A quick reminder: My goals for this weekend’s show were to have rhythm and clarity. I put them in that order because it’s hard to achieve clarity without rhythm and the level of control and calmness that it provides. And I also wanted to not die of heat stroke.
So did we achieve our goals? Well. Kind of.
Day one was not our best outing.
First of all, we dealt with the kind of swampy heat that just feels oppressive. The kind where just sitting still makes you sweat all over. The judge waived coats – and not just optionally waived them, she actually said no one was allowed to wear one.
Second, Drifter is used to living outside in a herd 24/7. He was not a fan of the smallish, temporary stalls that prevented him from seeing his barnmates on either side. He was bursting with energy. I think that, combined with the heat and the show atmosphere, made him sort of impossible to be around. Normally, he’s calm and collected, but on Saturday I think his youth and inexperience showed through more than usual. All morning he was acting like a teenager.
It went something like this:
Me: Let’s go on a walk!
Drifter: Ugh, the bugs are so bad. This stinks.
Me: Okay, let me put fly spray on you. That’ll help!
Drifter: No way! Stop it, GET IT AWAY FROM ME.
Me: How about we spray you down to get that sweat off you and cool off?
Drifter: Fine, but where are my friends? I just want to hang out with my friends. Guys? Guys? Where are you? Guys?
Me: All right, let’s go back to the barn, then.
Drifter: Ew, I hate it in here! I don’t want to go in there.
Me: I have to bump up your braids now.
Drifter: What’s over there? Why are we standing here? Can I go investigate that? I’m bored. How much longer? Are you done yet? Are you done yet?
Me: Okay, done. How about we stand over here in this nice breeze?
Drifter: Uggggh, this is so boring!
Me: Come into your stall. Here’s some fresh hay!
Drifter: NO I DON’T WANT IT, GET IT OUT OF HERE. *Flips hay bag over top of stall*
Me: Okay. We’ll go on another walk.
Drifter: Noooooo. The bugs are even worse now!
I finally just left him in his stall and walked away until it was time for us to get on to ride. We planned a very short warm up because of the heat, and because he doesn’t usually need much of one, anyway.
That was a mistake.
I felt like I was riding a freight train around my courses. We had schooled the night before and gotten six strides in all the lines, easy peasy. They were set at very long fives or short sixes. Because Drifter had gotten fast, flat and charge-y at his first show, our plan was to go for the add and do steady sixes.
What did we get instead? Fives. I had no brakes. Very little balance. No scope. We knocked down three rails in one course, and at least one more in another.
The only redeeming part of the day was our medal round. It was a fun, jumper-y course that caught Drifter’s attention (and probably made me ride a little more adamantly). It was our smoothest course of the day, and we nailed our leads.
I headed home feeling disappointed, if I’m being honest. I thought we’d have a much different show than the last time, but I felt like we’d taken several large steps backwards. He was back to charging fences and jumping through them rather than over. And I hadn’t had the clarity of mind I was looking for; everything just seemed to happen so fast. But the next day I felt slightly redeemed when I found out that we ended up fourth in the medal, and sixth out of a huge class of something like 12 or 13 in an over fences round. Maybe things weren’t quite as bad as I’d thought.
For day two, we changed the game plan. We rode in the morning instead of letting him get all worked up in the stall. And I rode pretty hard with lots of trot and canter work, until I felt like I had the horse I recognized back under me. He took a few fences very nicely, and I put him away feeling a little better.
(Though he’d rubbed out all his braids overnight, so I had to redo them. Grrr. At least he stood still this time.)
I also rode him a lot more before our classes to burn off a little more energy. It turned out that I might’ve burned a little too much. Also: We had to wear coats. Ew.
We were going to try for six strides again. It ended up feeling sluggish and sloppy, so Trainer said to go for the fives. For whatever reason, the fives that day felt much steadier and relaxed. The distances had not been moved from Saturday to Sunday. I am totally mystified by this. There was such a huge difference from Saturday to Sunday.
In fact, our first round was (almost) flawless. We nailed every distance, got an even five strides in every line, landed on the correct lead after every jump and were balanced through the corners at a consistent pace. The only tiny thing was that he just tapped a rail. It stayed up, but it was loud enough for the judge to hear it. Best of all, we had great rhythm and I felt that I rode smart and clearly. We still ended up third and I was thrilled, because the Limit divisions are always huge and really tough!
The rest of our courses weren’t as good. We missed a lead or two and knocked down a rail. The first round of our classic was very pretty with good leads, pace and distance, until we chipped before the very last fence. Dang it! We got a 68, which I was happy with (since we got a 40 at the last show for taking a rail).
We went in for the second round of the classic…and it was a hot mess. There was nothing left in Drifter’s tank (or mine). We came to the first fence, which was a new one, and he just kind of wiggled out and did a drive-by. I was so frustrated with myself! But he took it when we came around again. After that, he just felt exhausted. It was a struggle just to keep him cantering around the corners. He took a rail. I’d squeeze for more forward, and nothing would happen. It didn’t help that my legs were burned out, too. So I counted it as a success just to complete the dang course. (We ended up getting eighth out of nine.)
Overall, it was a mixed bag weekend. The heat was really hard to take, and I even got a little sick on Saturday after my rides. But I definitely learned some things about managing Drifter at shows. It’ll be a fine balance between schooling enough to keep him rideable without draining his energy so much that he falls apart at the end. I do think some of that was heat-related; if it were cooler outside he may have had some energy reserves we could’ve tapped into for the final course.
It was a learning experience. I will certainly continue to work on his consistency over fences and stamina, as well as my own mental strength and clarity. On to the next!