Tuesday, June 3, 2008

"This is the Real OC"

This is the Real OC

By: Liz Lund

(Liz wrote this article for the CSDEA Cross Country magazine)

No, not the OC as in Orange County, but the OC as in Otter Creek. Otter Creek Farm, located in Wheeler, Wisconsin rests on an amazing three hundred acres of rolling hills and woods. Not only is it a great location close to The Twin Cities for all of us in the Central States area, but the farm, clinics and shows are organized and run by dedicated owners, Mark and Lena Warner. The facility and the organizers provided everything needed for a fabulous 2008 Spring Otter Creek CIC*/** Horse Trial.

The ever changing and improving Otter Creek never seems to stop growing. Mark and Lena do almost all of the work on their own, including farm management, design and construction. Recent additions over the last few years are a new water complex, new hunter ring, expanded dressage ring, new fences and most recently a new permanent stabling complex with 80 stalls.

A tremendous amount of time and planning goes into an event like the Otter Creek CIC*/** Horse Trials. Just as each individual rider prepares for a horse show long before the actual show date, the organizers have to prepare far in advance also. Officials, judges, a technical delegate, medical personnel and many volunteers all have to be found long before the show begins. I would like to thank Jenny Warner for her commitment to gather all the volunteers needed at the OCF Events. The organizers are prepared to handle a variety of situations, from severe weather to medical emergencies for horses, riders and spectators, or any kind of technical difficulty. The amazing Otter Creek organization provided an extremely efficient show with a nice flow and minimal stress for the competitors.

Course designer and former Olympic medalist, John Williams designed wonderful cross country and show jumping courses at Otter Creek. John Williams rode on the US Team in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. Finishing individually in 28th place, he helped secure the bronze medal for the U.S. Not only did he create a course with a wonderful flow but he was available and open to comments, suggestions and questions from competitors. With all the safety controversies in Eventing currently, horse show organizers are trying to create safer courses and make things ultimately the best that they can. The goal of creating safe yet challenging questions was achieved at Otter Creek. The rest was rightly left up to the riders and their horses.

Thursday was day one for the CIC* and ** riders to begin. Each FEI level competitor had to speak with FEI Vet, present their horse’s passport and jog for the vet to check for soundness.

Friday was full of spectacular dressage rides, with some riders competing up to as many as six different horses. This year was the first of hopefully many years that Otter Creek Farm incorporated the FEI Levels of the CIC* and **.

Friday morning brought an vast array of horses and riders of all levels warming up, riding tests and walking horses back to the stabling area. The day involved a lot of riders walking the cross country course before, after and in-between dressage rides in order to memorize their course, walk their lines, and measure the length to figure out minute and halfway markers.

I had three horses running in the OCF Spring H.T. I competed my own mount, Lady Hannah B, a 13 year old American Warmblood in the CIC*, Hamel, a 6 year old, off-the-track Thoroughbred, owned by Jean and Walter Kunz doing his first horse trail at Beginner Novice, and Worth the Wait, a 5 year old Oldenburg owned by Ellen Hoffman doing his first horse trial also at Beginner Novice.

Friday morning I started with my CIC* ride. I braided and groomed Hannah till she sparkled. I tacked up and then got myself dressed in white breeches, shadbelly and top hat. I made sure I had everything needed and headed over to the dressage warm up arena. Hannah felt great in warmup, I really had her working from behind and practiced different movements from our test. It was our turn to ride so I walked her over to the dressage ring. We entered the ring and gave it our best. We earned a 54.6 to put us in a tie for second place. Following my CIC* ride came the Beginner Novice horses I am training. Hamel, followed by Worth the Wait, were both very good considering it was their first show.

Liz & Hannah working on their lengthen in the dressage warmup.

Liz happy with her warmup waves to her friend Jen Johnson and heads over to the dressage ring.

Liz's practice in warmup on her lengthen paid off her in dressage test.

A lovely halt and salute to finish up a lovely dressage ride.

