Sunday, September 4, 2011

Exorcising Stupid in the Show Ring

I went to a horse show this weekend and actually enjoyed showing Grace. Since the last show the only goal I’ve had was to overcome the tension in the show ring. Of course no plan of action would be complete without throwing a bunch of curve balls at myself ahead of time. First there was the rebalancing of my body with the program from The Strength Lab; there are times when everything feels upside down and backwards and times where I feel perfectly balanced. My body seems to almost fight the changes, and then it accepts it. My balance affects Grace’s balance; I will say she has been very kind to me during this transition. The second change came on Wednesday when Grace had her dentist appointment. The dentist found that Grace was only able to masticate from side to side but not front to back. The way her teeth lined up prevented the movement. He explained that this would make it difficult for her to telescope her head and neck. He also found that she was very “locked” on the left side. Now that her teeth were rebalanced she had freedom in her jaw which must have felt totally foreign to her. The improvement in her movement was immediately noticeable. It makes sense, if she was locked in her jaw it would translate to the rest of her body.

We hauled up to the show on Friday to give the horses a chance to settle in. Grace was moving much better in our ride that night than she had at the prior show. She seemed to come off the trailer in better shape. At the jog her hind end had so much spring to it I told Sarah that I didn’t know how to ride it. She suggested lots of turns, moving the hip staying off Grace’s face and allowing her to stretch after the long trailer ride. Grace’s lope was phenomenal! It was balanced, rhythmic, clean and I could have ridden it all night long. I noticed that her head was higher going to the left, but the movement was so clean I didn’t want to mess with it. Just as I was thinking it Sarah addressed it, she said that Grace would lower her head on her own once she figured it out. She agreed that if I forced the head set it would compromise the movement behind. At that point I really didn’t care about the classes I had scheduled for the next day, I was just enjoying the ride in the present moment.

I decided to add a reining class to this show so I could get a pattern class in ahead of time and get the “stupid” out. We haven’t worked on spins, stops or rollbacks so I wasn’t looking to place in reining; I just wanted to get in the arena to deal with my issues before the classes that I actually train at home for. Grace warmed up well, her left lead transition was the one thing I picked on and by the end of my warm up it was where I wanted it. Going into the class I remembered Sarah’s words of taking my time for each maneuver. I thought I had Grace set up but when I asked her to lope to the left she picked up the right lead, she also picked up the left lead going to the right. Our circles were huge and all over the place, we had cornered the market on stupid! I had added the novice class to fill it and was now grateful for the opportunity to get back in the arena. The novice class was not a very novice pattern, but did allow for two hands. I decided to ride two handed so I could get the correct leads when I asked for them since the show pen is the only place Grace picks up the wrong lead. Our spins were all over the place, I almost forgot to finish the first set. Grace picked up both leads this time, our circles were actual circles, and the transition from large fast to small slow felt really good. Grace’s lead changes drew cheers from the crowd, she felt great, and I could tell she was having a good time which allowed me to relax in the arena. This was the ride I wanted after getting stupid out. To my surprise we had the highest score in the class and placed first under both judges.

Sarah had me enter in a walk jog class; she’s been encouraging me to use rail classes to work out my show ring issues. I didn’t want to touch Grace’s face in the class, and when she became tense which I’m sure happened because I was tense I was at a loss for how to get her back to me. Sarah explained that I had to put Grace together and not be afraid to collect her during the class. This was what she wanted me to accomplish at the show. My goal is to get the collection from my leg, but I will need both hand and leg at this point to establish it. We entered the stock seat equitation class, which was a lope class. I put Grace together going into the class and actually rode the class instead of just being a passenger. Grace’s lope was the best it’s been in a rail class. We placed 3rd under both judges but best of all I finally understood why Sarah wants me to do rail classes; I need to remember to ride every stride of the class.

Trail was our last class of the day. The first thing I noticed on the pattern was the box that would be used for lope overs. This was something I had been practicing since the last show. Sarah instructed me to look to the left when asking Grace to move her hip to the left in both the side pass and backing through the cones. I was pleased with the class Grace loped the poles in rhythm, there was no rushing or running off on pattern and she picked up the left lead when asked. When I was backing through the cones at the end I heard Sarah say “where are you looking?” When I looked the opposite way of the turn Grace stepped right where I wanted her to with ease. It made sense, looking to the left put my body in the position to ask my horse to step to the right. It was a nice way to end the show; we placed 3rd and 4th in a class of 10.

I made the decision a few weeks ago to skip the Finals show later this month. We are not ready for that level of competition. If I went it would turn into a somewhat expensive schooling experience. When I asked myself what it would feel like if I didn’t go, I felt like I had taken 20 pounds of pressure off my shoulders. I’ve said for some time now that I ride my best when I don’t have an agenda. For me the Finals show with its shiny belt buckles was very agenda driven, not the kind of pressure that I want to ride in just yet. For now we have a winter series of fun schooling shows on the calendar. Hopefully this winter I can overcome any remaining show ring tension and leave stupid behind once and for all.

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