I climbed off Grace at 8:00pm Saturday night at the show grounds. I had been on her since 5:00pm – 3 hours. We spent most of that time walking, jogging, bending, and staying in our bubble. My goal was to get her on the ground without making her sore. As I wrapped her legs in standing wraps for the night, I had hoped I hadn’t pushed too hard. I have been accused more than once of being too nice to my mare. I still tend to think that she is made of glass and worry that if I ask too much she will break underneath me. I’ve caused her to be lame in the past and carry a certain amount of guilt with me; I’ve always trying to find that line of being too nice and pushing too hard. One thing that has been made very clear to me over the winter; in order to keep Grace sound I MUST insist that she carry herself correctly. This requires me to be less of a passenger and more of an active rider. I had this in mind during my 3 hours in the saddle on Saturday night.
I was up early to feed on Sunday; trail was running from 7:00am – 9:00am so I was sure to be in the barn by 6:00am. Even at that early hour the show grounds were awake with the lunging areas full of activity. I was greeted by a chorus of nickers when I slid open the door to our aisle way. Grace was covered in shavings which is always a good sign when sleeping away from home. After feeding and cleaning I had just enough time to make sure I ate before tacking up for trail. On the way to the arena Grace was noticeably more on the ground; I was able to keep her on a loose rein; she could care less about the increasing amount of activity around us. During our warm up I found that Grace was right where I had ended our ride the night before, I had control of her body and all the tension I am usually greeted with in a show setting was gone. Sarah said it was the best she had ever seen Grace come out of a stall; she was sound and moving up from behind. When we loped off I was blown away by the quality of the gait, after a few circles I stopped and told Sarah that we should just load up and go home now, it wasn’t going to get any better than that.
We finished our warm up with a few lope overs in each direction before getting in line for the trail course. I reminded myself that this was a practice show – it wasn’t even judged which meant I could and should take my time. I watched the person in front of me reschool obstacles during her run as her trainer instructed her to. This was more confirmation that I needed to take my time and school. The course started with walking through a box of poles with smaller boxes inside of it. I asked Grace to wait and take her time over the poles. The poles lined us up with the first bridge, where I once again asked Grace to take her time. She rewarded me again by looking at the bridge and staying slow over the raised pole and repeating the same performance over the second bridge. Lope overs were next so I stood and gathered myself. The lope wasn’t the same quality that it was in the warm up, but only because I had become tight in my lower back and was sticking my inside leg out. I circled the lope overs until I could get my act together. While I was frustrated at my tension I was pleased that I was finally aware of it. We went onto the jog overs which circled back and became lope overs to the left. We were both a little amped up after the lope so I had Grace stand for a few seconds before proceeding to the gate. The gate was a non-event; I did make a mental note that I want to work asking to keep her head down at home while we work the gate. The course ended with a back through, 360 and then walking out over a raised pole. While we have a long way to go to even look like the breed show caliber teams, this was by far our best trail class to date.
The rest of the day included a walk jog pleasure class, horsemanship patterns and western riding. The walk jog class went well; I was able to stay in my bubble in a very full class. There was another break before the horsemanship classes. I like many of the other riders signed up for an all-day fee allowing us to ride each pattern twice. Adding that to the schooling atmosphere made for long waits in between runs. I was stuck between wanting to keep Grace moving and not losing my place in line. After the first go on my second pattern I realized that the standing was not working for Grace, she had become cranky and was starting to act up throughout the pattern. At Sarah’s suggestion we went back to the warm up ring to get her back into her body. She settled right away and gave me control of her hip and shoulder. I could tell she was tired and I had a decision to make. We still had one more pattern run and 2 western riding classes to go. I know I need a fresher horse for Western Riding; I need her on the ground, but ready for lead changes. I also want it to be a class that she enjoys; the last thing I wanted was a bad experience in that class. I talked it over with Sarah and decided to end the day after our last horsemanship pattern, skipping western riding all together. In our horsemanship pattern Grace acted up at the cone when we started so I circled her back around it and loped off from there. The pattern was much better from there; I was able to let the reins out after the lope allowing Grace to settle into the jog. I left the arena incredibly appreciative for the opportunity to school my horse at a show the she didn’t know wasn’t a show.
I left the weekend with a list of lessons. Number one is to take the time to make sure both my horse and I are in the correct body position before proceeding. Sarah and I also discussed the need to get Grace stronger over the next few months. I’ve been riding her 5 -6 days a week over the winter but she still needs to be stronger in her hind end. Sarah has prescribed hill work at the lope and riding twice a day on the weekends. Our rides this week have only gotten better with each one. This is exactly where I want to be in March going into a show season.