48 hours after our stadium round…….

So I have  been doing a lot of thinking since our horrible stadium round on Saturday.  What happened out there that completely threw me out of my normal jumping style?  How could I forget completely how to jump from Friday to Saturday?  How can I go from having a picture perfect xc ride to sucking so badly in the stadium, where things are easier and the jumps fall down?  Why is it that I don’t remember being nervous before I took my first jump, and was a basket case by the end of my course?  How is it that I don’t get nervous at all in stadium with Rhyland—-when if I should be nervous about a horse jumping it should be with him!?   

I replayed my whole warm-up in my head.  I was calm, relaxed in my position, and I waited on my horse to jump each fence.  Not once did I throw myself ahead of him.  I just jumped like I normally do.  Everything in my warm-up went exactly as it should.  But then I went into the arena.

I actually felt really good about the canter I went in with.  I did a courtesy circle to get him out  in front of my seat.  I was in my tack waiting for him…..and then I felt it.  I remember now why it all fell apart.

On my approach to fence #1 I felt Gus hesitate and suck back for one split second.   It is at that point that I knew I was in trouble and looked to help him over the fence.  I jumped ahead of him because I didn’t feel confident that he was going to jump it at all.  I have only felt him jump like this when stadium is last in the schedule…..only at prelim.  The rest of the course I rode beating and kicking to get him over the fences.   When he jumped the 1 stride in 2 and the 2 stride in 3 I knew I was in trouble.   The big question is this……would he have still gotten off the ground if when I felt the hesitation I would have just sat quietly and waited?  I don’t think so…..I felt the exact same way at Richland Park in my stadium warm-up.  He tore the whole fence down.  I don’t think his back was nearly as bad at Flying Cross because we did actually make it through the course.

When I got him off the trailer at home his back still looked fairly normal.  He was a little sensitive in his usual place behind the saddle.  The next morning when Erica put him out she noticed that he was completely clean.  Those of you that know Gus, know that that is abnormal in every way.  He hadn’t laid down at all on Saturday night.  I went to run my fingers down his back, and he went completely inverted and buckled at his knees……nice.  I now have the answer to my question.   It’s not really the answer I wanted though.  How do you practice jumping a horse with a sore back so that you know how to ride it when it happens?  Seems like a contradiction to me.  I try not to jump him when his back is sore….seems like the correct thing to do.   I can’t really simulate the scenario very easily either.  The only time I seem to have this problem is when stadium is ridden as the third phase after a preliminary xc course ridden at speed……only at a show. 

So herein lies my dilemma.  I have a horse that is a phenomenal jumper.  He does really well in the dressage, and he does great in the stadium as long as it comes 2nd.  He does great in the stadium if it’s last at Training Level and lower.   He just doesn’t seem to be able to jump the big stadium fences after he has a really tough preliminary xc course first.  The biggest problem with that is that at Preliminary and above, the schedule usually has stadium last.  What do I do about that?  I have no doubt in my mind that this horse has the capability to jump around intermediate next year.  My question is can he do all 3 phases in one weekend?

I think there is a definite weakness in his back, directly behind the saddle.  He has always been a little weak there.  I guess if I decide to keep him I will have to do some major work strengthening some specific muscle groups in his back.  I’m going to have to talk to a vet about how exactly to do that and which muscles are responsible for the problems.

So in the meantime, my season and perhaps my career with Gus has ended.  I have no plans to go to Florida this winter.  Rhyland is entered in Jumpstart HT at the end of this month, and I am looking for a possible new project horse to bring along behind the other 2. 

My focus is officially shifted to Rhyland now.  He’ll do his 3rd BN in 2 weeks, and is supposed to do his first Novice in October.  We will then  start schooling Training level fences so that he can be doing Training Level by mid spring/ early summer 2012.   We’ll see how that all plays out as we start the new year.

It’s a discouraging and frustrating sport that we do.  I have to just keep reminding myself how fantastic my last xc course felt, and how effortlessly Gus made his way through all of the tough questions put before him.  He never took a wrong step……and that’s the part that keeps me going.

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