Wednesday, January 17, 2018

making time

I identify as an eventer. In a way that I never really did as a hunter, despite riding in the hunter equitation classes through college.

Maybe bc I ended up in the h/j world a little bit by default? It was my college's IHSA team sport, and that's how I found my Rochester barn, so riding hunters was a natural choice. But then with the introduction of Isabel, suddenly anything became possible and so I actively chose eventing.

being an eventer is not the same thing as being a professional eventer haha. i lay no claims to that. but damn the pros (and their incredible horses) are amazing to watch!
Thus, I'm an eventer. And have been since 2014. I love all three phases of the sport and work hard to keep learning and improving my skills in each. I've competed in exactly 20 three phase horse trials (withdrawing from one before xc and being eliminated in two others, but who's counting! lol...), with multiple completions in each level from starter to novice.

I have a skull cap and wear full seat breeches. Clashing or bright colors aren't uncommon, and my horse occasionally sports unconventional tack. Not to mention my obscenely massive collection of tack. Ya know. Standard features of the sport lol.

Not to say that there are "eligibility requirements" for identifying as an eventer. As far as I'm concerned, any student of any horse sport can identify as they see fit. No gatekeepers here!

isabel and i casually made the rounds at the local venues. ya know. here and there. <3
But there are a couple things I've never done as an event rider that sometimes make me curious. Make me wonder if there's something integral that I'm missing from the sport.

One thing I've never done is competed at a recognized event. Depending on where you are geographically, this can make a pretty big difference in your experience.

For me, personally? I don't have that concern. I've ridden my fair share of too-soft courses, and often an unrecognized event is less technical than its sanctioned counterpart, even at the same venues. But.... We also have plenty of venues that recycle most, if not all, of their recognized courses and jumps in the starter trials too.

There's a side effect of that fact, tho, that sometimes I *do* wonder about. Specifically: because I've only ridden in unrecognized events, and none of the starter trials in my area seem to time riders, I've subsequently never done a timed ride. Stadium jumping or cross country.

charlie's got no lack of enthusiasm, for sure!
And actually I'm somewhat notorious for taking advantage of not being timed. By taking longer approaches to challenging fences, or winding around difficult terrain instead of tackling it head on. Schooling through the water before approaching my flags, or circling in related lines when they're not flagged A-B. All without ever having to worry about making that time up later.

On the flip side, I've also never really had to worry about going too fast. Or think very deeply about managing my horse's pace for any reason other than my own general preference.

And it makes me wonder, ya know? At the highest echelons of the sport, making time is often a huge factor in determining the final leader board. And that same thing happens in the lower levels too - it's not uncommon to see enough time racked up on cross country to be equivalent to a 20pt jumping penalty (or more).

Essentially: In timed events, time matters. Speed management becomes a critical skill.

i think, with the right efforts tho, he'll polish right up to something special!
Personally, I've felt like there's somewhat of a hierarchy to priorities when it comes to my learning to event. Like, I had to start with just understanding and being comfortable with the most basic elements and rules of each phase. And that keeping time was what you did when you were ready to refine and polish, when everything else was already smoothing out. Then with each move up, you sorta start over again - not worrying about time until the other bases are covered.

This season I'm starting in a different place from each of the last three years. My horse feels like he's had a reasonably thorough introduction to the sport. Like he's got the basic elements covered. And we've got some ambitions for this year, including moving up and possibly dipping our toes in the recognized eventing waters.

So I'm thinking this will also be the year I start to take time a little more seriously. And I'm kinda excited by the idea, ya know? Like it's a whole other dimension to rides that I kinda purposefully have avoided bc I can go a little crazy about stuff like that. But it's time, I think. (lol puns).

so totally legit right here tho
I've got a couple ideas for how to start teaching myself the basics of making time. Mostly by just.... ya know... timing some standard rides. Probably starting with trot sets. We don't currently really time those, so much as we just ride specific routes through the fields on repeat. So an easy next step is collecting averages on how long each pass takes, thus getting a rough estimate of actual distance.

