First of all, thank you so much for all of the supportive, positive-vibe comments on the last post. They really cheered me up.
Until then, I do have a smattering of photos.
And now, alas, the full report. Brace yourself: it’s long.
Thursday – Travel & Pre-Dressage
Our journey to Santa Ynez went perfectly. No traffic, no issues, perfect weather. Hemie settled in to his temp stall like a champ. I had plenty of time to check in and get a lay of the land. We suited up for our “pre-dressage” ride, where you get to do your test in a competition arena for a judge to get her feedback and a fully graded test.
|Settling right in.|
Hemie got a longe and seemed 100% comfortable in his new surroundings. I hopped on for our warm up, and he was a bit tense. Horses everywhere, lots of excitement. He started acting up a bit (shoulder bulging, trying to run off to the side, not wanting to move forward), and we worked through it. Having a trainer there is key.
We headed over to the dressage court and Hemie settled into a nice rhythm for our circling. Given the warm up antics, I was proud of our performance for the judge. Hemie got a little stuck and behind the leg at times, but no tantrums and there were certainly sections of him really trying to be a good boy, stretching downward and moving freely.
The judge’s recommendations for at-home training was mostly things we already do (running martingale, trainer rides). But she did offer 3 new things for us: 1) me sitting with my shoulders more back than normal. Apparently what I think is straight is still hunchy. 2) pulsing the reins with squeezes every stride to encourage connection to the bit. 3) sitting DEEP when he gets hippity-hoppity (easier said than done – my trainer normally advises standing in the irons to avoid getting dumped). I tried all 3 in a circle exercise in front of the judge and it seemed to help. I’ll post our scores soon.
Friday – Dressage
My ride time was 1pm so I had plenty of time to take care of ponykins, watch some awesome riders, and then get ready to show. This time Laurie longed Hemie with some jerry-rigged side reins (note to self, bring side reins to next show). I hopped on and Hemie’s warm up was improved from the day before, but still with some acting up which we dealt with quickly. Hubbykins surprised me by showing up to watch – a nice treat.
|Note to self, do not walk away from horse after braiding for dressage.|
Our test felt improved from the day before. I could feel Hemie trying for a good deal of the test, and then we kinda lost it going 2nd direction (tracking right). He broke to canter during the trot circle and for our right canter he kept swapping leads and trying to do haunches in.
I thought our free walk was quite good, though we scored horribly. Its all relative. Overall I felt good about our performance – no jumping out of the arena plus some special moments of actual connection and stretching. Score sheet to come later, but our placing was 7th out of 8, with only 0.5 points separating me from #6 and #8.
Saturday – Cross Country
The day I was most concerned about. I had walked my course many times and visualized it over and over (and over and over and over). The big Es with Spirit loomed in the back of my mind, though I tried to squash it. I reminded myself that I’ve never gotten eliminated with Hemie before in cross country, and that I was allowed 3 refusals or run-outs before getting eliminated on the 4th (unless you get 3 at one jump, which Hemie’s never done). My plan was to trot our first fence and then let him canter the rest of the course as that is his preferred gait. My plan was to hold on to the neck strap and really try to release the reins before the jumps and give him the opportunity to be an amazing XC machine. My plan was to count our strides out loud to remind me to be steady.
|Early morning fog clouding the vineyards.|
Hemie longed like a dream, stretching downwards and lifting his back. I hopped on and the warm up went wonderfully – a little excited but he settled down to work right away. He got a tad strong jumping but we asked him to stay light and steady and within a few minutes he was hopping from a rhythmical trot and canter like a champ.
My number was called over the loud speaker to head to the start box, and Hemie chose that moment to throw a tantrum. Up and sideways and backwards. Oh boy.
Laurie came over and grabbed my rein and marched me to the start box. I’m sure she was saying reassuring things to me but I couldn’t hear her over my heart pounding. She walked me around the box and into it. She held us for the 10 second countdown.
We trotted up to the first jump and I felt no hesitation from Hemie whatsoever.We cantered to our next jump and he needed a strong half-halt but then he chose to trot the jump. We cantered along to #3 and I finally remembered my plan (release the reins, count out loud). His hips swung wide but we made it over. I then forgot my plan for the rest of the ride.
Halfway from jump 4 to 5 we had an exit-stage-left moment out of nowhere. I circled him back around to our track and we made it over #5. Then I did a detour to add in the BN ditch, and another detour to add in a BN water. Hemie backed himself off all of the jumps and chose to trot.
Finally, a few jumps from home, I decided to ask him to canter the rest of the way and he was game to do so. As we cantered through the finish flags I felt the tears welling up. I was so proud of us. We made it. No refusals. No runouts. Only one moment of naughtiness but the rest of time he was great, and he ate up the jumps like a champ.
