The Willow Show – Hillcrest Farm

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Lovely Hillcrest Farm. Photo by Naomi Eastwood

Due to her bone bruise and my travel schedule, Willow ended up having the fall off entirely. From October through the end of the year she did nothing but eat grass in the pasture. I got back on her on January 1 and she’s been going brilliantly since.

After our last schooling show at Windridge, I had set the task of improving flexibility and building strength in the canter work. I’m delighted that Willow is becoming really strong and really flexible. We started the year doing a lot of slow trot work and introducing lateral exercises, and it’s definitely paid off.

I discovered in her canter work that I have a tendency to get really tight in my hips in an effort to sit her canter well and hold her together. It was a relief when my pal rode her and confirmed for me that she just doesn’t have a particularly comfortable canter.

Taking that information and the knowledge that I need to loosen up, I’ve made an effort to be more relaxed and sit deeper rather than trying to sit still and pretty. It’s been a good adjustment, as Willow is happier in her canter work and I’m not so exhausted when we’re finished.

Willow likes jumping, but she loves dressage, and now that she has the ability to do it a bit more, she’s learning more and eating it up. She’s started on trot lengthenings and is doing more lateral work at the trot. Her way of going has improved overall, as she’s now really pushing from behind, almost working in a medium trot, and she is much lighter in front.

Photo by Naomi Eastwood

Willow winning the warm up. Photo by Naomi Eastwood

With that improved ability she challenges me too because she won’t do something unless I ask her properly, and if I screw up she really gets offended. Silly pony.

We headed out to our first show of the year at the end of March at a gorgeous property called Hillcrest Farm in Mocksville. Janet Cagle is a delight and put on a very good show. It was the perfect outing for Willow and a good opportunity to take a young horse off the property as well.

Willow is such a good example for the young or nervous types, and I was so grateful for her good behavior since the young horse required most of my attention. Thankfully I had my faery godsister Naomi with me. She had come down for a visit and graciously changed her weekend plans to come groom for me at the show. She took good care of me, kept my head on straight and gave me a kick in the pants when I needed it.

She also expected, nay, insisted that Willow and I win. And we did.

Willow has figured out that when we’re doing dressage at a horse show, we’re showing off for other people. I’ve figured out that she will exhaust herself trying too hard to win the warm-up, so I did very little in the way of warm up for dressage and gave her lots of walk breaks. That strategy seemed to work as she wasn’t yet tired when we actually went to ride the test.

Cute little Fairfax! Photo by Naomi Eastwood

Cute little Fairfax! Photo by Naomi Eastwood

She went in the ring and absolutely delivered, save a somewhat crooked entry. She was supple, attentive, and rhythmic. Our only loss of rhythm came when I took my leg off when trotting across the diagonal and she started into a lengthening. I over-corrected, creating resistance that did not go unnoticed by the judge.

The test received mostly 6.5-7.5 scores on each movement, with an 8 on her walk. The collective marks were all 7s for Willow and all 7.5s for me, which was a pleasant surprise. The judge commented “Very well prepared and ridden test – a pleasure to watch.”

We scored a 30.0, our personal best and a full six points better than our last attempt at the same test. Willow also received some really nice compliments from spectators as we left the ring. Good girl!

The young horse I had brought with me was 6-year-old Fairfax, a 15.1-hand Thoroughbred mare with springs in her legs and an adorable face that attracted all sorts of attention from folks at the show. Her test was good for her experience – we stayed in the ring, did all the moves, and she tried really hard. Can’t ask for more than that! In the jumping, Fairfax got a bit spooked by the activity in the warm-up, so I took a bit of extra time to school her until she relaxed, which reduced the amount of time I had to switch to Willow.

I finally hopped on Willow and jumped the crossrail twice, the vertical once, and they were calling us in. She kicked butt! She jumped with tons of strength and concentration, got all her leads on landing and was adjustable and attentive to me. Looking at the photos, I love how she’s using her neck so well and keeps her ears pricked. She looks so happy doing her job – that’s why I compete her under the name Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me!

Go pony go! Photo by Naomi Eastwood

Go pony go! Photo by Naomi Eastwood

We went straight to the startbox after show jumping and I gave her a good confident ride to the first, then settled in and let her do her thing. She had a great rhythm and balance the whole way around even though we had to trot at the end so we didn’t get a speeding ticket. She was again really adjustable and seemed to have a good time. It’s time to move up! Hooray!

Since my last post I’ve been on the road quite a bit, returning to Pine Top once more to work for Mark Lehner, then to the Carolina International to cover for Eventing Nation, then to The Fork Horse Trials to work for the famed Shannon Brinkman – a total dream come true.

Coming up is the busiest time of the year, every year. Poplar Place, Rolex, Heart of the Carolinas, Jersey Fresh, a wedding, and then a breather and a chance to schedule more outings with the super pony and the other Ketchen Place horses. Thanks for reading!

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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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