MC and I rolled out this morning at 5:30 to head to Pine Hill to school. It's where I took Reddums this spring to show, and they have a lovely course with lots of teeny-tiny jumps (well, and giant Prelim jumps too) and good footing. We made the two-hour drive safely, unloaded, and tacked up. We'd arranged to meet Toni S., an eventing trainer whom I've worked with before, for a lesson. We were on by 8:30 and headed out to the stadium arena to warm up.
Echo was, per usual, looky but not spooky. Toni was very impressed with how well he held it together and how little the stuff in the arena bothered him. He started off very rushy (understandable, as I have not worked him much this week due to the heat) and she gave me a really good exercise to get him to release his poll/jaw. She made the point that racehorses are taught to pull against the bit, so the last thing I want to do is put even pressure on both reins. I practiced softening him at the walk and trot by moving my outside hand to my inside hip, then immediately giving when he softened. (We also did inside rein to outside hip.) 10 minutes of this and I had a very soft, attentive horse. WOW! So awesome when you find something that works!
We did some trot poles to get going (he was brilliant), trotted an X a few times, then headed out to XC. Toni rode on a Gator, which I thought might be a problem, but Echo never batted an eye at it. Unfortunately, what he DID bat an eye at were the other horses coming near him. In fact, he got downright naughty about Red coming toward him, and another horse cantering within 100 feet of him. Both times he tossed in a few bucks and thought about taking off, but I growled at him and he knocked it off. We really need to work on riding in traffic - I can't keep him away from other horses in a show situation forever, so we're going to have to learn to deal with it.
Our first log was a bit of a flub - came in at a good forward trot and I forgot to ride him all the way OVER the fence, so he sort of petered out in front of it. I smooched to him and kicked and we hopped over it, so no refusal, which was good. We trotted that one a few more times, stopping on a straight line after it. He started to get the idea and we moved on to a tiny brushbox (with no brush). This time we walked up to it, then trotted a few steps out. He was super good over it several times, hopping it and stopping nicely after. Awesome!
Next, we went to a big manmade hill that has some T/P jumps on it. Here we just walked up and down the hill, and he was balanced both ways. We had a momentary fit when Red trotted off up the hill and Echo was "left", but I asked him for some bend and we got back under control quickly. After that we went on a walk through the woods (he neglected to spook at the rabbit that zipped across the path, but we have those at home), and then came up to a small bench. Toni asked if we wanted to jump it and I was a bit nervous, as it was funny-looking and bigger than anything else we'd done. But I put on my big girl panties and trotted up to it - and over he went, cantering away nice and balanced as you please. WOOHOO! What a good Baby Racehorse!
From there we went on to do a teeny bank up/down, and that went so well that we tried the BN bank up/down. Up was super easy and he was very confident, but he took a moment to look at the down option. He stopped about 2 steps out, and I let him take a moment to figure it out. Then I closed my leg, sat up, and let my reins slide - and he stepped off like he'd done it a million times. We did it a few more times, and then we went up the Novice bank! He's now officially a pro at banks.
For our final stop, we headed to the water. Unfortunately, Echo seemed to have forgotten that he loves water and refused to get in. He wasn't even interested in taking a lead from Red, so we were on our own. We stood at the entry for perhaps 10 minutes without making much progress, and finally I turned him around and backed him in. I think he was a bit surprised when he first got in, but then I turned him around and let him stand for a moment and he was fine. We walked around in the water a bit and then trotted through it no problem, but when I went to trot him out he stopped dead and WOULDN'T LEAVE THE WATER! We figured out pretty quickly that he didn't like the change in color of the footing (water was grey-green, sand was reddish where it was wet), but it took several tries to get him to leave the water, at which point he leapt out. We turned around and came back in, and this time trotted and cantered through the water, then went to leave - same problem. He just didn't want to come out! What a conundrum - I didn't want to let him stop in the water (afraid he'd roll) but I was getting tired keeping him moving and he was tiring quickly too. Eventually we managed to make a glorious leap out (eeek!) and then I trotted off to finish on the BN bank up, to end on a super positive note. We ended up cantering up to that one, and he thought about popping his right shoulder, but I smacked him with the bat twice on his shoulder and he went to it straight. We were up and over and called it a day!
All in all, we had a great day. He was a really good boy and I think we are really starting to click. However, we have a lot of work to do to be more confident out there. I'd like to shoot for GAG at the October schooling show, and I think we're going to need to school a couple more times for that to be a confident possibility. We've also got to work on the traffic issue - maybe some group jumping lessons? Something. Lots to think about.
Of course I have exactly zero pics of the entire experience. I had my camera on me, but was worried that as soon as I took it out to snap a pic (even an ear pic!) he'd find something to be silly about and it would all be over. So you will have to make do with the one I took after we were done...