Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The 2015 Show Season

The 2015 show season is winding down. The last overnight show is history. My whites are drying in the basement, to be sorted as to which has too many stains to see another season. We hosted our last schooling show, the local schooling circuit’s year-end show is coming up, and there’s a handful of one-day local events, but the big, high-stress-don’t-choke-for-at-least-7 ½-minutes shows are over.  

As I sit staring at the blank screen, I feel like I need to do something to commemorate this year’s season. I haven’t written much about it, because clear goals + working the plan = success doesn’t lend itself to good narrative. But it does lend itself to snapshots.  So this blog will be my word-snapshots of my favorite moments this season.

Personally, I had my best season ever. My mounts achieved, or exceeded, the goals I set for them, whether it was learning to relax and stay rideable in front of a judge, or winning a fancy neck garland at some big show.

My students, many who were either new to showing, moving up to some monumental level, or had young horses, also had a very good season.  I watched them learn to manage their show nerves, plan and execute their warm up routines, and learn what their horses needed at both day and overnight events.  I am super proud of how far all of them came this season, and I have a ton of great memories with them, but those stories are theirs to tell, not mine.

So here’s mine.

Toenails and traditions
Linda began a new tradition this year-- painting her toe nails blue whenever we were headed to a big show.  I found this really, really funny, and joined her for second half of the season. I swear my blue sparkly toes made all the difference at the BLM finals.  Plus it seemed much more innocent than our tradition of dead birds, but ironically the dead bird thing continues to follow us.  I kid you not, at one show I’m chatting with a vendor, and she tells me this story of when they were setting up at the show, their dog ran off and (you guessed it) killed a bird.  She, of course, knew nothing of our strange superstition. Subsequently, my mounts had quite a nice show.

The Pas de Deux
My friend Aneesa and I competed in Pas de Deux this season on our red mares to (of course) music from the 2014 Annie remake.  Putting the choreography together and competing it created enough fodder for a blog of its own (and, thanks to some amazing photos, probably will be). But my favorite moment was after the shows were over, Chronicle of the Horse called to interview Aneesa and I about our ride (it won the BLM Championship class with a whopping 82%, with one judge giving the ride a 9 on "performance as a pair").  Aneesa’s text to me after the interview – “this feels unreal.”  The whole experience from working out the choreography, to the first run through with music, to the competitions had a magical, unreal quality to it.

The perfect mare
Secret was impressive beyond my wildest dreams this year. Linda and I didn’t look closely enough at the calendar while planning her show season, so she ended up going to Sport Horse Nationals one week (an 8 hour haul), coming home for 2 weeks, then heading to Dressage at Devon, then home for 2 days, then away to the BLM finals.  Despite with this aggressive schedule, she exceeded my wildest dreams.  She took home ribbons in every show, ending up 5th in the PSG and 10th in Fourth level at Sport Horse Nationals, 4th in the 4-3 and FEI test of Choice at Devon, and 8th in PSG and Reserve Champion at 4th level at the BLMs. 

 I have 2 favorite moments with her – first one was coming home from Good Times farm in July, where she had won both the 4-1 and 4-2 classes. Half way home, Linda looks down at the two blue ribbons sitting in her lap and, with a look of surprise, says to me “That wasn’t an Arab show.” Yes, Linda, your little half Arab doesn’t check prize lists or pedigrees, she just does her job. Quite well, I must say.

The second moment was at the BLM finals. Our group had classes Thurs-Sun, and since Secret had such a crazy schedule, we decided to not enter her in any classes on Sunday.  In the morning she looked a little tired, but by lunch time she was dragging Linda all over the show grounds, clearly looking for her turn in the sandbox. Gotta love a horse with that kind of heart.

Super Pony
Capitano, Shelley’s wonderful young German Riding pony, came into my life last year last May as a 5-year-old. Last year we got to know each other in the show ring, with quite a bit of success. So this year we decided to make a few more goals for him. He had a solid season, winning his all-breeds on a 70% median score, which landed him 57th out of 585 First Level Horses nationwide.  My favorite moment was at the conclusion of a ride in Lexington, I look over and Shelley is giving me the two thumbs up – and her first words when we left the ring “you two didn’t leave any points on the table in that ride.”  He’s such a rideable young man, and I can’t wait to see how he develops.

