6 months post-op and we finally made it to a horse show 😍 MREC is probably my favourite show location; their facility is gorgeous and the prices are so reasonable, it makes all of their shows very appealing and accessible for me of the Budget Tribe.
I intended to purchase just 2 rounds: the first one would definitely be a 2’9″ class (because I can cruise around that height without any problems) and the second one would maybe be a 3’… to be decided depending on how the first round went. And then I was going to bop around their gorgeous XC course and see if I remembered how to ride something other than a stick fence.
I had a few simple goals for our first show this year:
- Have fun. This seems so obvious, but I get performance anxiety and used to be a vicious perfectionist, so it always has to be my #1 priority with my riding these days.
- Come away feeling confident. Whatever rounds I chose to do, I wanted to leave feeling strong and ready for the next thing, not riddled with anxiety and doubt. If this meant that I arrived and had to coast around a 2′ round to make that happen, that’s what I was going to do!
- Ride an “uphill” canter through each round. Or as uphill as my draft cross will ever get. Which isn’t much, but we’ve been dressaging and gosh darn it if that won’t help our jumping too!
- Sit back and keep my heels down to the fences. Because… duh.
- Allow my horse to go forward in the contact and avoid micromanaging her every step on our approaches.
- Be knee pain-free!
The weather was absolutely perfect: sunny with a small breeze and the occasional cloud cover. Vesper had a freshly washed tail, freshly roached mane and much of her thick winter hair has disappeared so she looked way more like something belonging at a show than a plough horse with mange. Doesn’t it feel good when you know your horse looks great?! My mom came to watch and brought my 4 year old nephew along who spent most of the visit asking to pet all the pretty horses. #adorbs #start’emyoung
We had the usual
10 years while of warm up time before the 2’9″ rounds started, so I took my time working on elements of our dressage lessons to help keep us supple and balanced. Lots of bending around my inside leg, releasing tension in the poll, riding up under my leg to avoid dumping on the forehand… Because of how well this has all been going at home, I decided to take a risk and try Vesper in her loose ring snaffle at the show. We always school in the snaffle at home, but we show over fences in the pelham because Her Ladyship tends to get really strong when she knows she’s competing and I always felt the need to micromanage. I figured, what the hell – if she runs through it completely, it’s only 2’9″ and I’ll just not fall off. She was being very polite about balancing off my seat in our warm up so I was feeling relatively positive about experimenting with the lighter bit. Dressage is a thing, yo.
One benefit about arriving that early before our class means that I know the course to death, because I end up watching about 50 other riders go at the lower height. Memorizing a course is way easier for me if I can watch others ride it, as opposed to just reading it off the posted map. Bless the jumpers for always having numbered fences.
My first round went a little bumpy, which was to be expected after all our time off. I was sometimes seeing my distances but I definitely wasn’t being helpful enough to my horse so there was a lot of “Yes? No? Do we- Oh crap” going on. We chipped in to almost every fence, to the point that I actually had to tap her shoulder with the whip in our jump off as she started backing herself off too much. That being said, she pinged around with her usual unicorn-ness and I – miracle of miracles – sat up to the fences? Mostly kept my leg on and rode actively to the fences? I bet most of our blips were from my horse being so shocked that I wasn’t just being a passenger.
Based on that “meh” round, I decided to just keep my second ride to the 2’9 height and work out the kinks instead of moving up to 3′. I wanted to walk away feeling really confident, and if I wasn’t riding the technical aspects well at the lower height, I definitely did not deserve to move up that day.
Round 2 was absolutely beautiful in comparison. I don’t remember us missing a distance (maybe just once)! I sat up to each fence, allowed Vesper to move forward in the contact on our approaches instead of pulling back every stride and we flowed together so well! She was starting to abuse the lighter bit by the time we got to the jump off (dragging me through the contact a little too much) but I was successful in rebalancing her in the turns and kind of just let her have her way for the last couple of jumps. Plot twist: sitting back actually works to prevent dumping on the forehand! What a discovery. There’s so much that my brain has known for years, but somehow I’ve only been able to physically apply it in the last 24 months or so.
The result of the classes was a 4th place ribbon, although I wasn’t there to get a place; I just wanted to check off my goals and it genuinely felt like the nicest round we’ve ever had, so I count us as winners there!
After a break, we took to the lovely XC field for some fun. Vesper decided back in October that ditches suddenly require close inspection and/or avoidance, so we spent some time schooling those which was a bit difficult for anxious me. I wanted to support her to go forward but had to ride defensively so that I didn’t get dumped in the dirt, and it’s been 7 months since I last rode anything resembling a XC question. We managed to get through it a handful of times (all of which caused me to lose one or both stirrups), and did a bit of work with the water which had also become an element requiring too much consideration. Vesper became an absolute dragon the moment she realized what we were out there to do – as much work as it is keeping her from just blasting off, I do love how much she enjoys that type of work.
We only spent about 20-30 minutes playing, and managed to enjoy ourselves over some of the PT fences we rode last season which was a lovely confidence boost. I was intending to attend a local derby show the following weekend, but based on our shaky confidence with some XC elements, I decided we’ll skip that one in favour of some more play time in the big grassy field 🙂
I will also mention that this was my first real test of the Millbrook stirrup leathers that I purchased back in February, so keep an eye out for my review of those coming soon!