He's the devil divine,
I'm so glad that he's mine,
'cause he's my big bad handsome man.
Imelda May - Big Bad Handsome Man
Sometimes it only take one damn thing. One seemingly stupid little thing to change the game. I went to my show with the intention of schooling my rather naughty horse on his manners around the outside of the ring. Sure, I was going to use the stuff I've been working on with Mary to improve our connection, but the goal was not to score well. It was to explain to my horse that the rules have changed and certain hijinx are no longer allowed.
On Saturday I took him into the outdoor and had him do a run through. Lo' and behold, he forgot everything I did in the indoor as soon as I saluted. Mom doesn't know how to actually ride in a test, so it's a free for all! I can do whatever I want! I had to school his naughty pony butt hard through the test to make an impression. No, you cannot throw your head in the air, invert, and act like an idiot just because I'm doing a test pattern. That picnic is over.
Today I put it to the test. I also decided that its a two way street and that I should probably stop pushing his buttons outside of the ring and then getting pissed when he explodes. I walked in on a long rein, asking him to stretch down and forward and swing. I freakin' moseyed down the long side, smiling at the coach that had just finished reading a test for her student. I got some double takes. Long rein, totally chill, just taking a gander at the ring before our test. The scribe seemed mystified as we walked by. I said good evening, gave my number, and gave my horse a big pat because he didn't even change his rhythm. He started to put his head up and I said no, you live in downtown. And he went right back down because he'd been doing it in warm up and it didn't occur to him to argue with a request to stretch. I just moseyed along until the bell rang. Then I shortened my reins, picked up a trot, and headed in.
By gods it worked. No spin, no bolt, no tension. He just marched. And when he tried to look at the judge's booth on center line? I said no, downtown. And he chewed and followed the connection down rather than fling his head in the air and put on a show. Was my poll too low? Absolutely, but it was a Training level test and he was soft and chill. The judge wrote 'harmonious - a pleasure to watch' on our test. Have we ever gotten that before? I don't think so. We got a 73% and unlike the last time we were at this show, I feel like we actually earned it. This judge wasn't throwing out points like candy (we got a 75% and a 76% with a different judge at this show, but Miss Thang got an 80%, it was nuts). We won our class.
I gave him a twenty minute break with his bridle off so I could get some water. Showing alone requires more planning. I kept his halter tied to the trailer so I could quickly swap him out. I sat, drank water, and choked down a Cliff Bar. He ate hay and wondered why his saddle was still on. Then I put his bridle back on and he knew. Oh, he knew. Time to go back for our First level test.
Short warm up since he had a very long warm up for the Training level test. I didn't want to risk hijinx and I didn't realize how effective downtown was, so I wanted to work him down. I went in for my First level test on a horse going 'but mom, I'm tired!'. Which was fair, I got on at 2:05 and his second test started at 3:50. But dressage-ing is hard and I pushed him along. It wasn't as stunning as our +70% Training level test, but it was very, very good for what we've had in recent months. A little more braced in the canter since he was tired, but the geometry was accurate and an 8 for the stretchy trot. 6 for the second canter lengthen since he had a 'woohoo' moment, bucked and scooted. But I brought him back easily and our misshapen circle wasn't too bad. I can't complain about a woohoo moment (the judge wrote 'mostly harmonious - one small disagreement :)'. I also got an error since I didn't really believe the First 1 free walk was so short, so I turned one letter too early. With our little issues, we still got a 67%. I can't complain. We won our class and got high point for First level. By seven percentage points. We basically whomped the other First level riders.
So having an actual connection gets us much higher scores. Go figure. Horses also can't spook effectively when their heads are down as opposed to trying to shove their ears up my nose. After centerline our frame was up where it was supposed to be, but with spooky pony, I'll take the hit for a low poll in exchange for him being quiet and soft. We flexed in both directions, got positive comments for our correct bend, and generally wowed the audience. I had several people come up to me to comment on how beautiful and polite my horse was. He might have totally slimed one of those nice ladies, but I suppose that's still polite. Sharing is caring. One of them knew Theo from back when they used to close all the gates before he attempted a test, since he tended to bolt. She barely recognized him, laying down a mature, confident test at First.
And then he got on the trailer without trouble, ate his hay, and made my job so easy. I'm so in love with my horse right now, it's ridiculous. Screw the tests and the scores, he was so polite and manageable on my solo trip. Tied to the trailer, stood on the trailer, was endlessly patient so long as I kept food in front of him. He stood like a rock while I managed my whip, my coat, my gloves, and everything else. I can't imagine showing alone with most horses. With mi papi? It was downright relaxing.
This was what we needed, a quiet, successful day to help us get our confidence back. I've discovered a potential solution for a multi-year problem. I got a pretty tri-color ribbon that I actually feel like I earned. We really, really needed this boost.