Then I can try working over that same distance at different canter speeds, seeing where our natural speed gets us, then trying to (in a controlled fashion) increase and decrease speeds. Which, haha, actually being able to influence Charlie's speed might be half the battle ;)

I'm curious tho, do you time your rides with an eye toward speed? Or do you practice different speeds during activities like canter sets? For those of you with a lot of experience riding timed courses, did you kinda just figure it out as you go? Or were there aspects more challenging than you expected? Either with regard to going too slow or too fast?

I'm all ears!

34 comments:

  1. I remember when I was a kid there were fenceposts along the side field that had been measured. We were told how many seconds we should count when galloping between them to be doing the right speed. I think that's probably a good way to learn speeds, I was just never any good at it! Lol! I'm really good at figuring out my own pace when running, though. So maybe I just didn't practice enough?

    This is a cool thing to work on! Definitely adds another degree of difficulty! Good luck, and have fun galloping :)

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    1. the "measured fence posts" thing is definitely what i'm sorta imagining in my mind - we've got a couple great fields for that too. bc.... i honestly don't trust my own *feel* for it at present, esp since even tho i've been riding charlie for a while now, his sheer size and way of going is still very very very VERY different from anything i've ever really ridden before haha.

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  2. I think working on the timing will be really good for you no matter how many (or any) recognized events you show it.

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    1. that's kinda what i'm hoping, honestly. my own sense has been that time hardly really matters at starter or bn, or maybe even N, and so i've never really fussed with it while focusing on learning other niceties of the sport. but it seems like an important skill, so i'm gonna try to change that!

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  3. Endurance teaches you a heck of a lot about pacing. I can tell you exactly how fast (in mph not mpm tho) she is going at any given time just due to so many hours spent in the saddle with a gps watch strapped to my wrist. Course I have no clue how that translates while we are jumping since I have no idea how the jumps themselves are effecting her speed overall, but I found that it didn’t take long for my body to just know what speed we were going. Do any of the paper chases still run over the winter or in early spring by you? Those may be a great way to open Charlie up and practice pacing. I think your plan is spot on for getting your baselines down. Will you use just a regular watch or a gps program like Endomondo while you ride for this?

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    1. i hadn't thought of that, but it makes total sense now that i think about it. and i'm not sure there's any downside to being more comfortable with mph vs mpm, since the google can do those conversions for me haha. that's good to hear about it being relatively easy to start getting a feel for it tho! no we don't have any paper chases in the off season (ground is bad) but we have fields galore at charlie's barn where we do our conditioning rides (and occasional freewheeling gallops lol bc #fun), so that's my general plan.

      re: timing tools and applications, that's something i haven't fully figured out yet. i do most conditioning rides with brita and she has a watch that she uses, so i was basically just gonna bum off her. i don't at present have a watch that is easily observed while riding, and it doesn't have a stop watch either. i could use my phone, and possibly an app (have heard great things like endomondo) but haven't really decided yet, i guess? idk haha.

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  4. I've obviously never competed recognized or had to worry about time on course (except in the jumpers) but I DO time my fitness work. It's a good indicator for me in determining just how fit Dino and I are - is he huffing and puffing at the end of ten minutes of trotting hills, or does he feel fresh as a daisy? Can he canter 6 minutes easily? Can he hand-gallop that same distance or amount of time? It doesn't translate super well to making time on course, but it does help me to be aware of how fast we're going and how long we're going at a particular speed!

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    1. yea that's definitely a good way to do it. i know brita has timed her conditioning rides regularly before, and i just ride the routes she recommends for trot and canter sets. so it's possible i've been kinda unknowingly doing timed sets lol, but that's meaningless if i'm not actually paying attention to it. this is also my year of no excuses when it comes to horse fitness tho, so all your ideas above are definitely getting stored away in my mind for when the ground improves!

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  5. To be honest, if I lived where you lived I probably wouldn't do recognized horse trials either! Lots of choices and much cheaper. I had no idea they didn't time though, that's boggling my mind in a major way. Cannot wrap brain around. Learning to ride the pace is one of the most integral parts of XC, IMO.

