The rub in question, highlighted with some Alushield so it actually shows up in photos
So let's look on the bright side: I will be very focused on getting Theo in front of my leg. In his clinic on Monday the clinician wanted him straight and forward. Mostly forward. Okay, pretty much all forward. While he's made a world of progress, he's still got more to go in terms of being his own source of impulsion. Losing my spurs for a couple weeks will give me a very good reason to get him propelled along under his own power.
My spurs have also become a sort of safety blanket. When I thought about trying to go to a show without them, I felt something like panic. Clearly I couldn't ride without them! That's not healthy. Yes, he's much easier to ride when he can't bulge against my leg and wait for me to get tired, but it isn't impossible. If I can't get him around a 2'3" hunter course without my spurs? We've got bigger issues. My spurs are supposed to be for precision and lateral work, not to make him go.
Besides, it turns out that forward wasn't our issue. At all.
It's been a long, long time since I went to a hunter show. Longer than I care to admit. I remember the classes, the requirements, what you're trying to do, but the details around the shows are a bit fuzzy. Showing up to a rated h/j show, even if it's very B rated, was a big reminder. I spent the day sorting through memories that were popping up out of the forgotten recesses of my mind.
First up, warm ups. Trainer A and I were at the show grounds at 6am, right when warm ups started. We were the third trailer on the grounds. By the time we had the kids settled and turned ourselves in to the secretary, there was an endless stream of trailers coming in. My old h/j skills kicked in and I tacked Theo as fast as I could. By 6:20am, I had his butt in the competition ring, using my warm up time. I was the only one in the ring. This turned out to be a life saver because Theo was not dealing with one corner of the ring. There was a watering truck, a concession stand, all sorts of wackiness in that corner. He was not having it. I was in that damn ring for a good 20 minutes. He barely noticed the fences. We were working strictly on getting him to go through that corner. I got a full blown pirouette and he bucked big enough to catch the EMT's attention. Yes, I was that rider. He jumped everything multiple times, no problems with the jumps, just not okay with that end of the ring.
Then I pulled his tack and had him chill for an hour until it was time to go in.
Chilling by the trailer after doing his best bronco impression in the warmup
I say chill like that happened. Poor Theo. I never really noticed the crowding at a h/j show until riding a horse that hates horses in his personal bubble. If I was anywhere near a ring, we were surrounded. It was an endless crush. The warm up shared by all three rings was the size of a small dressage arena. I can proudly report that Theo did not successfully bite, strike, or kick anyone. He didn't even seriously try to bite or strike though he was clearly thinking about it. Screaming children, squealing ponies, it was insane. A horse actually blundered into him at one point and I was so proud of him that he didn't double barrel it. No one would ever get that close to an unknown horse at an event or dressage show, but there's also not a waiting line at the in gate.
I'm proud of him for going in the ring when scared. I'm proud of him for jumping everything and doing better with each course. By our last course, we had some lines that I actually liked. Forward, straight, no drama, nice use of his body over the jump, ears pricked, correct striding, good distances. I'm proud of him for coping with the noise, the spectators, the absolute chaos that surrounded this show.
At least we dressed the part
I'm not proud of him losing his mind in the under saddle class. I thought he'd do well in the under saddle. We've been practicing cantering with multiple people, he copes with warm up rings. But when my entire division of 16 piled into the ring, I got nervous. It was very crowded. At the trot I held him together, but he was very tense. There were horses everywhere, I couldn't get him any breathing room. I thought for sure they would divide us for the canter. When the judge said all canter, I started praying. Hard.
Theo was already tense. He picked up the wrong lead, refused the swap, and fought me through the simple change. He tried to bolt and when I said no, he bucked. And then he bucked again. 16 women cantering their big horses around a ring and mine starts to lose his marbles. It was so crowded we couldn't get away from each other and Theo wanted to sink his teeth into all of the horses that dared to invade his space. There was a horse practically up Theo's butt and when he bucked a third time, I heard a gasp behind me. That's when I pulled him into the middle and halted. I was done. I couldn't get any space, I couldn't work through Theo's temper tantrum. It wasn't a positive learning experience and I excused myself from the ring before someone got hurt. The h/j types don't know what it means when you put your hand up and stop, btw. There was much confusion.
After that, the judge split all of the canters. I guess she noticed.
So I'm proud of him for showing up and coping for the most part. It was rather similar to our first rated dressage show, so that gives me hope that with repetition he'll settle into the job. But it's confirmed, he's not hunta' material. He had a hard time focusing with the waves of activity all around him and loathed the spectators staring at him and being so close to him. With about 60 people hanging on the rail for our under saddle, he was counterflexed and staring at them like they might try to touch him. Spectators have to stay way back from a dressage ring and trainers certainly aren't yelling commentary. He could have coped with about 8 horses cantering and some spectators, but he wasn't ready for that level of chaos. I don't know if he will ever be ready for that.
Post show liniment bath for the fried pony
The plan for the August h/j outing will be radically different. Adult modified is way too crowded of a division. Adult modified eq was even bigger. I scratched those classes because Theo had already blown a fuse and I didn't want to try an under saddle with 18 horses. I'm thinking we'll go in the jumper ring next time and do the puddle jumpers at 2'6". No flat classes, no style points, just go jump around. Will we be competitive? Eh. Theo can turn better than any horse I saw in the entire show because 10m canter circles are bread and butter for us. We did a beautiful 12m turn back to a jump in my hunter round to avoid that corner of death. Pity that hurts you in that division. But Theo is also slow. Making the time will be tricky, but it's worth a shot.
And then I'm throwing his temperamental ass into the hunter pleasure class. It's much smaller than the hunter classes. He will just have to learn to cope with other horses in the ring. Hopefully in a pleasure class he can think he's in the warm up and chill out for me. It will also be in a different ring than the one he jumps in, so he shouldn't key up just because he's walking in. It's worth a try. I wanted to let his leaser show him in suitable hunter (18"), but he can't do that if he decides he needs to kill the other horses. Make no mistake, he wasn't scared. He wasn't trying to run. He wanted to attack the horses around him and was furious I stopped him.
Not exactly a trait for a serious business hunta'. Good thing he's a dressage horse. And when we got home and he pranced, galloped, and bucked around his field with his pony and got the last of his rage out, I felt very content with his career choice. He's just too much horse to share the spotlight with anyone else.