Do you ever have one of those rides where, just as you begin to swing your leg off the saddle, you realize that this is why you participate in this insane sport? Yeah, that’s basically how the show went.
Let’s back up a bit though. I had the second Dressage time of the day; however since this was an evening show, that made my Dressage time 3:06PM. When we arrive at the show at 1PM, the office wasn’t open yet. As a result, my trainer took me and my friend (also doing BN) to walk our cross country course. It was the first time at this level for both of us, but the course looked reasonable. There was a non-optional water obstacle, and a raised log at the top of a very steep hill, and of course the biggest jump on the whole course was the first one. Overall – it looked doable but definitely a step up from what we had been previously.
The secretary stand opened just as we finished our course walk, so we headed in and picked up our numbers. Our group that was doing the 2’ – 2’3” was now out walking their XC course, so we picked up their pinnies and packets as well. Then, it was time to walk the stadium course.
My friend is a lovely, experienced rider, with a 16.2 thoroughbred with an average to above-average stride length. As a result, she did this lovely thing called walking strides. All the strides were between 5 and 7 strides. About… sort of… Some of them were set with off strides, and there was a bending line that could’ve been ridden off of multiple tracks. I listened to her discussing the striding, but I discussed more my game-plan. I wanted to make sure I kept my right leg on through the turns to the left turns to red diagonal line and the yellow jump on the far side of the ring. I wanted to keep a forward rhythm that set May up well for the XC round after and gave her plenty of opportunity to jump from the forward stride.
At that point, we started getting ready for Dressage. I opted to ride all three phases in my Albion jumping saddle. It fits May well and I am comfortable in it. This event had set Dressage times, but open windows for Stadium and XC. I knew I could get through Dressage and Stadium fairly quickly, and I wanted May to have a short break before XC. Fitness is a fun game when you have a draft cross.
Our warm up for Dressage wasn’t stellar. I had forgotten my big soft-touch spurs at the barn, so I was using my very small, barely a nub spurs. As a result, we didn’t have the typical lateral movement that I know May can do, and nagging her with my leg only made her tense. Great. Since our lateral work wasn’t great, she kept popping her shoulder in on me going to the left and picking up the wrong lead. Also great. However, she was being calm and consistent and pleasant, so I figured I would just ride the test as accurately as possible without offending her.
The ring was above the schooling ring, next to the XC warm up, and overlooking some trees. May doesn’t care about any of these things. May cares about getting through Dressage so that we can jump some stuff. Our geometry left something to be desired. This was mostly caused by my inability to move May off of my leg in any kind of meaningful way. We got both canter leads, although the right was significantly better than the left. Our free walk was not behind the bit, like it was last time we performed a test at a show, but it was slow with short steps. We then trotted down center line. We had a good turn in. I checked our positioning, asked for walk, and May halted square. This horse pretty much never halts square, so that was super exciting. She stood while I saluted, and I thanked the judge and left.
Overall, I felt the test was a touch conservative, but it was consistent and clean. My trainer was also happy with it. I refused to find out my score before show jumping. I didn’t want to know where I stood. I just wanted to continue to enjoy the day.
The window of opportunity for Stadium ended up getting pushed back a bit, so May and I just wandered around the warmup area. We put her boots on and took some pictures and just hung out. May refuses to drink the water at shows because she thinks it’s poison, so I wanted to make sure she was cooled out without actually letting her stand around to be ready for stadium.
Finally, it was time for my stadium warm up. I jumped one tiny vertical, then jumped a 2’3” oxer. I couldn’t find a spot, but May was forward and game. I asked if I could have it raised another couple of holes, but my trainer told me I should save my jumps. I wanted to argue. Every part of me wanted to insist that I needed to jump more jumps in order to go into the ring, but I didn’t. Confidence comes from doing things slightly outside your comfort zone. My horse was warmed up, and my trainer was right. She didn’t need to jump more stuff, so there was no reason to keep jumping her.
I went into the stadium round with only my fiance and Emily (from my last blog post!) watching. My trainer had three other horses to work with in the warm up ring, and it’s not like she could really help us anyway. I went in and picked up a canter. This canter:
Yes it was big. And it was forward. But come hell or high water, I was not going to mess with it. That was our pace. It wasn’t a scambly bad pace, but it was forward. And you know what? She rewarded me by jumping the first jump like this:
My lovely fiance got a video of the course, which was promptly sent to my trainer once it was uploaded. We got a rail. We missed a lot of spots. But it was forward and by the end, I could tell May was more confident than when we had first stepped into the ring. Below is the video. Overall – I am happy with how I rode. Would it have been better with a professional on board? Sure. Did I learn a lot about May and me? Definitely. It was green, but it was a positive experience.
