Expect this to be long and media heavy! I want to record the whole trip so I remember it. It’s not every day that your baby horse goes to his very first show after all, and especially one like Pin Oak. I have actually never been to Pin Oak, although I always wanted to with Rio- it just never happened. Having this be Hugo’s first show ever just felt right, almost like an omen of things to come in his show career. Who knows, but it was just special to me to have it be his first show.
Last Tuesday after work, my friend Liana and I loaded up my car and headed south to Houston. Pin Oak is about 4 hours from Dallas. Thankfully, there was little to no traffic and we made great time. Not wanting to spend money on a hotel, we were lucky enough to stay with some good friends of mine in Houston proper, which is about a 30 minute drive from the show.
Day 1: Wednesday
The Baby Green division was first thing Wednesday morning, so we showed up to the show bright and early. Obviously we said hi to the boy first, who was braided and looked absolutely STUNNING.
The weather was overcast and rainy that morning, and of course it was the day Hugo would show outside. The rain held off during his warm-up and although he was a bit fresh, Julie (the assistant trainer at my barn who does all the pro rides) rode Hugo through it great with Stacie’s oversight (the head trainer).
I was SO freaking excited when they came into the ring for his first class. Seeing them walk in for the very first time was a very cool moment.
They went right to work and I was immediately blown away by how professional Hugo looked. It did NOT look like his first time in a show ring. He looked calm and collected, and went right to the first jump.
His first show ring effort did not disappoint. Look how freaking adorable he is!! After this he came across the diagonal to a single oxer and totally nailed that one too.
Coming around to the first line he broke to the trot, recovered smoothly, and did the line easily. He broke once more and tried to change leads across a diagonal where it wasn’t needed, but he was so game to go around that none of the little stuff mattered to me. Overall, he jumped everything calmly and easily, got every lead change when asked, and made all the strides in the lines. He had some baby moments for sure, but I was DANCING. I purposely had zero expectations, but even if I did secretly have some the reality far exceeded them. I was barely able to contain myself when they came back in the ring for their next round, which would be his first baby green round. I’ll let you watch it instead of doing a boring play-by-play:
I was SHOOK!!! Julie rode him terrific and they laid down a solid round. No breaking gait, no bonus changes. A tiny bit of baby playing, and a bit exuberant in some of the lines, it was still a baby green round to be very proud of. I was amped up when they came back in the ring for their final baby green round of the day, just as the skies opened up. Although Hugo seemed a little perturbed, he trotted on willingly enough and Julie gave him lots of encouragement. They headed to the first jump and he focused on his job, despite the weather.
Wow wow wow. I couldn’t have asked for better. If anything, he got better every round, despite the rain. The judges seemed to agree because this was his highest pacing class of the day- a 6th! I couldn’t believe he got a ribbon in a big, competitive class at a prestigious show like Pin Oak at his very first show.
Day 2: Thursday
Thursday was a new ring, a covered, which I figured would present new challenges for a baby horse. I feel like covered rings tend to be more spooky, since they are harder to see out of. He warmed up great though and seemed totally on his game.
His first round was so good again! I really felt like he learned from the day before. No more breaking gait, he jumped around easily. Did all of his changes, and all around put in a solid round. His balance isn’t perfect yet and sometimes he plays on the backside of fences, but it was a very good round and affirmed that the day before hadn’t been some kind of fluke. He pulled a 7th out of 45 with a cali split. Not bad at all for a wee baby!!
His 2nd round was his first baby green round. Building on the previous one, he was even more sure of himself and his job. To say I was glowing would be an understatement. Watch for yourself!
Going around with a loop in the reins for most of the trip, it’s pretty obvious to me that Hugo is going to THRIVE as a hunter. He seemed like a duck in water at the show. The judge must have agreed because he ended up pinning 4th out of 17 horses. I was ecstatic that they loved him as much as I do.
He came back in for round 3, his 2nd baby green round, and the wheels fell off a bit. You could tell he was trying, but his fatigue was starting to show. He broke to the trot at one point and although he recovered he jumped big into a line, landed unbalanced with his head between his legs, and Julie opted to calmly circle versus trying to force it all back together before the out of the line. Even though he seemed a bit “where are we going?!” after the circle he refocused and got back to work. I think he broke once more towards the end too. He stayed calm and relaxed and jumped all the jumps, but you could just tell that his baby brain was on overload.
I would never ride with any trainer I thought was harsh of course, but I was still so thrilled with how compassionately Julie handled it. She never got strong or tried to bully or force him. You could tell she knew he was giving it all, and just wanted it to be as positive as possible despite the missteps. After he finished he got to calmly walk out on a long rein with lots of praise and reassurance.
Many hours later, Hugo and Julie did the baby green under saddle. A little late to it due to having rides in other rings, Julie ended up trotting through the busy barn isle and went right into the ring. Talk about a GOOD baby! He did fabulously, but is still a bit nervous about a lot of traffic. In a large field of baby green horses, he got antsy cantering and swapped leads at one point. Julie calmly and quickly course corrected and the rest of the class went smoothly. He is still working on carrying himself and finding his balance, but he was really starting to reach through his shoulders in the trot and looked lovely.
