I ended up driving to the show, setting up all of the things, and then going to get Ashke. It was stormy and drizzling, which further acerbated my internal desire to just skip the whole damn thing, but, in the end, I talked myself into showing. My reasoning is that the more exposure I have to a show venue, the more opportunities I have to put myself into those situations and then not die, the less stressful I will feel at the big venues. The bottom line is that Ashke and I need to work out how to work through the stress of a show. I need to figure out a better coping mechanism for dealing with him being spooky and how to ride through it without being panicked, frustrated or angry (the anger stems from the panic, mostly, and some frustration.) The panic comes from still feeling uncertain about my ability to stick a spook - to feeling out of control. Yes, some of it is also my projected anxiety about how I am going to be perceived, which is why a schooling show is a great place to start.
I warmed up in the outdoor, in the drizzle, at the end of the outdoor arena as far away from the potbellied pig as was humanly possible. Ashke was not a fan. The pig was digging a piggy trench in the dirt along the fence that edged one part of the arena. I worked Ashke at the other end of the arena, starting with shoulder-in, then haunches-in, then some leg yields. I wanted to loosen up his hind end and get him stepping up under himself really well. We did some trot and finished on a couple of canter circles. Just enough to get him warm and moving freely, without making him tired. By that time it was raining pretty good, so I went into the indoor and watched some of the dressage tests being ridden. We were the last ride and Ashke was momumentally bored by the time it was our turn to go. Two riders out, I got on him and worked shoulder-in to haunches-in along the wall of the arena. In a perfect world, I would have warmed him up, then gone in and ridden the test immediately. Alas, we.live in a world of sorrow, filled with difficulty and melancholy.
Actually, it wasn’t that bad. I got a couple of minutes to warm up inside the dressage arena, during which Ashke snorted and spooked at the flowers set along the endge off the arena. I let him spend one round looking at stuff, then took up contact and rode some shoulder-in/haunches-in and serpentines to get his mind refocused on me. We just went around the dressage court until she rang the bell, and then we rode.
I think its the best test we’ve rode to date. I made a conscious effort to keep my shoulders relaxed, (hearing Amanda in my head “drop your armpits”) which seemed to help Ashke. The judge said after, that it was the best ride she’s seen us have, and that Ashke wasn’t above the bit most of the ride and when he was, it was very brief. I could hear Amanda in my head for most of the ride “don’t give with your hands” on the canter circle at the medium canter (although I did give too much in our medium trot, which is why we got the rushing comment - he can come up in the front and through at that medium trot, but I have to ride it better). Going through and adding the comments after the movements in the video allowed me to really absorb the feedback and I believe it was spot on.
This was the first ride where I was able to stay ahead of the test, with the exception of the medium trot, which kind of caught me off guard, since I was mentally berating myself for not having trotted him down center line in the warm up, ride every stride, prepare in advance and not have an asthma attack. I may finally be getting the hang of this dressage test stuff. It was also the first time in a dressage court that Ashke didn’t react to outside stimuli. There was no spooking, although he did cock an ear at a couple of the flower pots. It has helped that we work on pieces of the test and we just needed to string the pieces together.
Areas where we can improve: using our corners and working on our turn on the haunches to the “hard” side. Lateral work in general to the “hard” side will help improve both the dressage test and our EOH. I thought the leg yields were very solid, although we still need more bend in our circle. Part of the issue is feeling confident that Ashke can handle the request for more bend without throwing away his haunches. It will come with more work.
The EOH was several hours later. We did school the Intro course at about noon, and Ashke was so good the first ride through we did. No spook, great response. But then we waited for another three hours and when we went into school the L2-L4 course he was a freaking mess. I was so frustrated with him and started to get angry. But then I stopped and asked myself why I was stressing about a schooling show. We were there specifically so I could work on relieving my anxiety and helping the two of us find a path through his spookiness. I thought about what Amanda would have asked me to do, and implemented it. Instead of worrying about the obstacles or the course, I started the shoulder-in, haunches-in on the outside of the arena around and around. I told him he was a good, brave boy and to pay attention to me, rather than looking around. And I ignored the rest. We did that until we were kicked out of the arena, and then we did shoulder-in, haunches-in, leg yields and serpentines in the dirt packed roadway in front of the arena until he was completely focused on me. Then I got off and waited until our ride. Two riders before me, I got back on and walked, trotted and some serpentine canter in the roadway, then went in for our EOH ride.
He did so much better than I expected. There was a moment at 23 secs where something happened with his left hind leg. I don’t know if the stifle locked or something else happened. I thought he had slipped on the footing, but in watching the video, something else happened. I plan on showing the chiro the next time she adjusts him to see if she can tell what happened. He was a little flinchy through his body, but only tried to get away from me once, before the pen. I could feel him getting tired as we went into the slalom work and that was reflected in the scores we earned. I need to make sure to address this issue with Amanda and see if we can work on improving his stamina in his collected work.
I waivered on the Speed round. I wasn’t sure if I should push it, but in the interest of keeping the show format (its not going to help us if we only do the two parts instead of three) and the fact that Ashke loves the speed round, we rode it.
My only regret was the stop at the end of the bell corridor. I didn’t prepare him correctly, being too focused on keeping him collected for the L turn, and not using the half halt to prep him to stop. That was why I stopped briefly and let him bring his head down and settle. That is also why he got a “good boy” and a pat on the neck as well. I felt that he was happy with being able to move ahead, and his drums were much better in the speed round than in the EOH round. Amanda has been talking about adjustability within the gait. I felt that we actually had that in the Speed round. It wasn’t the flailing, balls to the wall round of yore.
There was a moment when I handed Ashke off to a watcher to help the show manager with the scoring for the show. When I finished showing her how the scoring sheet worked I walked out from behind the divider. Ashke saw me, his head came up, his ears focused on me, and I said “hey buddy”. He whinnied like he hadn’t seen me for two years. I said, “I’m sorry I was gone so long. I missed you so much.” He whinnied in response. It was an awesome response from him.
He is just such a great horse.
I think I have packed a couple of tools in my tool box. I need to remain calm and ignore his antics. I need to not worry about how he is going to react and ride as if there was nothing out of the ordinary. If I can support him with my legs, ignore his distractions, and ride as if we are practicing with Amanda, it will help him focus. I was pretty happy with our rides, how I managed to ignore my baser instincts and reach for connection rather than fighting with him. (There was a brief fight, but I changed my approach pretty quickly.)