The last leg of the CHG Series was two days before Thunder’s seventh birthday.
I had to leave Arwen at home because she was still unfit and not quite sound after a bit of a dodgy trim, so it was Thunny and Rene for it. (Who came second in their Prelim 4 with K, a hard-earned place. I’m so proud of them).
I decided to ask Thunder to be a bit grown up today and didn’t have K bring Rene over so that he could have a friend while he was warming up. And he responded by being the quietest and calmest he’s been in the warmup. He had a look around when we walked around the first time and then that was it. Straight to work.
I also have inordinate amounts of media for once, so prepare to be bombarded. Here he looks like seventeen hands until you realise I’m a hobbit.
My soul does dressage but let’s be real, my seat still thinks it’s eventing. Sigh. Maybe, just maybe the horse is tight in his neck because my hands are bracing? Ya think?
He had some truly superb moments in the warmup, though. As usual for a show, he was a little stiff and tense though his back and neck. Not usual for a show, he was really, really behind my leg. I wasn’t really concentrating on it because usually at shows I’m all panicking about if any of my whoa and turn buttons still work, so before I knew it, he was BADLY behind my leg and I was nagging madly. Nagging, for the record, does not and never will work on this horse.
His tail is so dressage-y. I love it. The judge made a comment about our amazing earmuffs (more on them later!) and then off we went. The trot work was OK, a little behind my leg but OK. The free walk kind of, well, wasn’t. He can free walk for an 8 (and has in the past) but as soon as he’s slightly tense, distracted, or (you guessed it) behind the leg it becomes a bit of a mess. This judge has a thing about free walk so we got 5.5 for it. Ouch.
In this photo he looks really offended because when I asked for my A-F corner canter left he sort of speeded up his trot and fell on the forehand. I asked again just after F and he ignored me, and then I decided the movement was a disaster anyway so I took the whip behind my leg and gave him a big hiding. He does not need to learn that I won’t hit him for blatant disobedience in the show ring. To be fair, he was a little distracted, and I could have prepared him better, but when I ask for canter he’d better canter. Of course then he struck off on the wrong leg and wobbled all the way off the track, but we sorted it out and managed to put in a circle. It was too late, though, and landed us a well-deserved 4 for that movement.
I felt it coming down around my ears a bit at that point, but I knew that it was one bad moment in what had so far otherwise been a solid test, so we scraped it together and earned a string of 7s for the rest of our trot and canter work, barring a 5 for the stretchy trot (he barely does it at home – definitely not at shows). That was still good enough for 66%, getting us third place. So it was nice to get a ribbon even if we’d had a little disaster in there.
As we headed out of the Prelim 3 arena, the rider before us was only just going in for Prelim 4, so I walked him up and down the path doing walk-halt-walk until he was in front of my leg. I can get him really nicely in front of my leg now, but I have to be very, very diligent about keeping my leg OFF until I actually want something. Then the deal is that I give a tiny squeeze and he must respond. He got one tap with the whip and then realised I had stopped nagging, so then we were back on the same page and went in for Prelim 4 feeling quite chirpy.
Evidently I was still not terribly focused, however. Nothing was truly horrible at first, but nothing was that brilliant throughout the test, either; 6.0s and 6.5s except for a 7 for our final halt and centreline (that was quite nice). The serpentines had the comment “show more bend”, which was disappointing because I know I can get a really nice serpentine from him, he likes the movement and is good at it. I actually really like this test for him but I think I just wasn’t really there for him at that point. I also forgot the test halfway through the canter work and got the -2 there with comment “broke” even though he didn’t break, I asked him to trot. Poor chap.
He also was a tiny bit hesitant going to canter left again, so he got a tap and we managed to get it accurately this time but still lost some marks for the loss of rhythm and balance. Also, almost every movement had the comment “tight neck” and I can really see it in this photo. He’s on the bit, he’s just not connected really, short in the neck, tight in the throat and breaking in the third. He often gets this comment at shows and I’d like to get photos at home again and see if it’s at shows or always. I do feel like he wants to go above the bit at shows and it looks like I respond by jamming my hand down and pulling, which definitely doesn’t help.
I feel like getting his neck long is the key to fixing the other comments the judges keep giving us, like nailing us on the collectives for suppleness of the back and asking for more bend. Anyway, we moved on to his lengthening, where I panicked a little and kicked him and he shot off. It was a 6.0 with comment “hurried” and I know he can do better, so I’m actually quite OK with the mark. If I ride it properly I think it could be a 7 already, which is huge for me because I’ve struggled with lengthenings for ever.
At the end of the day it was good enough for 63.8% and 4th. And honestly, between God and Thunny, I’m being taken to a completely new place with shows. At the beginning of the year that minor disaster in Prelim 3 would have brought my world crashing down for a few days and opened the door for major self-doubt and anxiety. But it just wasn’t a big deal. I thought, “Well, that was a disaster” and carried on. I have so much more confidence on this horse. I have so much more confidence and enjoyment since I gave it to God. I look forward to shows instead of facing them with fear and dread; I enjoy them instead of enduring them and whatever place I get, I can hug my horse afterwards because he’s so amazing and God is amazing and I love dressage. I take myself so much less seriously, and thus can compete so much more seriously because I breathe in the sport and breathe out the negativity.
It’s so hard to be anxious, stressed, doubtful, and negative when with every stride I feel this overwhelming gratitude and wonder at the Amazing Grace that saved my soul, let alone put me on the back of a horse with a heart as big as a mountain.
God is with us! Glory to the King.