    For me personally I practice pace on every conditioning ride, so at least twice a week. When I do canter sets I specifically do them at a certain speed for each set, so like 350 vs 400 vs 450, and then usually a short distance at 500. I also practice going back and forth between speeds easily, so that when I do need to reduce speed to set up for a certain type of fence, I can do it 6 or 7 strides away instead of 15 or 20 strides away.

    By this point I'm pretty proficient at knowing what each pace feels like on my horse, but in the beginning I had a set distance that I used to calculate how fast I was going, until I could learn the feel. Pace has been pretty important for us at all levels, because at BN I basically had to crawl to make time (it was not unusual for me to trot at some point, or circle), at N it was just a nice steady hand gallop, but at T the speed is fast enough to where I actually have to be smart about it. All of the courses we've done so far have been max T speed, 470mpm. That's quick on my horse, especially over 5 minutes. The speed has really changed how I ride cross country in general... I have to be very aware of my track so that I'm not taking wasted steps, where I can speed up a bit to make up some time or get ahead of the time if I need to, learning to land and immediately go forward again, learning which jumps you can really take out of an open gallop and which ones you can't (and how that factors into the rest of the plan depending on where those jumps are on the course), can I angle something to slice off some steps, etc. Not only because my horse isn't super fast naturally, but because I don't want him to have to work any harder than he has to. I've learned how to be very efficient, and time and pace have only gotten more important as we've moved up. It's a big crucial part of the strategy and overall picture for me.

    I've worked pretty hard over time to get accurate at feeling my pace, and I'm almost always dead on my minute markers at events. I've only had time penalties twice ever, and it was an intentional decision both times lol. It becomes really important though when those one or two time penalties can mean the difference in a few spots on the leaderboard... I personally can't afford to give points away, my other two phases aren't good enough.

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    1. yea the only reason recognized events are on my radar this year has to do more with my friends' goals than my own. one friend wants to qualify for a 3-day at the end of the season, and a couple others are knocking on the door of T. most of our starter trials do in fact offer T (loch moy does, for instance, and a P/T too!) but some do not (like fair hill). so if we all want to keep riding together (and i do), we need to be a little more strategic about choosing venues and events this year.

      regarding timing: everything you say is basically exactly how i'm feeling. i don't think i've necessarily missed out on anything by not learning how to time my rides at starter and BN, or the two times i did N, when i was just trying to not freak out about the actual jumps lol... but if i want to really improve my style, strategy, and general understanding of cross country at a more conceptual level... yea i gotta learn about timing and pace, and how that relates to my planned track. esp bc.... i suspect charlie will be in the same boat as Henry re: not having points to spare after dressage lol....

      i like your ideas for how to practice too, thanks. esp the one about going back and forth between speeds -- that's a giant weakness for us right now. actually, anything that involves adjustability.... once we slip into a higher gear it's REALLY hard for us to drop back down again. lots to work on for sure!

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  6. I don't have experience keeping time for eventing but I do know my horses speeds pretty well from all of my time spent conditioning for endurance. Years of wearing a GPS device has taught me the "feel" for all different kinds of trots and canters. There's a distinct rhythm and quality to each that just "clicks" in my brain and I know if I'm keeping good time out on trail even without my GPS nowadays. Definitely a great "feel" to develop.

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    1. that's awesome - and kinda similar to some of what my barn friends have said about their own tricks. for instance, one can tell her speed by how the wind feels on her face lol.... tho that totally bit her in the ass at one particularly windy competition....

      but yea. that feel for pace is exactly what i'd like to learn, and esp getting better at influencing and adjusting throughout the duration of a course.

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  7. Our starter level derbies last year were timed and the first few I had no idea how the time would work out (and I really didn't care at first as getting over jumps was my biggest worry). But seeing where I came in compared to optimum, by the end of the season I knew what pace of canter I needed to at least be close. Hopefully this summer I can work more on this (and buy a watch!).

