Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Fair Hill Starter Trial

Doozy officially made her eventing debut at the Fair Hill Starter Trials this weekend, contesting the open elementary division -- 18" fences + Intro C dressage test!! 

It was a long day full of challenges, self doubt, and lots and lots of hand walking...., but ultimately a deeply rewarding experience. So let's dig into the details!

got to ride our dressage test in the big international ring on the Gallaher side!! 
We brought along another favorite young rider from our barn, with her sweet spicy little nugget of a lease pony Austin. You might remember this pony from many past adventures over the years -- both with this YR, and lessons and adventures with his owner** from even longer ago. 

Austin is just generally a good-vibey type pony to be around, with the advantage of being not a mare, so Doozy didn't get attached. Plus, our ride times were essentially perfectly shuffled such that they did their dressage, then we did ours, then they jumped, then we jumped, with enough time for everything that we could always accompany each other to each phase. Perfect!

(**Fun fact: his owner (who is about to go into her senior year of college, omg, time flies!), came along too so we all got to spend the day together!!)

for a horse who won't reliably just... trot, Doozy sure can pull out a walk when called for!
This meant Doozy got to hand walk in each of the riding spaces before her actual rides. She was a serious handful our first time through the tunnel while Austin did dressage... But I discovered tactics to keep her earthbound: She strongly preferred strolling up and down all the various pathways -- marching boldly toward the unknown -- vs walking in circles in a relatively fixed position. Noted. 

Regardless, she was much more self contained by the time we returned under saddle for our own test. Tho, not gonna lie. I didn't do a whole heckuva lot in warm up. Realistically she'd already hand walked for close to an hour, so physically she was loose. It was just a question of getting her as much onto the aids as she can be right now. Which... Isn't saying much. 

And ya know. Our test wasn't much, either. We walked. We cantered. And very occasionally, we also trotted, lol... The mare was lit up and leaping around and not particularly inclined toward introspection... But we did the movements in the correct order and stayed a little less crooked most of the time. That.... about sums it up LOL!

good girl <3
Again tho, I'm gonna be honest with you guys. Everything felt really really hard. And, as is my habit, I seriously considered whether we should just scratch the rest of the day. Fortunately tho, my friends are supportive but firm: "You can stop at any time, but you must start, first."

Also, realistically, jumping comes a LOT more easily to the mare. Plus, she was much more manageable in hand while we accompanied Austin and his YR first to show jumping (on the Gallaher side), and then over to xc in the Sawmill field. She's had enough experience now being around running and jumping horses that she doesn't pay them much attention.

walked Doozy past the crowded bleachers (positioned right at Fence 1, natch) before the whistle
All the same, we were a little late to our own show jumping round so I was fairly expeditious in the warm up. Again, we'd been walking almost continuously for hours at this point, so it was just a question of tuning her into, "Ok it's jumping time!"

Our first trip over the warm up X was a bit wild... but she settled for the second attempt, and then was very good over the vertical. I figured that was good enough, and we strolled over to the in gate to patiently wait our turn. Which, incidentally, she stood beautifully at the in gate -- a habit I will happily aim to normalize!

Fence 1 also featured major league standards lol
And guys!! She was so good for our round!! So so so so good! There were bleachers full of spectators and judges on a trailer and kubotas driving around and a generator buzzing and a PA system and horses in warm up and all the extra jump poles and standards they'd needed for the FEI classes stacked up outside the ring... So much stuff, but she just sucked it up and proceeded!!!

was kinda fun getting to ride around the 'fancy' equipment generally reserved for the major classes!
We are kinda in a tricky place in our training right now where we are on the verge of being able to carry a canter around to all the fences --- except she still rushes at times. So I'm in this constant head space of, "Do I pull her back down to trot? Or let her keep rolling?"

And you can kinda tell in the video that in some places I intend to trot... but then we end up in an ok canter and I let her just go on along. It's easy to watch a video like this too, and think, "Hm I really should be more allowing!"

look who just clocked right on around!
And maybe that's true... But it's also true that the horse just doesn't have a lot of experience yet. And when we arrived in canter to Fence 6 at a slightly funny distance, Doozy just doesn't really have an answer for that yet. Like, she has an exceptionally good eye -- but she's going to make mistakes too. Especially in a distracting and intense atmosphere. 

So we basically clobbered thru the fence, and then were a little funny to the out jump of that line. Nbd, tho. In retrospect, maybe I should have brought her back down to trot knowing that we were going into a line. But, eh, the mistakes are going to get made one way or another eventually. We're just learning as we go here!

ok we did have a little 'oopsie' going into this related line... eh, nbh
Tho lol... I do try not to make the same mistake twice in one class haha, and determined we'd trot into our last fence just to reinforce that slow 'n steady often produces a good experience.

Doozy was honestly great, tho. The jumps were small and easy -- it was 100% apparent that she felt like she understood the actual task, even despite all the other stuff -- the distraction of significant external stimulus. She's a brave bold horse and felt super confident around the course. 