May and I wandered back to the trailer with my fiance. He is a great pony holder. Boots got changed, I put my vest on, saddle pad got changed, and I promptly forgot my breastplate. Oh well. May was offered more water, but again she didn’t drink. (Any suggestions on how to get a horse to drink water at a horse show?) Once she seemed fully recovered from show jumping, I hopped back on, and headed out to XC. There was a big hill in the warm up area for cross country, so I just had her work up and down that a few times to get warmed up again.
I seriously considered schooling a few more jumps. She had like 45 minutes off, so she must need to school more jumps. I decided against it. She would either be brave to the first jump, or not. Jumping plain sticks in the warm up field would not make a difference. So I put on my big girl panties and turned to go to the start gate. My trainer, who was watching another Dressage test, called out to me to make sure I was ok. I gave her a thumbs up. She then told me to use my stick as my friend had some squirreliness to the first jump. I held it up to show I heard her, and I walked up to the start gate.
Did I mention this was only my third horse trial? And only my second place doing one? And my first Beginner Novice? And the second time May and I have jumped XC jumps this year? None of this was running through my head as the countdown started… because that wouldn’t have been helpful at all. Finally it was “3…2…1 Have a great ride!” and we were off. Below are the first two fences.
Going to the first fence, she thought about falling behind my leg. I tapped her with my stick and she got SUPER offended. Oh well, don’t fall behind my leg then. She jumped the first one fine, and then over jumped the second one like this:
We then went into the woods, jumping a coop in there. Coming out of the woods, we jumped this house:
Then it was a 90 degree left turn (our nemesis) to the water. We never really got the turn and we never really got straight and we had a refusal. Oh well. I straightened out and put my leg on and had no issues on the re approach. In our division, we were one of four with a refusal at the water. Then we picked up the canter again. We passed my friend, who had just finished her course, so she got a wave as I just let May gallop along. There was no time involved for this schooling show, so I let May do what felt comfortable for her. It wasn’t scambly or nervous, just forward, so I went with it. We jumped a raised log, then had a start right turn to a steep hill going down. The hill immediately came back up to a small raised log. This was definitely an obstacle May had never seen before, but I shift my weight back at the top of the hill, kept my leg on, and kept a following hand so she could look at it. She did, and we got a cool picture to show for it:
There were two more raised logs in the little valley that we sailed right over. Then there was a huge hill going up before the last two jumps. My trainer had recommended I really encourage her to gallop there to keep her from dying out on me. So I asked her to gallop and Oh Man did she comply! Here’s the thing about Draft Crosses (especially Draft/QH crosses) when they actually engage their large booties, they are so very powerful. May carried us up that entire hill, and I actually had to ask her to come back to me before the last two fences. My lovely fiance ran across the cross country field to capture the end of the round. And yes, that is me breathlessly telling her to whoa at the end of the course. She still had plenty of gas in the tank, and I have to tell you, these fences looked tiny by the end of the course.
At the end of the day, we ended up 6th. We were tied for first after our Dressage score (which is super exciting to me) but our greenness in Stadium and XC cost us 24 points. Overall, I am super happy with how it ended up. We both had an awesome time, and I felt like we accomplished our goals.
- Finish with a Number not a Letter: Did this! We ended up with a final score of 54.3. A great benchmark for the rest of the season!
- Do Not Use Negative Self-Talk: I didn’t say anything negative about myself at all. I was proud of my rides and positive in my abilities.
- Focus on Relaxation and Rhythm: Needs more forward was written more than once on my Dressage score, but it was consistent and fluid. Overall, we scored our best score yet of 30.3, and received a comment about us being a lovely pair!
- Enjoy It: Did this. I was completely wired and on a high for several hours after the competition ended. Luckily, my fiance really just enjoys seeing me happy, so he listed to me recap my rides practically on loop the whole way home.
Things not on the list (but I decided to discuss anyway).
- A Certain Dressage Score: Again, we got our best Dressage score ever, even without having the best ride we could have. I would like to end up in the 20s this year, but the focus is definitely going to be on the jumping in the near future.
- Clean Jumping Rounds: We got one rail, and we had a refusal at the water. I am not heartbroken about either of these things (or even really bothered by them), but they are things I would like to improve.
- Make My Trainer Proud: I think I did this. My trainer and I had a bit of a disagreement about this show. I wanted to go right to BN, and she wanted me to get my feet wet at the 2’ – 2’3” level. To give some reference, we had a ton of rails in Show Jumping at our last starter level HT in October. In February, we went to a clinic, participated in the BN section, and I fell off. We did OK at our XC schooling last month, but I only got to jump one or two full sized BN fences. After the show though, we both agreed at the end that BN was the right move for this show.
- Win: We did win the Dressage! That makes me super proud. May is not the fanciest horse. She isn’t a big, flashy warmblood, so it was really cool to see all of our hard work pay off. The jumping stuff with come with hard work and experience. Then, we will worry about winning events.