two

Friday was a blur - a very busy day with lots of hazard walking between going to the dressage arena to watch our drivers compete. Suzy, Randy, Lisa and Laurie all did their dressage tests on Friday so we went to cheer them on.

Suzy and Josie photo by Marie de Ronde

Lisa photo by Marie de Ronde

Laurie photo by Marie de Ronde
I missed the course walk via hay wagon on Wednesday (my assigned time to work with coach Michael) and on Thursday as it was too close to my dressage time. The organizers said they would arrange a different time for anyone that needed it, so at 2 PM Fran and I met Christian Iseli, the Course Designer, for a personal spin around Section A and D. There were a few hills on A but it was a nice drive out in the country and well marked. The start was close to the stable area. When we got to the walk section, we could see white tapes everywhere stretched between trees. Christian explained that many team coaches and drivers walked the section (which stayed on a dirt/stone path) off the path cutting between the trees to save meters. He put the tape out so that anyone that went off the path had to go even further to make the next gate, a very successful way of keeping drivers on the intended route.

Section E was loops with exits to hazards, similar to the Laurels. Think super highway with entrance/exit ramps and you'll have the idea. While driving on the loops, other drivers would be out there, too. You had to pay attention so you took the correct lane into/out of each hazard. It was well marked but you had to know what you were doing. Fran spend some time out there with the other navigators, making sure there would be no issues on Saturday.

Christian praised the organizers at Lipica, saying how cooperative and helpful they had been. He was very pleased with the competition and was looking forward to watching the marathon on Saturday. It was fun to hear his thoughts on the course and hazard design.

I have no idea how many times we walked the hazards but I felt comfortable with the routes for my pony and we were looking forward to doing our best on Saturday. The only hazard that didn't seem up to the rest of the course was the Water Obstacle. It was a shallow concrete pond with big upright pillars fairly close together. During the week the water had been very shallow but on Friday they started to fill it and it was much deeper - not overly deep but with the tight turns it didn't look like it was going to be fun to drive.

Each day more and more decorations were added to the hazards so they looked quite nice by Friday. The course itself between hazards was roped off and mostly the spectators were on two sides and the competitors were out of the traffic areas. The obligatory beer tents were up (we need these in the US!).

It's not an easy job to mark hazards that are fair but challenging for singles, pairs and fours but I think Christian did a great job of it!

All our US drivers did a great job on Friday and Michael and Chester were happy. We were in third place as a team at the end of the day. In dressage Suzy was in fifth place, Randy in ninth, Jennifer in third, Wendy in twentieth, Laurie in twelfth and Lisa in seventh. I ended up in third place.

On Friday evening, guess what? Another party! The nightly parties didn't start until 8 PM, unlike our 6:30 PM parties in the states. We were treated to an enthusiastic Awards Ceremony, where we were awarded our ribbons by Miss Slovenia, a slender blonde in an evening gown, then, wearing our ribbons, we took a victory lap around the large tent with lots of clapping, yelling and cheering.

Suzy, Jennifer, Chester and Shelly

Once again the party went on into the night but we headed off to bed - we had an early morning and a big day coming!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Thursday, Dressage Day One

Thursday morning we had a chance to walk the dressage ring, so dressed in our driving clothes, we all took a spin around the arena. There was a Jumbotron (huge TV screen) in the corner near M, and I wondered if the horses would spook at the screen. After walking through the test, I decided to watch the first few horses go. Pairs went first. There were two warmup rings, one not far from the end of the arena, this ring had the same footing as the main arena. The second, smaller ridden dressage arena, just outside the entrance to the ring, had sand footing. You could also warm up in a grass area near the stables before the other rings if you wished. Three competitors were allowed in the first ring, then the competitor on deck was sent to the second ring, then cued to enter the arena.

I heard the first competitor told to enter the ring a a minute before 9, and just before he came in, the water cannons, large sprinkers along the ring, went off! These are like fire hoses with a lot of force.

What a shock! The first competitor was quickly stopped just outside the arena and everyone rushed around to figure out how to turn the water cannons off. It took a few minutes before the timer was disabled and the water stopped.

How lucky that this did not happen when a competitor was in the ring - truly not pony friendly!

Once that little issue was solved, the show got started without further incident. All team members came down to the ring when one of our drivers were competing. First up was Jennifer Matheson, who drove a very nice test, the best I have seen her do with her pair. She had a good score and was very pleased. Next up for our team was Wendy O'Brien, who also drove very well. I thought she should have had a better score, but know from my judging career that things sometimes look diffrent from that vantage point than outside the arena.

