Show Recap: Capital Dressage Classic Day 2

When we left off last week with TC and I’s recognized dressage show debut, we chronicled the ups and downs (as in, downs- falling off a pony at a dressage show, and ups, as in blue satin) that always follows horses.

Day 2 was a little more subtle in general. We were only doing 1 test, Training 3, which was the test I had practiced most before the show. The arena we were to compete in was in a different part of the showgrounds than TC had seen before, so I spent lots of time hanging out near the ring so he could see the busier side of the facility. We decided to stick with our plan of not cantering in the warmup, and instead focused on extreme relaxation and throughness. For myself, I made sure to stay very quiet with my hands and focus on moving him off of my right leg to keep him straight.

Heading down centlerline like ūüôā

Really truly, we had the best warmup yet. He was attentive, obedient, relaxed- all the things I wanted and more. We went into the dressage court feeling super confident and ready to eek every possible point out of the test.

Overall, I am thrilled to pieces with the test. Sure there are things to fix- him staring off into the distance in our free walk because Oh! vendors! and Oh! Ponies! and Oh! bleachers!. That bogey right lead canter (earned my first ‘2’ for that one!). Some moments where I lost his attention after the last downward canter transition.

But for me, there’s a lot to love. I love how swingy he is through his back and his forward but balanced tempo. I love how despite some blips, he was [mostly] obedient and focused on me throughout the test. I love that he was able to stretch and release tension through the stretchy circle, and how prompt our first canter depart was. And for the first time, I was able to focus on not hollowing my lower back and keeping my elbows from expressing their inner chicken! For me, despite scoring a 62% on the test (4th place in a biggish class- judge was harsh!), I felt like this was a huge breakthrough for TC and I, especially at his/our first show!

We are now discussing taking TC back to the fairgrounds for the show at the end of July. It may be hotter than blazes, but I would love the opportunity to improve upon this first experience!

Show Recap: Capital Dressage Classic Day 1

So in and amongst the activities involved in exploring the qualities of a future next horse, I also competed in my first recognized dressage show.

Just to recap, I have been riding TC, a 14.2h Paint gelding, for the last few months, imparting my admittedly limited knowledge to him along the way. Not to puff myself up (don’t worry, my ego gets thoroughly deflated if you keep reading), but I’m exceptionally proud of his progress- he has literally changed shape, become consistent in the bridle, and in general become a fairly solid little dressage pony [hony]. We took him to one clinic, which was my first off-property adventure with him, and promptly signed him up for his first show- and a big one- a recognized dressage show at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh.

So we arrived at the fairgrounds the day before, and I had a beautiful schooling in a fairly quiet atmosphere, running through our tests and feeling like the 70% I was shooting for was there in sight. Our first test was bright and early Saturday morning, and the atmosphere was definitely more electric. For the first time since high school, I luckily had a coach to get through warm up, and things were going swimmingly until I asked for the right lead canter. Now I should caveat this with saying that TC has been fairly reactive to my left leg of late, but that morning he simply wasn’t game to pick up the canter. So I tapped him with the whip. Which induced a series of bucks and crop hops, almost running into another horse, and between steering, sitting, and pulling out a braid in my effort to grab mane, I ended up in the dirt. Cue 5 people who were sweetly concerned about my fall from on-high, and after assuring them that it wasn’t far to fall and thank goodness for good footing, my adult-amateur self girded my loins and got back on the damn pony.

We schooled the right canter a couple more times, which continued to induce drama, and I determined to sit way back in the transition and let the chips fall as they would. Our test, as you can see in the 2 photos above, was a little high and tight, and my position a bit defensive and hollow itself. We scored a 64% and a fourth place ribbon for Training 2.

After chatting with the trainer, we decided to leave canter out of our warmup for the second test (Training 1) and focus on relation and suppleness, and getting him off my right leg which he was bracing against. The warmup then was much more pleasant, and I went in to the arena and determined to ride the shit out of every movement.

