Back in December, I decided that although I wanted to get Venus to the shows this season, she wasn't going down the centerline until she was relaxed. This is not the stand I take with all horses, but Venus had tons and tons of show miles when she was a 4, 5 and 6-year-old, so the “just getting around the ring” stage had already happened. Plus this is my horse, so I wanted to enjoy the ride in the ring, not just get through it.
When Venus is relaxed, she is the most fun thing I sit on. Her reactions to my seat are so fast it feels like she reads my mind. When she is tense and insecure, well, not so much. She gets stuck in her head and I become a passenger. I know her so well that I can make it look passable when she is insecure, but it isn’t nearly as much fun to ride, so I decided that she wasn’t going down the centerline until her mind was with me.
She hadn’t been to a show in four years, so in early May I loaded her up for Morven Park. She was entered in one class on Sunday, and my plan was to scratch unless she was 100% with me. I picked that show because Hassler Dressage was scheduled to be there, and I could get Scott’s help on Friday and Saturday if she was overwhelmed.
And yes, she was overwhelmed. Friday she wanted to take over in the aids at every opportunity. Scott knows both Venus and I well, and did an excellent job getting me to clarify my aids and tune them just loud enough to get her attention but not get trigger more tension. Each ride got better, but not good enough to put in front of a judge. So, as planned, I scratched Sunday’s test.
Memorial Day weekend was our next overnight show. While the big boys and girls (including former assistant trainer Cara, who has been having a great season riding for Rolling Stone Farm) were all battling for Festival of Champions, Young Horse National Championships, and NA Young Rider Championship invitations up in NJ, we headed down to the quieter, less-competitive show at Heavenly Waters Equestrian Center, in Bel Aire MD. I loaded Venus up, even though I wasn’t really thinking about getting in the ring, just giving her more experience.
We got there early enough on Friday that I could school her before the chaos started, and she schooled respectfully. I could feel the tension in her back, but she didn’t try to take over. She got better and better as we schooled, so I decided to go ahead and braid her.
Saturday I got on in time to warm up for her class time, with Alexa on standby run to the office and scratch me if needed. She started with a nice, forward swingy back, which made me wonder if maybe she would be showable.
Half way through warm up, I ran into a bit of tension over a rein back – not her favorite movement. I could feel her tension building, so I kept changing the subject. The warm up went like this -- what rein back? I meant halt-trot, then shoulder in, then halt, and maybe a step back – nope, too much tension, so how about walk-canter? Over and over again. I was about to scratch, when Venus sighed, relaxed her neck, and stepped backwards. To me, that was a huge milestone. Unfortunately, the time spent sorting that out meant that her trot was ready to go, and I had only cantered a one circle each way in working canter, and not collected the canter at all. But her mind was with me, so I figured, what the heck, let’s do it.
So I went ahead and rode the test.
I advise my students to ride all of the tests of a level before they enter, because the choreography of some tests suits some horses better than others. Third level Test One was not suited to Venus’ strengths. I also knew that Alexa was entered in 3-2, and would need my help in warm up, so 3-1 it was.
As expected, the trot work went well. She was obedient and on my seat. She could have used more bend in the half passes, and I got a bit greedy in the medium trot causing an irregular step or two, but she came right back to me, so overall it was fine. She came nicely to the walk, and gave me a hesitant-but-recognizable rein back, and I felt a bit of tension building...
I hoped the extended walk would diffuse it, maybe it would have, if it wasn’t immediately followed by the walk pirouettes. I have used the walk pirouettes to help Venus collect her canter, so as we did each pirouette, I could feel the spring beginning to load.
|Before the explosion ....|
I tactfully walked the loaded spring to C, then cued the walk-canter. Or walk-hop-up-and-bounce, as it was. I kept my seat rolling into the corner, then she readily went forward into the medium canter.
The corner comes up really fast when the horse is enjoying the medium.
We careened around the corner, to the tune of my not-so-effective half-halts. Somehow we made the second corner without leaving the ring, and careened around a suppose-to-be 10m circle, and somewhere on the circle she decided to come back to the seat aid, but I wasn't quick enough to notice.
Because when we headed across the diagonal for the flying change, and I gave a no-holds-barred-this-is-my-seat half halt, and she came back to me and broke to a quite polite trot. So much for that flying change score.
But that did bring her back to me, and the rest of the test looked like a normal Third Level test. The right lead canter was expensive in the scores, but her coming back to me after taking over was priceless.
Sunday morning, after I fed breakfast, I plopped in my chair to play games on my phone while she digested. A few minutes later, I felt something on my head. The next thing I knew, my hat was in my lap. Then I felt Venus grooming the top of my head with her nose. My fun, relaxed show girl had arrived.
We warmed up for Sunday’s class, and after Saturday’s class, I focused on keeping her uphill instead of riding for power. She gave me a very respectable ride, and I agreed with the judge’s final comment of “correct balance, ride for more expression.” The score was equally respectable, and Venus was relaxed and happy all day in her stall.
I think I just may have a horse to compete this year after all. Maybe.