Will You Please Try to Spook My Pony?

I was going to wait until after the event photographer posted photos to post this update, but it’s taking way, way too long. So no competition photos to show with this post, which is over a week late now. Sorry!

After the three-phase at Chestnut Creek, I was keeping my eyes open for another opportunity to get the pony into the show ring before our first recognized event in October. As it happened, the very location where that event will be was having a schooling horse trials August 24.

Willow had had a few days off while I was on vacation, so it didn’t seem fair to do a full three-phase. My biggest concern was getting her more relaxed in the dressage ring, so I sent off a last-minute entry to do two tests and skipped the jumping altogether. I think we were the only ones in the whole show to do dressage only.

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Thinking really hard about canter transitions.

Our goals were to improve upon our previous score of 43.7, get our leads, and be relaxed in a busy environment. So I was really bummed when I got down to the warm-up only to discover we were the only ones there. Dressage was running so far ahead of schedule that by the time I’d warmed up and my actual ride time had arrived, I was still all alone. Not too mention the dressage was really secluded with jumping and stabling located too far away to be a distraction. This was not what I wanted at all!

I approached the teenage girls who were stewarding the ring and asked them if they could do me favor. “Do you think you could try to spook my pony while I’m in the ring?”

“What? Really?”

“There’s no one here! I want her to have distractions and work through it.”

Laughing, they agreed, and stayed behind “A” dancing and waving their arms around. I told the judge so she wouldn’t fuss at them. I think she was a little weirded out my request, but this is why you go to schooling shows!

Willow was unfazed by the dancing. She was relaxed and tried really hard to be obedient. She got an 8 on her entrance and really good marks on her trot work. She’s just getting to where she’s strong enough and comfortable sitting a bit in the canter and is learning how to keep her balance and rhythm. It’s nice but it’s not perfect. In the collective marks the judge said she was a little flat at the canter and resistant at times. However, we got both our leads and the left lead transition was so nice (7!) it surprised me a little.

Right after we finished our first test, kids on ponies and all their parents and trainers swarmed the warm-up. Willow woke up a bit, we practiced a few more canter transitions, and went right back in the ring. The humidity had also increased considerably by then, and we were both suddenly very tired.

I did not ride her as well as I could have in the second test. Intro C and Beginner Novice B have a lot of transitions between letters and then a couple random transitions at letters. I was not 100% confident in how well I knew where the transitions were supposed to be, so I wasn’t really preparing her for them. Sorry, Pony! I got a couple late transitions, and then, holy crap, I got an error. My second one ever, I think.

We did our free walk in the wrong place. On the up side, we had a few extra seconds to walk around and do it again, so she had better stretching and freedom, scoring a 7 on her free walk (“some overstep and stretching”), which she got a 4 on at Chestnut Creek (“short steps, no stretch”).

At this point Willow was a little dull to my leg, but she was maintaining a great rhythm. Right after my error, we just had to pick up the trot at K and turn down the centerline. As we faced the warm-up and I lifted her head, Willow saw something, momentarily became a giraffe, and almost stopped completely. Meanwhile I’m asking for the trot and she doesn’t even hear me. Laughing and pony club kicking, she finally trotted, did a surprisingly balanced turn down the centerline, and halted straight at X.

Mission accomplished! We scored a 36 on both tests, and she would have had a 34 on BN B without my error. That’s an almost 10 point improvement since Chestnut Creek, and this little girl on a big black horse said “that was gorgeous!” which totally made my day. We have some work to do before October, but I’m thrilled with her.

Strengths: Her trot work – wow! She scored 8s on both trots across the diagonal in BN B. She has a really great rhythm and is very elegant. Her balance at all gaits is improving all the time.

What to work on: Flexibility – the right side is my bad side, and I can ask for a little more bend both directions. Keep working on building strength at the canter, which will make for a steadier connection and less resistance in the transitions. Also, erm, learn the tests!

We’re having a lot of fun learning and competing together, but one of my favorite things is just hanging out with Willow. After I cooled her down I went and grabbed a sandwich from concessions, picked up our tests, and chatted with a friend. When I got back to the trailer Willow was happily munching away on hay. She nickered and we shared a bit of sandwich while I called mom to tell her about our test. The whole time Willow played with my hair and begged for bread.

I have to thank Katie from the barn for letting me borrow her rig as my poor Bernadette suddenly ended up in the shop with a bad fuel pressure regulator (my bank account just cried).

I’ll add the link to photos when they are uploaded. We had another adventure this weekend that I’ll tell you about soon, too. Go pony!

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About Leslie Threlkeld

Leslie Threlkeld is a writer and photographer specializing in equestrian topics. View all posts by Leslie Threlkeld

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