And actually, I felt reassured watching the video too. Sure, any of us can pick ourselves apart mercilessly... But, eh, this video looks basically exactly as it felt, and it felt good

So ya know. There wasn't much left to do except hack over to the Sawmill field for our cross country phase. Doozy seemed a little confused when I didn't immediately dismount after the show jumping... Like, "Wait, there's more??" But eventually fell back into her power walk mode and marched right on out past the trailers. 

She was super funny in this field -- both while hand walking during Austin's xc, and while out there under saddle. For some reason, she was SURE that we were supposed to just... keep going once out into the field. That -- quite possibly -- the Promise Land Itself must be just on the other side of the hill!

Which... Actually worked quite well for my purposes bc I had two main concerns with our course:
1) Getting out of the start box and away from "home," historically a big issue with Charlie; 
2) Not getting run away with on the downhill turn toward "home."

first time leaving the start box!
Considering Doozy's internal GPS seemed to not be registering that "home" was technically behind us, and that she was, in fact, strongly inclined toward heading out up the hill and away... Well, that worked great for me!

Again we kept the warm up to a bare minimum -- two trips over the little log -- then went over to the start box to wait patiently for our turn. She stood like a pro while the starter gave us a 3min buffer to the horse ahead of us (since we could hear over the radio that there were some refusals and I didn't want to go blasting up somebody's butt when they were already in trouble, if Doozy took off on me). 

obvi a lot of the xc pics are hella zoomed, you're better off just watching the videos!
Doozy did not take off on me, tho!! She walked politely out of the box, picked up a trot, carried it nicely to 1, cantered away.... then came back to balance for 2... and on and on just like that all the way around the course!

Again, it felt like she understood all the jumps -- felt like she was looking at them and measuring them up, but not thinking too too deeply about them and definitely not questioning them. Just enough attention to not be careless!

We made it around all the funny little turns in the course (and there were a couple lol), and made it around the turn toward home without drama. We did kinda get cooking down the line from 6 to 7, a fairly straight downhill line... 

But it was nbd. I opted to bring her back to walk afterward anyway, tho, to approach what was kinda the funniest little part of the course: a somewhat significant terrain question for the level, imho haha, with a tiny little log. It also felt nice to take the little walk intermission just to help Doozy understand that it's not actually a race. 

Either way, she walked just fine, and once we got closer to the little downhill log, we picked up an easy trot and just proceeded!

From there it was an even steeper descent into the lowest part of the 'bowl' that makes up Sawmill field (where they have all the ditches and whatnot), and I was a little defensive to Fence 9 down there... But then we finished with a perfect uphill cruise to 10 and the finish line, and Doozy absolutely aced it!

clear over the last and thru the finish!
Plus she came back down to walk almost immediately -- at which point I *did* finally dismount and lavish praise on her.... What a good girl!!

It's crazy to say it, but that little trip around the cross country course was probably the easiest part of the day --- followed closely by the show jumping course itself. It's just everything else that is such a challenge with this horse haha. 

Tho, obvi, I mean "challenge" in the most endearing way. She's a handful, but she's not naughty, mean or bad. In fact, she's honestly really really good. And she's so brave, so full of herself, so entirely sure that She Knows Everything, and We Should All Just Listen.

And, eh, maybe she's right haha! So it was a good day. I'm glad we did it, and honestly it all went probably a bit better than I had any reason to expect. We definitely need to work on the flatwork, but all in good time!


  1. Huge congrats!!! She looks so delighted out doing the jompies!!!

    1. ha - delighted is the perfect word for it, she definitely likes that part of the game!!

  2. What an honest, good girl! You are doing a great job with her, Emma.

    1. thanks!! she really is such a genuine horse, i'm super excited to keep learning and developing with her!

  3. So many wins in one day, very happy for Doozy and you! It must feel so good to be back.

    1. thanks - feels great haha. it's been a long time for sure. and it's so interesting how different doozy is from charlie... she's harder in some ways, but also maybe easier?? excited to keep going!

  4. It's been so fun to watch your progress together. She's looking really good!

    1. thanks so much! it's been a real journey getting started all over again with a new horse <3

  5. You've got 2/3 of the phases down already! And dressage is harder than jumping anyway 😉🤣 I love love love that stadium round!

    1. omg dressage is wayyyyyy harder haha... doozy thinks it's absolute bs, this whole 'trotting' thing. walking? fine. running FAST? awesome. anything in between, tho?? #boooring LOL

  6. Yay!!!! You guys looks so great! I really love how despite the mistake in show jumping, she was zero percent phased and just carried right on (ad did you). That speaks volumes about her character. Great job to you both!

    1. thanks!! i'm super grateful that she doesn't seem to get easily rattled by anything, and seems to enjoy the activity enough that little mistakes don't slow her down!

  7. Congratulations! That video of Doozy trotting off to start the CC is so cute but. She looks so happy. You must be pleased.

    1. thanks - i'm so pleased!! i really had ZERO idea what it would be like to leave the start box haha, but it ended up being great!

  8. Look at you two out there and doing the thing!! Loved the photos and the three different videos including the helmet cam. What fun.

    1. thanks! i'm so grateful for all the pics and video too -- and it was such a fun day!!

  9. I'm cracking up because we went fun camping at Fair Hill this weekend and I got to toodle over some of these jumps with my girls. LOVE THIS. We keep passing like ships in the night ;)


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