Now, I need to preface the video with some disclaimers.
First, we moved up a level to Novice B. At our only full show last year, we trotted the obstacles and the distance between them. Trotted. This year, we are required to canter between obstacles (for both Novice level - you can only trot at Intro now) and are required to canter the obstacles (Novice A trots the obstacles). There are some obstacles that must be walked, like the bridge, but otherwise, it is a canter.
Second, we haven't actually ridden an Ease of Handling course since September (where we trotted everything). I had planned to do a course the weekend before the show, but then we threw a shoe and that plan went out the window. Amanda and I had worked on a few of the obstacles in our lessons, but we were mostly focused on the triple drums and the double slalom, both of which had to be ridden at the canter, with a change of lead through the trot.
Third, and this played a huge part in my ride, the only time we have ever cantered an EOH course was during the SPEED round.
Back to the Expo.
We pulled the dressage arena on Weds night after the dressage phase was complete. Tarrin gave three group lessons starting at 2 pm. During the final lesson, she allowed the other riders to come into the arena and ride the obstacles. I practiced the approaches I had planned for my course, including angling my jump to put me in position to be on the right lead and bend for the obstacle after the jump. I wasn't able to ride through in one unbroken path, which might have made a difference the next day, but more likely wouldn't have changed anything.
We went to dinner with Tarrin after the clinics and I picked her brain about stress and showing (which surprisingly, she deals with as well). I decided to sing the next day during warm up and try to fool my body into being relaxed in the arena (although EOH is never as stressful as the dressage). We tucked the boy in with a huge hay net filled with alfalfa and headed to bed.
The next morning we learned a great lesson about EOH and shows. We will post a start time, but leave the rest of it blank. The rides weren't taking as long as we had planned and it became really obvious that instead of riding at 1:15, I was riding at 11 am. Amanda and I rushed out and got Ashke ready, then headed to the warm up ring. We did our normal warm up, albeit a bit rushed, stretching out his right hind and getting him loose. He gave me some really nice trot-canter transitions and there was no hint of tension or stress in his body.
We were called into the arena and I felt like I had a solid plan. Then this happened.
I came out of the arena a hot, sweaty, dripping mess. Amanda met me and said, "well, that didn't go like we planned" and I said, "I'll be lucky if I make a 50%" which she didn't disagree with.
I decided when we got in the arena and Ashke was being a bit spooky, that I would trot through the start-finish line and then cue the canter. The two obstacles I was the most worried about were at the very beginning, where we could get through them first before he was too tired. I was fairly relaxed, since we had been doing a large canter pirouette in warm up off of my seat, so I was expecting a light, responsive horse in the arena. EOH doesn't stress me out like the dressage test does and Ashke enjoys the obstacles, so I was hoping for a good score. We trotted through the start line and I cued for a soft, light canter. Ashke bolted.
I wasn't expecting Ashke to react like a kindergartener released to recess who runs off in all directions waving their hands over their head. He thought "OMG, it's the SPEED round and I have to race as fast as I can." I was not expecting that response (because hind sight is 20/20) and all I knew was that I had a fight on my hands. Every time I loosened the reins the slightest bit, he tried to leap forward, hence all of the head straight up in the air and stiff front legs action. Because we all know how much the judge likes that look.
One of the things that might not be obvious, is Ashke bounced me so hard in the first two feet that I lost my left stirrup (I also hate the paddock boots I am showing in and plan on getting a pair that fit before the next show) and so I was trying to find the stirrup as we were careening toward the double slalom. Ashke dropped his shoulder and spun around the pole just as I found the stirrup and then it was a real fight. He did not understand why I was making him slow down and change leads through the trot. He wanted to fly.
The drums were bad too. By the time we were half way through, I had given up in my mind and just wanted to make it through the round without falling off or going off course. I wanted to complete. The beautiful round of soft cantering and transitions I had been working toward was a dream for another day. All I wanted was to finish. When we approached the gate, I stopped him early and took a deep breath. I was hoping it would resettle us and calm him down. I knew Tarrin would read it as hesitation, but honestly, I need the respite. After the gate was no better and I felt lucky that I had made it through when we finally finished.
The other thing that was obvious is that we need to do a thousand trot-canter transitions on the right lead between now and the next show. He is very much left lead dominant and when we are racing, I think he thinks he is faster (and more balanced) on the left lead. We get the right lead probably 95% of the time in lessons and in the arena, but he refused to pick up the right lead several times in the EOH.
Finally, when it became a fight, I gave up on my seat and legs and went to my hands. I need to make sure I don't do that in the future. I need to develop enough confidence and response on his part in my seat and legs that I don't need to fight him with my hands. That's just more riding and training, which I can do. I know that we will continue to improve while I am working with Amanda.
He has a very nice flying lead change when he wants one. I don't need the flying lead change right now, but it is good to know it is there. There were some obstacles that he did very well. There are a few points we can pick up by working on immobility in the "rounding several obstacles" and the bell corridor. If we can master the square halt every time we stop, that will help too. We either did craptastic on the obstacle (4 or 4.5) or we did well.
We made it through the course, even after riding several obstacles with one hand and whacking him with the pole. After the drums, I was focused on finishing with as little damage as possible. I accomplished that.
Finally, I was realistic in my expectations going into both the dressage phase and the EOH phase. I did not expect to have a fire breathing dragon on my hands, and it wasn't until I was talking to J and Amanda about it that I put it together that Ashke had never tried to canter a course. I was not disappointed in our scores or our performance. I rode the horse I had that day. And stayed on. My 52% was more than I was expecting when I rode out of the arena, so I couldn't complain.
I thought about my ride a lot afterwards. I wanted a plan of action in case that ever happened to me again. I talked to Tarrin about options and asked what it would have effected if I had stopped him, backed him up and started the canter again. Since it was between obstacles, the only thing that would have effected was my collective marks and I already had a 4 on them, it couldn't have really hurt me any more than his behavior had. The thing it might have done was reset his brain. It would have given me the opportunity to salvage the first two obstacles and maybe clicked something in his brain telling him this was not the Speed round. (Never practice the speed round.) It will be what I try next time, if we find ourselves in the same position, although I am going to try riding as many EOH courses as I can between now and June. Usually, the trainers tell you to focus on the dressage and apply what you learn to the obstacles, but in our case, we really need to reinforce that you can canter without racing.
I need to ride the obstacles more, either on my own, or working individual obstacles during lessons. I need to perfect my jump and release. I need to make sure I am not bonking him in the mouth when we are jumping. We certainly have plenty to work on.