First Show: Energy, Tension & Inattention

We had some great energy, coupled with some tension that I didn’t manage well.

Well, the first show for the year is in the books, and it was a great learning experience.  My rides were scheduled for early afternoon, but were pushed back when a huge thunderstorm rolled in, dumping a ton of water on us and delaying the show for a couple hours.  After that, the schedule went to hell, as a lot of people scratched. Instead of simply rescheduling the rides, we had to listen to for our names over the PA system – they were calling 4 riders at a time.  When you first heard your name, that meant you had about 30 minutes before your ride.

Energy was not a problem.

It started raining again as I mounted up for my first ride, and despite the fact that I had walked Derby around the show grounds twice in the morning, before the storm, I had a very tense, jiggy-horse walking over to the ring and going into the warm up.  Energy was not a problem – Derby was really forward but not scarily so. However, he was not at all tuned into me, and I really struggled with his tension – and inattention.

Derby’s neck was like a board and my half-halts were not going through at all.  I worked some transitions, trying to get him dialed in, and really could have used more time because the warm up was 50 kinds of ugly.  Thinking “It is what it is,” to myself, we headed for the ring. The first test was Intro A, which doesn’t require a halt at X upon entering the ring.  That was a good thing for us yesterday, because I’m not sure it would have happened.

Right bend? Nah, I prefer mugging for the camera.

I really tried to allow him to stride out and go forward, which I did achieve at points, but I was not able to ride precisely or emphatically (?) enough to deal effectively with the tension.  For most of the ride, Derby’s ears were pitched straight ahead.  His attention was riveted elsewhere and my aids were not effective enough to soften him.

We got though the test and headed straight back to the schooling ring.  I redoubled the emphasis of my aids, sticking the spur into his side with some real – shall we say – vigor.  At that point the message did get through and he started to soften and respond to my aids.  We got some better work and spent about 10 minutes working on relaxing and transitions.

Since my next test was originally scheduled an hour and 10 minutes after my first, I took Derby back to his stall to chill for a few minutes.  The horse I had when I pulled him out and mounted up for our second walk to the ring was entirely different.  He was relaxed, ears flopping, and we walked quietly to the warm up.

Our second warm up started out really well. Derby was relaxed and listening but still had really nice energy.  The half-halts were starting to work, he was keeping an ear turned back toward me, and I was getting some marvelous, round trot from him.  I did some transitions within the gait (little trot/big trot) and was totally excited by the awesome gaits I was getting when I let him roll.  Here, finally, was my show-ring trot.  It felt great and I was totally looking forward to redeeming ourselves.

But then, inexplicably, the tension returned.  I don’t know what happened, because there was no real change in weather, and the other horses in the warm up were all being totally cool – no one was melting down.  But suddenly my nice, relaxed, floppy eared horse vanished.  The head came up, the ears were immovably forward, and the neck became rigid, with the muscles underneath bulging.

Working trot, giraffe-style.

Crap, crap, crap.  I went back to transitions, which had gone to pot.  I tried some spiral-in/spiral out, and had a few hopeful moments as I struggled to keep my right leg draping around the horse, inviting him to wrap around it.  But the hopeful moments were fleeting, and I was pretty much back to where I was before the first test.  We walked, I tried some free walk, which is something we’re getting pretty good at, but nope – to free walk you need an honest connection, and when I invited him to stretch, I got no response, because I had no connection.

The second test was no better than the first, with one exception – I did actually manage to get him to soften and round a bit on our trot circle to the right.  However, we committed a variety of sins against geometry, wove drunkenly down the centerline and played a little hokey pokey (put your right haunch in, put your right haunch out …) at X.

The test scores (60 and 59.5) were, in my opinion, inflated – even by schooling show standards.  And the commentary was what I expected, nailing us for tension, lack of harmony, the rider’s ineffective aids and fairly astounding inaccuracy.

But, there were a few wins.  I was happy that Derby did have some relaxed moments, and happy that I was able to do a little effective schooling.  I need to get much faster at developing and deploying my own responses and corrections, certainly, but the fact that I was able to figure some stuff out is encouraging.  I’m happy that during those few nice moments in the warm up I was able to produce some fancy gaits.  And best of all, at no point in the day did I feel scared or intimidated.  Annoyed, yes. Frustrated, yes.  But skeered?  No.  And that’s coming from my growing confidence is Derby, who really is a very good boy.  His biggest problem is his pilot!

About Sarah Skerik
Sarah Skerik is an experienced digital business executive and strategist with a long track record of success in team leadership, employee development, marketing and business development.

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