Day 3: Friday
Due to the schedule of the show, my only opportunity to show Hugo myself would be Friday, there wasn’t an option to give him a break any do any weekend classes. I knew from the outset that their was a good possibility I wouldn’t show him myself at this show. This was his first show after all, and good show horses that know and love their jobs often take years to properly develop. Am I going to wait years to show him? No. But I do want him to have a solid foundation. As good as he is and as good as his brain is, he is still a big, growing baby. I am still very much an ammy rider, and one who’s a bit out of shape herself right now.
When I first got Hugo he seemed to always be super chill and more of a push ride. I even had a hard time cantering when I first rode him! At my barn young horses like Hugo (but not too young, Hugo is now 5) often get some sort of work 6 days a week by either their owner or one of our trainers (weather permitting, which hasn’t been super often this spring). Mondays they are off. Tuesdays might be anything from a little lunge to a substantial flat session. I usually ride him myself Wed or Thur, and he’s started to become substantially peppier during those rides. Then he will get pro rides until I lesson Saturday. He usually starts off great Saturdays, but starts to flag much quicker then he did earlier in the week. By Sunday all he is typically up for right now is a stroll around the property with me.
I explain this all just to say he’s working on getting fitter, but he’s definitely not there yet. When I saw him flagging during his 3rd round Thursday I had a pretty good idea that I wouldn’t be showing him Friday. When my trainer approached me to discuss what we should do, we were both in complete agreement: I wouldn’t show him myself at Pin Oak. I had zero desire to push an already tired baby horse around the ring with much less skill then a pro. It just felt like a recipe for things to go wrong. Would Hugo have cared if I made every mistake in the book? Likely not. He’s a crazy chill dude with a great brain. But he is also just now learning what is expected of him in the show ring and it is important to me that he learns well and we avoid confusing him whenever possible.
In lieu of showing my trainer gave me a mini lesson in a warm-up ring on Friday afternoon. The ring was BUSY and I was nervous! Almost as nervous as I would have been if I had actually been warming up to show. Honestly it was so great to have to work through that. Hugo was FABULOUS and he actually felt like we could have gone in the ring. I was so happy to feel he still had energy, but also confident in my choice to end the showing on a good note with a horse that still had some “go” in him. It might not have been the same as showing, but I was BEAMING regardless.
We kept it short, as if we were warming up to to go into the ring. Afterwards I took him on a walk around the show grounds before heading back to the barn. He never batted an eye at all of the activity and seemed perfectly content.
Day 4: Saturday
I took Hugo for one last ride on Saturday morning before he got on the trailer and headed home. He felt good on Friday and with no turnout at the show, we thought a light ride to stretch his legs before the 4-5 hour trailer ride that afternoon would do him good. On Friday he came out ready to work and we starting cantering a small vertical once warmed up. Saturday did not feel the same. He seemed super tired at first, but once we started the canter work in a very crowded warm-up with junior hunters cantering on both sides of him he started to spazz a little. I could instantly feel how uncomfortable he was, which was followed by him hopping up and even trying to strike out when they passed too close by.
Honestly, he might have just been over it by that point. It’s very possible his little brain was fried. I rode over to my trainer, who had also noticed his mood, and she suggested I leave the ring and go for walk in a quiet part of the grounds. She didn’t want him to end on that note though, and we came back after the break. He did seem more calm, but still not like he had been just the day before, which is just how it goes sometimes. She reminded me this was a training moment, even if that training was just walking in a crowded ring. Once he settled I said we were ready to work. A productive jump school still seemed like a reach though.
Knowing that jumping wouldn’t benefit either of us at this point, my trainer lowered the poles to the ground in a pile and asked us to canter them. The traffic made it really hard to get to our “jump” in the state he was in though, and I’m sure I wasn’t riding my best either. So the bar was lowered again, and I was instructed to trot the pole pile. We did it about 6-7 times until it wasn’t a bit deal anymore. Hugo was focused and considerably more relaxed by this point. The ring had also quieted and I felt like we were finally ready for canter work. But, there was no reason to keep pushing him. He had refocused and done everything we had truly asked, and that was good for the day. We ended with trotting a pole pile, in stark contrast to the day before, but that’s how it goes with babies sometimes and I was still very proud of him.
And that’s a wrap on our first show! Goodbye Pin Oak until 2023! Hugo earned a handful of ribbons, which is way more then I expected against such quality competition. I honestly didn’t think he was at the point in his training where he’d be able to win any! If I had any expectations it’s that this was going to be more of a learning and schooling experience, not that he’d actually be competitive. I am so incredibly surprised in the best possible way.
I have often thought that you learn a ton at shows, and this just affirms it for me. I am now much more confident in what Hugo is capable of, and I think it will translate to me riding him more confidently and less with baby gloves. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure he is still going to have his days, but I am very excited to see how much he continues to develop this spring. Our next show is already on the calendar- Ft. Worth May 18th, and I can’t wait for it to get here!
P.S. giant shoutout to Anna for the amazing photographer recommendation: Heather N Photography. Heather was incredible, and I would 100% work with her again! If you ever get the chance I highly recommend her.
P.P.S. Also a huge THANK YOU to my friend Liana. Although not a lot of her pics are in the post, it’s simply because I didn’t have room. They will be all over my IG soon! She’s an amazing talent and photographed our whole barn beautifully. She takes a vast majority of my beautiful IG images as well!