As the Judge Groans

Show Day…

The day started off with me waking up at 1:30 am for no reason and unable to fall back to sleep.

At 5:00 am, I braid up Joy and try a new technique I read about. I give her a thorough brushing, brush out her tail, and stand back to admire this glossy and beautiful pony. I almost take a pic of her, but decide not to.

I run inside to change and grab something to eat. 

It’s load up time (which is always kind of hit or miss with Joy). I run out to the barn to grab Joy and she’s COVERED in poop. Top to bottom coated in it. 

Now we’re running behind.  

It’s STILL DARK OUT!!!!

I grab the pony and head over to the trailer to load. The trailer is a black pit. Joy balks. 

I finally convince her to get in. My other horse, Levi, is hollering his fool head off. Joy’s hollering back. Everyone’s upset. I’m rattled. We’re late. I’m freaking! And our running lights refuse to work. Did I mention it’s still dark out.

Ugh!

By the time we pull in to the show grounds, it’s finally light out. I see SA there already. She was looking calm and cool. Her majestic mare was unloaded and calmly eating hay. 

We pull in and I feel like a too-wired coffee fanatic with a semi-feral pony. My heart is pounding, my hands are shaking, Joy’s screaming inside the trailer.

The slope on the parking spot was so great that I felt like I hurled Joy off a cliff to unload her.

It is at this point we realize we have lights INSIDE of the trailer. That would’ve been useful to know an hour earlier.

Joy was a ball of nerves. Her whinnies are ear shattering.  I decided to hop on and put her through a warm-up to settle her down. It’s either that or lose my hearing.  

Oh, and Joy’s braids are slowly popping out, one by one. 

First Level Test 3.

Why would a show host put Test 3 first thing in the morning?! So sadistic!

I’ve got my test memorized. My pony is responsive and feeling good. My body is working fairly well for the lack of sleep and earliness of the day. I’m a little tense, but I’m okay.

And then I realized I would have to approach the judge’s booth to give my number. The booth where my old trainer sits. The one I’ve burnt my bridge with….

Eek!!!

Wait… it was…. pleasant!

Whew!

The whistle blows! 

I entered at A.

First center line and I’m feeling okay about this. We’re fairly straight. Halt, salute. All good. Ask to trot forward and Joy decides she has the world’s worst itch that she has to scratch right at that moment.

We recover.  

I get to about the half-way point in the test and my brain blanks. What comes next?!?! Suddenly all I can think is ‘Please don’t let her blow the whistle for off course.’

Aaaaahhhh!!

Just as I’m at max freak out, I remember the rest of the test.

Whew!

Joy and I spent the rest of the test bouncing between stalling out and rushing forward, but we nail the leg yields and do passably well on the canter loops. Yay!

Then it was SA’s turn.

She enters the arena looking poised and elegant in her maroon jacket and matching fly bonnet.

And that is the exact moment someone wanted to talk to me and I missed the rest of her ride. 

I caught moments of it. She does a better lengthen. Her canter is better. I can’t tell from my view point, but her centerline and halts look better.

The scores take forever to come out, and it’s a hike to go get them, so I have no idea how I’ve done by the time the second class starts.

I’m pretty certain at this point that the whole thing is moot. I didn’t feel like the first ride went very well. There’s no way I can beat SA or SC’s highest percentage scores for year end awards (I had NEVER gotten a score higher than a 63 all year). It’s hot, I’m tired, and I can barely remember the tests.

First Level Test 1

Why am I always first to go?

Another braid popped out.

I put my game face on. I enter the arena.

Our trot work goes okay. Again, our canter work was lacking. 

We get through it. The test seems easy in comparison to the first ride. I’m tired. Joy’s tired. Some good spots, some bad.

I noticed Joy HAD to take one final step at EVERY SINGLE HALT at this show. 

At this point, I’m still under the impression that I’m just putting in the face time to get the Year End Reserve Points spot because SC didn’t show up. 

We finish the test and I hop off. Joy’s soaked in sweat. Lathered. When I scratch her neck it turns white. It’s hot and she’s been working on building her winter coat for a few weeks now.

