Whew, last week was definitely interesting! It all started with Hurricane Earl churning towards us slowly but surely out in the Atlantic. Tiara had been schooling very well at home and we had some really great lessons and I was very excited about the upcoming show in Raleigh. Then here comes a potential hurricane, so hurricane preparations took precedence over show preparations for a couple of days. Then I was debating heading to the show grounds a day early, knowing that if we got the worst of Earl that roads might be blocked by downed trees and power lines and various other obstacles.
As things panned out it looked like we weren’t going to get a lot from Earl so I went ahead with plans to head to Raleigh on Friday morning as originally scheduled. With everything packed and ready I headed out and all was well until I got to Raleigh. For some reason I have a horrible sense of direction and can never seem to figure out how to get to the Fairgrounds there without a few detours. Sure enough I took a wrong turn somewhere and found myself heading downtown instead of to the Fairgrounds. My friends find this a great source of amusement. Anyway before heading too deep into downtown I was frantically searching for a place to turn the rig around and ended up on a side street in a parking lot that turned out to be much smaller than it appeared from the road, but by some miracle I managed to get it turned around without wiping out any parked cars or street signs. I found some poor guy trying to get out of the parking lot and asked him for directions and finally got back on the right road and found the Fairgrounds without further incident.
I had a great lesson on Friday and Tiara was very responsive and listening to my aids and all was going very well. So I had high hopes for the upcoming show. Silly me! Saturday she warmed up very well and was even handling the crowded warm up ring much better than ever before. All was well until we got into the coliseum and headed towards the far end of the ring. We walked in and I let her check out the judges stand as she has in the past halted at X and been very reluctant to approach C and the scary judges stand. We had two judges so we headed over to the Judge at E to take a look and that was fine but on our way towards the far end of the ring, some movement caught her eye from up in the stands and that was the end of that! Let’s just say our test was okay when heading towards the out gate or “C” end of the ring, and rather interesting when attempting to head the other direction. So for our first championship test we ended up last with an all time low score for us.
This is one of those times when my good friend Kathy likes to remind me that sometimes horses will be horses. I love my little mare very much and I like to envision this idea of us being perfect partners with her responding to my lightest aids and performing everything just perfect. Not that I do everything perfect either, but most of the time she is this horse of my vision. If I can manage to ask her even halfway correctly and fairly she does her best to respond in kind. She is a great little mare and will work her heart out for me, but I sometimes forget that she is after all, first and foremost a horse. Horses do not share our vision and ideas, horses are mostly interested in surviving and getting enough to eat. So at times this survival instinct to flee from danger, real or perceived, becomes the overriding factor in her mind. I truly think sometimes that she believes she has to protect me also because I am woefully unable to detect danger on my own.
Interesting enough though, our second test was in the outside ring near the road that a lot of horses are nervous about. Especially on Saturday as there was a non-ending stream of traffic going by with noisy football fans heading to the first game of the season. This ring she was only slightly nervous in and gave me a really nice First Level 1 test for a good score and good comments from the judge.
Sunday it was much cooler out and very nice weather. My test on Sunday was outside in the other rings so I was very hopeful that this would work in my favor. Not! Once again she schooled very nicely and handled the crowded warm up ring with no problems. Then we headed into the ring area and she did not like the looks of anything starting with the scary storm grate we had to pass on the way to the ring. After a little difficulty getting her into the ring area it was getting better until she saw the big scary ditch with black plastic lurking in the shadows of the woods outside the arena. This was just way too much for her and she was very determined to get the heck out of dodge. Unfortunately the judge blew the whistle and I decided to take a chance and head into the ring. Let’s just say that I was thinking very strongly about asking to be excused and if I would have had any sense I would’ve done just that because it was a total exercise in futility. I did learn that she already knows how to do flying lead changes and that I can sit a lot of interesting moves. And that it was possible to get an even lower score than the day before.
I have often had trainers and friends tell me that the secret to riding a spooky horse is to get them so focused on you and listening to your aids that they don’t have a chance to think about spooking. Most of the time this has been a discussion when I am not actually sitting on a spooking horse so the theory sounded really good and I thought I understood the concept but reality is much different than theory. Once she starts spooking I go immediately into survival mode, which is to say just trying to stay with her. Thank goodness for Anne, who I have been doing clinics with lately. Anne was finished showing so she told me to tack her up during the lunch break and we would go confront the demons head on.
We went into the warm up area and slowly worked our way towards the source of the horse eating monsters. While doing this Anne really helped me learn how to put into practice the theory of keeping her focused and on my aids. Then we trotted into the scary area and worked our way around the rings and thru the scary areas. This was not easy by any means, but with Anne right there talking me thru it and encouraging Tiara when I couldn’t quite convince her we managed to get her around the scary areas and keep her moving forward. Even when the water truck came along and was spewing water everywhere. I must say that I don’t think I have EVER sat so deep in the saddle in my whole life.
Then later after the show was over, Robyn went with me and we schooled her around the area again with Robyn reminding me and helping me to keep her focused on me and on my aids and this time she was much better although still pretty tense about the whole idea, but she gave me her best effort and was listening to me the whole time.
Monday I had one class back in those rings. I went and switched back to a training level test so there was less pressure on me while putting all of this into practice. I am so glad we ended on a positive note as she was with me and listening to me and while it wasn’t our most polished test, it was a very big victory in so many other ways. She only thought about spooking once but I got her right back with me and she stayed with me the whole test!
So while this show as not the successful show effort I was hoping for, we gained so much in so many other ways. I learned some valuable lessons with coping with my mare when she decides to act like a horse instead of my vision of the perfect dressage partner. And I learned that I have a great group of friends that were there for me and gave me some much needed support and encouragement and help thru a difficult show.