Rocking Horse II has come and gone, as has the prospect of my hopeful training horse thanks to the owner’s truck breaking down. I did manage to pay my entry fee, but God forbid I ever actually get ahead! The two horses I had going both competed at Novice: Forrest aka Alloy in Novice Horse and Monte in Open Novice, so it was convenient only having one dressage test and XC course to memorize. Monte, my 10yo National Show Horse gelding, went first in all three phases, and I was happy that he was my crash test dummy for the day, leaving me better odds of success with Forrest, my 4yo Irish Sport Horse training horse. Or so I hoped.
I went in thinking dressage would be cake for Monte, who schools tempis, canter half-pass, lengthenings, piaffe & passage and the beginnings of pirouettes at home, and who most importantly, has been schooling all this WHILE using his Arabian/Saddlebred back. All we had to do in our test were trot-canter-trot transitions and 20 meter circles! I do believe we won the warm-up, but tension built as we trotted our few laps past the judges booth and (gasp!) people were shuffling papers and moving and talking and doing things! The bell rang, I finished my lap and headed for centerline. Monte sucked back into a pony-gaited, four-beating western pleasure horse the instant the footing went from grass to clay/fiber/sand with a glare. Rather than posting or doing anything to get him moving forward, I calmly and quietly rode the hollowness of his back for the duration of the test. He needs to get used to working within the confines of an arena, not just in my green, wide open pastures – and next time, I’ll definitely utilize the 20×20 meter area at the end of the arena before my test, so he can acclimate to (gasp!) different footing!
The stadium and XC phases were what I thought would be our weak points. He was a little excited and jumped like a jackrabbit in stadium. We had 3 time faults, but he jumped everything and cleared it. We would have finished last in a hunter class, but smooth and consistent is something we’re working toward. As soon as he trotted in he got hawky around all the jumps and my defensive “ride like hell but get over the jumps” menTality took over. I need to work on keeping my schooling brain in the show ring, even though it’s not always that great.
On Sunday, we had our cross-country, and in typical Julie form, I pushed my time waaayyyyy to close getting there because I had an opportunity to make money in the am. I about had a nervous breakdown when Kelsey, my boyfriend, wanted to drive around slowly trying to park the truck and trailer. I tacked Monte up while close to tears, jumped on and trotted to the warmup. I had planned to walk the course a second time that morning, but had to rely on my poorly detailed course map and memory from my walk the day before. We had a good 5-minute warm-up then shot out of the start box. Even though we drifted around on course a few times in search of the the next fence and getting in a tiff with a tree along the way, it was fantastic! We came in well under time and Monte was GOING over the fences. I worried most with him on XC because when we school, he questions a lot of the fences. But today, he was bold having a ball. I’m left thinking I need to let him open up more when we school because it’s easier for him to jump out of a bigger pace?
All I wanted for Forrest was for him to keep his 4yo marbles. He’s technically 5 now, but he was an August or September baby, so he’s got it tough in that respect. He was a little hot in dressage, which is a little good because he’s normally a plug when we school flat at home, so he gets to show off how fancy he can be. He whinnied in his canter circle right – multiple times, careened around corners and fell out of his transitions, but the judged liked him saying he was “very cute and very busy.” And he scored better than Monte. I’m not sure how much the different judge, different division or that his gaits did at least remain pure throughout the test had to do with it all… I’m sure they all played a part.
We school a lot on the flat at home, but getting any control in the canter at all has been our focus. Bodywork and ulcer meds have played a part in helping and I like to describe Forrest as having more movement than his body can handle at this point, so I don’t stress out, nor does his owner, that his dressage is not amazing at this point. It will come, and we just want good miles on him.
Stadium for him could have doubled for a pinning hunter round, and I was so proud of him. He was all business, and I think this is the first stadium round we’ve had where he hasn’t whinnied while jumping. I had time penalties with him, as well, so apparently I need to kick it up a notch when I plan to win, not just have a respectable outing. We did have an awkward jump in there, but overall it was relaxed and we had no refusals or rails.
Then came XC. I’d already gone around on Monte and definitely knew my course this time. We had a good warm-up, and I wasn’t a nervous wreck coming into it, and I even trotted him out of the start box to let Forrest get his head in the game. He didn’t hesitate at the ditch, but got “up” as soon as we came to the drop complex. Instead of everything being more stretched out, obstacles and flags for every course were smashed together. I’ve schooled him at every possible drop at Rocking Horse, higher than what he’ll be asked for on a Novice course… except this one, because it’s been roped off. I brought him down to a trot ahead of time, to give him a chance to look at the question a little better, kicked and gave him a couple taps to keep him going, and he gave me the middle finger. I wheeled him around and gave the “GO, DAMMIT!” aids, to no avail. We were excused.
We walked back and I thought I’d rather have been excused on Monte than a client’s horse. I struggled with how much Forrest should be able to get away with as a “baby,” and that he can’t pull that card forever – when I say go, he should trust me and go. You can’t look at everything first. I shouldn’t have wheeled him around and tried to push him over the drop, I should have just let him stand there and look at it. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. It sucks, but it’s part of life, and even horses in the Olympics have the occasional refusal. But, dammit, I will do better next time.
I was still happy just to have been able to show, and each horse gave me strengths as well has showing me how much homework I have.