And I think you need to stop following misery's lead
Shine away shine away shine away
Isn't it time you got over how fragile you are
We're all waiting
Waiting on your supernova
Cause that's who you are
And you've only begun to shine ~ Anna Nalick, Shine
So Carmen and I headed to our last show of the season over the Labour Day weekend. I'm going to give a recap and try to be succinct without losing the detail that help things to make sense.
We trailered over on Friday and she settled in like she always does- easily. We were able to ride in the show ring on friday by booking ahead and paying $5 per half hour. I always book two slots and I was glad that I did because she was full of herself. Fortunately, Shanea was there to coach me through it and we ended having a really good session in there. Carmen had decided that the pink flowers at H, C & M were deadly and was not going to go near them. But we persisted (ha, see what I did there?) and finally she was soft and listening. I do love it when she's rideable.
My ride times were in the afternoon both days so in the morning I walked her around and let her graze. We looked at RVs and a mini-putt, watched traffic on the highway nearby and generally explored stuff. I also lunged her out on the grass. Something that she thought was a pretty silly idea.
|why would I want to run around on this delicious stuff?|
So we headed into the ring to do our test and I was full of optimism. For the sake of understanding what I'm writing about I'm including videos of my tests.
Overall I thought that there were some good moments with some bobbles. She didn't want to leg yield left into the corner and I had to get after her causing her to get pissy. Most notably at around the 3:15 mark where she decided that she was running away and no amount of inside leg was going to get her to go over. I should have kept my hands together more but I did what I could in the moment. I regrouped and we carried on. A 3:50 she shied in again and I had to get after her. So both canter lengthens were a total mess. And her canter was so stiff that it was bouncing me out of my seat. I was stiff as well and clearly was not making it easier. I tried to give her rein for the stretchy circle but she wasn't having any of it and I didn't want to give her freedom if she wasn't stretching.
I trotted down centre line, halted and smiled at the judge and said 'never give up'. Because to be honest I wasn't completely bummed out over this test because I felt that I had kept riding her actively and getting her back. When she was good she looked great. That phrase though turned out to be prophetic.
We had about 90 minutes until our next test so I took her back to the stall to relax and have a rest. I was so happy to have some of my friends there encouraging me: Janet, Nancy and Cindy were all there. I was in the barn resting when Shanea's mother brought my score sheet to me. I was so disappointed to see a score of 57.97%. Mostly because I really wanted to stay over 60 all year. I looked at the judge's comments and they were: "Nice horse-when rider is better able to influence the suppleness and concentration marks should improve". Which I immediately interpreted as 'Nice horse, rider sucks' (my rider score was also 5.5). I was very very upset with this. It felt mean.
Now I know that judging is hard and I don't want to do it. I also know that it's possible that she didn't mean it that way. But that's how it came across. I showed the video to Shanea and she gave some pointers but I likely was not at a point of being able to really listen. I did say that when Carmen comes against my leg no amount of push will send her back. She knows that she can just run through it.
I brought spurs if you want to try them Shanea said. And I said YES!
Because trying out spurs on your hot horse at a show is the most perfect time ever, am I right?
None the less I put them on (they were very small spurs) and headed off to warm up. When Carmen pushed against my leg I had more leverage to say 'get back over there missy'. I was happy where we were on our warm up so we went in to do our second test.
Overall it felt better and had more flow. I was happy with her square halt coming across at B but her head came up because the door to the outside was open and a horse walked by. On the first canter lengthen she was trying to run in but my little metal motivator kept her on the line (although her haunches fell in). Same thing on the second canter lengthen. On the second canter loop she was sure we were going across the diagonal (like in Test 2) and was surprised and irked that we did the loop. She almost did a flying change but we kept it together. And on our last trot lengthen she fell into canter. Overall I was happy with the test. I kept her in the line and the mistakes were just that- mistakes, not resistance. I was even okay with her falling into canter on the trot lengthen because at least that was a mistake in forward energy, not backward (in other words she wasn't balking or backing off).
My score was a disappointing 58.53%. My rider score went up to 6 and the comment was 'attractive horse- gets long and strung out easily- losing balance.
I was still dealing with the idea that I totally sucked as a rider. I watched other riders go and they just seemed to have it so together. Now I know that I have no idea of their journeys and I was so happy to seem them have great rides. I was also jealous. And that is just me being honest. I'm not proud of how I felt. My friend Tanya gave me the sweetest pep talk. That I don't remember but that it made me feel better. I seriously considered packing up and going home. If it hadn't been for Paula I think I might have. My friend Karen told me to think of the question 'why do you ride'. Which is a good one to think on.
