Monday, October 17, 2011

Schooling at the Schooling Show

Grace and I had a great ride on Sunday. I’m kind of pissed off about it. Where was that ride the day before at the horse show? What am I missing the day of the show? I didn’t feel nervous at all at the horse show, not one bit. So why is my ride still different every time I step into the show ring? Apparently this is what I am tasked with figuring out this winter.

“Schooling shows are for schooling” I had to keep reminding myself that throughout the day on Saturday. I had a wonderful ride on Friday night, possibly the best ride I’ve had at that show grounds to date. Grace was relaxed, supple and lovely to ride. I warmed her up in the elevator bit; Sarah had suggested that I switch back to it after our last lesson to help Grace come over her back. I rode it in this last week and it was exactly the change I was looking for. Grace softened her left jaw and I found I could do more with less hand. Friday night after warming up I switched back to my show bit, a Myler curve with Calvary shanks. “Your horse is short stepping behind; she wasn’t doing that in the elevator bit, why don’t you switch back.” I could feel exactly what Sarah was saying. As soon as I picked up the reins with the show bit Grace locked her left jaw against it. With her back dropped her jog now felt like a rock on cement. “It’s a schooling show; you can show in the elevator.” Sarah was right, there was no reason for me to force Grace into a bit she wasn’t working for us. The elevator bit has a snaffle mouth piece, this meant I would be riding two handed; again it is a schooling show so it didn’t matter. I would just have to make sure my show headstall worked with the bit change. There was no way I was going into the show ring with my blinged out cowhide rodeo headstall. Even I have limits!

Saturday morning started early with showmanship. I was amazed by how relaxed I was going into the first class. No jitters or nervous tension, it didn’t even bother me when the ring steward picked me to go first. All was well until I stood in front of the judge for inspection, my brain shut down just in time for quartering. I couldn’t remember for the life of me which side of the horse I was supposed to be on when the judge was on the same side of me so I just stood there. I beat myself up for it the entire way back to the line. I had to remind myself that this is a schooling show and it’s been years since my last showmanship class. The second pattern was smoother, but not near as sharp and consistent as some of my fellow competitors.

I had plenty of time to tack up for my first under saddle class. Luckily my show bridle was able to adjust short enough for the elevator bit. As soon as I stepped into the covered warm up arena Grace tensed. I had added my right leg to her side to ask her to step over, her reaction was to throw her head and grunt at me. I pointed her towards the less crowded outdoor arena so we could finish our “missy chat”. My goal was to get her soft and supple before our first class, but the left side just wasn’t there. Walking through the in gate to the show arena I immediately felt tension rip through Grace’s body as she lifted her head and dropped her back. “Really Grace?” Sarah coached me from the rail to use less hand and more leg, something I find near impossible to accomplish when I am sitting atop a ball of tension. As I watched my competitors jogging their obedient horses on loose reins I had to again remind myself that this is a schooling show and we are here to school.

We fit in a few trail patterns outside in between the rail classes being held in the main arena. Our trail patterns were clean, but Grace was tense with her head in the air. This was not the picture I was looking for. I couldn’t help but compare my ride to those around me. There were some really nice obedient horses at this show. They made it look easy. Again I had to remind myself that it was a schooling show and I was here to work through these issues. This is the first show that I’ve entered in equitation pattern classes and while Grace was not where I wanted her in the show ring I really enjoyed the pattern classes. We had a long break before our last class of the day which allowed Grace and I to put on warm clothes and eat lunch.

When it came time to warm Grace up for our last class of the day I seemed to finally figure it out. Her left shoulder was locked down and she could not come over her back. I circled her to the right and then brought her back to the left keeping the counter bend. I then added left leg and finally left rein. Instantly I felt Grace unlock her left shoulder and come over her back. I was able to back off my hands and control her movements with my body. Why did it take me all day to figure this out? Grace tensed up walking into our last class but I was able to circle her to unlock her shoulder. While her head was still higher than I would liked it to have been she gave me her best ride of the day for that last class. I would have loved to started the day on that the horse, but again I had to remind myself that this is a schooling show, we were there to school.

After a giving Grace a massage on Sunday afternoon I threw on the bareback pad and hit the trails. My plan was to let her walk just to get her legs moving to unkink anything from the trailer ride and the show. She moved up to the jog and it was so lovely I decided to just go with it. On our way back home we slipped into the arena. Grace gave me all 3 gaits without any attitude; I was able to ride her on a loose but connected rein. I worked her for only a few minutes before stopping and asking “where the hell was this horse yesterday?” I’m pretty sure the answer I got back was “where the hell was this rider?”

1 comment:

  1. Even though you may not have felt nervous, you might have been giving her some mixed messages unintentionally. I wonder too, if the bit was not quite sitting right in her mouth on your show bridle?

    Promise is the only horse I've had such a tremendous connection with that I have never been able to hide ANYthing from her, whether butterflies at a show or reservations about a particular gate that my trainer used to set up for us to jump.

    I can recall many shows where I felt fine and wasn't nervous, but something I was conveying to my horse through my seat or legs or hands said otherwise, and she picked up on it and acted up because of it. If only I knew then what I know now!

    I also remember having to literally sing out loud to get her to jump that gate...she'd go over it for my trainer without batting an eye, but my reservations clearly told her to suck back and stop because I REALLY didn't want to go over it!

    Glad you figured it out at the end -- and schooling shows are amazing ways to find out what you truly need to work on at home!