On Friday, March 1st I left work early and headed home to load my horse trailer full of supplies for the Horse Show that we store at my house. Our first show of the year was scheduled for Saturday, March 2nd and not only was I running it, but I had also planned to ride in it. It's a 3 Part Hunter Training Series (AKA HTS I), and we had a Walk/Trot Division, and a Hack Division in addition to over fences from Cross Rails to 2'6 with flats & jogs. I had entered the W/T under saddles but skipped the in-hand because I didn't feel like it was fair to be eligible for the W/T High Point, and I also entered the 3 Hack Classes. "C" was bringing Hershey as well, and as a fellow show committee member she and I decided to haul Sierra and Hershey into the arena on Friday to stall over night.
This show has been on my radar since much earlier this winter, and it was a stretch goal at best, but I knew I wanted to 'go through the motions' of a show to see how Sierra handled it all. She had been to a few jumper shows at her barn where she was boarded and one event a few weeks before I bought her, but in hindsight, other than the warm up she was the only horse in the ring for all those events and she was in full time, professional training. We have done a lot of re-building these past few months, and we all know how horses can go great at home then be disastrous at a show/off property.. as such, I really wanted to push myself to do this, and if nothing else I had a starting point and more knowledge on what to work on with her.
Once I got all the show supplies hauled to the indoor, I left from there to go get Sierra, Hershey and my tack. It was a balmy -25 and so I loaded things quick and got back on the road to town. I was behind schedule as my truck didn't want to start (figures), and I rolled into the parking lot at the arena in town just before 5 PM. I brought Sierra and Hershey into the main arena and tied them to the rail and began tacking her up to put a schooling ride on her before getting her put to bed and start the show prep for the following morning.
|Snug as a bug on Friday Night|
I planned to put a fairly long ride on Sierra on Friday evening, and though my tracker was on for a total of 61 minutes, only roughly 50 of it were of us moving. She started off kinda 'meh', but she was better than last sunday when I hauled her in for our first field trip. There was 1 other girl in the arena; a reiner taking a lesson. For those unfamiliar, they do a lot of circles, and Sierra isn't really used to sharing the ring with a lot of other horses lately - since I purchased her, I don't honestly know if we've ever shared the ring with anyone else. I stuck to the 'not scary end' as the girl was doing her circles at the far end, and I wanted to stay out of her way. I warned them that I wasn't sure if Sierra kicked, so I kept my distance but once they started working on fast circles, it seemed we were always coming up towards one another at the center of the ring, which really rattled Sierra.. They were either galloping head-on towards us, or coming up behind us and she was becoming increasingly more tense and losing focus, so we took a break to stand in the center of the ring and watch. By now, one of my other friends was on her young OTTB, so we chatted a few minutes while the reiner wrapped up her ride. Once she was finished her ride, I put Sierra back to work and she settled back into it nicely. She felt significantly better than the Sunday prior when I hauled her in, and I was feeling as though we might stand a chance in the show.
|Friday Night Ride|
I got Sierra tucked into her stall, a generous stall in a quiet, cozy barn where 11 other horses would be snuggled into later that evening. She settled into the stall like an old pro; immediately dug into her mash and hay, and I left her to her supper while I busied myself preparing everything for the show the following morning, which was scheduled to start at 10:15. We finished up and said goodnight to our ponies at about 10 PM, and headed home for a good nights sleep before the first show of the season.
I had cleaned Sierra and Hersheys stalls at 7AM, fed breakfast and topped up water then left them to get the show going. When I went to bring her to the main arena at roughly 8:45, I noticed she had several very wet, cow-patty like poops in her stall and she had not touched her breakfast. I wasn't sure what to do but she seemed otherwise fine, so I chose to do the warm up and see how she was feeling before I made a decision.
