What a weekend! I am exhausted, and I am sure Clay is too. He is getting a couple well-deserved days off from riding this week. I know that a few of my students are on the fence about showing. Yes, shows are nerve-racking and stressful, and take a lot of preparation and energy. Things often don't go perfectly or smoothly, and there are surprises and mishaps. But what you gain in return makes it all worth it...
You bond deeper and build trust with your horse, you get an impartial and "official" read on where you stand with your training and riding, you overcome fears and insecurities, you build confidence, you get a chance to see how other people are doing things, you hopefully get rewarded for all your work with scores, judge's notes or ribbons that reflect the hard-earned progress you've made, and no matter what you learn a lot. On top of all that, shows can be a lot of fun too! Especially if you go into the experience with a positive attitude and a willingness to make mistakes and learn.
Our local dressage association (North Woods Dressage Assoc.) does an absolutely fantastic job putting together fun, supportive, competitive and smooth-running shows. This was the first show of the summer (I love that they always start off with a schooling show–it really helps to get the bugs out of the system before the recognized shows later in the summer, where your scores go on your permanent record). It felt like a family reunion because we hadn't seen any of our horse show friends in months. Everyone looked great, their horses looked better than ever, and as always it was a super fun and supportive atmosphere to be in.
I arrived on Friday afternoon to get Clay settled in and to pitch in a helping hand wherever needed. All of our local shows rely on volunteers for setting up, tearing down, and keeping everything running smoothly and on-time throughout the weekend, and many hands make light(er) work. After Clay was contently in his stall with a bucket of water and a pile of hay, I unhooked the trailer from my truck and used the truck to distribute shavings to all the stalls all over the show grounds.
After that was finished I went into town to grab a bite to eat, and then came back to saddle up for a practice ride in the show ring. I love being there the night before the show starts...it's quiet and relaxing and gives my horse a chance to settle into the scene. Our practice ride went very well–Clay wasn't spooky about anything and felt relaxed. I tucked him back into his stall, fed him dinner and went home to get a good night's sleep.
I was a little nervous to leave Clay alone in a stall overnight, since he normally lives outside 24/7 and at home he doesn't like to be in a stall for longer than it takes to eat his grain. But much to my surprise and delight, at the show he was perfectly mellow and relaxed in his stall! Yay, Clay! He really had his big-boy pants on all weekend. I was stabled in a barn with a bunch of other competitors who I'd never met before, but everyone was so friendly. A few of them were sleeping there at the show grounds, and they took my cell number and said they'd call if there was any problem with Clay. In the morning they reported that he was perfectly quiet and relaxed all night.
On Saturday morning I got to the show grounds at 6:30 am to feed, groom and prepare before our 9:30 ride. We warmed up for about 40 minutes prior to our first test. Clay felt slightly stiff after his night in a stall, but overall very relaxed and willing.
I was nervous because we hadn't practiced our Training Level tests very much at home, and I didn't have a reader on hand. I'm always afraid I'm going to forget my test in the middle of it, but schooling shows are the perfect opportunity to practice memorizing them amidst nerves. Indeed, my mind did not go blank as I had feared, and I was able to ride all three of my tests correctly that day without needing a reader. Go me!! ;) Our scores on all three tests were consistent, and higher than what we scored last year at that level, so I felt happy that we had clearly made progress.
Our rides were spread out throughout the day, which made it a very long day, but also meant that I had enough time in between rides to eat, relax, look over my next test, wipe the dust off our tack, touch-up Clay's whites and keep him looking good. I was very tired that night, though, so after our last class I gave him plenty of hay and went home and went to bed early.
Sunday morning I arrived again at 6:30 to feed and prepare. Our first ride wasn't until 10:30 but we were doing First Level for the first time (scary!), and I knew my nerves would be calmed if I had a good long warm-up. I rode for about an hour prior to our first class, and Clay was in the zone, listening, responding and giving me a great effort. But right before my name was called, my nerves were starting to make my mind draw a blank and I was afraid I'd forget the test. I asked a friend to read for me and she so kindly agreed. It really put my mind at ease to know that I would have a reminder in case I didn't know where to go next.
We went out there and did our thing, and although it was far from perfect and there were some tension, balance and accuracy flaws, there were a lot of nice moments too. I was extremely happy with Clay and thought it was a super ride for our very first time doing First Level at a show. Unlike many dressage riders, I am showing at the same level I am schooling at home (many people choose to show a level below what they're schooling) so I was extremely happy to receive the score we did on that test (68.3%) and my confidence (which tends to be low) got a boost, which helped me go out there and ride our second with a smile on my face and a happy feeling in my boots. (Ok! The judge didn't tell me that I am ridiculous and should go home. Now we're really having fun!!)
Our second test, which builds upon the first one and therefore is slightly more difficult, went just as well and received a similar score (67.9%) which told me that the first score wasn't a fluke and we are ready to compete First Level at a "real" show this summer. Hooray! My pony was happy and relaxed in his work, our confidence grew, and we found out where we stand. Mission accomplished!
After receiving my (blue!) ribbons, I packed up pretty fast and got on the road for home. Once the adrenaline wore off, I was crashing pretty fast. And I could tell Clay was wiped out too. As soon as he was turned out in his pasture at home and he enthusiastically rolled in mud. :) :)