Ok it's been a hell of a long time between posts. I've almost been intimidated out of posting again because I have so much to write about!! So, I'm using my whirlwind visit to Sydney Three Day to ease myself back into it....
I was lucky to win a VIP ticket to watch the cross country at the Sydney International Three Day Event over the weekend just gone and decided to drag my erstwhile husband along for a crazy 24 hour trip into 'serious eventing' world. Add on a last-minute decision to take Jedi up to James Arkins' place near Moss Vale while we were just going past and it was a pretty nuts adventure!
That being said, I had a really great experience and came away feeling both energised and inspired to do more and be more. I'll start at the beginning....
Before last weekend, I had never been to SIEC. I know, for those of you reading this who are eventers in the Canberra/Highlands/Sydney region, this seems unbelievable. But, I've never been - it's unbelievably expensive to compete there and I've never felt the need to go to the S3DE before. Which is odd, because I've been to Melbourne 3DE!
So, to actually go to the home of the Sydney Olympics was really exciting. It's every bit as great as I thought, but also a lot smaller than I imagined. And a LOT hillier!
We turned up pretty early on Saturday morning. It has been raining cats and dogs in and around Sydney for the past week or two and the ground was sodden. I was really interested to see how the going would be after so much rain and, while it turned out to be way better than I thought it could be, it was still influential. More on that later....
There was some random showjumping going on in the indoor. Meh....moved on pretty quickly from that! Off onto the cross country....no idea where we were going....wandering....ended up on the road heading towards the steeplechase track looking uselessly at the S3DE site on my phone with only a vague idea of the direction we should be heading! Then, who should come cycling along behind us, but the lovely Sam Lyle. He not only remembered my name (isn't that the nicest feeling when someone remembers who you are when they must meet hundreds of people?), but also gave us directions over his shoulder after apologising for not having brakes on his bike. Luckily, he rode up a hill (which turned out to head up to the steeplechase track), managed to stop and eat the second of two bacon and egg rolls he was juggling as he chatted with me about the event and his horses and all that nice stuff.
Great start to our day. Thanks, Sam. :)
So, we get to see a bit of the course while we're walking up to our rendevous point at the water jump - one of two, as it turned out. The jumps were certainly big, but really nicely built and I was interested to notice that I no longer just stand mouth agape looking at the size of them, but have actually started to work out how one would jump such a thing. The line from 4 to 5 in the 3* looked pretty hairy, for example (a big table to a ditch with a big hedge behind it on an angle). The enormous table as jump 2 in the 2* looked just massive. But doable....
The water jump, when we got to it, was really interesting. It took me a while to figure out where all the lines were for each of the classes (there was a CCI and CIC for 1* and 2* as well as the one 3* class) and they all looked pretty technical, or at least difficult! This is the view of it from the VIP tent where we hung out:
The dude walking through the water with the bike is Shane Rose. The dude in the grey top and jeans is Stuart Tinney. Nuff said.
So, the green and white numbers were the two 2* classes and they had a pretty full-on bounce into the water. Funnily enough, the first half of the riders just made it look easy. Then there was a rash of refusals and near-falls. I suspect the going didn't help as it did deteriorate over the class, but I think a lot of it was psychological. More on that later too...
After helping set up the VIP tent (they weren't exactly ready when we got there!), we headed off to the start, following on behind none other than Mike Etherington-Smith (the course designer and designer of such hallowed grounds as Burghley, Badminton and Kentucky), and Wayne Roycroft (Olympic gold medallist and Australian coach, now TD extraordinaire). I was hyperventilating under my cool exterior!
The course walk was so interesting and I learned an enormous amount in just over an hour with these luminaries of the sport. Say what you will about the old white guys crusted on to elite eventing, they still know a huge amount and it was a gift to be able to hear it from them on Saturday.
Starting with the mounds that Mike had to take out of the course because of the going...(I took no pictures other than the one above. Just goes to show how enthralled I was!). They were just two hanging logs on top of quite prounounced mounds. The ground around them was a quagmire so that's why they were taken out, but I walked the distance for them to show how it should ride (got a gold star from Wayne *blush*) and they talked about how the terrain affects a horse's stride and how riders can tend to override or underride a fence.
Mike talked about the tendancy these days for horses to be over-disciplined and unused to getting themselves out of trouble if a mistake is made. He, like Lucinda Green, thinks horses are no longer being ridden on grass and different terrain that is not a manicured arena, to the detriment of horses then asked to gallop over cross country courses. I couldn't agree more and felt a bit smug about my complete lack of arena work. Which of course has nothing to do with the fact we can't afford to build an arena with a surface....
