Monday, July 16, 2012

Zahra's First Show!

Finally the stars align! Zahra has been ready to make her debut since mid-May, but I think she wanted to wait until I was going to let her at the "big fences." Yes, that's right, I planned to move her up to Novice at Roebke's Run, and despite missing my first two shows, I decided to stick with the plan! She is much more mature and prepared now than she was at the beginning of the season, so I saw no reason to run around a BN course just to confirm what I already knew: she's ready!

Going into the competition, I had a lot to stress about-- how she would react to the atmosphere, whether or not she would try to "exit" the dressage ring, how she'd feel about leaving the start box on cross country, what she would think of doing a full course, how she'd react to the show jump ring...! It was enough to make me want to steal a lick of GastroGuard!! A lot of people were a little shocked that I would take my four year old to her first show Novice, but the jumps themselves were the least of my worries! Of course, little did I know that this was a BIG Novice course. Everything looked as though it was built to maximum specifications-- BIG bank, BIG ditch, lots of "AB" combos-- but although it was all big, it was all pretty straightforward, exceptionally well-built, and inviting.
Sophie in the rather large Novice ditch!

(c) D&G Photography
My strategy for dressage was next to no warm-up. Just let her loosen up a bit in the canter, and then straight into the ring. I didn't want to give her time to "think" too much about what we were doing, or get too attached to the warm up ring. My plan worked to an extent. She was loose and supple when we left warm-up to circle the ring. Of course, she spooked a big one as soon as she saw the judge sitting in her box!! In the test itself she was as rideable as I could have asked for-- she was tense, but stayed workmanlike, despite impossibly deep footing that could have easily justified a full blown melt down! She finally started to fall apart at the end of the test, bucking a flying lead change into her last circle and trying to leave the ring (twice) before the final diagonal. We got a well deserved "3" and "1" for those movements! But there were lots of 7s in there as well, so when the relaxation comes, so to will the good scores!

Cross country began with a melt down as we left the box ("I don't know if I should leave all those horses...!"), but as soon as she set her sights on the first jump, she was ALL BUSINESS! By fence 4AB, she was on course and jumping out of stride. Of course, 5 was the aforementioned Big Bank. My plan was to trot in to it to give her a chance to check it out, but I think if I'd kept my canter, she would have hopped right up. Instead, she trotted right up to it, stopped, sniffed, and scrambled up it from a standstill. We got 20 penalties, but talk about an A for Effort!

The rest of the course rode really well. She overjumped the big ditch by a mile, and started to get sticky to the last few fences as she got tired, but she was game for every single one of them. Doing a full course is not the same as schooling 3 or 4 in a row, and by fence 12 I could feel her wondering whether or not we were done. She rallied beautifully when we made the turn for home though! Also, it didn't help matters any that it was well over 90 degrees! We had 14 time penalties from the circle before one, and the trotting into fence one and five, but I was unwilling to push her in the heat during the long gallops to make up for it!
(c) D&G Photography

Now for a quick aside-- holy COW does Roebke's do an amazing job with its volunteer force!! When I hopped off my horse at the end of the course, volunteers took my tack onto a cart to take back to the stables for me. They took my horse to hose her down, and they had cool water for riders and the horses at the ready! I was so impressed, I'd go back again just for that!

(c) D&G Photography
Show jumping has always been my weakest phase, so I gave myself a pep talk: Zahra doesn't know I dislike show jumping, so I should keep that to myself as long as possible! Upon entering the ring, she spooked sideways away from the crowd. I played it off as my courtesy circle and brought her around to the start flags. Just like on cross country, once she set her sights on the first jump, it was all business! She was tense for the first half of the course, knocking a rail at 3, but after fence 6 she became very soft and rideable. It was actually the first time I've felt a horse become MORE rideable as the course went on! Zahra may teach me to like show jumping yet!

Haha! But seriously.... its true.
In the end, I could not have asked for a better first time out. Our final score really doesn't tell the story of just how good my little mare was, and how immensely proud of her I am. She had her mini-melt downs in each phase, but she was willing to work through them and not just shut down. Once she understood the task in front of her, she got down to it, and you can't ask for anything better that that!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Good News, Everyone!

Zahra is back on track! After two weeks living at the farmhouse, eating all her meals out of the trailer, she now self-loads. There's still plenty of follow up work to be done to ensure the lesson sticks, but we're on the right track.

So, with her new found trailer loading skills, we went down to see the amazing lameness guru, Dr. Doug Langer. He confirmed my suspicions while assuaging my fears-- yes, she's sore in her stifle. But, he sees this all the time in young horses, so that was the good news. He injected it, told me to return to work as usual, and if there is any lingering pain after 2 weeks, come back and we'll try something else. He said the best thing for this sort of weakness is WORK! Cavalettis, hills, hard ground... all of it! 6 days a week! With the complete lack of rain, there is no shortage of hard ground here in Southern Wisconsin, so I won't feel too bad about taking her on that trail ride tonight...

On Sunday, I had a great clinic with Janet Foy. Z tried to run away with me any time I asked her to yield off my left leg, but Janet worked through it so that we won the battle. She told me to buck up and quit being so nice her! She said "These warmbloods are not like thoroughbreds... they are more like baby crocodiles!" That's exactly what I needed to hear-- I tend to baby a horse too long, not wanting to dial in the pressure until I'm absolutely certain they are ready. Well, Zahra is ready.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Dream Deferred

**WARNING** Pity Party Below. Read at your own risk. ;-)

When I go to a horse show lately, I feel like I am in the wrong age group. The people I grew up riding with roughly fall into two categories: quit riding to lead a normal life, or, moved out East to go professional. At the local shows, there are two groups of people: kids, and adults who have returned to the sport later in life. There are a few my own age, surrounded by their students, who have gone pro AND opted to stay in the Midwest (god knows we need people like them!). And then there's me. Or at least that's what it feels like. The talented, hard-working rider who didn't have the sense to get out while she still could. Didn't get the memo that it was time to start over. Its too late to lead a normal life, its too late to go pro. But I'm not ready to give up either.

I've come this far. I'm a really good rider (not a great rider-- still lots of room for improvement!!), and I have two fantastically talented young horses. I still dream of galloping across the country at a four star, even though now I'll be well into my 30s before I'll get the chance. And even then, I may not. I can train my horses up to the best of my ability, but I can't get there without their help and a BIG healthy dose of Luck.

Also, we all know that at the end of the day, I do it all for the snuggles.
(c) ShortHorse Studios
I leave you with the classic poem, Harlem, by Langston Hughes. Lately, I find myself with this poem stuck in my head a lot.

What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?