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Shows Teach You Where Your Training Is Effective (or not)

I do apologize for not updating any sooner! We have actually been to two shows since the last update. It seems like this month has flown by, what with the wedding planning and the start of show season!

Photo by Gretchen Stanislav.Photo by Gretchen Stanislav.We did survive the shows…fear not! I will say the first show went a lot better than I expected. We arrived late that night and the arena was ready to close, so I was not able to work him until the next morning. He was about ready to come unglued as we worked…I could feel him tensing up and his muscles felt like solid rock from how tight he was. One trait that has helped me when riding him even at home, is to notice, but completely ignore anything that he spooks at. That way he begins to take cues from my body language that whatever he is bothered by, his rider does not fear, and he begins to trust in my decisions. I rode him for over thirty minutes, working again and again on that canter lead. It was still not 100%, but he was trying, despite being very scared of where he was. After working him, I took him to the wash rack to wash him, and he was very fidgety. He was nervously looking for my old Quarter Horse lesson horse, who was munching hay quietly in his stall. I suppose Slider’s name, Fast Friends, came true, as Slider seemed to bond with the lesson horse over the two hour trailer ride and did not want to be apart from him.

Photo by Gretchen Stanislav.Photo by Gretchen Stanislav.Now, onto the class. He has been wonderful in his full bridle, and we entered the show ring with ears perked and neck way back in my lap. I am actually glad I picked Open English Pleasure, because there is no way he would have relaxed to put his neck down for me for hunt seat! He picked up each trot fantastically, and then we got to that last canter lead. We managed to get it, although we were going mac-80 around the arena. I tried to pass someone, and right as I did, I felt a balance shift underneath me, and he flipped his lead. We stopped, and regained our canter and lined up. We were placed fourth of four. The next day was better in that he cantered better. However, as we came around the next straightaway, he began to get big and then started to rack down the straightaway. I did manage to get him back to a trot, but unfortunately the judge had seen our error, and we were fourth of four again. I really don’t care about the ribbon. I am just glad I got him into the ring! I took it as a learning experience, and at home, I began working him more and more on that bad lead. We also cantered on both leads off the rail, down straightaways, and moving off my leg, pretending to pass horses. What I love about horse shows is they really show where your training is most effective, as well as where it needs more improvement. So for the next month, we worked on moving off my leg, and then maintaining our leads even when turning off the rail or moving off the rail.

Photo by Julie Wigg.Photo by Julie Wigg.The next show, I actually had my fiancé drive Slider in Open Pleasure Driving, just to see what Slider could do. I love my fiancé, and that he puts up with me asking him to drive my horse, even when he hasn’t had much time due to his job to make it to the barn to drive. We fixed up my very old show cart, and dusted off my show harness. On top of this, Slider also was entered into Open English Pleasure with me riding several classes after. Slider had two wonderful driving classes. The first day he looked like he fit right in, and was a wonderful drive for Chris. He did everything very well, and looked just darling in harness. His ears were perked, and he did all his extensions and walks correctly. He was second in the class. The next day, Slider got a little too big and broke into a canter, and Chris was not able to get him back to a trot for a straightaway. As an instructor, I had to think if it was either driver or horse error, and in this case, it was probably both. Chris did not have much experience driving, and Slider was still getting used to showing for us. So the combination here was not ideal, but still, the two boys did their best. They were third due to the bobble.

When I went to ride him, he was about the same as he was the first show. He still had a great first way trot and canter, but that second way canter really eluded him the first class. The second way trot, we really hit a good stride, and he was trotting confidently down the rail with his ears perked. As we went to pick up the second canter, I felt that this was not going to go well. We also were not placed on the rail very well, as I misjudged the spacing and as we picked up our canter, I felt we were about to run up onto another horse’s rear end, and I stopped him. This made Slider upset and he refused to pick up the canter again. So we were last in the class again.

Photo by Gretchen Stanislav.Photo by Gretchen Stanislav.

The second Open English class, the following day, started out very well. He went right on in, trotted with his head up and ears perked. He doesn’t have much motion, but I think that is because we are still regrowing his foot. I just picked up chains for working him at home (never at shows, per the rules), in the hopes it helps him pick his feet up a little and gain some shoulder elasticity. As we went around the rail, a fellow competitor’s rail assistant pounded on the rail with a mane comb, which made Slider spook sideways and break into a canter/rack/mystery gait. I do understand the using the comb to ear up a horse, and I know she probably did not do it at me, so I tried to not get frustrated at her or my horse. Just another thing to work on at home, it seems! Our first way canter was a beautiful gait, as he was slow, relaxed and collected. But then, we went to reverse. It was almost like a whole different horse. He balked when I went to reverse him, and did not want to go forward. Fortunately a horse began passing us, so Slider decided because a fellow equine was there, he could go too. We began to trot, which Slider willingly did, but we went one lap, and went to pass another horse, and he just stopped. I spurred him, and he did not want to continue trotting. Luckily for me, the judge called for a walk, and I managed to position him ahead of other horses, so we didn’t run up on another horse’s rear end. He picked up his lead correctly, and despite the speed, managed to keep the lead as we passed other horses. I was working very hard keeping my outside leg on him, behind the girth, and squeezing the inside rein while I rotated by shoulders to the inside of the arena and opening the direct rein on the inside so he could pass other horses safely. Again, we were placed last, but it was a tough class for him…and me!

I talked with my fiancé and we decided that Slider may be best suited for driving at shows, for the time being. He seems more comfortable in that division and he will fit right in there, and will not have to worry about that canter quite yet. I will continue working with him at home on the canter, but for now, I will be driving him at horse shows to help Slider gain confidence while he learns more and gains more muscle. On that note, we have decided to add alfalfa pellets to his grain for a calorie boost, because he has gained some weight but not enough. Our next stop is Springfest in Des Moines, Iowa. I look forward to showing there and can’t wait to write about it!

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