Green Acres is a little 3 Phase competition that I attempted with Daatje six years ago, early on into our jumping training. We'd done some clinics, jumped alot at home, and even schooled at Green Acres with success. I figured we were ready for a schooling show so off we went. Show day came and dressage was horrible. She was sticky, spooky and stiff as a board. Cross Country came next and I'll be damned I couldn't even get that mare out of the start box! Kicking like a kid on a Thelwell pony, she finally left it at a hesitant trot and we were unceremoniously eliminated at the first fence.
I was mortified. In tears, I left the show feeling like my horse had let me down. I vowed never, ever to put myself in that position again. Ever. The big "E" felt like the end of the world and to have a horse so capable physically, be so resistant mentally was a hurdle I didn't think we'd ever be able to overcome.
We went back to the dressage scene. Attended eventing clinics for the practice and so I could try to improve my technique and communication with my horse. I came to realize that there is no such thing as your horse "letting you down". They have no concept of your goals and if they fail to perform it is, ultimately, the responsibility of the rider/trainer to better prepare them for the demands that lie ahead.
One of the clinicians I had grown to like suggested I try Foxhunting Daatje to get her out into the world and learn to jump in a forward manner, tackle varied terrain, etc. Well, the title of my blog would suggest how that went. :D We hunted and it was love at first flight for both of us!
Yet I still had that nagging desire to see if I could get her to jump a course of fences at a competition. Practice is key and that is what we lack. Miles in the ring, experience. Confidence.
So, I threw caution to the wind and signed us up for the UNH Thompson School 2 Phase. Oh boy. My strategy was to sign her up for itty bitty jumps. The lowest division offered. Do I feel silly? Yup. Is she capable of more? You bet. But, to ask her to jump to her ability at a show where she's having mental hang ups puts us at a disadvantage and sets her up for failure rather than my goal which is to build her confidence and to show her the job I want her to do in a manner that seems doable to her.
So we were entered in the Elementary Sr Division riding the USEF BN test A and jumping little 2' - 2'3" verticals.
The day of the show dawned and we arrived at UNH about 11am. I unloaded Daatje, tied her to the trailer where she cocked a leg and proceeded to take a nap. :) Glad one of us wasn't nervous!
Dressage wasn't until 1:06, but I wanted to have time to acclimate myself to being at the show. I was mounted up by 12:30pm and began the lengthy hack to the dressage rings. Took us a while as she was not too impressed with the very strong smell of cows coming from the UNH Dairy barns! :) She was sticky and balky, but we got there eventually. Warm up was what I expected it to be given how out of shape we both are (and out of practice!) She was looky at the woods, birds and reservior, but I rode throught the best I could to get her attention without blocking her forward momentum. This is most difficult to do. She needed more warm up than I expected and by the time 1:06pm rolled around she was pooped out! But, I would rather have her a bit pokey than inattentive. The test went well enough. She didn't feel her usual self, very pokey and non-chalant (turns out she's in heat......that explains alot!) but we finished the test with a score of 29 which was very generous!
The judge had some very nice comments and gave me pointers on how to encourage her to bend and direct the energy withoug blocking it. "Unlocking the power" as she put it. She said if I can do that, the scores would be easily 8's and 9's. :) I will focus our spring work on this technique as I've felt the "unlocking of the power" before from Daatje and it is a wonderful place to be! But, too much to ask, I'm afraid in the unpracticed state we're both in.
Dressage completed, we hacked back to the trailer to await stadium. I talk about my horses mental hangups.....my own are no small animals either! Took half the morning for me to convince myself that this was just practice. The big "E" is not the end of the world and the best you can do is ride her to every fence with confidence and encouragement without getting in her way. Ok, we're ready.
Stadium time came at 3:06. There were seven fences. The first being jumped towards the in gate, which I think helped alot to set the tone. We entered, saluted the judge, and Daatje picked up the canter on her own, moving away from the in gate (a very good sign) as we made our way to the first approach.
|Entering the jumping arena, photo by Mystical Photography|
|The first fence, photo by Mystical Photography|
|Fence 2, photo by Mystical Photography|
|Fence 3, photo by Mystical Photography|
|Fence 4, photo by Mystical Photography|
|Photo by Mystical Photography|
|Photo by Mystical Photography|
|Fence 6, photo by Mystical Photography|
|I can hardly believe it, we did it. Photo by Mystical Photography|
|Waiting for the placings, photo by Mystical Photography|
|Just a little happy|
|Mom, can we go home now?|
The absolute best part of the day was when the stadium judge came up to me at the end and simply raved about Daatje and how she wanted to take her home! She told me that I did a lovely job of "giving her confidence to the fences without getting in her way". I was floored. That is my motto! And here was a judge that doesn't know me from a hole in the wall, telling me I did an exemplary job of exatly that! Wow.
She also told me she was commenting to the ring crew to "watch this rider" "this is how it's done if you have a horse with confidence issues" "this is how you ride them to the fence to give them confidence and stay out of their way".
Wow. What a huge compliment to my efforts.
Basking in the moment. Tomorrow is another day and we start all over again! :) We have a busy show/event schedule planned this year, so I'm likely to be back on more often than not with photos and progress reports. Stay tuned!