I pull her tack, hose her off and cool her down, and then run over to the office to scratch the last test.

When I tell the office manager I’m scratching the last test, she screeches “WHAT?!?!”

I thought “Oh, how sweet, she’s worried about my pony”.

Instead she says, “Your going to win High Point if you do the last test. Get back on your pony!!” She said it with such conviction and authority that I damn near ran back to tack up my pony. lol!

I take a moment to consider how much I love ribbons, but I love my pony more and she’s been so good that I’d rather we end the show season at this point.

I tell her again I’m scratching, hand her my bridle number. 

Results:

First Level Test 3: 67.361% – https://youtu.be/VXihZHfaCYE

First Level Test 1: 68.793% – https://youtu.be/Cr-OQoPuNzE

Plus….

We won Champion High Percentage and Champion High Point.

I found that twist highly ironic.

The final scores for all the riders:

One last thing.. and more important than the show…

SA did really well with her mare. She has a horse that I highly doubt anyone else could’ve gotten to this point, and even though I have no doubt SA will be able to move the mare up the levels, she will always struggle with this mare…  And, this is the first horse SA has trained herself. Joy is my fourth I think.  SA is not only a very talented rider, but a great sportswoman and wonderful friend.  She’s someone I feel really honored to be able to compete against, and she’s a strong competitor who brings out the best in me.

At the show, we parked next to each other. After SA’s second ride she tells me that some jerk bystander (not riding) made an extremely rude and derogatory comment about her size. I mean, horrible comment. SA took it in stride. I lost my shit about it. SA rode her final test (Test 2) after the comment. I can’t even express how much I admire her. 

While she was riding her final test, I reported the jerkoff to the show managers and they scurried him off the show grounds. 

For everyone else out there showing or riding, and you’re not feeling the most confident about your weight… You’re amazing! Go ride, and I’ll flying tackle the basement dwelling jerkoffs when they show up.   

The Twists Keep Coming

It’s T minus 1 day ’til show day.

We’ve just received word of a Judge change for my classes.

The new judge is the old trainer I had a seriously bad falling out with….

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu *k!

The show Saturday, the one where everything rides on me scoring well, just got harder.

As someone who already turns into a ball of nerves wrapped in anxiety on show days, this new development adds an extra special sauce of EEEK to the experience.

Will I be able to hold it together well enough to pull out a passable rendition of First Level, WHILE being judged by the old trainer I pissed off?!?

Will I forget my all of my tests and be DQ’d for off course, sending myself into a humiliation spiral for our final show?!?

Will the judge spit on us as we turn at C?!?

Stay tuned for more of “Avandarre Really Knows How to Burn a Bridge”.

….

I’m eagerly awaiting how all this plays out on Saturday! 😂

The Twists, the Turns!!

Its T-5 days til show day.

That’s right. I entered one last show this year. I had no intention of showing for the rest of the season… BUT…

I found out I’m in the running for Reserve Champion at First Level (Year End Awards)!

Plus I need 3 shows to be eligible for year end awards.

My two main rivals are SA and SC.

Now, SA has busted butt this year to clinch the Champion spot for points. She’s attended every show and earned 47 points! Plus, she’s a mere 1% off the high Percent Champion with a 68%.

SC has only been to a few shows (like me), so her points are lower (26 points), but her high percent is 69%, which puts her in lead for Percentages.

Disclaimer: Both SA ad SC high scores were from a specific judge at the show I was going to go to but decided it was too hot. Now I wish I’d gone.

SA is a hard working, very dedicated young lady who has worked tirelessly for every gain she’s made this year. She’s improved immensely.

In the two shows earlier this year where I competed against her, I was able to beat her.

But SA’s improved a lot over the course of a year. Will I be able to beat her again at the last, and final show of the year??

Or, will SA finally crush me under her heel, proving that she has overcome training and horse issues?? Will she wave the blue ribbon at the last and final show??

SC, the far better rider than both SA or myself, chose to step aside this show.

SA and I will battle it out beteen ourselves this show.