Gaining Confidence
As my personal horse, Venus often ends up on the back burner, particularly when it comes to shows.  She has tons of clinic and quadrille miles, but when it comes time to head down the centerline, generally I’m astride a client’s horse – which matches with the business purpose, but that’s another (currently half-finished) blog.  When she was a 5-and-6-year-old, SFD was smaller, so I was able spend time teaching her to get over her baby-show-horse nerves.  Then I got busy, and as a result she only saw 6 shows from 2009-2014.  As we were committed to the Pas de Deux, I needed to make sure she was solid enough to fill her job as confidence-role-model to Ming.  So we hit some schooling shows, some recognized shows, day shows, overnight shows, etc.

Venus has always shown me her insecurity by taking over a little – when she’s confident, I’m clearly in charge of the steering wheel, throttle, and balance. When she gets insecure or overwhelmed, by the environment or the level of work I’m asking of her, she never does anything bad, she just gets ahead of me. When she’s worried, she knows best.  In the show ring, the tests generally go better when I can prepare her balance for the next movement, so that was my goal for her this season: to have her confident enough to let me stay in charge.

She got much, much better with each outing, and it goes without saying this was reflected in the scores and placings.  My favorite moment with her was in a test in September. We had just finished the canter half pass, and the next movement was a flying change.  She did the change without me, then she realized I was still sitting in the left lead, so she swapped back. We did a third change, grossly after where it was supposed to be but on my cue, then recovered fast enough to save the next movement and finish the test relaxed, with me clearly in the driver’s seat. The multiple changes did not earn us any brownie points, but Venus’ making a mistake and correcting it without getting  flustered really showed me how much more relaxed she had become in the stress of a show environment.

Rocky is Liz’ quirky, expressive Morgan gelding. Liz injured her knee last year, and subsequently he ended up on my ride list while she had surgery and tons of PT.  As she was just back to riding in the spring, I was his jockey for the first show this season, the Mason Dixon Classic, a local Arab Morgan show.

On a lark, we post-entered him in the Morgan geldings in-hand class. I gave him a 15-min crash-course in running the triangle, which he clearly understood.  Then it was our time, and the silly horse pranced round the triangle like voguing drag queen, complete with a snort on the halt.  He was clearly having a ball. The judge loved him too, placing him high-score in-hand of the day. Conklin Photography got some amazing shots that really captured Rocky’s look-at-me attitude that day.

Baby Cakes
Campione, who I’ve nick-named Nibs, came in to my life in July as a gangly 4-year-old. His owner, Elaine had him backed by a cowboy the previous summer, and on the advice of the backer, gave him a year off to grow before continuing his education.  I lunged him for a couple weeks, then carefully climbed on. He seemed quite agreeable to me being up there, so I proceeded to teach him how to stop, turn, go, and how to wander up our big hill.

By mid September, he started to feel like he was ready to take it on the road. The problem was the calendar--by then we were down to Dressage at Devon, BLM Finals, and Region 1 Championships, all three major shows.  Devon show grounds is such a tense, claustrophobic environment and SFD already had 9 horses headed the the BLM Finals, so that left the Region 1 Championships—a huge, high-stress 7-ring show 5-hours from home. Plus the forecast was for 30 degrees each night with wind each day. If he could handle all that, he definitely has the makings of a show horse.

If you follow SFD on Facebook, you already know that he was a super star at the show. My favorite moment was his first trip down the centerline, where he sprawled into a halt, with his left eye rolling around to figure out where Capi was grazing. Once he located Capi, Nibs flipped his ears back to me, as if to say “ok, I’m ready, let’s do this” and proceeded to head around the ring being the obedient, good kid that he is.   

After the season
Now that the memories are made, the show clothes packed, the ribbons displayed, I’m heading into my favorite time of year – fall training. I get to play with next year’s skills, spend time on the big hill, and relax in the training until the cold comes and steals flexibility.  And bask in the memory of a good show season.

I have to take a moment to acknowledge the owners of each of these horses, who trust me to develop and compete such wonderful mounts. I'm honored and humbled that you selected me to ride for you.  I can't say thank you enough.