Tuesday, June 17, 2014


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.


  1. Its very admirable that you were able to sit back and refocus on your goals as a kid. So few young folks can do that - I know I couldn't! I would sit and stew and seethe and hope it went better next time.

    I think everyone could stand to be better at refocusing and moving forward like you're able to do. I sure need to do more of it in my life and with my horses. Thank you for being such a great role model.

  2. I kept trying to comment from my phone but Blogger was being an asshat. I wanted to say: Showing really is one of those things that gets better the more you do it. The nerves eventually diminish or even go away entirely and you start to just have fun, which in the end is what it is all about. My favorite trainer would always tell me as I rode into the arena, "Smile! You're having FUN!" It made me burst out laughing each time. Have T or J say it when you're about to go into the arena on show day. It changes your mindset and really helps with the nerves while performing.

    I think you and Ashke will love Baroque dressage. The essence of it is the same as modern dressage but the way you achieve the best performance with your horse is the complete opposite from modern dressage. I think it will be the key to helping you find that happy medium with Ashke in terms of contact. :)

  3. Are you required to use your left hand in working eq?? If so, I'm screwed LOL! I suck at riding with my left hand. Even though I grew up riding Western I still only used my right hand hehe.

    Thanks for sharing the story of your first show! I'm glad you were able to learn from the experience and grow from it. I probably would have given up on that pony LOLOL.

    I think you and Ashke did great at your WE show. It was all new and you can't expect to be perfect right out of the gate. Have fun practicing at home! Your next show will be awesome! :D


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