Hope Riding Training Show Recap – Part II: The Showjumping

Show photos by Monique Bernic Photography

Our day started at 6am in the crystal twilight before winter’s dawn. Actually, it started at four because I woke up and was too nervously excited to sleep, so I cuddled my dog until 5:30 and then stumbled out to load the car and fetch my horse. And it wasn’t crystal twilight. It was pitch dark and freaking cold. Sometimes, poetry just fails. I tried, okay?

Arwie was dead easy to catch, albeit a little shocked at the hour, and she didn’t have so much as a speck of dust on her at all (for which miracle I uttered a little prayer of thanks). She soon got over her sleepiness when she was presented with breakfast, which she gobbled with every sign of enjoyment while the other horses stared at her being jealous and nickering accusingly every time they caught my eye. Poor babies.

I dusted her off, combed a few bits of hay out of her tail and put on her travelling kit before marching her up to the box with her haynet and grooming kit. After getting over a very daft spook at her back boots (in her defence, she’s only used to back bandages), she was perfect, walking along at my shoulder with her ears up, alert but relaxed. The box was ready with ramp down and all, so I walked her in circles beside it until she’d stopped blowing at this random big white thing. Then I approached the ramp. She walked up to it and stopped. I walked up to the top and tried to persuade her in, but she danced at the foot of it and said it was too scary, so I stepped down beside her, stood at her shoulder and encouraged her to step forward next to me. She hesitated for about one millisecond and then walked right up.

All ready now
All ready now

Arwen is usually okay to load but needs a lunge rein put around her bum, so I was very pleased, and my dad was very displeased when he saw me backing her straight back down the ramp (she backs up like a lady, by the way, nice and slow and dead straight). Luckily, I made a circle and walked towards it and she again went straight up, no worries. Obviously travelling can’t be that bad if she boxes better every time.

She started shivering a little as we put up the ramp and tied the breeching strap, but I fed her carrots and she started to pick at her hay. Without further ado, we set off.

We stopped about half an hour down the road and I checked on her again; she was a little sweaty and wasn’t eating, but she’d stopped shivering and was standing calmly and looking out of the window. Last time she’d been dripping with sweat by this stage, so I was happy with her.

Loaded up!
Loaded up!

We arrived at the venue very late. I’m ashamed to admit that I got mixed up with the starting times and thought my class started after 9:30; we got there at 8:30 to find that the 30cm was on the go and I was riding in the 50. And the classes were by no means huge. Arwen unloaded like a lady and was very calm. I walked her around a little and let her graze; she was slightly sweaty on her neck, but dried within a few minutes. Last time her day sheet had been sodden when we arrived, so there’s a definite improvement.

As soon as Arwie was settled and we’d spied out the lay of the land, my family and I bustled to get her tack and my jodhs on and we set off for the warm-up ring. It was a 20 x 40m dressage arena without fencing and with about three people already in it, so I said a prayer that she wouldn’t kick anyone and had to be very wide awake. It was actually perfectly fine; the footing was a bit wet, which Arwen hated, but she soon got used to it (after shying at the scary dressage markers. Insert eyeroll here). She didn’t pull on my hands or whinny, but offered a few little bucks at the canter, which is normal for her in a warmup.

Let's hear it for families being dragged to shows
Let’s hear it for families being dragged to shows

To my dismay, our happy little warmup was then abruptly cut off by an arena hog. This was the first time I’d come across one, and I dearly hope I never have to meet another. A big lady on a big warmblood entered the tiny arena and started to canter around as if there weren’t four people already in it, with very little consideration for other riders. She hogged the track and ignored the left shoulder rule (despite the kids on ponies trotting around), with her instructor parked solidly in front of one of the warmup jumps. I was going around peacefully on the outside and she approached from in front; the left shoulder rule indicated that she should go on the inside. We were both in a canter, but I saw that her horse, though large and young, would comfortable be able to make the turn on the inside so I stuck to the track. So did she. So did I, not being in the mood to be bullied; Arwen pinned her ears flat and told the other horse in no uncertain terms that he was going to get a very big kick if he decided to play chicken with her. The big horse, most sensibly, veered off to the inside, clearing us by about six inches, and I had to give Arwen a sharp tap alongside the flank to stop her from making good on her threat.