Overall I am really pleased with the transformation here. We earned ourselves a 69.78% with a tough judge and a blue ribbon, which felt like redemption after the morning’s damage-control type of ride. I actually felt like the free walk maybe even deserved a little more credit than was given, but after trainer said we could round that up to 70%, I felt like it wasn’t worth nit-picking over.

Pony got lots of praise and cookies and we washed him down while avoiding getting nipped (a fun new habit of TC’s). 2 ribbons, and roll in the dirt, and our first day at a recognized dressage show was in the books!

Post show thoughts

Now that I’ve had time to process our whirlwind first show experience, I can attempt to put together the lessons learned, both for Smitty and myself.

I think my own overarching feeling is that of relief in terms of the weekend. There have been times in the last couple months when I wondered what I have gotten myself into with a talented youngster [read: handful] like Smitty. I doubted that I would have the confidence to lead such a horse through new experiences and create a positive outcome. But driving away from the show, I felt that even the speed bumps along the way that I made the right decisions and gave Smitty the best experience I could given the environment. He learned to be polite in his stall, to look to me for guidance over new fences, and to focus on his person rather than the horses around him. Though he continues to need lessons in some ground manners, for instance the difference between nuzzling and nipping, I am learning that I can trust him and I learned that giving him a job is the best way to navigate any mental obstacles he may face.

This is my dance space, this is your dance space. Figure it out, Smitty.

This is my dance space, this is your dance space. Figure it out, Smitty.

As part of giving him a job, I think I will be proactive rather than reactive in terms of lunging. Getting him moving, and his brain engaged, was a good way of balancing the atmosphere of a show, and while shows are still a novel thing to him, we’ll calculate lunging into our warm up plans. I’m not a fan of lunging much in general, but it’s the safer alternative to a ticking baby bomb. Though next time hopefully he won’t be so tired that I feel like I have to hump and kick him to get him forward in a basic walk trot test.


We also learned that as far as a plan, at this point in time it’s safe to say that having extra folks around is a necessity. Holding a wiggle worm that attempts to eat anything and everything in sight makes even sponging him off a two man job. Once standing is easier, maybe we can manage showing on our own, but for now… not so much.


How I feel trying to manage Smitty and basically anything else

One of the wonderful things about the weekend was feeling like Smitty and I bonded a bit, as cheesy as that sounds. There were moments walking around, or in his stall, or just hanging out in warmup, that I felt like he would turn and look at me. It’s those little moments when I can tell him he’s a good boy (or you know, yell it at him a thousand times in a row) that makes me see a glimmer of a partnership down the road. Though basically I relish any opportunity to communicate with him that’s beyond “get that out of your mouth” at this point.


Smitty is getting a full 3 days off to recover from his long weekend and hopefully process all that happened. And I’m taking the 3 days off to recover and soak my aching everything. After being stepped on at least 4 times, my feet have been thoroughly abused and staying horizontal is the name of the game until Thursday.


What I haven’t decided yet is where to go from here. I have a couple off-property lessons I am attempting to plan, but no shows on the calendar for now. I think a W/T/C test could easily be in the books next time, but where and when are still up in the air. Still, lots to think about and lots to be excited about for now!



Horse Show Recap: GaG at CHP

While I’m having a serious bout of horse show hangover (y’all, it was 2 years since my last show!), I can definitely look back on Smitty’s first competition and smile.

We arrived Saturday afternoon and settled him into his stall, and he seemed fairly content to relax and munch his hay and drink his water like a good boy. We walked a few laps of the venue and let him see the bikes, kids, dogs, tents, and other general show atmosphere that was slowly building. Since he handled it well, I tacked up and schooled him a bit. Luckily for us, there was only one other rider schooling, which had little to do with Smitty and a lot to do with my mental composure. Once I relaxed my death grip on the reins and gave us both a job of moving forward and changing direction, life got suddenly easier and we were able to find a good note to end on.

