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.