Sunday dawned wet and cold, which left me aching all over my body and feeling lethargic. A lot of the Intro riders packed up as we got our horses ready for the Ease of Handling course. The best part of the course walk through was the sidepass poles, which were set in a line. You approached the obstacle on the left lead, cross the first pole with left bend (in a half-pass position), move almost to the second pole, change bend and set forward into a turn on the haunches, then cross the second pole in a right bend (in a half-pass position). I just find it an elegant obstacle when it is set up that way. I choose the cleanest and shortest lines that made sense to set Ashke up without exhausting his hind end. I had been a little worried about the livestock pen, which was made out of feed buckets (cute idea), but most horses didn’t seem to care.
We started our walk warm up early, so he could stretch and get moving easily. I did remember to tighten my girth. We did a lot of turning and stopping off my seat with a loose rein. So much of the EOH has to be done in the collected canter that it is a fine line between getting him warmed up and making him too tired to hold himself properly. We did a little bit of sidepass but mostly we just walked and trotted waiting our turn.
Scary ass bull
When we rode into the EOH arena to begin our first circle around, Ashke’s tension shot through the roof. He started snorting and shying at everything: the people in the stands, the barrels, the side panels, the decorations. I felt like the soft, relaxed horse I had was transformed into a tension filled time bomb. I put him in a trot and asked him to relax, with not great results. A year ago, that would have made me tense and upset, but I just figured that was going to be the horse I had on that day. There’s no sense in getting upset about it, but rather I needed to be calm and non-reactive and give him the best ride I was capable of giving. (I do think I need to start working the obstacles more, however). His biggest issues seemed to be the drums in the center back of the arena and the Garrocha pole/bull/barrels. The fact that the first obstacle was the bull didn’t help, but there was nothing I could do but ride him as if none of this mattered, keeping my mind focused on the goal.
The 3 on the first obstacle was completely deserved. It felt as badly as it looked. He wanted nothing to do with the barrels. He didn’t back as well as he usually did in the bell corridor, which was entirely due to tension, since the little bugger never relaxed. The parallel slalom was absolute crap to ride because he kept spooking at the drums wrapped in the American flag (I know, I find them scary too). On the bridge, that little hesitation was a full body flinch at a flower just like the other flowers he was walking past. Again, he was shifting in the switch a cup. Really need to work on him standing still and square. The pitcher as well. He so didn’t want to walk up next to the barrel and he always shifts when we are there. Our gate in both directions was good, although we can now start to work on maintaining our bend and being on the bit while we do it. His jumps were awesome and I heard from a couple of other people that they were the best in the show. He had no hesitation there.
I need to work on those two obstacles as we go forward. Thankfully, we have six months to address the issues with Amanda’s help. I just need to get Little Yellow Jacket to the barn to practice with the Garrocha. He did feel so much better at the canter and in collection than he did two weeks ago, so I am pretty sure we are on the correct path as far as addressing the issues with his hocks. The other thing that really stood out to me was that I didn’t get upset. I was expecting a lower score for sure and was pleasantly surprised at the 60.50%. As Amanda said when we discussed it during our lesson this week, our bad rides are still better than our good rides were a year ago, so that is some awesome progress. And in watching the video (thanks J) I can see some really good moments. Plus, the bad moments don’t look as bad as they felt.
After the EOH, the course was reset, we did a quick walk through and then we started the Speed round.
We did not race speed. I knew before the round started that I 1) had qualified for the National Show in 2019 if I didn’t DQ during the speed round, and 2) could not win my division (there were only two of us), so I opted to keep him in hand, let him move a little faster where I could but not push. So, we didn’t canter the bridge (not going to risk injuring his hock with a slip), we didn’t race through like we have in the past and just in general went a little more carefully. Perhaps I am maturing some what. There is always next year and although there is competition, I was looking for a personal best under this judge (got it) so I was happy.
After the Speed round, we did awards and took down the arena obstacles, packed up the camper, hitched the trailer and loaded the stuff up. I had Ashke in his BOT with a turnout sheet over the top for wind proofing and rain proofing. He walked on the trailer like nothing, but as soon as he was in he began to shake. I don’t have any idea why. He wouldn’t take a treat from my hand and seemed very out of sorts. We gassed up and hit the road. About twenty minutes later we had to pull over and check the trailer because he was shaking so hard it felt like we had a broken axle or flat tire. Everything was fine, he was shaking less when I went to him, and when we pulled out he seemed better. We made the drive home in four hours and when we pulled into the barn area all of the horses whinnied at him. Several times. Came out of the barn into their runs to whinny at him.