The next morning ¬†we went on another walk around the venue, which was decidedly much busier than the day before. All was well until about 10 minutes in, when the atmosphere got to Smitty’s baby brain and resulted in a minor meltdown. In the interest of self preservation, and of those around me (read: horses, children, dogs everywhere), I found a quiet unused field to lunge him and get the sillies out. It took a lot longer than I would have hoped to do so, but eventually he got his brain reinstalled and was listening and doing transitions politely on the lunge line and it felt safe to venture back into polite society.


At that point it was almost time for my dressage, and so we tacked up and found another somewhat quiet area to do warm up before heading into the arena. Baby pony was tired at this point, but put in an obedient test and was completely unfazed by his sandbox experience. We had¬†wiggly centerlines (straight lines are hard, yo!), and geometry in general left some points on the table, as well as a lack of free walk (which we haven’t introduced yet). But given that, Smitty still scored a 29.7 and got his first 9 for a movement- what more could I ask for?


After dressage, Smitty got to nap for a couple hours before heading out to show jumping. The Green as Grass showjumping was held on the grass, and I was surprised to see the cross rails of the past replaced with a full set of verticals and even an oxer, complete with gates (which I have no idea if he’s ever seen) and ferns and the like. It was a proper mini showjumping course.

Celebrating with some dressage with some Chardonneighneigh

Celebrating dressage with some Chardonneighneigh

My warm up consisted of a couple trot circles, one lazy jump over the warm up cross rail, and heading into the arena. Smitty perked up a bit at the sight of the new fences, and we proceeded to fence one. At each new jump, I could feel the baby brain wondering why this one didn’t look like the last. But he was incredibly honest and with a little encouragement took each one with increasing confidence. As you can hear in the video, I did my best to convince him that he was superman after every fence, the dominator of 18″ fences all over the world. Apparently my nattering was highly entertaining to my friends, so enjoy the commentary.

Our clear showjumping result left us in 2nd place (or 1st, they haven’t posted official¬†results) out of 10 horses, and I couldn’t be happier. With the help of wonderful friends, and a great venue, baby Smitty had a wonderful first show experience and hopefully set the bar for things to come.


Let’s Discuss: Your First Show

With Smitty’s competition debut looming in the oh-so near future, I’m trying to get together a mental game plan. But the first time out, it’s hard to make a plan at all, since pretty much everything is going to be a gamble as to how he will take it in. I do know a couple¬†things that I hope will help though- he doesn’t seem to get attached to other horses, and based on our one off-property adventure so far, I think he will take in a new venue fairly well.

But how will he handle masses of horses? Loud speaker systems? Horses galloping cross country, bikes, scooters, cars, dogs, etc? All of this is a total unknown. But the only way to find out is to try!

Foster’s first show was a smaller occasion, a local dressage show with a distinctly casual air. He handled it beautifully, winning first and second in his Intro tests (video below). It was a rousing success, and I can only hope for the same with Smitty, even if our goal is just to stay in the tack.

I chose the Carolina Horse Park because I’m very familiar with it, and because it allows us the get there the day before and expose him to the grounds, the arenas, etc all while slowly increasing the number of people around (rather than arriving at a show in full swing). Hopefully by introducing these elements the day before, riding the day of the show will be less of an ordeal. We’ll find out when we get there if a bigger venue for his first show was a big mistake, but I’m hoping the both of us will put on our game faces and get it done.

What was your horse’s first show? Was it a success, a disaster, or somewhere in the middle? Why did you choose that particular competition as a debut? If you have a baby horse, what is your plan for introducing them to the show scene?

First show in the books

The entry has been sent, the hotel is booked, and just like that our first show is on the calendar.

