We completed our first ever horse trial this weekend! I'm going to lay it out in a few posts, just because there's so much I want to say about it.
When I bought my truck and trailer last Spring to start taking Isabel to lessons, it was with a specific goal in mind: be prepared to compete in all three phases by Fall. And we did it! So this weekend was kind of a big deal to me. Anyways, I'll write more about my thoughts on the event and experiences as a whole later. For now, it's onto dressage and stadium!
I didn't have any trainers there to coach me, per se, as they were pretty busy with show administration. Though I ran into my dressage trainer MP at an opportune moment and she advised on my warm-up plan.
MP recommended that I take *more* time than I was planning, even if it's just walking around slow and steady for 10 extra minutes. I had debated about cantering in the warm up, as it's easily our worst gait and where Isabel and I are most likely to fight. But she told me to do it anyway.
Her suggestion was that I go through everything with the intention of giving it our absolute best. She said to prepare as if it were the biggest show ever, even if we don't necessarily plan on ever doing anything recognized. This may seem like 'duh' advice, but it was important to hear. I tend to go into this weird 'passenger instead of pilot' mode at shows where I just want to cruise through and not fuck up too badly, even if it means not pushing for our best.
All the same, though, our warm up wasn't great. We had some very nice moments. But also some very ugly ones... particularly at the canter. Isabel wanted nothing to do with her right lead, and when I finally demanded it, she grudgingly acquiesced with nose straight up in the air (not exaggerating).
After about 30 minutes of mostly-tense, sometimes angry, occasionally smooth warm up, we went off to wait our turn. MP was the ring steward, so I had another brief chat with her about how my warm up went - and the elusiveness of our right lead. She suggested starting the canter aid early and adding a little leg yield. Her opinion was that it was more important to get the lead (even with nose in air) than otherwise.
You can see MP seated behind Isabel's tail in this pic. I'm glad she saw our test (even though it wasn't our greatest work to date) because we need HELP lol
In any case, Isabel actually gave me a nicer test than I deserved after that warm up. Our circles were odd, and I was fighting too much with my hands... plus we broke early in the left lead (4... ughhhh), and in retrospect I should have just ridden it instead of pushing back into canter then immediately fighting back down to trot. Free walk was ok enough (6), especially given the x2 coefficient.
As expected, we sort of fell apart after changing to the right rein, and our right lead canter was ugly - but it happened!! By this point I was just trying to keep it together and escape in one piece - as demonstrated by my too-hasty salute before Isabel even finished halting (crooked, as always).
finally - a recorded test for all y'all. this is after 5 months of dressage lessons...
We earned a 41.6 for our efforts - which felt quite fair. It was not a spectacular test by any measure, but there were some moments in there that give me confidence in eventual improvement.
We had a break before stadium wherein I did as much as possible to make Isabel feel good and happy in hopes that she'd forget (forgive?) my fighting with her. She got fully untacked and sponged off with liniment-infused water. Then spent some quality time grazing in the shade with her fan club while I left her the fuck alone to go walk my xc and stadium courses.
I walked the stadium course while they were re-setting it for BBN, so some of the fences were still BN height. I didn't like it, but felt oddly (for me) stoic. Not lying: 2'3" felt like a stretch, even though we've been jumping at that height with some regularity for a couple months now. But here we were, and those jumps were gonna get jumped.
The course was pretty straight forward. The shortest related distance was jumps 7 to 8, and I walked it in six. So I figured everything else would ride off my eye. My biggest concerns were:
- the left turn from 3-4 to 5. Anyone who has watched any of our jumping videos will be familiar with our tendency to cross canter around left turns. And this was a sharp turn. But there was lots of space, so the plan was to WHOA straight after 4, even if it's slowing wayyyy down, then reorganize on the left lead well in advance of 5.
- the 6-7-8 line was all kinds of wonky. I forgot about 8 while I was walking it, and planned to jump 6 (which was actually quite straight facing the end of the ring) on an angle so that it'd be a straight line to 7. But then I saw 8 and realized 7-8 was a much straighter (and shorter) line than 6-7, and I should jump 6 straight on instead of angled, then bend to 7 to make the line to 8.
Anyways, the course was walked. I felt ok about remembering it bc it was essentially side diagonal side diagonal single single - just in a more 'jumpers' fashion instead of hunters. Plus, ya know, the numbers help lol.
I screwed up my timing tho and was in line for a hotdog 15 minutes out from go time and my horse was not tacked. Nor was I helmetted or booted. Uh.. oops? Horse was promptly saddled (and stuffed with candy canes) and I threw my xc vest and water bottles and xc course map into the unsuspecting arms of Izzy's fan club, then hopped on and trotted off towards warm up - with said fan club left in our wake. (sorry guys gotta go!)
eat our dust
We arrived to warm up at 3:04 (3:15 ride time) and started lapping the warm up fences at a trot before popping over the crossrail. She landed cantering (right lead, obvi - right lead is best lead ALWAYS - except for dressage) and we cantered around to the X again. Then cantered the plain old 2'3" vertical. My eye wasn't great, but it wasn't awful either. And Isabel was moving forward. Check and check: it was time.
We went into the ring and trotted a BIG circle before getting whistled to start. I probably took a little too much liberty with the circle, but wanted to make sure Isabel could eyeball as much as possible.
Anyway, eyeballing or no, it was almost over before it started. Isabel looked HARD at jump 1. I rode it tho (to paraphrase Sally Cousins: if it doesn't look good coming in, ride it with everything you got bc it's not going to look any better the second time) and she jumped it. Jumped me out of the tack AND out of my stirrups. But I recovered in time to support her up and over 2.
Jump 3 (a ravens jump, natch) was tight but still going, and 4 was nearly out of stride, tho still tight. Our turn to 5 went pretty much as expected, but we settled and 5 was maybe our nicest jump on course.
Jumps 6-7-8 rode easier than anticipated, tho I chipped in pretty badly at 7. Got the six strides to 8 tho, which would have been nicer in five if we had done a better job at 7... but whatever. Chipped in again at 9, then another hard look at 10, but we were over and CLEAR. Phew!!
video exhibit a: why we are not hunters
It was a far cry from our great schooling the day prior. But I think Isabel's initial uncertainty scared me into my too-conservative habits. I held too much and didn't work hard enough to establish a steady rhythm with the horse in front of my leg. That said tho - Isabel *was* quite uncertain, and I'm pretty sure that if I tried running her at anything she would have stopped. So as it is, we were clear!
One interesting takeaway: The height was NOT a problem for either of us. Once I was out there, I was determined to get over everything on the first try, 2'3" be damned. And Isabel can clearly handle the height, given her clean round despite getting buried again and again. Game game game mare.
So I left the ring telling Isabel how extremely wonderful she was, and put on my vest and game face. Because up next: cross country!