Technically, I bought Prair in December of 2011, but I didn't really have the opportunity to work with her regularly until we brought her home in April of 2012. So this little schooling show is a nice milestone in what we've accomplished together over the course of a year together.
Prair and I also had our first (baby) show together in June of 2012, so we're not far off that year mark either. All in all, I cannot believe how different an experience Sunday was for us.
Things that happened Sunday that make me feel like we're actually making progress:
1) Prairie walked on the trailer without pause, then proceeded to stand on the trailer for over an hour munching hay while I got organized for the day.
|Bringing Prair home in 2012|
2) NO SPOOKS at the show.
I should probably highlight this statement, animate it, bold it, whatever because it's huuuuuuuge. When Prair first came home we regularly scooted across the outdoor, spooked inside, and came unglued in new environments. In fact I had plenty of rides where I convinced myself I would just walk and trot because I wanted to focus on my trot. In point of fact this was just an excuse since the canter caused me severe anxiety and I avoided it unless the stars aligned or S made me. I have never had anxiety about the canter in general so I think it developed by association since all of our scoots happened going into the canter or once we were cantering. Ergo, I avoided. Good ol' fashion coping mechanism.
So to have a full day of showing complete with umbrellas, ponchos, grandstands, and ponies going a million miles per hour without a full spook totally impresses me. Sure, she was amped up in a (very) crowded warmup ring, but she kept her feet in the right place and never bolted, inverted or freaked out. Prairie did give the "grandstand" a hairy eyeball a few times, but she actively worked and controlled herself both in warmup and big arenas.
You may recall at our first few Dressage schooling shows (at the same facility) we we a little less than.... contained/controlled/calm during our canter work and even excused ourselves from a test.
Sunday I was able to canter around the same arena with a loop in my rein.
|impersonating a freight train last year in the same arena...|
|We will also be attending a show where this epic spook happened in June of 2012...|
3) Flying Changes!!
We managed to get around all three courses on Sunday with only one simple change. The lone simple change was a byproduct of her harder direction and some super sketchy looking spectators lurking in the shadows (Prair was concerned). Without the hard look we might have gotten a clean(ish) change but with the look I opted to bring her back to the trot.
The rest of the changes were mediocre. Some were very late, but we got them. New feature. Who would have guessed.
4) Long Spots
Sunday, I mentally committed to not choking Prairie back to a lope and chipping all of our distances. In an attempt to be "defensive" and not allow the mare to get unbalanced/panicky, I have gotten very (very, very) comfortable with a slow, underpowered, "manageable" canter (read: lope).
The result is that I am constantly holding her back to add extra strides (and then one more for good measure) which also means my giant 17h huge strided horse adds one (or two) in every line. Aside from feeling like a nitwit when a 15h QH makes the strides and we don't, it's not correct or a good foundation to take all the RPM's out of Prair's engine.
So Sunday I decided no more and we went for it (actually S decided NO MORE and told us to go for it). To my surprise, Prair didn't take advantage of me being soft or allowing a larger step and we moved up without drama. When in doubt, I chose the longer distance and we survived without incident.
During our first course I erred on the side of "bold" and while we made all our strides and "moved out" nicely, we apparently also looked like we were galloping around the course. I would defend my round slightly in saying that unlike previous shows where Prair has dragged me around at a gallop, this time we proactively motored around "at a gallop" with her in front of my leg and a softer rein. (WIN).
|Remember this cute move? It was nowhere to be seen Sunday. (thank god).|
I'm glad to say that I'm consistently moving up the ranks in my Eq on the flat (and over fences for that matter).
When I first got Prairie I felt like I brand new rider. Her movement was so much bigger and her body so much longer than anything I had ridden, I felt like I was flopping around like a sack of sloppy slop every ride. (The Boy describes this look as "getting ridden" by your horse).
Not only have I become a much more effective Prairie Pilot, but I think I look significantly less flop-sloppy than I used to. I'm sitting up, sinking into my heel and actually showing up for the ride.
This was helpful on Sunday during our twenty minute equitation class. I don't know if the judge was bored or really couldn't figure out how to pin the class but holy lord it went on forever. I'm not kidding when I say we sat the trot for 5 minutes. Not a terrible thing (though I did think a few ladies were going to fall off) but I could feel both Prairie and myself starting to lose gas. We had waited to do our courses until the end of the division which meant that we literally went out the back gate and circled back to the in-gate for our flat classes without pause. tired. (note to self, workout a little).
Aside from the sitting-trot-set-from-hell, we were asked to do both simple and flying changes of lead, and lengthen our stride in the trot. Obvi Prairie aced this, but the immediate call for a HALT during the lengthening was mean.
Then the judge called for a canter depart. Which we squeaked out, but would have warranted an embarrassing score at a Dressage show. All in all, I felt a little discombobulated, exhausted and like Prairie's frame was getting longer and lower by the second.
I was shocked when we won the class, but I guess it was a nice little affirmation. At least we pinned well in something. We managed a 3rd in our HUS, which usually I'd be pleased with, but I really didn't think anyone else in the ring could match Prair's movement/way of going. S noted that I let Prairie's poll get a little low at times, but her nose was always poked out. Do you know how hard it is for me to let her do that?? Another moral victory of sorts...
Over fences my Eq is leagues ahead of where we've been. I was thrilled to pin in the middle of the pack for our (one) Eq over fences course which was pretty fun. It had a nice (insanely tight) rollback and a few fences with super long approaches that I usually psych myself out on. When we jumped through our last line during that course I was literally grinning. Prairie was right there for me and I felt totally locked on. My leg was wrapped around her, my ass was out of the tack and Prair was soft and uphill waiting for me to move her up or hold her back. Bliss.
Of course there were lots of little things to work on from the show and plenty of room for improvement as suggested by our placing. But as far as "personal bests" it has to rank high. It's so obvious to me how much better of a rider I am this year than last - and even more pronounced how much more relaxed and confident Prairie is. I dare say she seems to enjoy being a Hunter, even if she's not a very good one yet.
On the Horizon, it's a short week at home before we head right back to the same facility on Thursday for their one "big" rated show of the year. It's still only a C but it's the "exhibitor's choice" C show for our zone. That means the jumps are fun, prizes are good (COOLERS) and there a pony only division not to be missed. Prair is slated for the Pre-Greens and a 3' classic/derby thing with S, and for Pre-Adults and a 2'6" classic/derby thing with me. It should be a really fun weekend, especially if Prair remembers to pack her manners again....