I’ll be taking Smitty to my favorite venue, the Carolina Horse Park. We’ll get there on a Saturday, and the game plan is to walk Smitty around the facility as the chaos intensifies, and school him in one of the dressage arenas (which will be his first time in a sandbox). Then Sunday, we’ll compete in the Green as Grass combined training division.

Green as Grass is the lowest division offered at most of the local horse shows, and the dressage test is Intro Test A¬†and the jumping is set to 18″.

My hope is that by getting there a day early, we will have plenty of time to show Smitty the grounds and introduce him to the atmosphere of a show in the easiest way possible. By doing GaG, I’m keeping the expectations¬†low– this is not about ribbons in any way shape or form. This is about staying in the ring and hopefully giving a baby a positive experience.

It’s only a couple weeks away- guess I need to start learning my test!

First Impressions of the AECs

Now that I have had a couple days to catch up on sleep (14hrs my first night back- yikes!), I have begun to formulate some thoughts on the American Eventing Championship experience.

First off, the show was very well run. Unlike some of the local events I have been to, the Tryon International Equestrian Center was absolutely crawling with volunteers. There were so many scribes that signed up to volunteer that I actually got bumped to bit check, and overflow volunteers went wherever they were needed. The overall atmosphere as a volunteer was really positive, and the faculty made sure to make us feel welcome and appreciated throughout our shift.


Coming into this AECs, knowing that it was Tryon’s first, and the USEA’s largest, meant that growing pains and hiccups were to be expected. But wherever possible, the Tryon team was exceptionally quick to make improvements on the fly. When trailer parking was filled up, bulldozers graded the rest of a scrubby field within a couple hours to allow for more. Anywhere there was an issue with the footing on cross country, you could see that they were putting down sand and gravel immediately. In one instance, where a downward hill caused lots of problems on the first day, we returned the next day to find the¬†entire hill sanded, an effort that probably took the better part of the night to make possible.

We squeezed our trailer into the last spot available (white bumper pull), only to come back and discover the trailer parking area had been doubled

We squeezed our trailer into the last spot available (white bumper pull), only to come back and discover the trailer parking area had been doubled

And while I won’t get into my own thoughts around the technicality, etc, of the cross country course in this post, I will say that the even was absolutely spectator friendly. With the help of jumbotrons and grandstands overlooking the derby field, it was well and truly possible to see a lot of each rider’s run. While the giant screens were turned off at the lower levels, it was especially cool to be able to watch the water complex go and still see the majority of each Advanced rider’s course. Say what you will, but there is a pro to this set up, and that’s that it makes the sport more accessible to spectators and the public in general, in that through these new ways of watching the heart and soul of our sport, they can more readily understand and appreciate the tasks we ask of our horses.


Lastly, the main takeaway from the AEC’s is that this wasn’t a dressage show, folks. There was a real shake up in the standings at all the levels after both cross country and showjumping. Time was a factor for sure, but also occasional bogey fences that really tested some pairs. For instance, the unsuspecting table pictured above caused plenty of problems for the Beginner Novice riders if they didn’t keep their horses’ attention after the change in footing. Showjumping had a lot of atmosphere, and demanded a forward and balanced ride. It was obvious which horses were less fit when the rails came pouring down.

While there’s certainly room for improvement, it should be noted that every effort was made to make the competition a true championship. Regarding some of the controversy… more on that in a later post.



2016 AEC’s

Yesterday the US Eventing Association announced the new venues for the 2016 – 2018 American Eventing Championships. Fellow¬†Carolinians, get excited, because for two of those years the AEC’s will be hosted at the new Tryon Equestrian Center!

Link to the full article here

Link to the full article here

I’ve been showing at FENCE since middle school, but have never had a chance to visit the Tryon Equestrian Center, which has been largely touted as the Disneyland of horse sports. Don’t believe me? Check out this photographic tour of the facilities so far at Meg at. Ever since seeing those photographs, I’ve been trying to find an excuse to get down there and show.

