Friday I had my first lesson in over a month, due to travel and injury human and horse. I was looking forward to it, because I always feel so much better after a lesson, that really great natural high of learning something new and doing it well. Except this week was apparently the week for meltdowns, as quite a few of us had some mental blocks to doing our best, and Kelley, who is absolutely awesome in so many ways, did a great job of talking us down off our ledges and getting us to accomplish something and work on our confidence.
I personally have been feeling some fear and anxiety when the horse acts a bit frisky, and go into total freeze-up panic mode that I’m going to get hurt again. When she’s being good, I feel like we could go tackle the world and win All The Prizes, but when I get nervous, I totally freeze up, stop riding, and panic. And naturally Cally gets more frisky, and nervous, and it becomes kind of a vicious cycle. This was especially problematic the last time we rode in the big top ring, where we started off well, but Cally went into porpoising lunatic mode when I wouldn’t let her canter over the giant fences set up; I called it quits up there and took her down to the indoor, and she was great in there.
So it is unsurprising that when I went up to the big ring for our lesson on Friday, I was nervous already. And Cally was a little spooky/looky in warmup, giving lots of things the hairy eye and trying to spook hard once. We walked and trotted while the lesson before us finished up, then had a little chat with Kelley. I told her about the issues we’d been having, especially in the big ring, and asked if she’d get on Cally a little. Her response was that she could, but thought it would be better for me to learn to work through this myself. I was skeptical, but trusting, so went along with the plan.
We started really easy, walking in a 20-meterish circle over a pile of 3 poles on the ground. And that’s basically what we did all lesson, progressing from walking to trotting and then cantering, only when she was feeling relaxed, supple, focused, and responsive at the slower pace. The point was that when we’re having a rough time, to take things back a level, to a place where we can have a good productive moment and rebuild our confidence. And she felt absolutely great, as we worked on using my outside aids to move her through the turns, and keep her moving the way I wanted her to. Even the canter was fabulous (eventually, once she tripped over the poles the first time through), soft and relaxed and listening.
I took that lesson a step farther on Saturday, going in the little outdoor, where we haven’t had issues, and did essentially the same thing, in our snaffle, over a groundpole and a biggish crossrail. She felt great once again, I gave her pats and finished up after a short ride by getting her bathed and trimmed up and ready for our show on Sunday.
Sunday dawned looking rather ominous, with storms forecast later in the day, but I figured we’d give it a go, because not only was my mom planning to come watch (and photograph!) but the barn I grew up riding at was bringing some kids to their first show, along with a pony I was the first one to see after his birth. So naturally I had to roll in early enough to see their classes go, even though I wasn’t showing until afternoon. Since I was going to be there early, I figured I might as well make the early arrival worthwhile and do the TIP TB in-hand class, even though I really had no idea what might be expected. Turns out no one else really did either, since apparently it varies by judge. It basically ran much like a Hunter Breeding class; we walked in, lined up, and the judge came around and really gave each horse a good look-over, then we jogged down the long side and lined back up. Since I had no idea what to expect, and she’s got more than a few dings and dents, I was really delighted to finish 4th and start our day solidly and with something confidence building.
I then tossed her flyscrim back on, put bell boots back on her, and shed my helmet and coat, and headed back over to watch the kids from my old barn go. I was really glad I did, because they did super. One of the girls, at her first show on a horse I actually used to ride in lessons, who’s done the Childrens before, and is still going strong at 18, did a great job in crossrails and was Champion in her division first time ever showing! And the pony I’d been camp counselor at the birth of, and who hadn’t ever been to a show before, finished with a few thirds in his division! It was really great to see kids having such a fun time and doing well, and shining at their first show.
Then I got to wait around some more, as the pony divisions and lunch break seemed to go on foreeeeeeever. But that’s how hunter shows go, a whole lot of waiting around. At that point I was kind of wishing I’d just rolled up noonish for my afternoon classes, especially because just standing around felt like we were in a sauna. Putting on a wool jacket and getting on the horse was just misery, especially because rather than the forecast thunderstorms, the clouds disappeared and the sun came out, and it became hotter than the face of the sun. Or so it felt.
But that didn’t slow us down! Our first trip was the USHJA Silver Medal round, and all of us doing it were chatting at the gate, anxious about both the bending line to a trot fence, and the fact that we had to halt immediately after the last fence. Both of these things seemed somewhat problematic, especially that final halt. I tried to think back to the feeling we had in the lesson where Kelley made us stop mid-line without running her over, and put that feeling in the back of my head as we went into the ring. It wasn’t a perfect round, in that we had a few lead issues and got a wonky distance to fence 4 (but she did the add rather than take the flier, so I was thrilled with that chip!), but the hard stuff, the trot fence and the rollback to the last fence, and the halt, she totally nailed. She felt incredibly rideable, listening to what I was asking for and coming back so well in the corners, and staying steady. I was absolutely thrilled, and if we’d done no more than that, I’d have been happy with our accomplishment for the day.
I couldn’t believe that we managed to finish 2nd! That was an even bigger confidence boost as we went into the Low TB Hunter division. There she nailed her leads and most of the distances, and was jumping really well.
We got a few respectable 3rds and 4ths in the division, but I was totally thrilled with her trips in a way those ribbons don’t really reflect. She went exactly how I’d hoped for her to go, and it felt easy. It’s never felt that easy before, like we could do it all day long, it we weren’t attempting to do it inside a sauna.
She didn’t have a ton of gas left, but enough to get around the final around of the day, the USHJA Hunter Challenge. It was a handy type course, with a rollback to a trot fence, and a halt I totally missed when looking at the course diagram. But she jumped around well, though I was really having to actually use leg to keep her getting the step we needed, which is not the norm for her. Living up to her awesome performance, we finished 2nd there too!
I could not have been happier with how she went. The things that weren’t perfect, like the leads, are things that aren’t a big deal. The important things, like responsiveness and rideability and just overall consistency, we totally got for the day. I was on cloud nine, and feel like we’re in a really good place now to progress from.