Saturday morning rolled around and the first riders went out on course, starting with the Training level. Horses galloped around, jumped fences and stormed through the finish lines while others warmed up for their turn. The weather was gorgeous and the day was running smoothly. Following Training level was Novice, then the CIC**, Intermediate, CIC*, Preliminary and, last but not least, Beginner Novice.

My first ride was on Hannah around two o’clock. I had walked the course a few times and felt comfortable with everything; I had planned out all my lines and minute markers. I tacked her up, put in the necessary studs after analyzing the footing, and geared myself up. I walked out to warm-up and she was feeling fresh being it the first show of the year. I had been playing around with bits this winter and was trying to figure out the best bit for her. I decided to run her in her usual Mikmar Combination Bit because that is what she has been in for the last two years. The other reason I chose this particular bit combination was that we had had terrible spring weather which seemed like no spring at all. Like many others, I had not been able to get out and school much prior to the show.

We headed to the start box and she pranced around as usual. When we heard, “3, 2, 1…” we galloped out of the start box towards our first fence. The first eight jumps were nice forward jumps that established a nice flow and rhythm for the course. As we rounded the turn towards the infamous sunken road I really had to work to bring her back. All of the jumps rode well but I had to bring her back far in advance of each fence in order to get the pace I wanted her to jump from. We jumped clean but wound up with 26 time penalties. I wasn’t too concerned about the faults, after all you have to make mistakes in order to learn and now I know what my homework is before my next show! My beginner novice mounts were great. On Hamel, we trotted the entire course and he boldly jumped everything but came in with plenty of time penalties. Worth the Wait was also very brave and jumped everything with confidence.

Liz & Hannah clear the first jump on the CIC* course.

Liz Lund & Lady Hannah B clearing the B element of the second water complex in the CIC*.

Liz & Hannah clearing the Helsinki.

Liz & Hannah jumping down the A element into the infamous sunken road complex.

Liz & Hannah galloping on between fences.

Saturday night is a highlight at Otter Creek. Full of fun, delicious food, beer tasting, dancing, bonfires and intermittent lightning bolts, we eventers know how to have a good time, rain or shine. It gives riders and spectators a chance to relax and reflect on the day’s events, chat with friends and get to know others with the common equestrian bond. There is something uniquely different about the comradery that is part of the real OC experience.

Sunday was an early morning with the FEI Jogs starting promptly at 7:30am. It was a chilly morning and Hannah seemed to be her fresh self. She passed her jog and we went back to the barn to tack up for show jumping. Going into show jumping on Sunday I was in fifth place on Hannah. The CIC* course, measured at 3’9’’, looked big for a first outing but I had confidence going into the ring. Philippa Richards, an Advanced level rider located in Grand Rapids, Michigan from Great Britain has helped me out at previous shows and coached Hannah and I in the warm up. She really had me using my upper body and seat to bring her back. I decided to jump Hannah in the new configuration that I had used all winter, a loose ring snaffle and a Kinetin nose band. She felt great and we trotted down to the ring. I saluted the judge, picked up a canter to establish my rhythm, heard the whistle and headed to the first jump. The course rode great, Hannah was jumping awesome but our pace kept getting gradually faster and faster. I realized that we needed a little more control. We only had one rail tacking on another 4 penalty points to finish the CIC* and our first outing of the year in 5th place. I was really happy with both her performance and my own. Both of the Beginner Novice mounts that I rode jumped around great. I took it nice and slow with both of them so they could get acclimated to the crowds standing around the ring. With a few more times out and consistent training they both will be solid event horses.

As a competitor that has participated in every Otter Creek Horse Trial since the beginning in 1999, I have personally witnessed the development of an amazing horse facility and show ground. I have been lucky enough to have ridden close to a dozen different horses over the years in OCF shows at almost every offered level of competition. At Otter Creek I have experienced the ups and downs of eventing in every way, literally. From forgetting the Coggins, needing an ambulance escort, winning and losing my divisions, it all adds up to the real OC. In addition to the competition and the learning, it is the fun and friendships that will always be remembered.

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