Myself and 2 of the committee members who were also in the first few classes agreed to do a private warm up at 9:30 so we could be ready to assist riders with their last minute questions and requests, so I noted the abnormalities and I pulled Sierra from her warm stall to make the frigid trek across the parking lot to the main arena and began to tack up for my warm up. As I went through the motions of grooming and tacking, I was at surprising ease. I assured myself it was just another day - a great schooling opportunity that can't be replicated at home. I already knew I wasn't there for the ribbons and while everyone would always love to take some home, but I wasn't focusing on that - my only goal was to stay on and get off with a smile.. but oddly enough, I had a small tingling - I missed Kidd. This was my first show without him in many years, and it was an odd and bitter-sweet feeling; but it was a feeling I had to push from my brain in order to give Sierra a good ride.
Much to my surprise, my warm up was fabulous. Sierra wasn't spooky but instead was focused and loose. She was a little hot, but very manageable. She got a little distracted when people were coming in and out getting ready, but over all she worked quite well and her Canter felt super. I 'rode her down' a little in that I did a fair bit of Canter with the admitted intentions of literally tiring her out a bit, which might be a bit goofy but I thought it would make things easier on her brain for the flat classes. Satisfied with my warm up, I dismounted at about 9:45 and tied Sierra to the rails to get things organized for the open warm up.
We wound up slightly behind schedule but I got back on after roughly 45 min for my first class; 'Basic Seat' in the Walk/Trot Division. Things went fairly well but Sierra became increasingly more tense with the busy arena which was filled with 7 nervous, green horses. She got harder and harder to ride smoothly, and as such we pinned, but only for third. The next class was W/T English Pleasure, which I knew would be a struggle for Sierra on a good day, and disastrous if she continued to grow in tension.. Spoiler Alert, the tension grew and festered.
I did my best to remain relaxed and not 'change anything' in my riding. I assured her with my legs and contact, whispering to her with reassuring comments. The tension grew and she got a little squirrely while most other horses relaxed, and as such we didn't pin.. I understand - a horse who decides to buck should not pin but especially in a pleasure class, lets be real. I've never been one to say "haha, s/he's feeling great" when they buck. I've always been firm in my mindset that bad behavior is bad behavior, regardless of 'why', but for sake of understanding the Thoroughbred brain, and wanting to stay on top of the damage control for Sierra's future well-being, I chose to do little besides ride with relaxation and reassurance.
Part way through the placings for English Pleasure, I dismounted to adjust my saddle thinking that perhaps it slipped forward and was the cause of her sudden attitude change. Once adjusted, I got back on but in my fluster, I realized I indeed had to dismount and exit the arena as I wasn't in the in-hand class that followed English Pleasure. By now I had gotten on (and off) 6 times in the past 3 hours, and following that class I got back on again for the Hack Division. I knew all this on/off and waiting around was detrimental to keeping Sierra the happiest of campers at our first show, but unfortunately that's par for the course when it comes to showing.
Once back on for the Hack class, we started out on the right rein as we did in all the other classes (which i'm sure didn't help since it's our "bad way") and things progressively got worse. I sat in the middle of the ring for the Canter, feeling that it was the right choice considering by now she was so tense she would barely go forward in the Trot and when she did - it was only to bog her head and threaten to buck. I had accepted that things were in a down hill slide of chaos, and as the others around me cantered both directions, I pondered calling it a day knowing by now things were 'too far gone' to make a full and respectable recovery. I wasn't sure if staying on would be detrimental to Sierra's training, but after much thought, I decided to stay on for the remainder of the Hack Division which encompassed two more classes - "Road Hack" and "Show Hack". I knew I wasn't going to place in any of them and I decided to take the opportunity to school through a situation I can't otherwise replicate at home. The long and short of it is, things did not really improve - so much so that at one point I rode down the rail and whispered to a friend who was watching "I'm here for a good time, not a long time!" with a laugh.