I decided to stay and forget about scores and judges and take this as a schooling opportunity.
I had a crappy sleep that night and was feeling less than motivated to show the next day. I repeated the activities of Saturday: hand walking, grazing. lunging. I had a lunch around 11 (about 3 hours before my first ride) and it just seemed to sit in my stomach like a lump.
I walked Carmen over towards the warm up ring and a motorcycle roared by us on the highway (it's just on the other side of the fence) and backfired. Carmen went from mellow and relaxed to full on wired. Which is to be expected. I just kept walking and she settled down. I mounted and headed into the warm up ring. I should explain that the warm up area is a 20x40 indoor arena with large doors at each end. There is a small window that was open on Sunday because it was warm. You can can see the alley between the warm up and the show ring and there are people, horses etc walking by. To me this looked like a benign window. To Carmen it must of looked like this:
Because as we walked by she leapt sideways and almost careened into another rider. I yelled an apology (and I am so very very sorry). I tried to work her and get her over it but she was spiralling. Someone asked if I wanted them to close it and I said yes. I would have preferred to work on it but I was derailing other people's warm up and that was not fair. Things improved with it closed but I had to work really hard to keep her with me. Finally I had her on the aids and soft. It felt quite good.
We headed into the ring and I went to work. It's not that I forgot about the judge- I didn't. But she became irrelevant. We were in the ring to ride this test and school. And so that's what I did. My goal was that I was to be the one making all the decisions and Carmen was to do things because I said so. Not if she wanted to. Now before you think that I'm being mean and cruel and don't I know Xenophon that nothing beautiful can be forced? Of course I do. Except that Carmen was not scared of anything in that ring. I could walk her by all of it on a loose rein and she was fine. It was to get out of work, pure and simple. So every error I corrected and carried on.
And by god we were bending. I didn't care how strong an aid I had to use or how it looked, if I put my leg on to bend and she ignored it I was fucking making her bend. You will see at about the 4:30 mark she tries to run in and I am like 'nope. We are going back to the rail and I'm STILL going to get after you to lengthen those 3 strides. You can see my left leg coming off and booting her back. At the 5:29 mark you can see think about bopping away and both my legs came on and drove her forward. It was not a pretty test but we got it done. Carmen's face at the end kind of says it all. I didn't even see my score or my test until the show was all over because at this point it didn't really matter. I was sure it was awful. My mark was 59.22%, with the comment "rider has nice leg position but needs to be more balanced in the saddle and able to influence the bend from the inside leg to the outside rein. (see rider sucks!) Truthful to be sure. I am riding to the best of my ability and Carmen is able to stiffen everything and it's like riding a pogo stick.
For our last test of the show I planned on a 25 minute warm up. I went in and we walked a bit in both directions asking her to soften and stretch. I then put my leg on for a trot transition and she was unnnh, I don't want to (if you imagine a whiny voice saying it you'll get the picture). Both of my legs came on and I booted her with the spurs and she leapt forward into a canter. That was fine. I asked for forward and so forward we went. After that my warm up was on prompt transitions, bending and changing stride length. It felt really really good.
With a deep breath and a oh god can I have a beer soon we headed in.
This time on entering the ring I picked up a trot right away and dealt with her wanting to balk at various flowers and the chair in the corner. My goal was simple: we were not going to have any silly spooking.
And guess what? We didn't! We laid down our best test of the show. I rode every inch of that ring. And mistakes were just that- mistakes. We had a bobble for the first canter depart but sorted it out. There was none of this running away, or going sideways crapy. When she was good I recached out and stroked her neck to let her know. On our first canter lengthen she thought about running in but I kept her going forward. It still looks awful but it's way better then running away which is what she wanted to do. At the end I gave her a hug and said see that's what we do. The judge said something along the lines of 'it was too bad you couldn't have done that for your other tests' I smiled and said 'well she didn't bolt so there's that'. Because what does she know of our history? And why should it matter. She judges what's in front of her and that's the thing to do. My only advice is to try to focus on the 'constructive' part of constructive criticism. Our score for this test? 62.21% and the comments: some nice moments. Needs to be more consistent. Rider needs to be able to influence the balance more with her seat, not the hands. Fair enough. Will continue to work on that. The spurs are going to be part of my riding for now. There will be no more running through my leg or refusing to bend. I will have to be careful to not get too dependent on them or overuse them.
I am really glad that I persisted in the show. And it felt like a major breakthrough that we had no spooks in the last test; not because Carmen decided not to but because I decided that there wouldn't be.
That feels like something important.
So I have homework for the rest of the riding season. For now Carmen and I are on a break from schooling this week. Pretty sure she's going to enjoy that.