Then on to jumps 4 and 5, which I had thought would cause carnage but of course didn't at all. When I had looked at it on the way up to the water jump, I had assumed it would be ridden on a curving stride. Not having stopped to actually look at it as a combination, I hadn't seen the straight line that Mike intended the riders to take. When he pointed it out, it seemed so easy, so obvious. Well, not easy....but certainly not impossible or particularly frightening. Just big. BIG.
When Mike talked about the going I was really impressed with how much thought and preparation he puts into it, and I assume all course designers and builders of that level are the same. To Mike, the going is everything. Without good going the whole course is stuffed. And, it wasn't the obvious 'going' that I thought he meant - the hardness or softness - but the consistency of the going. He scoffed at the idea that we were all freaking out about the soft going (as he said, this was pretty good going in the UK!), but he did talk at length about the need for the going to be as consistent as possible throughout the course. That horses get suspicious when the going changes a lot and a suspicious horse is not a good thing!
When we got to the water (photo above) he talked about the 3* jumps. They're the red, white and blue houses at the top of the picture, designed to be jumped on an angle, then down over the fish and exit to the right of the picture. It looked quite difficult at first glance, but when Mike explained the line he had in mind when he built it, the question looked completely doable. As long as you got the right line, and your horse did not deviate but jumped where you put it, the line to the fish was easy. Make a mistake and you will pay.
The other thing I learned at that jump is about the distance between two angled jumps. When I walked it (I became Wayne's designated walker after my gold star effort at the first jumps), I said it was one short stride. Not so, says Mike. When walking the distance between angled jumps you must ignore the front and back of the jumps but look to the middle of the effort. That is, don't think the stride is short because it'll ride pretty normal. And he was right. When the horses started coming over it, as long as they were placed in the spot Mike saw as the sweet spot (somewhat to the left of A which put you in the middle of B then on down to the fish), the one stride was easy. It was only when horses came in too far right they struggled.
The last lesson was at the second water jump. For the 3* horses, this was a big brush-type fence up the hill, then on down the hill to turn a little and jump over a hanging log on an angle out from the drop into the water, then two or three strides to a skinny in the water, then two or three to the bank up out of the water, then one stride to an angled narrow brush and away. The two things that struck me out of the conversation with Mike and Wayne at this combination were: a) the importance that big fence way up the hill has in preparing the horse for the water jumps down the hill, and b) the idea that this combination was essentially gridwork for the horses.
Wayne talked about using the spread fence further up the hill to open the shape of the horse up and provide some momentum down the hill. He says the tendency for riders to slow and hold the horses coming down the hill means they actually wash a lot of impulsion off when they need to keep a forward, active stride coming into the jump over the log into the water. It's not just a drop off a bank. The horses needed to jump over the log which means they still needed a bit of power. Interesting. He even talked about the shape the horses make jumping a jump like this and how that feeds into the design of the jumps.
The idea of treating a 4-element jump in water as a gridwork exercise was a bit revolutionary for me. It takes the complexity out of it and gives me some exercises to do at home. All combination fences are just gridwork when you boil it down. An opportunity for the horse to be left alone but kept straight and just pop through.
So much easier said than done!
Watching the horses go around the track was inspiring. I had a great little chat with Wayne and felt like a contender....heh heh. Annie can definitely do this one day and I'm starting to feel like maybe I can too. One day!
The going was quite interesting from a barefoot point of view. I am starting to work out the best and worst surfaces for the barefoot horse to gallop and jump on. Frankly, I don't think barefoot is a detractor from a traction perspective as the horses' hooves basically dug right into the grass/soil/mud and not having shoes on would have made no difference. Studs are helpful but I think the hooks I rasp in would be equally good. I will need to start really planning for soft going before events and making sure there's lots of wall available to rasp deep notches in.
But on hard going, barefoot beats shod hands down. The concussion caused by shod hooves is so damaging to the horse's legs and joints and barefoot is clearly preferable on hard ground. In slippery conditions like dry summer grass it's hard to see how anything would help - studs wouldn't pierce the hard ground and barefoot notches are probably more effective but there's not much that can stop the sliding once it starts.
Interestingly, Peter Gillis, a TD of note, who was doing the course walk with us, mentioned that horses actually need to slide a little when they gallop and the trend to put massive studs in is actually causing injuries and fatigue. Mike E-S agreed and said that, when horses are used to galloping and turning on different surfaces, slipping is really not something that concerns the horses. It's only the horses that have little or no experience off a prepared surface that really struggle. Noted.
So, look out for a few more posts coming by the end of the week. There is news! Some good, some very sad.