If I beat SC in points, it’ll be a hollow victory. One earned by forfeiture rather than skill and talent. SC could’ve easily beaten me on points this show.

Will I be able to top SC’s incredible high percent at my final show (a score I’ve never gotten close to in all my years of riding? Or will SC hold on to her title of High Percentage Champion for First Level?

Who will win? Who will lose?

Tune in next time for “As the Judge Groans” to learn how it ends!!

** I really like SA and SC. I couldn’t be happier for their success this year.

I also really like how much they challenge me to become a better rider.

Hopefully no one takes this post too seriously. It’s tongue in cheek. I’ll be happy if I stay on and no unplanned ring depatures.

The Levi Saga

I cantered Levi for the first time a couple days ago. My understanding about his prior training is a bit iffy. When I first talked to the prior owner, she had mentioned that he only canters a few strides (at most) and getting anything more from him was a huge struggle. She reminded me she used spurs on him.

Combine that with the fact that his steering, the first couple of weeks I had him, was nearly non-existent and that I work him in an open environment (no fences to stop us if he decides he no longer wants to be there).. it made me leery to try upping the speed without a more solid base in place.

I finally felt like I had the basics in place to try a canter. I’ve only seen him canter 2 strides under saddle. That was all the prior owner was able to get him to canter while I was there. She did say later that he had been sent to some kind of a trainer, and the trainer cantered him. I don’t really have any more details than that.

He picked up the canter well. No theatrics. He stayed in the canter well until I asked him to turn. Then he’d drop to a trot. Kind of expected, since his balance and strength are still really poor.

He’s not exactly the best mover out there (hahaha), but he’s got a willing attitude about it all.

He can’t hardly bend to the right at all. He’s so incredibly stiff and crooked. I’ve almost got a leg-yield installed, and I’ve been spending a lot of time on trying to lengthen the left side so he can bend right through his body. He’s super happy to bend his neck instead of his body, but that just contorts him and throws him off balance.

He’s just starting to grasp the concept of “outside aids”, in a rudimentary kind of way.

I’m also trying to teach him that “contact” is not bad. He doesn’t trust me yet. I have about 8 years of his history to overcome before he’ll accept the idea of concept. I just started on this recently, so he’s still all “Ahhhhhh!” about it.

Anyway, I’m pretty proud of the fact that I could sort of steer at the canter, that he kept the canter as long as he could (balance wise) without requiring me to work to sustain it, and when I re-asked for the canter he hopped back into it as soon as he could. I was really pleased with that!

I think he’ll make a fine low-level eventer. 🙂 He sure is a lot of fun to ride, and super comfortable. Can’t say he’s my first choice with that neck, but he makes up for it with his sunny disposition and positive attitude.

Levi Update

Levi, the new horse, is doing well. He’s been here 4 weeks tomorrow.

So far I’m still working on installing steering and Go buttons. The steering has improved drastically over 4 weeks. I no longer fear we’ll go blasting out of the arena every turn.

Go button is still really sticky. Getting better. At least he’s stopped trying to bash in my face with his poll every time I ask for any forward movement.

He’s pretty fun to ride actually.

For the last 8ish years I’ve been skating through shows/clinics without washing a single horse. I wish to mourn the death of my care free show days now….

[mourning not having to bathe a horse]

I’d also like to point out that I have been long mane free for at least 2 years, and then this lug comes in with a long mane. It’s already tangled and knotted. Have I mentioned how much I hate long manes? Great for running braids, but a PITA every other day of the week. The second he’s paid off I’m whacking his mane off.

I started Levi over ground poles the past 2 weeks. Mainly because I’m bored of doing circles, but also because he has to pay attention to the ground and it seems to make him remove his head from my lap.

If his head gets any higher I’ll have to reclassify him as a giraffe.

….

I’m sitting in my riding pants, dinking on my phone. I really want to ride today, but I’m so exhausted. Bone weary exhausted. I feel like lead. So… here’s my shout out to all those AAs still getting out there, still riding, even when you’re exhausted. You’re my heroes, and I’ll try to be more like you.