We were the only rider with time penalties so that bumped us to last place.
|Our small group.|
Sunday – Stadium Jumping
|Our barn-mate Kelly riding George in Training Level.|
Whew, we made it through the tense dressage days and the nerve-wracking cross country! I knew we were going to rock stadium as we’ve been to several shows this year including lots of hunter/jumper and derbies and have been doing great. I was feeling pumped – happy that we were on a trajectory to meet my 2013 goal of completing a horse trial without getting eliminated (with the bonus of getting a ribbon even if I came in dead last).
Hemie was an extra snuggle bug as I cleaned his stall, though I did flat-out tell him that there better be no nonsense in the warm-up or I was going to beat the crap out of him. Longing was a formality, though it was hot and a bit breezy and he got snorty. My friend Jess came to watch and graciously helped schlep my stuff down to the arena – she brought my show jacket, and I had her bring both my safety vests too, just in case. I hopped on and was feeling great.
|Jess feeding ze pony|
We got to the warm up arena. And Hemie freaked out. Bulgy and dodging to the side. I kept to my word and gave him a whapping. It did nothing. He continued to slide sideways, careening into trees and into poor children on ponies (remember, we’re in the intro division). We are talking scary, dangerous. Thank goodness I had the neck strap on him because I swear it saved me from eating it.
Laurie rescued us by coming over to grab a rein and hand-walked us around the arena (mr. OTTB feels secure by being ponied). At this point I put on my jacket and both safety vests.
We tried to regroup in a corner but it wasn’t working. At some point we gave up on flatwork and decided to try a jump or two to see if that settled him; after all, he loves jumping. It didn’t work. He continued to be a nutcase.
Finally I had a breakthrough – a mini-victory in halting his slide out to the side. We almost fell over sideways, but we didn’t, and he seemed to get some of his brain back. But it left again a minute later, and that’s when Laurie said “that’s it – you’re done.”
UGH. The worst feeling ever. I felt sick to my stomach when she said that. If riding a crazy horse that I was sure I was gonna fall off of in front of a huge crowd was bad, hearing you can’t ride is worse. Feeling desperate I started rambling and asking questions while walking circles around Laurie. He’s never been this bad before, could he have slept badly? Tack bothering him? Tired from the show days? Is he just scared? Naughty? Laurie doesn’t play the what-could-it-be game and just said, point-blank, that I simply do not have the skills as a rider to handle a crazy ex-racehorse when they pull this kind of disobedience. “Don’t feel bad about it, you just haven’t been riding horses off the track for several decades, which is what is needed.”
I felt bad about it anyway. “But I was stern with him as soon as he started!” “Yes, but you’re timing is off. You have to release your reins with racehorses to get them to go forward – it takes practice and guts to do that.” Which makes sense. I was holding onto him for dear life, trying to pull him into submission and away from children on ponies. After a few minutes I mustered up the courage to ask Laurie if I could still try to take him into the show jumping round.
“Of course you’re going down there to do the show jumping round.”
Apparently the you’re done meant done with the warm up. Relief flooded into me. Since I was last place after XC, I was first to do the show jumping round. They called us down. Laurie ponied us over, and Hemie felt calm and relaxed. It was time. I let all the stress melt away. I mentally left that freak out session in the warm up arena. I knew we could rock this.
We entered the arena, and he immediately started to freak out. Dodging to the side, backing up. At some point the judges rang the bell, and I knew I had 45 seconds to get our shit together and get between those start flags.
I pointed him at the flags, and he flew backwards. I whapped him, I turned him, I kicked him. Finally I halted him and petted his neck, and told him we were going to be okay. I turned him back towards the start flags and he tried to run out the arena. Grrr.
It must have taken us 44 seconds, but damn it we got between those start flags. Possibly sideways. He hopped over the first jump and I told him he was the best boy ever. I couldn’t believe we had made it – we had started our round.
We headed towards jump #2. Another tantrum, bulging to the side. I tried turning him back to the approach, but he was having none of it. We ended up next to the jump, facing the wrong way. I scooched him over sideways so that we were in front of the jump, facing the wrong way. Then I U-turned him, at a walk, and walked him at/to the jump. He jumped over it, and I told him good boy! A cheer from the crowd. As we headed to jump #3 I could feel his brain click in. We were jumping. Jumping is fun.
We did the rest of our course without issue. I can’t remember if we trotted or cantered, but I was talking to him the whole time and told him what a good boy he was. Each jump brought a wave of disbelief followed by relief followed by happiness.
I was tearing up by the time we made it to the out gate. Several riders and trainers said “good job” to us, and I believed them. We got through it. We got it done. A billion time penalties, but we left all the poles up.
I made him wait around for the ribbon ceremony, and he was antsy but obedient. The show organizers had placed us on a team (I hadn’t signed up for one, since I figured our performance wasn’t going to be competitive) and we got to bring home a reserve champion neck ribbon and a Daniel Steward CD.
Hemie was perfect the rest of the day, of course. I made it home then slept for about 500 hours straight.