Sunday morning I woke up at 4am and sort of sleepily Googled coffee houses. It turns out that 5am is too early even for coffee houses, and so instead of getting some version of hot coffee I stopped at a Safeway and picked up this absolutely gargantuan container of iced coffee. Whatever. My kids dealt with me all day on Saturday without caffeine (which I totally know I need to lower my tolerance to, I know) so I figured I should be well caffeinated before showing up to pick them up.
I picked two of the girls up, traveled on to the farm, did a quick supply check, threw the final two horses in the trailer - bless Danny and Jimmy for being incredible travelers - and off we went.
The sun was just rising as we drove along 280. Rich pink and orange light filled my rear view mirrors, the truck roared along, the kids’ nervous energy was tangible at 6:30am. It was one of those simple, lovely moments that I wish I could frame. The moment felt so full of potential, so peaceful. We were just hanging out there together, on our way to this big adventure. I guess it’s hard to explain but I do wish I had better words for it. I could feel my own breathing so sharply, alongside ‘listening’ for the horses in the back, the way the sky was lit in strips, the fog rolling over the hills, each house marked by steam coming off of it.
We arrived, unloaded, fed our five beasts breakfast, and set to grooming and tacking up. I was a little confused because when I picked our numbers up the manager said that each rider was assigned a warm up slot, but I couldn’t seem to locate the schedule. This meant that none of my kids got a chance to warm up until the break a little later in the day. I guess next time I’ll behave more like one of the other haul-ins and just start riding in whichever ring at whatever time with a big f-you to any show staff telling the trainer to get kids out of there.
With the kids settled in grooming and tacking and fixing braids, I wandered about, said hi to all my old friends from when I worked at SDEC, marched back and forth between my horses, and glanced at the courses.
I can’t quite recall who got sent into the arena first, but I seem to remember that Danny was the first horse to go in, so I’ll try to tell you about his day first. He was gleaming, his neck arched powerfully out from his body, his tack was immaculate, and his eyes were popping out of his little silly head. “WHAT ARE THOSE SOLID AND COLORFUL FENCES YOU HAVE BROUGHT ME HERE TO DIE, HAVEN’T YOU?!” His rider trotted him in, and Danny just scooted sideways past each standard. Quite abruptly and a little violently. Poor kid barely got to the back side of the arena and back out again. Whenever Jimmy left Danny’s side he started dancing and whickering, which I find super funny because Danny really couldn’t seem to care less about other horses at home.
Then E went in with the advice to, “beat the crap out of him and ride him forward.” I saw a little gleam in her eye when she agreed to do just that, and right as necessary I could hear the crop tap tap tapping before the fence right where I stood. Danny was preeetttyyy serious about NOT WANTING TO JUMP. E managed to get him to the fence, over the fence, over the next one, and then she lost her outside rein when he threw his shoulder around the next one. I felt a little violent in how I’d encouraged her to get Danny going but it’s the sound of the jump bat that gets him, not actually getting tapped.
He earned a fourth place in the indoor ring with his first rider in a hunter hack class because the judge could see how difficult he was being and how well the rider handled him. I wish I’d been there to see that, but as you’ll hear later, I was involved in another adventure.
The moment Danny figured out that we were here to jump and not spook at all the things he actually did a really amazing job. We got a lot of compliments on him. He’ll never be an A-circuit hunter but I think with a few more outings he’ll do very respectably at schooling shows. He’s just so cute.
Both his riders did a really fantastic job managing him both in and out of the arena. Both when he was dancing, fidgeting, and generally being an idiot, as well as when he was spooking, bolting, and generally being an idiot. Outside the ring he managed not to step on anyone, but he did take a pretty big bite out of SDEC's fence. Do I know why? No. No I don't.
Andy’s day went pretty quietly. He didn’t refuse anything, he stood like a rock outside the ring, and generally tolerated being sat on for the entire day quite well. That horse deserves a statue in his honor or something. I didn’t get to see as much of his time in the ring as I would have liked, but his riders earned quite a few ribbons. Super proud of them!
The only blip in Andy’s day was when a very small pony occupied by an especially talkative young girl bit him. Right in the chest. The girls were sitting there and chatting away amiably and then BOOM RIGHT IN THE CHEST. Once again proving why Andy is worth his weight in gold, he sort of looked grumpily at the pony and it moved away from him. So basically many high-fives were earned in that department.
