Here in lowcountry Georgia, the days are sunny & warm, the skies clear and gorgeous, and the gnats have returned. For my fellow area equestrians and I, that means it’s horse show season. So, to kick this season off, my friend S & I took our ponies to the Paradise Farm CT. We’re both getting ready to move our boys up to Training level, so this was the perfect opportunity to test their progress without the maximum pressure of a full horse trial. At home, Johnny’s really been doing well; while our stride lengthenings are still minimal, he’s showing some reach at least. And, we have stretchy trot circles down pat. I even drew out a 15 meter circle in the arena to be sure we were practicing the right size, since we don’t have a dressage ring. (Using a jump cup pin, I skewered the end of my measuring tape to the center of my circle & walked around a 7.5 meter radius, digging a stick into the ground…it’s a very scientific process.)I also utilized the USEA Eventing Tests App to help memorize my test. Turns out, I can’t draw.
After all our hard work, I was really looking forward to reading the judge’s comments to help critique our progress. Although it was a casual-attire show, I went ahead and gave Johnny the pre-show bath treatment. To keep him clean, I borrowed the BMs, *ahem,* ‘colorful’ sleazy. Johnny politely declined to wear the contraption, but he finally realized I was going to figure out a way to get it on him, so he relented. Though, he let me know he was not pleased.
Amazingly, given my history, we made it to the show without incident. The sunrise promised a glorious day for our training level debut.How was I to know it was really foreboding a near meltdown?? Since the show was mid-week, I had Carson with me. The plan was for our friends showing in the lower levels to help watch Carson while S & I rode. What actually happened was that our friends had a truck breakdown 30 minutes outside Aiken and ended up turning around for home. And here’s where a proud Momma has to brag. My kid was absolutely stellar. I parked him on a bench in the warm-up area outside the dressage ring & asked him to stay put. I gave him about a 5 meter radius of movement, and this worked really well…for about as long as a four year old can possibly sit still. Thankfully, Lellie & her lamb saved the day. Lellie Ward (owner of Paradise) was kind enough to take Carson into her front yard (about 50 yards from the dressage ring) to let him play with her spring lamb. My kid was thoroughly entertained, though the bleating lamb was probably more than a little distracting for the horses in the ring.
Johnny was a little tense in warm-up, but I thought he worked out of it nicely. I knew we probably wouldn’t get the lengthenings today with his tension level, but he felt like he was moving well otherwise. Again, this was just to see if we’re on the right track. I wasn’t concerned about winning or even placing. This was for a baseline. As soon as we entered the ‘on deck’ warmup, I felt the balance shift. Separated from the warmup herd, he immediately sensed danger close. Add that to the bit of dressage anxiety I get (do I really have my test memorized??!!), he developed into a ticking time bomb. I did the best I could to help him work through it before it was our turn to enter the arena. Watching the video of our test, it doesn’t look as bad as it felt, but I can see where the judge would say, “Balanced & capable rider but not influencing correct bend/engagement/frame today.” I don’t look like I’m doing a dang thing to ‘influence’ my horse. Trust me, though, I was holding that horse together with fine threads. Johnny’s inclination was to run for the hills. The slightest movement from my legs or seat set off frenzies of anxiety in his little brain. My request for bend became, “GALLOP AT FULL SPEED, NOW!!” Believe me, I was ‘influencing’ my horse. Influencing him not to flee the arena. So, unfortunately, I don’t have any helpful critique of our progress because we basically executed a walk-trot-canter test at the basic level. Check it out:
After dressage, Johnny probably would have liked to headed home, but we still had one more obstacle to conquer…stadium. Our source of contention, this is where Johnny & I don’t see eye-to-eye. He wants to gallop hard & fast to the jump and leap. I want him to canter uphill and pat the ground in front of the base of the fence. We compromised. I kept him from galloping all-out, and he leapt from wherever he darn well pleased. I will say this–pony tried his hardest to clear those fences. In the photographer’s pictures, Johnny is over-jumping so big, he makes the maxed out 3’3″ fences look like BN height. Meanwhile, he jumped me clear out of the tack. I couldn’t hang with him. I’ll share the link to the photographer, but don’t you dare judge my jumping form, because I had none yesterday. I simply did my best to stay mounted for the whole ride. I dare say we have our homework cut out for us. Pony is going to HAVE to learn to sit on his butt and listen. Barry Koster Photgraphy
Are we ready for a Training level horse trial? Absolutely not. Are we on the right track? I think so. We certainly didn’t have the worst outing–one girl’s horse absolutely refused to finish her dressage test, and my friend S’s horse was still tired from a hard workout on Sunday and simply didn’t have enough gas to get stadium done. We ended up 5th out of 7, so hey, we ribboned–bonus! Plus, I got to wear my absolute favorite horse show accessory: the hairnet!!
In short, I think all of our issues stem from mental anxiety. Johnny gets performance anxiety (or at least feeds off mine) and then internalizes to the point where I can’t reach him. I feel like we need to continue to do more schooling shows until he can learn to use the adrenaline to his advantage instead of letting it take over his brain. Unfortunately, we can’t recreate that situation at home! The bright side? Schooling shows are WAAY cheaper than recognized trials!! 🙂