Let me start by saying that I knew we had some issues going into the Waco show. Lead changes for me and Rio at home are not consistent yet. We didn’t even practice them the week leading up to the show because we didn’t want to frazzle him. Let me be clear, it is ME and not him having issues. With proper set up and timing of aids he reliably gets the change, but sometimes my brain cannot keep up.
When I was talking to my mom on the way home, I related it to when I rode dressage. I started at age 10, and competed until I left for college at 18. For 8 years I took dressage lessons and went to dressage shows. Usually 6 or so a year. My trainer had to tell me the same stuff over and over and over… and I had to get the same comments on my tests ad nauseum until it finally sunk in one day. I can ride a correctly sized & shaped 20 m/15 m/10 m circle with my eyes closed. I no longer need anyone to tell me what a good working gait feels like, I can ride them all with IMPULSION. I know how to use corners. I wouldn’t have to THINK about test geometry and preparing in advance for movements (lower level dressage stuff). All of that comes naturally to me now. Grant it, I don’t show dressage anymore, but even when I did the occasional test or 2 during and post college, it all came back very easily, like muscle memory. I could focus on riding each step of the test, and didn’t have to waste brain power on the mechanics of the test.
Showing hunters is a whole other story for me, let me tell you. What probably comes naturally to those who grew up in the hunter and eq rings does NOT come naturally to me. I do not have the muscle memory or the spacial perception that I would have if I was entering a dressage ring. Yes, I evented in high school, but there is only show jumping round per event (of which I maybe did 5 in a year), and even a few major faults went un-punished when we left the rails up. I never “perfected” the show ring ride. Plus, we all know that hunters is wayyyy different then jumpers, so I had to un-learn some bad habits right off the bat.
Anyway- enough rambling. What I am saying is that this SHIT IS HARD. Just saying. Sometimes, ok most times, my brain simply cannot keep up. I had an absolute blast though, even if we are a long way from perfect. Not trying to make excuses, I am just saying that I totally relate to riders who are trying new things, or struggling to just get around the ring some days.
I schooled Rio with trainer Stacie super early Friday morning before the show started. It was good but not great. My eye was definitely a bit off, and I wasn’t getting the changes. We’d land after a diagonal line, it would take me like 2 strides to mentally be all, “Ok, we landed and didn’t die, what lead are we on?” Then another stride to figure it out, and by then we’d be rounding the corner. At this point, it’s like way too late to cue for the change correctly. Mind you, it didn’t stop me from trying- but Rio just couldn’t get it behind at that point. I knew we were bound to have issues on Saturday, but accepted that and tried to tell myself to focus on the rest of the round.
Saturday started with the Ariat Medal class. I was a little nervous because the first obstacle was a vertical on the diagonal then a bending line to an oxer. I was nervous because if we didn’t land the lead for the bending line I knew we would really be in a pickle. Some bending lines you can totally get away with holding the counter canter, but this one was reallyyyy bending and would have been super awkward. Anyway, we landed the wrong lead and then TOTALLY did the change. Like omg, I was semi shocked. And then we tried to face plant over the oxer. No joke. Seriously. Watch the video right now. It’s hilarious.
Obviously we had a bit of a miscommunication on what was the best spot for that jump. Then we landed in a bit of a heap and since my braining was still suffering from, “OMG THAT WAS SO BAD” shock syndrome, therefore I in no way whatsoever asked for a real lead change. I just threw Rio into the turn and we did not get it behind, unsurprisingly. The rest of the round smoothed out a bit and thankfully that was the only near death-by-humiliation experience that trip. A bit snug to the in and out and chipped the last jump for sure, but much more of a normal whoops then jump 2. We did finally get the change at the end, (late behind but better a few strides late then never right?).
Rio got a shower and a rest after that round, so I had some time to get my head back on straight and focus on everything we have been practicing at home. I was determined to do better in my Adult Amateur rounds. The warm-up is very tight so there is pretty much no room to practice our changes. Trainer Stacie kept breaking down the steps for me, and what order to do everything in, but again with the brain not actually being able to keep up on course. I understand the theory, but getting my body to do it is an entirely different matter! Our rounds went ok though. Both rounds we messed up at least one of the changes behind, and we dropped a rail in one. Although that may not sound like anything to celebrate… I was happy. Overall, we found the jumps pretty well, and remembered to whoa in the lines (even though some of the outs were still tight), and in general I rode decently. Rio was brave, smooth, and did everything I asked. Due to the major errors we didn’t place in either round, but I still felt a sense of accomplishment, and like we had something to build on for Sunday. (See the last video below for one of our Saturday rounds).
Sunday started with a fun new class, a 3 ft hunter handy. Run similar to a derby but with only 1 round, there were 2 jumps with height options, and a trot fence. To be handy, everyone was walking in and cantering to the first jump. There were lots of rough distances and quite a few refusals with this method, so I was nervous to try it.
Butttt- Rio did fantastic! He canter right up to it super brave and jumped beautifully out of stride. We even got our changes! The trot jump went wonderfully! As the course went on we did a lovely oxer off a long approach, and then did another long approach to the in and out. Wellll…. those long approaches caught up to us. Rio’s stride was mucho big by that point and I didn’t have the adjustability I needed coming into the 2 stride and we get the the jump in very TIGHT. Thankfully, Rio has a huge stride so he got us to the out jump with no problem. The next 2 oxers went well, then it was a bending line to the last jump. Again, no adjustability, and I tried to squish him the last 3 strides. He was game to try, but we brought the rail down. WHOMP WHOMP. That’s what I get for waiting 3 strides out to do anything about his gianormous stride. I would have LOVED to actually hear our score, even with the chip to the in and out, because it was pretty ok otherwise. Unfortunately, a rail down equals a 45. Still though, I was happy. It was a pretty challenging course with lots of handy turns, and overall it really did go well. Better next time!
After a bit of a break we got back on for our Adult rounds. We actually made some room to school the changes in the warm-up, which wasn’t as crowded at this point, and we got them both directions, so I was feeling good going in. It was our BEST round of the show. Found all our jumps, got all our changes (!!!!!). The only less then smooth part was getting in a bit tight to the out jump of a line or two, but it was far from awful. You guys will have to use your imagination though- because I have zero video of it. MM was there on Saturday and took this AWESOME video, so I want you to use your imagination. Sunday’s round was basically this round, but we got all of the changes. Got it? Ok good, because this is the best I can do.
We were rewarded with a 3rd for our good round and I was thrilled! The horse that won was champion of the division, and 2nd was my barnmate on her lovely gelding Jack, so I was quite content with a 3rd. It was really nice to see that we CAN place well when we don’t have a major fault pulling us down. Gives me so much hope and excitement about the future!
Now that is all over, I can say it was definitely a very positive experience. Do I wish we had gotten all our lead changes and not had any bad jumps? Yes. But did I expect us to be perfect? Not at all. So even though it is still a little disappointing to make mistakes, I have to manage my expectations. Rio met, and far exceeded all of my actual expectations. Our distances rode much better, and we are feeling more confident in the ring. My show nerves were wayyy better this show. Rio jumped 5 days in a row and was a total rockstar. He has proven to me that he is adequately fit, has a wonderful work ethic, and is able to handle the stress of showing. He felt very soft and supple on Sunday, which is impressive after a week of no turnout and jumping every day. I am so relieved that he seems to be doing very well in a show environment, and that he eats and drinks well and has a great attitude about the whole experience. Really, what more could I ask for?