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    1. see that's great tho - i know a lot of starters elsewhere time regularly. not sure why they don't around here, tho i suspect it might be a volunteer thing.

      in any case, the way you describe it is partly how i see it working out for us: not really worrying too much about it at first just to see how it plays out, then adjusting as we go through the season. buying a watch is something i've thought about.... but am honestly really reluctant do get anything very fancy or expensive just bc it's not needed at the vast majority of my events. we'll see!

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  8. i havent ridden at a recognized event since 2012, but flora lea likes to time their unrecognized events.

    I have never worried about time. I got a couple time penalties on my 2nd training level, because I ran into some trouble at the water (like.... she catapulted in and i lost all my stirrups and had to jump a 3' chevron from a trot but I STAYED ON so its fine) but I think its one of those things where your first couple of recognized shows you might get some time/speed faults and then you figure out your pace and you dont think about it.

    but maybe ive just been lucky and competed really good, experienced gallopers.

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    1. lol that sounds mildly horrifying about trotting the chevron with no stirrups .... but yea i'm hoping the pace thing will kinda work out similarly in that once we've got a general sense for it i won't have to think too much about it.

      i'm not gonna bank fully on that tho bc charlie IS a good, experience galloper.... but.... at RACE HORSE speed lol. he hasn't really figured out how to carry a standard canter throughout the entire duration of a course yet. in fact, every single xc course we've done, there's been at least one point on course where he's blasted off into a barely controllable gallop where literally the only influence i had was pointing him the direction i wanted to go lol... thank god he's an honest good boy!

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  9. At every HT we've gone to, P has had the fastest time, even the ones we've dropped to the trot at parts of the course. So I don't worry about the time at BN, but I DO think it's important to know what the paces feel like for practice when the tracks get longer and time is a bit more difficult to make. I just went out and paced out sections of fields so I can work on refining what 300m/350m/400m, etc gallops feel like. That's crazy that the starter trials don't typically time. I've never been to an unrecognized that doesn't. But most, if not all, of our unrecognized HTs use the same courses as their recognized ones.

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    1. our venues that use the same jumps and courses between recognized and unrecognized don't time starter trials. couldn't tell ya why, but i suspect it's a volunteer thing. i've never really worried about speed at BN either bc.... BN speed ain't fast haha.

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  10. I definitely think learning about pace and knowing what canter correlates to what speed is a great part of the eventing education and as you move up to T+ it will be important, but honestly if you can hold a canter and stay on course the entire time at BN and N you will make the time.

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    1. lol yea that's kinda been my general sense too, which is why it's been easy to shrug it off and not bother with it. the reality is tho, given my general wussiness, it's not likely that i'm ever gonna really do upper level eventing. but i still want to learn more, still want to get better, even if that just means getting better over the same sized jumps and same courses. so this is one way to do that!

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  11. I'm certainly no expert, but typically we do a pace clinic every spring. I think it would be easy enough to set up with a buddy, just measure out a 500 to 1000m route in a field over varied terrain and take turns timing. I'm the person on the Welsh cob who gets time penalties every outing...at starter, even, so embarrassing. She simply can not canter 300m/min...It's more of a hand gallop on her and the fitness required to have gallop her 4 or 5 min is beyond us both, I think. Last year, I followed the upper level riders fitness regime and still...11 time penalties and one very tired pony.

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    1. i've always been super jealous of those pace clinics but have never seen anything similar in my area. presumably i could ask one of my many eventing-oriented coaches to help us with it (and may do that later in the spring), but for now i like this idea of measuring out the route and timing it. we'll see how it goes!

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  12. Obviously as a Hunter rider we don't naturally time things, but I would do trot, canter, and gallop sets that were timed but that was more of making sure I did a set number than about pace. I look forward to see what plan you work out and tweak as you go. A whole 'nother world it is!

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    1. yea i think i've done similar to you in the past - timed rides to ensure i hit certain milestones, vs actually paying attention to pace. we'll see how it goes. it's kinda one of those things that feels a little daunting, but then again so many people do it (inc kids haha) that it must not actually be that hard, right?? lol...