I always find show coaching to be such an interesting thing. My goal is always for my students to perform well enough to be in the ribbons, but for this particular show I really didn’t have anyone too competitive. We were going just to get out there, have some off-the-farm time, and meet some people. When we’re going for the ribbons, or campaigning a horse, or whatever, my coaching looks very different than what this Sunday looked like. This weekend was a lot of “wow, great job, you didn’t pass out because I don’t think you took a single breath while you were in the arena!”, “please just make him jump all the things by keeping him between your aids” and “don’t forget to, you know, not stare at the ground.”
Alright. So now we’re at Jimmy.
I’ve always loved Jimmy, but he rolled out onto the showgrounds like an old pro. The only real shenanigan he pulled was to bolt a bit his first time in the arena. But he jumped without looking too strangely at the jumps. He did so. well. He hung out, ignored strange horses, jumped everything, bit people while getting braided... oh wait, that last one isn't all that great. I don't even care! HE WAS AWESOME. So good.
Watching through the eyes of an out of control trainer, I got some good things for us to work on at home, which is another benefit of going to shows.
Jimmy got to be ridden by my greenest rider at the show, and he really did quite well with him considering how green the rider is. This one showed up in jeans and a t-shirt and couldn't quite understand why the manager was breathing down his neck about it. Yikes. And then they were caught cantering around the aisle ways between arenas but I'd rather not talk about that one.
I believe that one of Jimmy's riders successfully earned a ribbon on him, which considering the bias against Arabians is pretty amazing!
|This was actually a terrifying blow-up Santa jump|
The Bertasaurus Rex was the only only horse (besides Saint Andy) who'd supposedly been off to shows before, but he certainly didn't think so. He was pacey, antsy, and generally a pain. He refused to stand still, to stop acting like a camel, and to go straight. WHAT ARE THOSE INSIDE AIDS OF WHICH YOU SPEAK?!
|Crookedness is particularly evident here|
He also was excused from a hunter hack class because he started doing this prancing leg-yield + rapid backing up + hopping rears. Too many new horses and too little actual control over him, methinks.
Although I wish they were an accurate representation of his movement, the jumping photos make him look really good. When he wasn't going over a fence he was a total giraffe. Maybe we'll slap a standing martingale on him for a few schooling sessions at home and see if it helps - I'm unconcerned about the roundness and more concerned about the next time he turns into a giraffe he might break my poor rider's nose.
Which brings us at the end to Camou. Poor, baby, green Camou. He so desperately wanted to be good, but his nervousness combined with A's nervousness to create a total wreck at first. I was nowhere to be found, off coaching Andy's first rider on how to ride through corners and where half-halts would be most appropriate. One of my helpful parents came over to inform me that Camou was in full-on melt down mode.
I mentioned earlier that warm-up was a little late in the morning, in between classes 2 and 3. There were probably 40 riders trying to warm up at that point. It was a big arena, but not big enough. Poor pony evidently felt cornered, started circling and prancing. A dismounted and the goober kept dancing about. So we hauled his happy-self down to the round pen to let him get his sillies out. A was understandably upset, nervous, and a bit frightened of her horse. Camou kept looking to her for guidance and she kept looking to him (an AMAZING TRAIT!) but unfortunately neither of them felt ready to lead.
So I hand-walked the two of them until I threw them into the ring - willfully ignoring the 'I can'ts' in the process - and they actually did perfectly. Pffft silly geese. They trotted everything, but Camou didn't really try anything bad, and didn't look weirdly at the jumps.
He's super fun and I'm really glad that he did so well at his first show - meltdown notwithstanding.
All in all I consider our outing to be a huge success. My takeaways as a trainer:
- Danny, Bert, and Camou need exposure to more stressful situations.
- Danny especially needs to see a lot more variety in his jumps because it's overwhelming to him the first time he's exposed to a new type of jump
- Bert needs a "bend" button more appropriately installed
- Camou needs to be cornered with more horses and still expected to behave
- Jimmy's regular riders need to have some practice in suppling and getting his attention. Not that he was bad, just that he could have done much better if he had been relaxed through the neck a bit more.
- Everyone is getting to do more courses. Just courses of poles, but I'm going to draw the course, lay it out, and have them memorize it before their lesson. We really have a memory problem and the only way to fix that is to start doing a lot more of it. I tend to focus on the technical, jump by jump bit, and I often forget that the way to get good at courses is to ride enough of them that you build pattern mapping in your mind.
- My students are phenomenal kids and I am the luckiest trainer ever. I love them all, I adored our long day together, and I cannot wait to show my kids off to the world again.