Drama aside, Arwen warmed up fine, didn’t hesitate at a single jump (but threw a few bucks after them). We headed off for the 50cm and had a great time watching all the little kids and ponies zip around. Then it was our turn. Arwen was nervous from the get-go and, I’ll admit, my head was definitely not in the game. She pretty much stopped at the first jump, but I gave her a kick and she popped over. Second jump was fine, then the sharp turn to the combination, then the fourth and fifth and sixth verticals without any trouble. The seventh vertical was an ominous-looking red object with what seemed like about a thousand poles and Arwen again had a nearly-stop which I kicked her through. She jumped the rusting number eight with an almost audible sigh of relief, was fine over jump nine and we gambled on a very close corner to jump ten – nobody else took it quite so tight, but I have faith in my ex-barrel-racer and she was perfect. Jump ten was a scary blue plank thing, and she was very looky, but okay. It was a quick but messy round, but good enough to get us into the jump-off.

Staring at scary number ten
Staring at scary number ten

I don’t really know what was going wrong, in all honesty. She was spooky of the coloured poles, but she hadn’t been at her previous show. I wasn’t mentally where I should have been; my head was somewhere else entirely and maybe the rushed warmup had rattled us both, too. Whatever it was, I was riding like a chop and she was dead calm in the warmup and dead spooky in the show ring. We galloped into the warmup much too fast, scrambled over the first jump, ran out at the second (to the left! she drifts right… what on Earth?!), almost ran out at the third but made it by the skin of our teeth, and then jumped the last few jumps perfectly. We could have won easily if we hadn’t had the run-out; she was lightning fast, and we took some close corners, as usual.

A good jump!
Look! A good jump!

The next class was the 80cm and I went into the warmup with those two run-outs in the back of my head. I had watched the 60cm and it had looked enormous, despite the fact that Arwen and I have been okay over almost twice that height at home. (Why is it that jumps always look a hundred times bigger at the shows?) There were only two riders in the 80cm, and I had the warmup ring all to myself, which was a wonderful pleasure. I put up the warmup jump to about 90cm and she jumped with no hesitation at all. In fact, she felt better than she’d felt warming up for the 50. “Finally! We mean business now!” I dared to hope, rode better, and she was fantastic.

But when we got back up to the show ring to wait in line (where her muscles cooled off again… sighs) the jumps looked HUGE. Like, 1.50m+ huge. It was stupid. When I walked the course I measured them against myself just to make sure they really were 80cm, which of course they were, but they still looked massive with about a mountain’s worth of filler. Which, of course, they didn’t really, but nerves do funny things to a person.

Because it's just so pro to nail your hands to the withers and stare at the jump... I blame this on the nerves
Because it’s just so pro to nail your hands to the withers and stare at the jump… I blame this on the nerves, too

The rider before us had a messy but gutsy round on a young horse, earning him a few penalties, but I had a sinking feeling in my stomach and poor Arwen must have felt it. I was half on a different planet and half scared, so it was hardly any surprise when she had two stops at the first jump and another stop at the second for a disqualification. We jumped the second jump again on the way out (yay for training shows) and she was okay. I just shrugged and hoped for better luck next time. It was a bummer, and I can’t really think of anything specific that we got wrong. The course could have been a bit high for our second show, but she was jumping way bigger at home and had jumped very confidently at her last show – the run-out at the 50cm was very unlike her. Maybe the filler rattled her and we need to practice scarier jumps – but I’d recently added some new filler to jumps at home and she hadn’t even thought about stopping at a 1.10m scary jump. I guess it was just one of those days. They happen in horse riding, and you just learn to get over them and try again.

She was sound and sane and didn’t seem to have anything at all wrong with her, so I had no intentions at all of scratching from the dressage. In fact, she was getting into her usual Arwen show mood – focused and relaxed. I dared to hope that we might redeem ourselves.

To be continued…

Still in this together. Always.
My horse, my God and me. Still in this together. Always.

Hope Riding Training Show Recap – Part I: The Preparation

Preparing Arwen started on the Monday, six days before the show. With the help of my sister, who is a lot better at hair than I am, I experimented with Arwen’s mane. She rubbed out about a foot of the middle, leaving a highly unattractive Mohawk between two hairy tufts.

