Friday, May 20, 2011

Putting the thoughtful in Thoughtful Equestrian

Sometimes I just have to stop and think. This usually means something went amiss and I have to give myself a chance to sit back, stop reacting, and think things through. I went to my schooling three-phase on Sunday, and now I think I'm ready to write it up without declaring that we will never go sanctioned or that I need to become a dressage rider.

By this point everyone knows my mare is a superstar. We take her out, point her at new things, and she tries her heart out to the best of her TB brain's abilities. Which means we've been known to frighten small children in the jumping warm up or show off her athleticism with a leap spin combo, but she's still trying hard. She goes to work and the judges seem to love her light, springy gaits. She'll jump anything from any distance, angle, or speed. The problem is that she's been such a superstar that it's jarring when she's . . . not.

Looking back, I made some silly mistakes at the show. Our dressage warm up wasn't very good. She wasn't focusing well, which is nothing new when she first comes out, but rather than trotting on a loose rein until she settled I tried getting her to focus and go to work. The result was a tense horse that never shifted to her mellow self. Our dressage test showed that tension. She went to work and held it together for the test, but you could see it through her neck that she was distracted and edgy. We got our first 8 on a twenty meter trot circle, but we also got low marks for our walk due to jigging and not stretching. It was still a 35.0 and good for third place, but my trainer and I both knew that was not her usual performance.

The show had a very tight time line between phases and I had about 30 minutes to change to cross country gear and high tail it back for the jumping phases. I had Fiona in the three ring happy mouth, which we had schooled in, but in the show environment she got very reactive. I had the joyous moment of realizing she was behind my hand, behind my leg, and bolting. That's about the worst place to be on an athletic TB. Once I got a jump that didn't terrify people too much, I just went into stadium. She wasn't settling, she wasn't focusing, and dodging people in warm up was just making us escalate. The stadium course was very twisting with a lot of right angle turns and a true roll back to a two stride. I knew when I walked it that we were going to be in trouble. Add to that our warm up? I was praying to not get eliminated.

Of course she jumped everything I pointed her at, but she was so reactive. She almost dropped me when she saw a jump judge, half halts had her skittering, and our steering failed after the third hard turn on the course. Completely failed. I actually had to halt on course to get her back and then trot the three strides to the next fence. Luckily that wasn't considered a refusal since I hadn't presented yet, but we did get a rail in the two stride when she completely lost her forward in the roll back. She hates a course full of tight turns and quick changes. There are some pictures of us leaving the ring. I'm petting her and talking to her, but her eyes were very worried. Poor baby.

She made it up to me on cross country. Or I made it up to her, depending on how you look at it. As soon as we opened up for a long canter in the field, she settled. The princess was a different horse, sitting light in my hands, ears pricked, and hunting for the next fence. Finally, in the last phase, she settled down and lost that tension and worried look.

So, what did I learn? It's a schooling show, that's the point of going to the things. I'm supposed to learn stuff. I learned that you don't ever put the princess to work before she's relaxed. If you do? She gets stuck that way. Better to go into dressage without picking her up than to pick her up too soon. Also, never rush dressage warm up. I cannot care if they are looking to get someone in the ring. It's not my ride time, they can wait until my girl is ready. I'm such a softie, I just went right in.

The second thing, and what I went over with my trainer today, is that we're back to hunting for the perfect jumping bit. Elevator happy mouth failed the big test, so we're going to try something else. A Dr. Bristol came up, since she's so high in front anyway that we're going to try going away from leverage. A loose ring waterford was also mentioned, since the issue is locking onto the bit and pulling. We need something she's comfortable with so she doesn't come unglued, but at the same time keeps her from locking her jaw and just doing things her way. I'll be putting her back in her hackamore this week, too, to see how she does with that rig. She has never come unglued with that, but stopping and steering are a wee bit more challenging. It's almost like I need to put her in something where she feels safe to disagree with me, but at the same time, have enough bit that I can win the argument when she does have her own opinion.

This is why I have so much gear. I can't believe I'm going to own more bits.

Peyton ate the pen to my tablet, so I can't render any of the more memorable moments of my weekend. It's really too bad, the image of the princess getting her mane pulled would have been perfect. Let's just say it took two people and I waited until the beginner lesson was out of the aisle to do it. She's lucky she's so cute all braided up.

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