|1 of 3 Photos I purchased|
Towards the end of Show Hack, our final class, Sierra felt like she was beginning to focus and relax again, until a large and quick moving WB came up behind her in the Lengthen Trot phase, then proceeded to spook and run sideways at something along the rail. The noise startled Sierra and her reaction was to kick out. She got me a little unseated as a result and whether she didn't like me 'flopping', or took advantage of me being unseated I can't say, but she erupted into a series of large bucks. I growled at her, and it was promptly followed by "Number 14 to the center of the ring please". DQ'd ... damn. Albeit embarrassed, I went to the buckle, smiled, giggled (probably boarder-line hysterically), and rubbed her on both sides of her neck, patting her for her positive efforts and shaking off the disappointing ones. The judge and steward later came up to me and told me if we had done the Canter without incident, and the issue in the Trot didn't occur, we would have been in the top for placings, but c'est la vie. That being said, they did comment on how tactful and softly I ride, even through the broncy business. As I exited the ring, many others gave me a pat on the back for 'riding through it' or 'riding it with such calmness'. The word tactful was used a lot, and in an unfortunate way, I suppose it made me a little proud of myself. My bravery has been slowly dipping its toe back into the pool, and my long-lost confidence has slowly been creeping back into my life.
|Like 17 of 21 competitors, my husband also didn't have a great show.. but at least Banks is cute|
As I untacked, I questioned if I should have just scratched the Hacks after the W/T's went to hell, but I concluded I made the right decision because as I said, she's great at home and I can't re-create a show environment so this was the perfect opportunity to school through them. I'm quick to blame myself (or the rider) when things go sideways and I thought deeply about what I had done wrong. I even asked a few friends for their opinions on the matter because I truly don't feel like I changed anything in myself. I reminded myself "Tension Breeds Tension" and did my best to reassure and relax her, while staying relaxed myself. I think a a testament to this is the fact that I rode her bucks and leaps with such ease because all things considered, I was quite relaxed.
|I feel awful even looking at this and considered not sharing it, but|
the reality is, I purchased this photo and I hope one day I can look
back on it and laugh. Her face makes me want to cringe, but
c'est la vie is the theme of this show it would seem.
Even though it was a literal shit-storm, I got off smiling and that was my goal for this show, and I learned so much. Sierra has been a super star at home, but she's not used to sharing a ring with other horses and she's very much in-tune to our 'routine' which means we need to change it up. As the weather improves and spring is on the horizon, it will become easier to haul out for things, so for now we just have to wait patiently. I also learned that she doesn't like the on/off and wait around schedule that accompanies most shows, so this needs to be addressed until she decides to 'get over it'. It's evident she would probably be better in a discipline where she's the only horse in the ring and although this is the long-term goal (Dressage, maybe some baby Hunters), she also needs to get the f*ck over herself and stop acting like such a mare when she decides something isn't perfectly to her liking.. and in closing, I think I learned that I am way more capable than I give myself credit for.
Many of the things I learned this weekend have a similar treatment plan; exposure. At this stage in my riding, I show to confirm my training and this weekend pointed out a ginormous, gaping hole filled with red-hot, bubbling lava that needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, this isn't a quick fix as I can't address it at home, and honestly it's something that I wish I didn't have to even worry myself with, especially on an 8 year old horse who was supposed to be a kind of 'been there, done that' type of mare, but once again - c'est la vie. Overall, I'm really proud of myself, and really proud of Sierra for how well she stalled (other than her weird poops Saturday morning) and how well she warmed up. It's a steep learning curve, but we'll get there and I can't wait to see where we are at the end of the year - as long as there's some improvement, i'll be happy!
Equilab recently did an update where you can now see all your logged rides for the past year (among other things), and I only have 45 logged rides on Sierra since I purchased her. If I ventured a guess, i'd say there are roughly 20 rides that weren't logged, but regardless in the grand scheme of things that is very few rides and the progress we have made in that short amount of time is fantastic. I have no doubt we will get there, and the great thing about starting at the bottom is there's only one way to go from there!
|Got off with a smile and an apologetic looking horse|
PS, tan tights should be illegal