Today I took Grace to a schooling show and maybe for the first time ever at a show, I felt totally in control of my horse in the show ring. I can directly trace these results back to a lesson I had with Sarah almost two weeks ago. Prior to the lesson we had a conversation where she told me that I needed to ask more out of the mare at home so that I could get more out of her at shows. If I asked for 75% consistently at home, I could ask for 25% at shows and still be ahead. When I wrapped my head around her concept it occurred to me that I had been hauling to shows still expecting it to just all fall together in the show ring when we still didn’t really have it all together at home. My expectation of Grace was not only unreasonable, it wasn’t fair at all. I am the epitome of the amateur rider, while my intention is to always be “nice” to my horse; i.e. not asking too much of her, it often creates more problems like my horse deciding that she had to be in charge since I won’t take the lead.
During our lesson I asked Sarah to get on Grace to show me the new cues she wanted me to use for getting control of the shoulder and hip. I knew that if I could put the trainer on the horse for even 5 minutes that my job would be that much easier when I got back on. I expected the usual “I couldn’t possibly!” fight from Grace when Sarah asked her for something new. To my surprised it was short lived and within minutes Sarah had my little mare jogging around the arena better than I had ever seen the mare carry herself before. The horse I saw in front of me was even better than the one I have been hoping would miraculously appear at every horse show. I’ve always thought the world of my mare, but I really didn’t think she had it in her to move as nicely as Sarah had her going. Over the next two lessons Sarah worked with me to make sure I was getting the feel, keeping Grace’s shoulder upright, knowing where her hip was at all times and correcting as soon as a mistake was made. It is the kind of riding that I shy from, it feels like micromanaging at first, but my real reason for not doing it is my fear of failure. What if I don’t “feel” my horse drifting to the left? What if I correct at the wrong time and accidently reprimand my horse for something she didn’t do? This time I was willing to take the risk and do the work, I had to get that same ride that I had seen Sarah get out of my horse with what looked like very little effort.
For the last two weeks each ride has been better than the one before it. I do less micromanaging than I had expected as Grace is more comfortable in her body and quick to respond to a correction. I do feel when she drifts to the left, and my fears of asking more of her are slipping away. I put her on the lunge line one day last week and was blown away by how much better she carried herself on her own. She kept her shoulder up and was telescoping her neck on her own and would step into the lope with her head level each time. In typical fashion this breakthrough has occurred right before the show season. I have a zone show planned for May 5th, and nothing freaks me out more than to totally change the way I ride right before a show. So I took Grace to a schooling show today at the same place the zone show will be held next weekend. I went with a plan, to school at 75% in the warm up and ask for 25% in the class.
During my warm up at the show another rider stopped to tell me how beautiful my horse was. I only mention that because it has NEVER happened before. Plenty of non-horse people tell me how amazing my horse is, but to hear it from another rider gives real meaning to it, something had changed in my horse. Our first class was trail, and while we did well (ok we won the class), I felt that Grace was rushing more than I would have liked, she needed to wait on me. I went back to the warm up and asked for more body control. Our next trail class was the same pattern but with a lope element added. That class was EXACTLY was I was looking for from the mare. She waited for me on each obstacle, and surprised me by how nice her turns on the forehand and haunches were. We also won that class. Our first rail class was not so good. I had ridden trail one handed, and was doing the same for the rail classes. Grace went back to being flat and rushing off her feet in the rail class. I knew I needed to fix it, but was at a loss for some reason. I knew this wasn’t the ride I wanted. In the next class I picked up both reins and asked for 75%, oh right SCHOOLING show! Grace broke into and unasked for jog, I stopped her and backed her up. When we walked off she lifted her head and broke into the jog again, I backed her up again and did not let her walk off until she gave me her head. We walked off nicely this time and the lope was called. Grace tried to launch into the lope; I stopped and backed her up. I loped her off from the back up and my nice soft horse appeared again. As the day went on, she was better with each rail class and I was able to ask less of her.
We ended the day with a pattern class. By then the show had thinned out and I was the only entry that would be riding the pattern. It was labeled as a Western Pleasure pattern and started out with lope circles with lead changes, similar to a reining pattern. There was then a back , turn on the forehand to a counter lope halfway around the arena, a halt, jogging, halt a turn on the haunches more lope before ending with a jog circle. I had never seen a pattern quite like this, it covered the whole arena. It was the perfect pattern to prepare us for Western riding next weekend. Lots of loping, lead changes and a pattern that Grace doesn’t know. I rode all but the counter lope one handed as it was on the left lead – give us another week for that one. Grace gave me the best lope she had offered all day and her lead changes where just wow! The judge even commented out loud on how nice they were. Grace was in her element on pattern and at the end the judge said “very well done!” I was thrilled with how consistent the mare was throughout the pattern. She was an absolute joy to ride on pattern at a horse show!! Amazing things happened when I listen to the trainer.