I believe it was just two weeks ago when I made the statement that “Red would never event, and never do dressage, because he’s gaited.” Or something of that sort. Well, I should have had more faith in The Feerless War Pony, because he has proved me entirely wrong.
At the Working Equitation clinic last weekend, I was encourage to enter an eventing schooling show this weekend. On a lark, I decided to go. We entered the “Goldilocks” division (there is no such actual USEA division, this is made up by the show organizers) – Beginner Novice dressage test A, no flowers or scary fences in Stadium, and 2’3 max height on the XC fences.
We had a lot working against us. I haven’t jumped Red consistently in probably a year, although he’s jumped 3’ coops a few times while out foxhunting this season. I was out of practice and so was he. Also, he’s never, EVER schooled a cross-country course. He’s never jumped a brush fence, or gone into a water jump, or anything like that. Most people at this show had not only been XC many times, but they had schooled the same course that they rode this weekend. And then of course there’s dressage. Yeah, we made huge inroads last weekend, but there’s a big difference between having a trainer (with magic trainer dust) walking you through every stride on an endlessly repeating 20 meter circle, and having to string movements together in a test. So yeah, not the most prepared I’ve ever been for a show. WTF was I THINKING?
And as I walked the XC course yesterday morning, I was also wondering WTF was I DOING! Those 2’3 logs were HUUUUGE! And could we make the time? 300 mpm? I mean, sure, Red can keep up hunting, but usually we jump 2 or 3 fences in a row and then we’re done. Would he quit on me halfway through? I made some whiny comments to MC, who went with me to groom for the day, and questioned my sanity. Again.
The dressage warmup was pretty awful. The warmup area footing was super hard, and Red did not like it AT ALL. Even his trot was flat, and his canter was worse than it has been. We missed a bunch of leads, and they had been so good on Saturday. Me being tense did not help at all, I’m sure. I’d studied how the test would be scored carefully beforehand, and of course there was a lot of emphasis on the up/down canter transactions (each scored separately) as well as the canter itself. I knew we’d have to make up for it on the trot work if we could.
We went into the arena and gave it our best go. The initial trot was really good, and then we blew the left canter lead, which landed us a 4. Downward canter/trot transitions were as awful as expected, although I managed to get him to actually trot and we got back into a fairly tidy trot quickly. We got an 8 for the free walk, which was extra good since it had a 2x coefficient. The right trot circle was OK, and the right lead canter depart was iffy, as was our right canter circle (his hard direction). I believe the comment said something like “loss of rhythm” – um yeah, that would be where my horse was doing a 4 beat gaited thing? I dug my spurs in and urged him to keep going, and we did actually manage to complete the entire circle without breaking. I had a hard time getting him organized enough for the right turn down center line, so we rather flubbed that move, but we finished the test and stayed in the arena. Overall we scored a 39 (YIKES!) and landed in 3rd place.
A good moment in trot.
Free walk. I'll take the 8!
This is what a gaited "loss of rhythm" canter looks like. Note how far forward my outside leg is, turning his shoulder. We got the circle, but wow my leg looks funny from head-on!
Another nice trot moment.
Each competitor is required to volunteer for an hour at these shows, so MC and I went out to jump judge Prelim and Training. We had an impressive ABC combo for Prelim – an enormous rolltop, 2 strides to a ditch, 2 strides up a hill to a seriously skinny fence. All 5 Prelim competitors rode it well, and I was SO happy to hear two of them come through counting “One-TWO, One- TWO!” before the first fence. I’m not the only one who does iiiiiiiit! (singsong voice)
I had to head back early to get ready for stadium, then about had a heart attack when they said our division was going early. I raced to tack up Red, sped up to stadium to walk the course in 30 seconds (I handed Red to some stranger to hold while I walked it), and then hopped on to warm up. Red liked the footing in the stadium warmup arena much, much better – I had a nice, forward, bouncy pony under me. I kept warmup to an absolute minimum – we jumped the X, the vertical, and the oxer, and called it good. Red isn’t the type that will put up with a lot of warmup or repetition – he wants to get out there and get the job done, no fuss no muss. Fine with me, it just means that *I* need to be spot on so I don’t have to drill myself.