Jennifer - photo by Marie de Ronde

Wendy-photo by Marie de Ronde
I drove Cooper in the morning to see how he was feeling. A few coughs at the start but that was it and he seemed to feel good. I began the long wait until my 5:05 test.
We went to the hotel for lunch and ordered pizza. Slovenian pizza can be different from what we are used to....

Killing time and waiting for lunch

A close up of Jeff's tie (and shirt)

Pizza surprise!
I tried to keep busy and just focus on my test. I braided Cooper - I love to braid, it clears my mind and calms me. I had plenty of help to get ready and Cooper, carriage and harness looked great thanks to everyone's help. Finally it was time to head to the warmup ring so Dottie climbed on board. I was met by Chester and Michael there, and I began my warmup. The carriage was sliding quite a bit in the corners.
Cooper felt good in the warm up, and there was the ever present warm up dilemma, how much to do? Too little and he would not be supple and attentive, too much and he would be tired. I tried for some place in the middle.

Finally our time came to head to the second ring and await our entrance. We were given the nod and headed down the hill and under the arch into the ring.

A unique perspective - photo by Marie de Ronde
Cooper was attentive and cooperative, but energy was lacking and he struggled a bit in the footing. He seemed to be working but I could see on the video afterward that he needed more impulsion. Was I too passive? Or was he still feeling the effects from being sick at the beginning of the week? Or both? I can always learn from each test and try to improve for the next one. In any case, it wasn't an awful test but we weren't on our game and did not show what we can do. Some mistakes in the canter hurt our score as well, but the scores were good, except for one judge who had us 20 points under all the others. It's hard for me to tell why from his comments but it happens and all part of the game of competing.

Chester and Marie met me at the bit check/wheel measurement outside the arena. As the steward checked the bit, she commented that I was to wait for the vet. Vet? Why? Another official explained that the head judge wanted the pony checked for lameness. Just then my scores were announced, a 44.67, putting me in first place for the day. Both Marie and Chester commented that it didn't make sense, the winner being lame. The vet arrived and asked us to jog the pony in hand. We quickly stripped the harness off, and Chester jogged Cooper with his driving bridle and one rein. Cooper looked great and the vet agreed there was no problem. Whew! That was unexpected and unnerving! Marie told me that four other ponies had been examined earlier in the same way and one competitor had been disqualified. I was very happy that Chester and Marie were there when I needed them.

I led Cooper back to the stable, and Chester and a steward followed with the carrige. Our supporters were waiting. They had wondered what happened to us!

A relieved Chester and a steward pulled the carriage back to the stable
Ok, so it wasn't the test I had prepared for and hoped for. But it was over and the score was good, although not as good as I wanted. I knew my teammates expected a better score from me and I was disappointed, but we ended the day in first place, with the second half of our class to go on Friday.

Jeff and Lynn asked me if I wanted a beer and I said DEFINATELY!!

A party in the big tent again that evening, a little more tame this time. Most participants were busy getting ready for dressage or walking hazards. But once again the music went on into the night...

Wednesday, Nation's Night at the World Championships

Wednesday was already a busy day, and now we had Nation's Night to look forward to. A group of supporters and friends arrived at the big tent at 7 PM to set up the US table. Judy Fryer and Phil Needs, who have supported the team at each pony championship, covered the expenses (THANK YOU!) and did the cooking. We served hamburgers on the grill and shots of Jack Daniels. Decorations came from all over, as each driver brought a bag of assorted patriotic items. I brought red, white and blue stuff from the Aiken Driving Club, Irene Gillis and Peggy Dils, among others who donated decorations to the cause.

Chef Philip
I can honestly say I have never seen so many full shot glasses anywhere! Each table featured the specialties of that country to eat and drink. From chocolate to sausage, every food group was represented, and each table had a large amount of that country's favorite alcohol available. My favorite was Pimms at the GB table. Some tables had people in traditional dress handing out goodies. The US showed their pride with national colors.

Jeff getting ready for the party to begin
As the evening went on, the alcohol took effect and the party got rolling. There were a few skits performed on stage, and dance music played. Mio Allo did a very good Supreme's lip sync accompanied by a French driver in a skirt and wig and our own Laurie Astegiano. There was dancing on tables and lots of fun. Sadly I had dressage the next day so did not partake (except for a Pimm's and the chocolate) and left early to check on Cooper and get some sleep. We could hear the music from our hotel room and the party went on for a long time. From the photos I've seen, and the stories I heard, it was a VERY fun time.

I did get a photo with the Kosack, our name for the guy who worked all day at the show and dressed up at night in an interesting outfit. He was very hard to understand and we really don't know what he was all about, but he was hard to miss!

All the countries got along great at the party, but soon the serious side of the competition would begin. Next up, Thursday, dressage day number one.