Saturday, June 29, 2013

Lessons from the Show Ring.

I generally have the philosophy that the show ring is not for schooling. Of course, with a young horse and a green-to-showing rider, a whole lot of learning will take place. But I feel that once you are in the ring, you are there to perform and therefore you ride to that aim. A good theory, when things are going reasonably well.

What happens, though, when you are well within you and your horse's training and things fall apart? I learned this lesson last weekend when my second show with Armani went quite a bit differently from our first.

The day started off on the wrong foot. I had only managed 4 hours of sleep, thanks to braiding late and being a little unsettled the night before. Then we were off to a late start (not because of us, Mani marched on the trailer right away). We loaded at least 15min later than planned. Despite this, we arrived on-scene in good time, if a little tight.

I didn't really like the venue from the moment we arrived. This wasn't necessarily a fair assessment given my lack of experience but it was much less professional looking than other shows I've attended. For whatever reason(s), the vibe wasn't there...or rather was there in the form of a massive horse-eating generator.

Coach V got on first to warm him up. She felt that he wasn't really there for her, even toward the end of the warm-up and prepared me for the fact I would have to really be assertive with him. I wasn't surprised. I got on and got a feel for him. I have certainly worked through worse ADD with him, so I was feeling reasonably comfortable.

Then came our turn to do our warm-up in the ring. V took him in and worked a few patterns. The ring was small and an odd dimesion (very square) for my non-educated brain. I was thinking hard to orient myself. Then I got on and she gave me a course to ride. Invitational, diagonal, outside, diagonal, outside. Typical hunter stuff. I rode to the invitational and then promptly forgot where I was going, so I headed to the outside line. This line was set to be ridden the other way, so I pointed him to an oxer backwards!

Normally, I would have had enough space to realize the error and gently circle him away but as I came around the (very tight) corner, I only had a couple strides to the fence. I realized my error and Mani felt it right away as a strong half-halt. But we were right in front of the fence and he's a good boy, thinking his job is to go over, so although he backed-off big time, he ultimately tried to go over.

It was a great effort, but with no forward he crashed his back-end through the fence. My coach has never been so mad at me and she thoroughly told me so. She is a very positive coach but I am learning she will give it to you when she knows that you know better and have f'd things up for your horse. I am actually good with this; I care more about Mani's education than my own ego and she isn't disrespectful or over the top.  Nothing she could say would make me more angry at or disappointed in myself than I already was.

I worked him over the pattern, properly, and he was fine. I had to really be there to the fence he crashed but we did the course without issue. My coach was noticeably relieved and softened, "Ok, you recovered that a lot better than I thought you would, so just take that to the ring."

We had to wait for the pre-novice division before our turn. My first class in the ring started with invitational and right to the line I crashed. The jump I crashed was second in the line (being the oxer I crashed backwards). Armani refused the first jump in the line - his first refusal ever - and I just kept going, circled him around and he refused again. So we were dismissed. Loudly. It might have happened anyway, but I feel that the tight corners didn't give me and him enough time to "discuss" that he was going to the scary fence.

I left the ring and was debrifing with V and I asked her if she would take him in the second class. She hesitated - she is pretty adamant her students learn to ride their horses through stuff that comes up. We met eyes and she agreed. I said that it is more important right here and now that Armani get a good, confident experience through this. I had obviously messed up and didn't want my owner guilt to ruin his experience.

The course, of course, was different but when they went to the problem line, V got him over the first part but he refused the second (the jump he crashed). Then he refused a second time and they were eliminated. While I never thought I'd see that happen, it was validating because if V couldn't get him through it, I had no hope.  The difference is that V's round schooled Mani back to good and they pinned 1st in the next class!

I was back on for the under saddle class of the division. I couldn't have asked for a better ride, Armani wasn't always comfortable with the surroundings but he was very obedient when I asked him to relax and not pay attention to the things that were bothering him.

The class was almost over - we were doing our last round of canter - when as we headed towards the spectator end (scary generator end) Armani broke to the trot. It was barely a break before we were back in canter but the canter was on the wrong lead. I actually think if I hadn't gotten his canter back so quickly we might have had the correct lead. Either way, the judge was looking right at us. We got 4th. Alex says we had no chance to make a mistake because the judge watched us the whole time. I guess after 2 eliminations and a 1st the judge is trying to figure out what's going on?

That result was a little disappointing because the ride was so superb up til then. But that's horses and especially baby horses. I was very happy with how he/we got our stuff back together.

It was also a big wake-up call that I can't compete on no sleep. Alex has made me hire someone to braid for the next show, so that will help I hope.

Oh, and no pictures from the day. There was a photographer but I can't seem to find out who she was.

Instead, I will leave one from the first show. I like this a lot. We aren't perfect but really he just looks like the green baby that he is. I like that my body is where it should be, I'm supportive yet out of his way. I love that I'm smiling.

I was watching the video from my first show and I said to Alex, "Do you think I will be able to pull that off again?"  He replied simply, "It's up to you."  I loved that response, he's exactly right. And it starts with taking better care of myself the night before.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

First Show: What Worked; What Didn't.

My second show was supposed to be ysterday but it had been a fairly steady rain/drizzle since early yesterday and Armani is barefoot so I don't want to risk a slip and an injury. He works quite happily in the rain though, so that will be a big advantage in the future when and if I breakdown and get shoes on him.

Overall, the logistics of show day went rather well.  I had a lesson in the morning and then went back to braid just before turn-in time. It was freezing cold, so I didn't bathe. Fortunately, Armani is pretty clean and shiny anyway. I managed to get the prep done and everything packed in pretty good time. I think I was in bed by about 11pm.