Favorite photo from the FENCE recognized show | PC: Bette

Favorite photo from the FENCE recognized show | PC: Bette

Up until now, rated dressage seemed the likeliest reason to hike down to the facilities, but now?

Maybe, just maybe, we can aim to qualify for the 2016 AEC’s instead.

The qualifications (in a nutshell) for qualifying at the Novice level:

  • 1st or 2nd in any USEA recognized Novice Horse Trials.
  • OR: 3rd in two USEA recognized Novice Horse Trials
  • OR: 1st through 5th in any USEA Novice Area Championship
  • Total of 3 USEA recognized Novice Horse Trials completed without cross country penalties

Something to ponder!!

In other news, between this weekend and next I will have completed 4 different lessons and audited 1 clinic- so prepare yourselves for a bevy of recaps! Have a great weekend!

Let’s Discuss: Why do you Show?

Even though we are miles away from being ready to compete at an event again, thoughts of planning our season pretty much dominate my brain.

CHP, October 2014

Novice @ CHP, October 2014 / PC: High Time Photography

I miss competing, and this dry spell combined with thoughts of moving up this year have caused a bit of self exploration- why do I show?

Personally, I treat competing as an opportunity to test our training. What I really look forward to at each event is the score- that quantitative (or in dressage, qualitative) feedback that shows how successfully we navigated a given challenge. I like to go to each competition with a number in my head, and at the end of it all comparing the actual score received helps me re-align my expectations or understand any gaps in our training. At the end of the day, I define success by how well we did compared to my original expectations for smaller goals- were our canter transitions as planned? Get an 8 on our free walk? Did we make time? Have runouts?

foster jump

Novice @ Running Start, Feb 2014 / PC: Brant Gamma

For me, ribbons are a secondary treat. If we get them it’s great, and¬†I won’t lie by saying I don’t enjoy being at the top. But in this area at many of the schooling shows we compete against professionals, so it’s hard to judge how well we do by placings alone.


Novice @ CHP, Nov 2014 / PC: J

We all have our reasons for competing in equestrian disciplines. Maybe your competitive nature needs a place to shine. Maybe you have something to prove, or you just want to test your abilities. Maybe competing is just a part of a greater plan, or you have a die-hard passion for satin ribbons.

¬†Why do you show? Or if you don’t compete, why don’t you show?

The Game Plan

Since signing up for the Training CT this weekend, I’ve had some doubts. The last time we jumped was at the Carolina Clinic, and I wondered if I would be able to prepare Foster for another jumping round in time for this show. Thanks to the winter weather keeping us in the covered arena (an area too small for any real jumping) for the last couple weeks, in addition to vacation, Foster’s work has been irregular at best. But, I knew he could technically get around a Training course¬†with relative ease.

Training warmup vertical

Yesterday was the first time I was able to ride in the outdoor jump arena in a month, and with impending rain, I thought to make the best of it and get in a jump school. I had his open-fronts on, breastplate attached, and was doing up the girth when I decided- this was feeling too forced. Whenever it starts to feel that way regarding a show, I know it’s not the right decision. So I have elected to not jump this weekend.


Instead, we’ll forge ahead with the Training A dressage test, and [if the show staff will allow,] add another dressage test to the mix- First level 1. This will mark Foster’s first official time competing at First level, and shouldn’t be a great stretch for him, as the movements are very similar to the Training A test we’ve been practicing. There’s a slight chance he may be a bit tired for the second test, but I would much rather a lazy dressage test than an underpowered jump round, any day.


So, with that decision made, I quickly switched tack and instead dressaged around all the jumps I had set up not moments before. Immediately I felt a weight taken off my chest, and Foster was much happier than he has been in several rides to be out in the fresh air. We schooled our lengthenings at canter and trot before calling it a day. His expression was happy, ears alert and eyes bright, and I feel I’ve made the right decision by my horse.

As much as I want to get our first Training competition under our belt, his happiness and well being will always come first. Always!