I headed back up to stadium and watched a few rounds to make sure I had the course down. It was just simple poles, no flowers, brush, rolltops, or stone walls, so I wasn’t worried about the actual fences. A couple people had stops and rails down, but I just wanted to ride the course forward and balanced, and not let Red chip. My turn came, we trotted in, got the whistle, and started on the left lead. Fence 1 was a crossrail which I flubbed (oops), then an easy turn to a vertical, and 3 was another easy vertical. We made a wide-ish loop to fence four, and oxer. Red was on the left lead but kept his balance through the right-hand turn, and I opted not to try to fix it but just ride what I had. Fence 5 should have been a right lead as well, but he stayed left and I didn’t mess with him. We had a bit of a mess turning to fence 6 – he was unbalanced – but we got it back together in time and had a nice spot off a short turn off the rail. A long canter to fence 7, and another long go to fence 8 – he came barreling down and I sat up a little to organize him, but we got over on a bit of a long spot anyway. However, no rails down! Go Wonder Pony!!! I patted him over and over again and told him what a superstar he was, and I’m pretty sure he was like, “Yeah, I’m all that!”
We had a long break until XC, where DA (who was also showing) and I talked a little and MC snuck in a nap. The warmup area was the same as for dressage, hard as a rock. I trotted Red around once each direction, cantered once each way, and jumped the warmup log once off each lead. Red was starting to get frustrated with everything, snatching the reins out of my hands during the walk breaks. I took him over to MC, where he ate grass for a bit. While we were waiting for our turn, Red ate MC’s Charley Bears, which are actually dog treats that she’d brought along for her service-puppy-in-training. Apparently Red likes liver-flavored dog treats, who knew?
Finally, we were up! I started my watch with 5 seconds to go, walked into the start box and cantered out of it. Red seems to have this extra gear reserved for foxhunting and cross-country – powerful and balanced. We blasted over the first log and came around to fence 2, a rolltop. I screwed up the spot ‘cause I was looking at the fence, and lost my right stirrup on the landing. Red kept going as I fished around for it, and fortunately we had a nice long run before fence 3, a ramp. Fence 4 was another log going up a bit of a hill, and then a sharp left turn and another good run took us to fence 5, which was a small drop. Red looked at it a bit as we came up to it, as if he couldn’t quite figure out what to do with this half-log on the ground, but we’ve dropped off a small bank at home enough times that he went over it without fuss. We then had to weave through a Novice and Training set of fences to get to fence 6, a bridge. He trotted boldly over that, then a sharp left to fence 7, which was a HUGE log that we shared with BN. I kept my eyes up, leg on, and clucked to him, and he went right over. We had a bit of a zigzag through the woods to fence 8, which was a brush fence. I felt him take a good look at that one when we came around the corner – he’s never jumped brush before – but I again closed my leg and it was no problem. I looked at my watch and we were FAST. Ooops! I’d figured that I could make up time on course between 9 and 10, but opted to ride quietly instead. Fence 9 was another log that I almost missed the turn to, but Red’s super-maneuverable and recovered from my mistake in time to make the jump look tidy. A long canter to fence 10 (I had to remind myself to slow down, I was having so much FUN!), which was a trot through the water. Red took a small look at it but went right in and trotted through, splashing everywhere. He got a bit behind my leg and I was a little worried about him taking the opportunity to stop for a roll, so I gave him a tap with my whip and reminded him that he was still on the clock. We came out of the water, I asked him for a left canter, and we made a tidy turn around some trees and headed for home. We took a HUUUGE (for him) spot on fence 11 and galloped across the finish line, with me yelling “WOOOHOOO!!!!”
OhMyGawd, I haven’t had that much fun in YEARS. I’m still picking the bugs out of my teeth!
Definitely bugs in there.
So yeah. We finished second on our (not so great) dressage score, two points behind a lady riding a 22 year old made eventer who had done Training her daughter several years before. You know, I’m good with that. :)
I think Red has the scope, talent, and heart to do Beginner Novice jumping-wise, but if we really want to be competitive, I have got to get our dressage together. I suspect that part of the not-bending-left thing may be tooth-related, which is logical since everyone is due for a floating anyway. I also know that our saddles don’t fit him very well, so I’d like to get our saddle fitter out to see what we can do. I’m hoping that I can get some shorter panels for my RP dressage saddle and change the billet system around, and perhaps get a shim pad for my jumping saddle. I’m hoping that better-fitting saddles will lead to less hollowness in the canter, as well as fewer balance problems.
And for those of you who are thinking, “Wait, weren’t you looking for a new horse?” Yeah, I am. But it doesn’t seem so pressing right now. After all, I have Reddums the Feerless Eventing War Pony!