Progress: Charge into Change

Hamish, just woken from a nap at the event. Photo by Holly Covey.

This week, I had to learn a new test and deal with weather, in addition to getting more comfortable with an upward change in height and the requirements of that level. I almost wrote “charge” there, instead of change, because I almost felt like I was charging into this whole season, guns blazing. In fact, one of my friends even wrote, “so you’ll be moving up to Training next week,” after I posted about getting around OK on Sunday at Novice.

Noooooooo …. not yet! Sunday I knew that the Novice would suit my horse, and it was quite comfortable for both of us, yet the challenge forced a few errors that need some practice to fix.

First, dressage. You know, when you have been riding for over 50 years, it’s a bit discouraging to get a 6 on your position in the collectives. That’s barely above average — like I’ve only been riding 10 years. Yikes. Guess I need some more video and some eyes on the ground. What am I doing? I must look like a gunny sack of kittens strapped to that saddle! Hmmm. Not a good visual.

And the other bad news is, the horse is really, really smart, and is very very aware he’s doing a dressage test in the ring in front of the judge, and when that occurs, there’s really no need to listen, nor respond the same way to the aids that he does in the warmup when Mommy really MEANS it. When Mommy means it in the ring, you can fluff a little because, well, it’s the ring, and the judge is watching and you want to do it because you can. So we also are probably going to have to get to a dressage schooling show sooner or later and pretend the judge isn’t there and it isn’t a test – plus carry a dressage whip.

On to jumping. The rain began in earnest, and it was a bit chilly, as well. Usually I plan on wearing stuff to suit hot weather, but this time it was not really very warm. Our times took place in the morning, which was fortunate. The ground was a bit soft, and the first thing I got in warm-up for show jumping was a bit of spook at a pile of unused showjumps in the end of the warm-up area. I stuck to the “little warm-up” with only a few jumps, got a pace that felt good then it was my turn.

Sometimes you think you got it. Sometimes you hope you got it. And sometimes you know you don’t have it but are in there and have to do it anyway. I felt like I was slow, then fast, then slow, then fast, but was able to get a fair round out of the rain, footing, and downhill distances. We pulled a rail going downhill on the second jump, a vertical which was not very big, but I did not have him balanced enough, he was quite close to it and I of course tipped forward, and he couldn’t clear it.

Landing after some of the show jumps was a bit sticky so I knew that cross-country might have the same sort of problem. I made sure to let Mr. Know It All look at a couple of the bigger solid cross country jumps out in cross country warm-up and jumped two of the spookier ones just to make sure he was aware it was solid stuff coming up.

Off we went! I think he was again a bit unsure that is was “on course” and not “schooling” because he expected to be pulled up after two jumps. Instead, I got up in two-point, kept asking him to canter on, and channeled our inner Badminton. “Put your brave pants on and keep kicking,” I thought. (Sir Mark Todd quote.)

When you ask your horse to do something, it is always your hope that you will not be out of position and interfere with him when he does it. I think that is something I really want to be able to do every time I jump a fence — not interfere — and help the horse when he takes off and lands. My first mistake on course was a downbank which I knew he would either leap or nearly stop to step off carefully. I trotted and squeezed and clucked, and got the Brave Pants leap. Well, when your horse does that you shouldn’t snag him in the mouth because your hands are down on the neck on landing — which is what I did. Darn it. He tries and I punish him. (Need more practice.)

Asked him to canter on after that error, and he forgave me so on we went. Cantered down the hill, through a couple of other jumps, turn to water, a little house in, and through the pond, and a little house out — all quite good with a little short to the first house.

We then went down hill to a ramp then ditch. I sat and squeezed and aimed a bit to the left of the mushed up footing and he took a flying leap, I was in the back seat fortunately, and he was a bit surprised at the drop — guess my sitting back didn’t register with him that it might be downhill. (Need more practice.) He sailed over the ditch and I let him trot comfortably up a steeper hill because we were both breathing.

I reminded myself in every spot where I had straight gallop room to breathe. I have to tell you, this is the first time I have really paid attention to breathing on course and I wish I had done this years ago with some of the other horses I have ridden. This course was longer with more hills than last week yet I think we both finished with more puff than last time, so I know trotting occasionally helped him.

Here’s a video, thanks to my friend Katie McIntyre.

The last fences were an upbank to a mound, down to a fence on the back – where I muffed the distance again — and the last fence, a wide but narrow table, which again I muffed. (Need more practice.) I think once we did the little footwork on the bank, he didn’t think he had to gallop on again — so I know I have to have more canter between jumps. If I were schooling, I think someone watching would have said, “do it again and this time, more pace.”

So the good news is a good solid completion, a rail in show jumping, and a good but trending down dressage test; his score was 33.3, plus the 4 for the rail, and we ended fifth in our division, which is very satisfactory, I think for one of the area’s more difficult unrecognized horse trials, and for a step up in height and length. Just to give you an idea of how tough competition can be at this venue, I was in second after dressage, and just the one rail moved me down three places. Time for a lesson or two before the next competition! (And….need more practice…..)

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