The ‘New Horse’ Struggles

I’m amazed, and baffled, how people can consistently trail ride a horse that barely steers. I wouldn’t feel safe doing that. Especially out where anything could happen.

Basic overview of Levi:

  • He defaults to balking when frustrated or stressed.
  • He does not like the mounting block. Apparently someone whacked him hard at the mounting block, once, when he was for sale recently. Now he tries to avoid mounting blocks.
  • Doesn’t really believe he needs to give to pressure. He will eventually give, but after some opinions on it.
  • He initially resists all rein aids.
  • Any ask for the trot results in violent head throwing.
  • He is respectful of personal space, for the most part.
  • He seems willing to please.
  • He seems confused and expecting the worst from humans.
  • He is a conserver of energy.
  • Go buttons are sticky (he was being ridden with spurs previously). Im not comfortable in spurs, so I’m re-teaching “Go” to suit me better.
  • He tosses his head any time he decides he doesn’t want to do something. Glad I wear a helmet, since our heads met at one point when I was trying to convince him to stand at the mounting block.
  • He has not offered to buck, rear, bite, or kick at any time, even when I’ve pressured him past his comfort zone. (Very sweet guy).
  • After a very short head throwing tantrum, he’s pretty amendable to whatever i ask.
  • Lighter aids seem to work really, really well on this guy. Softer the better. He’s quicker to respond and more willing. Less stressed.
  • I did have to growl at him twice when his head tossing started getting out of hand. He straightened up quickly.
  • He gets the ask/reward method really quickly. Associates thing A with thing B quickly.
  • He seems a little afraid to make a mistake.
  • I get the feeling that he actually did have some semi-decent training on him at some point long, long ago… but non-riders over the years have screwed him up. I think that base will really help me get him progressing quickly.

He travels with his head up, stiff, braced, and hollow. He goes this way in the pasture too, without any rider.

He’s far more stiff to the right than the left, overall.

I think I can make some pretty good changes in him over the next 6 months. Maybe. Assuming there aren’t any underlying physical issues. My friend, who I bought him from, said he’s had chiro, teeth, and vet check done, and that his undersaddle issues were the same regardless. I want to get his teeth re-done soon though.

He does seem to relax and move better when I give lots of praise and reward for the small right answers.

My Tolouse saddle fits him nearly perfectly. I wish it fit me as well. My legs are too short for it.

Oh, I forgot… so, I’m big on giving treats during a ride. I think it’s a tool that can quickly say “Well done!” (I haven’t had any negative issues from it in 7 years). Anyway, I’m on Levi and I reach down to hand him a treat, and he freaked out. Like “What the h*ll is THAT HAND doing here?!?!?!”

I try again, and again, and again. And finally, he figures out theres a treat there and takes it. 😆

He’s all cool with treats from the saddle now. 🙂

Poor boy thought the disembodied hand was going to get him!

Last ride he was like, “Yes, I will have a yummy treat now!” Really sweet about taking it too. All lips. lol!

He’s growing on me. 🥰

Really, really hoping the canter isn’t a train wreck. I’ve only seen 2 steps of it under saddle. He canters in the pasture, but he seems to only canter directly toward me. Haha I can’t get a side view to save my life. He seems stiff and flat from the front view though. Not the awe inspiring, big air time, canter I had hoped for. Oh well, not like any of the one’s I’ve had have had great canters either.

It’s Inner Beauty that Counts

I bought a new horse. I felt kind of rushed to find a buddy for Joy. I worried about her being all alone.

I scoured all the normal sites for a small horse or large pony that was safe, somewhat broke to ride, wasn’t lame, and moved somewhat like it’s legs had actual joints.

Let me tell ya… slllliiiiiiiim pickings in the under $2k budget where I live. All kinds of fantastic ponies further south or waaaay up north, but I didn’t want to drive 6 hours to look at something.

Friend of mine was selling this horse.

He’s a 10 year old, small Paint gelding. Limited ridden education. Doesn’t really canter. I got about 2 steps of canter from him on my test ride. That was it.

The good points:

He’s extremely mellow. When he got here, he acted like it was nothing new.

Very laid back. His “spook” reflex seems pretty minor so far.

