I still remember my first 4-H show with the Shitland pony when I was eight. From the very beginning I was cocky about my riding ability, believing I could ride anything with four legs. Being fearless around horses helped with that because everything felt limitless. However, being able to stick on a horse (or pony in this case) is not the same as being able to ride in a show. My first county show I rode in three classes. Seabisquit was true to form and a complete asshat. We careened around the ring. He refused to stand square. He bit me during our halter class. He stepped on the heel of my boots (this was one of his favorite things to do. I hate ponies.) He refused to pick up the canter, preferring to trot at a bone racking rate, which bounced me around on his bare back like a ball on a tether, which was quite amusing in the bareback class. He bucked in the western pleasure class.
None of this prevented me from watching with envious eyes the other pinto pony in the class, who cantered with a rocking horse canter, his head near his knees. His rider didn't even move from her position in the bareback class, and neither did her long curly blond hair streaming out from under her Black Stedson cowboy hat (I did have hat envy as well). He was pristine white and chestnut, unlike my grass and poo stained pony (yes, he had been bathed, but then rolled as soon as he was unloaded from the trailer in the first pile of fresh poo he could find. Little bastard.) She and that pony were everything I thought I was going to be.
That girl and her pony won the Blue Rosette in every class (1st place), while I and the shithead received a white ribbon. (Everyone got a ribbon. You had to be pretty bad to get a white one.) There is a picture of me after that show (lost somewhere in the boxes of pictures at my mom's place) holding my white ribbons with a mulish look on my face. My dreams were devastated. I was not very happy, to say the least.
However, instead of giving up, I refocused. I knew now what I needed to do and I had an inkling of how to get there. We practiced a lot. I rode that horse in a circle for hours on end. He trotted until he no longer thought about how to do it. We worked on our walk for hours, as well, until he could stride out at a brisk pace. We cantered and cantered and cantered until he no longer even hesitated when asked to canter and he always picked the correct lead. I put hours and miles on that shithead and the next year we pulled two blue and one red ribbon. But, I figured something out that summer - that riding and hard work are needed to succeed in the world of showing.
This weekend brought back that first show something fierce, but without the feeling sorry for myself or the sullen and pissed off rider. (See? Maturity.) Considering I had never even watched a Working Equitation show in person (and I watched all of the AA and Pro competitors make their runs on Sunday) it was a learning experience. In some ways it did feel the same, since I placed last in the EOH phase in both classes (fifth and third collectively) and Ashke was a hot mess. I know that my inability to take a deep breath, my anxiety at showing even in a schooling show, and just my over all tension made him feel insecure. He was definitely in flight or fight mode and my anxiety would not let him settle.
However, there were some sweet moments in both of those classes that we can build on. He was great in the speed classes (first and second) and watching him switch leads was amazing, in part because I stopped worrying about how round he was or if he was going to stop when I asked. I also think that part of what was setting him off in the first two classes was his desire to run. He LOVES the speed course. I need to work him on EOH and not even let him run at speed unless we are in a show, otherwise he will become like a seasoned barrel horse who can't do anything but run when pointed at the obstacles.
So, my goals for the next month until the clinic in Eire, is to work him with contact and encourage him to be round. I need to be more consistent in my hand and only ride him with the reins in my left (which is my stupid hand). We need to start the way we are going to go forward. I need to work on small circles and shallow serpentines. I can also practice the slalom poles at both the trot and the canter, ensuring the half circles are symmetrical and evenly paced. We can continue to explore our flying lead change. One of the things I realized watching the show is that when he gets bouncy he is actually changing leads. We just need to figure out how to when we need to. And I need to let him move with more impulsion, so we are going forward. He has a powerful, very forward trot that I need to get comfortable with, because that will be our working gait for Level 2, if we can ever get past our issues.
Lots of miles and lots of practice. Lots of time under the saddle where we work on the things he needs to know. And I need to start studying Baroque dressage, which may suit us better than the modern dressage we have been learning.