Grace and I attended a “practice” show put on by a local AQHA affiliate last weekend. I was on the fence about attending the show when Sarah first mentioned it. It was presented as an opportunity to practice patterns in a show environment at a premier facility. Sarah also wanted us to take the time to watch the other riders work their patterns. That sounded good, but I found myself intimidated at the idea of riding in the same show pen as breed show caliber riders. Which is all the more reason that I needed to attend, this would give me the chance to get over myself in a no pressure setting. The show offered Trail along with a schooling session the night before. Trail is quickly becoming my favorite class, but I still had no intention of riding it, again in fear that I would embarrass myself in that company.
After settling into the show grounds we walked over to the trail pattern to check it out. Sarah told me that it was the same as the patterns that I’ve been riding all winter, only prettier. It had 2 bridges with a raised pole in between them, 2 sets of lope overs, gate with a pole under it and lots of other poles in various configurations. Still, I was intrigued by the smooth flow of the layout and the two bridges were more than tempting so I signed up to school it that night, still with no intention of riding it the next day.
Grace came out of the barn a little more animated that I like to see her at a show, when we warmed up in the main covered show ring with all the other horses she just wouldn’t connect with me. We’ve been doing a lot of lateral work at home for body control and now I had no body control at all it was like she was on vacation somewhere. Oh wait – I tend to check out in those situations, maybe I was the one on vacation. Sarah suggested that we head over to the trail arena to play on the poles. Grace was more settled in the trail arena and once we started working over poles she started to come back to earth. Oh wait – maybe that was me that finally settled down. When we started to work the bridge Grace stormed over it in her usual fashion. Sarah had me take her back to the beginning and take my time at the bridge. This is something I had wanted to work with her on; I had no clue how to get Grace to drop her head to “look” at the bridge. We stood at the base of the bridge for several minutes. Grace kept placing her front hoof on the bridge anxious to get over it. Sarah had me wait and ask Grace to drop her head, finally she relaxed, took a breath, dropped her head and looked at the bridge! She then walked across it with her head down like she was analyzing each speck of dirt left behind by the other horses. This was the very first time she had ever taken a bridge this nice, it was also the very first time I had ever really taken my time with her at a bridge. I had always just accepted the idea that she went over trail bridges, but had never thought to ask her to actually “work” the obstacle. Onto the lope overs Sarah reminded me that I had to use my legs to control Grace’s body, I had gone back to sticking my inside leg out in front of me at the lope. As soon as I changed my leg position Grace’s lope completely changed underneath me. We then went over the lope overs and what do you know – she hit the timing perfectly. It turns out that I actually have to show up and ride at these things! After we finished schooling trail Sarah had me take Grace back into the main arena with an order to ride her the same way that I did in trail. There was still a lot going on, people working the rail while groups worked patterns in the middle. I focused on staying in my bubble and riding every stride. Maybe for the first time ever Grace looked to me for direction in the pen, or maybe for the first time ever I showed up and decided to be a leader.