Supposed to load and haul easily (which would be so freaking awesome!).

Has good feet as far as I can tell.

He’s a cute mover under saddle. Nothing to write home about, but not a total train wreck.

The few canter steps I got felt wonderful.

The bad points:

Bit ewe neck, bit straight behind, neck set too low, and something wonky about his loin/butt (not sure if its just the fact that he has no muscle and padding along there, or if he’s built wrong and/or has an issue).

I’m not sure how much correct training and maybe a change in diet will improve his topline. I’m hoping a lot. He’s all bone up there.

This is what you get when you’re limited on funds and also don’t want the challenge of unstarted horses. You either get a “something’s not quite right” or you buy a youngster and do all the breaking out yourself.

He’s still a little suspicious of me. He over-reacts a bit when I correct him.

Pasture with Paint horse

I hate his color, I think he’s ugly, I didn’t want a Paint at all, AND I wanted a mare. Hahaha But, he seems safe enough and malleable.

And his ears are HUGE!!! 😁

One of the things I’m hoping to do with this guy is some low level eventing. I figure I have approximately 10 months to get him steering, stopping, and going in all three gaits reliably, and put some (at least basics) lateral work on him. Then next spring we can start jump training and see how he goes. If it doesn’t work out then I’ll find a nice 4H kid to buy him, or a trail rider, and then I’ll have upfront cash to buy another horse.

We’ll see though… I thought I’d sell Joy after a year of training too. It’s been 5 years with her. 😆 But dang.. she’s a cool pony.

I’m having a hard time connecting with horses. Ava died 10 months ago, Jessie a week ago. I feel shut down emotionally. I’m trying to remain open and optimistic, but I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

My senior mare died

I recently lost my old mare, Jessie. She died unexpectedly last Sunday from what appears to be colic. She was 34 this year.

I had noticed that she stopped laying down to sleep this year. The last few months she’d really slowed down, had more trouble stepping over things, and a few occasions where she seemed unsteady walking.

And then one day, I found her down, sweating profusely and in distress. The vet came and palpated her. Checked gut and stomach and intestines. It was not a good outcome. So we euthanized her in the pasture, and buried her near Ava.

She was such a sweet mare. I really miss her.

Show #2 Recap

The second show went well.

I won a lot of swag.

Two first places (Test 2 and 3), one second place (Test 1). We won High Point Grand Champion for First Level, and Reserve High Percentage Champion. There were 6 to 8 riders in each test.

My scores sucked. 63% was the highest score (Test 3). Ironically, the scores increased the more wore out Joy became. haha
No scores below 60 though (whew).

I was really tight that day. You ever just have one of those days where you can’t ride as well as you’d like? This show was my day.

You can watch First level Test 1 here (movement w/scores): https://youtu.be/xMYPnT8hjLE

Judge was an ‘S’ judge. The main issues she noted were bracing, short, tight neck, rushing, and balance issues. Pretty much the same as the first show.

However, our stretchy trot and lengthens improved greatly.

I decided after this show that I’m done showing for the year. I wanted to see if Joy could handle a dressage show, and if she was ready to compete at First Level. I think I achieved both of those. I’m not getting the scores I’d like because I have some holes in my training that need to be addressed first. Yet, she’s competent enough at this level to beat out 7 other riders and receive a 63% under an S judge. We have room to improve, but I’m feel like we’re on the right track.

I’m spending the remaining 4 to 5 months on monthly lessons and fixing the holes so we can move up next year. Along with the bracing/tightness, the canter needs a great deal of work. The jump from First to Second, in my experience, is pretty hard to make, and I want to make sure we can do it successfully. I think this pony has a lot of potential for collected work, and I’d love to see her excel at dressage. Maybe eventually go to someone with the money to show her at the upper levels? That would be so awesome.

So, that’s my plan for this summer. A lot of consistent (as consistent as I can make it) work for both Joy and I. I’ve been trying to stick to a running routine to increase my stamina. I’ve added a similar routine for Joy, but at the canter. Both of us are not in the physical shape needed to be true athletes, but we’ll get there.