As made obvious by the title, Ax and I survived our longest (and probably biggest) show together to date. There is no doubt and plenty of video evidence that we hit some bumps throughout the week, but I would say that we ended on a good note and the ribbons we took home agree.
Wednesday was the first day of the show and my original plan was to take Ax into a low hunter division just to get him out of the stall and for a little confidence boost. Unfortunately, things didn’t go exactly as planned—we arrived at the show late the evening before (A.K.A. unloading in the pitch black), so I didn’t get the chance to ride him around the grounds or take him to the rings at all, and it ended up being 90 degrees with a high humidity level. Normally the lack of a warm-up wouldn’t bother me, but Ax had been weirdly spooky at home lately and I wanted to set us up for success. That combined with the gross weather was enough for me to say “screw it!” and let him relax for the day. I had a great hack and walk around the facility in the morning to beat the heat and left him to munch on hay all day aside from a few outings for grazing and hand-walking.
I hadn’t planned to show on Thursday as all that was offered were junior or jumper classes—neither of which we are—and again, the weather was a bit toasty and pretty humid. I did a warm-up in the morning and Ax was almost perfect, so I was happy to leave it at that and continue our routine from the day before—plus a nice pony massage from a friend of mine who came to visit.
By Friday, I was itching to get showing and everyone (probably including my horse) was wondering when the heck we were actually going to step foot in the show ring. I opted to skip the early morning warm-ups and just do a prep round before our three classes of the day—two equitation over fences and one medal course.
Honestly, our prep round wasn’t great, but not our worst of the week. I got a bit left behind to the first fence, but had a nice jump at the single oxer set on a long approach, and came into the first diagonal line at the right spot with decent pace. We ended up adding in the line, resulting in an ugly chip and really having to push him to get the five strides in the next line which gave us a bit too much pace, but we managed to get the last line in the six it was set at and walked out alive.
Our first course was a bit better, except instead of just chipping out of the diagonal line, we chipped in and out. At the final fence, we had a bit of a launcher that wasn’t the prettiest (I wanted the six and Ax wanted the five), but we still had four good fences out of seven so we were in the positive.
The second course was slightly more successful than the first—the first two fences were nice, Ax politely agreed to get a quiet add in the first line, and then I lost his left hind around the corner and he broke two strides before the next fence. I was thanking myself for schooling trot fences when we got over it fine, but rode out of the line a bit short. In a class of 15 people, we placed eighth.
By the time our medal course rolled around Ax was pretty tired and I felt like I was losing him. He held it together for our first two fences, a single diagonal around to the oxer, but when we came to the first line I didn’t ask for enough pace to get the six nor did he feel up to take the long spot and we chipped out. From then on we were a bit on the forehand more than I liked and too much inside leg resulted in a swap right before the last line (at least he was listening to my leg, right?) but we rode it in a true five. Our final fence of the day was one of our best and I was happy to end on that with a fourth place.
Saturday was a bit of an emotional roller coaster. The schedule was all over the place with a hunter over fences class followed by the under saddle portion, equitation flat, the final equitation fences class, and then the medal. It was bound to be a long day of putting martingales on, taking them off, and putting them back on. Again I decided to skip the warm-up (you’ll see this is a trend) to save his energy for the long day ahead.
Our first course was overall just “eh” feeling. Not awful, not great, and nor ribbon-winning. The classes all had between 15-18 riders in them, so I wasn’t expecting too much. We had a solid ride in the hunter flat and surprisingly got our best placing of the entire weekend—fourth out of eighteen! Ax is a decently nice mover but he travels more upright than huntery so I was pleasantly surprised to ribbon. We had the same ride in the eq flat but didn’t place in the large class.
After the flats was our final equitation course and Ax was already wanting to take a nap while waiting for the jump crew to rebuild the fences. He really wasn’t in the zone for this course and threw me an unexpected stop at our second fence, the in to the six stride outside line. A little spur got us over it the second time, but the rest of the course was just a rushy mess with neither of us really enjoying any of it. He was fighting me to go faster and I was resisting the increase in pace which was a recipe for uglyness. As you can imagine, this didn’t set us up well for the medal course that followed, though we did somehow place fourth (honestly, I think it was out of four).
Basically we started off on a high note and it went downhill fast. If I am being honest, I was ticked off with our last two courses and was losing hope of having a solid ride over fences (that actually showed our improvement) before the weekend was up. Still, Ax got his requisite piles of cookies and we looked forward to the next day.
With only two classes on the final day of the show and a forecast of thunderstorms all day, I was sort of expecting to scratch, pack up, and head home. The weather held up, so I got my grumpy self on top of my horse to get it over with (note: this is not the best attitude to have). Of course, this was our best day by far.
Because we were at the ring a few minutes early, I contemplated doing a prep round since we hadn’t been in this ring yet and quite a few horses had tossed around refusals and spooks in previous rounds, but my grumpy mood won me over—I really was just ready to jump the jumps and leave. This ended up being the best decision—he was slightly look-y in the ring and it was just enough to keep him light on his toes at a good pace.
The first course (thankfully) turned my sourness down a few notches. We rode the first fence, a single diagonal, well but the six stride line away from home was a little sticky on the in fence so we got a quiet add. While I probably could have stuck with the add in the all the lines, Ax felt pretty agile and up for it so in the next line, a seven stride going home, a bit of leg gave us the right distances. Our one spook of the day happened in the outside line that rode right by the judges booth, so I couldn’t really blame him and had to push to get the five. The final fence was a long, diagonal approach to a “scary” green oxer that gave me plenty of time to panic and make my horse chip, giving us the green ribbon.
As our final class of the show, I was praying for a ride that I would feel satisfied with—and I finally got it. Our entire course was pretty solid except for another small chip at the damn oxer that was entirely my fault and we got fourth.
The show ended up being more of a learning experience than I had hoped, but that is part of riding and showing. There is alot that we have to work on together and there is more that I need to work on myself. I know that most of our problems come from me, but I also know that a lot of our success does as well. Aside from his one hissy fit on Saturday, Ax did almost everything I asked of him and came out in the ribbons.
A huge thank you to everyone who helped me over the weekend—José, my parents, my friends, and those trainers who both aided me and let me stable with them.