While Thunder is a big drafty type and looks good hogged, Arwen is a Nooitgedachter – in other words, she’s supposed to have long, straight, flowing mane like a unicorn. Ha! Apparently, she had other ideas. We eventually settled on plaiting it in buttons and trying to squash the Mohawk into tiny knobs as best as we could. It looked pretty dreadful, but not quite as dreadful as the tufts.


Sneak peek from show day - plaits!
Sneak peek from show day – plaits! Photo by Monique Bernic Photography

After that I went through all my equipment to make sure it was safe, legal and at least not too scruffy. With Rain calling my dressage test (and, lacking markers, a hastily memorised dressage arena map in my head) Arwie and I rode through the test. She was pretty good; obedient with nice transitions (apart from one sticky canter transition in the middle of a half-circle from B to E), but not outstanding. I thought we would probably survive the test without getting a 0 for anything, but didn’t have high expectations.

Tuesday turned out to be rather too rushed to ride Arwen at all; I had a very long day at the stables, but did manage to ride my test a few times from memory on Reed (who rides a killer preliminary test by the way). Arwen spent the day eating grass, and I started to think I wouldn’t need a caller after all. In fact I knew the test by heart and rode it in my head several times a day, but I was terrified that I would enter at A and instantly forget the rest.

Wednesday was our lesson. I rode her without any training aids at all the whole week, because I wanted to know what to expect on Sunday. She was a little better than on Monday, still a bit rushy and unbalanced in the canter and rather heavy on my hands. The Mutterer was mostly concerned with making sure I didn’t burn her out before the show, so we just did some low-pressure flatwork and popped around a 50cm course. She was a little off her rhythm and knocked down one pole, but jumped very willingly with no hesitation.

We had the most amazing session on Thursday. We started by warming up with tons of lateral work, which got her really nice and light on my aids; she was so nice that I decided to play with her a bit and as we came around the corner to H in a working canter I opened my inside rein, pressed my outside spur against her side and asked for a leg-yield, expecting two or three steps or a yield to the quarter line if I was lucky. I was instantly rewarded by a forward, bouncy, willing leg-yield that felt so effortless I let her go all the way to F. It was awesome. That was just the kind of frame of mind she was in, which was too lovely for words. Even her canter was rhythmic, steady, light in my hands.

We jumped around the 80cm course, which I had viewed with some trepidation; in light of the approaching show, it suddenly looked about the size of the Berlin Wall. It’s ridiculous, of course, she pops around 1.00m without any trouble, but shows do funny things to the nerves. She was fantastic and jumped foot perfectly, not a single pole down, drifted a bit to the right but overall she was extremely willing and rhythmic. We jumped our 7-effort course three times without any issues at all and rounded off the session by riding the best test she’d ever given me, excepting a somewhat runny halt at the end. I was on cloud nine. If only she would be as good at the show as she was on Thursday, we would do awesome.

I was tempted to give her Friday off, mindful of not letting her burn out and eager to keep our confidence levels up for the show after our great session the day before, but in the end I lunged her for 20 minutes or so. Arwen is just always much better to ride when she’s had a lot of consistent work. She was her usual impeccable self for lunging.

Apparently washing lines aren't scary, anyways
Apparently washing lines aren’t scary, anyways

Saturday was Arwen’s spa day. I was running around like a chicken without a head, trying to rescue my numnahs and things from the washing line, clean all my stuff and prevent her from rolling after her lengthy bath. Arwen was, as usual, very easy to wash apart from her face (which she really hates to have cleaned). I used Trident’s Glistening shampoo (which, despite my sister’s warnings, did not turn my horse purple) and scrubbed her body and hooves well. I only shampooed the mane lightly because I wanted to plait it, but I went a bit crazy on her tail. Arwen has the most wonderful tail ever, and once it’s been washed, thoroughly conditioned and carefully combed out it becomes a wavy cascade of silky wonderfulness. She spent the afternoon grazing in the garden because of the lack of dirt to roll in. I had heard all the dire warnings that grey horses will always roll directly after a bath or the night before the show. Arwen became my heroine that evening because she didn’t even think of rolling, went happily back to her paddock, and judging by the lack of grassy bits on her coat on Sunday morning, she didn’t even lie down in a dirty spot for the night.

Soapy Arwie
Soapy Arwie

I intended to have an early night on Saturday, but nervous excitement kept me awake reading an outdated Manual of Horsemanship until 9:30. It was only a training show, but it felt like it would be a very big day tomorrow.

To be continued…


Supper before show day