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  13. i often wondered why no timing at our events (unrecognized) but also offer up a prayer to the gods that they dont time since remus and i wouldnt even make BN time i am sure :) LOL (Remember QH lope?) HA but i do think it is good to think about pace and I admire the hell out of you all for doing such things. we will be over here loping, thanks HA!

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    1. lol i promise, if the "lope" were an option for Charlie on xc we'd be out there loping too! alas, he appreciates his scenery with a little more blur lol.

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  14. I always had to be mindful of going too fast on Moe at recognized competitions. He's a very forward thinker and what I felt like was a comfortable natural pace was a bit too fast for Novice.

    All the schooling events in my area do time riders at BN+ (usually no timing at Intro or Starter), which I think is really useful for prepping for recognized competition!

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    1. that's kinda what i'm thinking will be the case for charlie too - that it won't be as much of an issue of going fast enough, but maybe more about going *too* fast. tho i honestly am not worried about time specifically as a prep for recognized competition -- rather, i'm interested about learning in pace as a skill in and of itself.

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  15. Two comments here:
    One, re: identifying as eventer. I thought a lot about this because that's how I've started identifying, even though we haven't completed a full 3 phase one together. To me though, it's kind of like the phrase, "How do you know if you're a runner? You run. Then you're a runner." Well. I practice and school for eventing and so I decided that makes me an eventer. Plus, 3 phases will happen this year.

    Second: re: pacing - my trainer is big on me learning how they all feel, so I use Terra Map to find my paces. We also have a track for conditioning which is awesome. I'm not good at it, but I'm learning!

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  16. I've found the best thing for timing is to practice on a longer, measured stretch. Okay, perhap not the best. That is the funnest, because you get to gallop for a long time. But it can be hard to maintain a steady speed on a long stretch like that. Shorter measured stretches can also be helpful, like a long arena side -- and then I try to maintain my canter pace all the way around and test myself in that pace the next time we hit that measured side again.

    But I also don't worry about it too much on XC. I pay a bit of attention to my minute markers and plan out some good gallop spots, and just... assume I'm going to make time if I ride right!

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  17. My area really only has rated events, much to my chagrin. I would love to have these untimed, lower pressure opportunities, especially if they were more affordable than running rated! I used to have a lot of problems with going too fast on XC and worrying about speed faults, but it's been easier when I got a slower horse who doesn't zoom off after each fence at racehorse speed. With Foxie, I wore a watch and knew where I should hear my beeps on course towards the end (I did minute beeps). While I think it's really valuable to know time and pace in general, I've only ridden for time once - and it turned out that speed fault time was written down on our XC maps as Optimum, so I actually ran around a starter XC at a rated show in 4:03 when the speed fault/fake optimum was 4:00. I don't sweat going too slow, but I also have a spooky show horse that doesn't do well when rushed :)

    I'm excited to read your adventures in time and about how Charles' natural paces match up with the desired pace on XC!

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  18. The schooling events I've been to have been timed to I usually work towards the time. At the Intro/BN lever it's more of a circle before the end to avoid speed faults. I'm definitely going to do whatever I need to do to be safe rather than worry about time, but I have seen a lot of people rack up 20+ speed faults for going too fast just because they wanted to do the course without worrying about time. Since I'm usually close to last after dressage, I can't be adding speed faults for no reason. Before the watch app, I would sharpie the jumps I needed to be at for each minute marker on my arm and then just cross check it with my watch. Now I have an app on my watch (that would work even better if I remembered not to put my shirt over it).

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  19. One of the barns I was at had measured fence posts... I think. Obviously I didn't use them. I was a notoriously SLOW xc rider, so I always borrowed my trainer's wheel and noted my minute markers. That was the only way I kept myself on time. Once Mikey and I got to novice, I was usually pretty good at setting the right cruising speed when the track wasn't twisty. Definitely measure some fence posts if you can!

    Lucky you that they've never timed you on either jump phase! The mini trials near me time you from the very beginning (6" even!), but you can only accumulate time penalties once you get to the beginner novice division.

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    1. I believe the course walk app puts in the minute markers if you walk the course, btw.

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