Here, I am just going to say that from the time I got up at 4am until we arrived home, the help of my husband was absolutely indepensable. I'm not just saying that to suck-up, either. He walked Hazel and prepared a perfect protein-rich yet light breakfast when I myself would have had a hard time doing that since food was the last thing on my mind. He also did numerous other things to make sure I had everything I needed. At the show grounds, it was even more important to have help.

He held Armani while I registered, ran to and from the car to grab things I forgot, wiped green foamy slobber from Mani's mouth several times, and used his own bare fingernails to scratch the sand from the bottom of my boots when I remounted for the u/s portion. (yes, I will have a hoof pick on hand next time so he doesn't have to do this! One of those things you don't think about when you haven't done it before!).

Now, to sum up.

What Worked.
Well, pretty much everything worked out just fine and there was nothing that flat out didn't work. It came down to refining what I had with me.

What I had and didn't need.
There were a few things I didn't end up using but I think I will probably continue bringing, just in case. There wasn't anything that I recall being definitely a waste of space. Here are the details on the "excess."

- Cloths. I used one big microfibre cloth for Armani's slobber and giving my boots a wipe before entering the ring. Since it was a large cloth I was able to use different parts for the 2 tasks.
- Food. Yes, that's right, of all people on earth it is surprising that I didn't eat much until back at my barn around 12. This will obviously depend on what divisions/classes I am entered in and the time between them. I did nibble about 1/2 a Lara bar in between warm-up and the start of my division, which was exactly right for making sure I didn't crash (a big issue for me) while still being light in the tummy and easy to force down.
- Water. It was freezing cold, so I didn't drink very much but will certainly continue to bring the same amount of water/gatorade, if not more. Total fluids brought = about 5 litres. The beauty of extra water is that you can use some to wash things in case you need to, or dampen a cloth to wipe your boots etc.
- Braiding stuff.  Thankfully, I didn't need to re-do any braids but just because I didn't need it doesn't mean I won't bring it to every show, just in case!

What I needed and didn't have.
 Again, nothing devastating here but a few things of note.
- Cooler/dress sheet. In theory, the day was supposed to be around 18C(64F). The reality was that it was closer to 10C(50F), so we were really quite cold. I made a mistake by not bringing a proper cooler to keep him warm-ish after warm-up. I did thankfully have a wool blanket that I use for him once it's in the 0C(32F) range, but it is small and really only covers his back. I typically take the saddle off then put this cooler on, so with a saddle on it looked a bit silly but at least it was something (this was another example of something I had Alex run to the car for).  I'm not sure what I need for these types of shows - my normal cooler is too heavy/warm, so I was thinking a dress sheet of some kind might work.
- Warmer clothes! Again, since it was unseasonably cold it wasn't nice to be so cold. As a rider, I wasn't too badly off since I was kept warm with my bow-flex Armani.
- Warm beverages! I wished I had a thermos with some hot hebal tea or something to sip.

I also didn't have a couple things I forgot to bring but didn't need. Such as my lunge line. I didn't miss it, but will still try to remember to bring it to future shows, just in case. They are useful for more than lunging, so I think it's a good idea to have.

I feel like now that the first one is over, the rest will only get easier. I do expect things to change quite a bit once I'm showing in the heat. Ugh!

I've got the bug, though, and I'm rather annoyed at having to scratch yesterday. I might try to do the show next weekend although it wasn't on our plan, so we'll see.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

First Show Debrief.

Okay, so it's been over a week and I haven't written about my first show yet. I also was informed that I was successful in a competition for a promotion last week, so it's been really quite a ride and quite busy!

How was my first show??

Pretty darn good, I'd say.
(Red is best in Canada, don't ya know).

I entered the Green Hunter division (2'3", 3 over-fences classes, 1 under-saddle). We won our first class. Then got second in the second and third in the third. I'm not sure if that progression was because I was getting more tired or Armani was getting more fired. Whatever the cause, we had a few not-so-perfect distances coming in to the lines and did a couple of chips and a couple long spots (as I tried to avoid the chip!). The long spots were quite a bit better - just a hair longer than a good hunter distance. But we've been allowing the add for awhile, so that certainly showed up. In my opinion, once I clean up my turns and get better corners, the distance will be right there for me. I'm working a little too hard right now to keep him out long enough, which is affecting our corners.

We didn't miss striding in any of the lines and got every lead-change smooth as can be. I might be biased but I'd say that's fantastic work for my four-year old baby boy! I was a VERY proud momma!

We ended the day with our under saddle class. When the class was over, the judge called out, asking who was with 51 (that's me), so I heard later. Sasha was near the judge and said "Uh, well, I'm her husband" and the judge proceeded to tell him that she had me pinned 1st for the class and that I was her Champion but that I broke to the trot during a walk segment in the u/s and normally that would have dropped me way worse than it did that day. I have to admit, I wasn't taking the u/s part as seriously as I should have - it felt like I was just riding around. I was trying to keep Mani's walk active...but he finds breaking to the trot easier than a truly forward active walk. And I didn't really make a fuss one way or we trotted...and dropped from first to third. Oops!

So yes, there are, as always. plenty of things to work on, but my goodness I'm pleased with our first time out. It was great since I had no idea what was going on at any point. I am only somewhat joking - yes it was stressful to not know what was going on but it did focus my attention on the tast. All I knew is when my number was called, I had to ride my course. I focused on that and that is all!

Finishing a course and feeling great about it.

My Beautiful Boy.
(note my 1st hunter braids...would need 2x as many
in the next level of competition!)

Almost look like we know what we're doing!
Here's a long spot like I mentioned. 
Not quite as nice as ideal but he takes it so easy 
that it's still pretty decent green hunter style.

After the jog-out. 
I was just so impressed with how he handled everything,
I had to tell him what a good boy he was!

Division Reserve Champion. Hell ya!