Winter blues continue. There have been quite a few medical emergencies among my family since my last post, so I haven’t accomplished much on the horse front unfortunately. Domino remains inconsistent in his soundness. Tebow remains adorable. I remain really cold.
My trainer’s assistant left for school earlier this month, so she’s doing all the barn chores on her own at her facility (in addition to training, teaching, going to clinics, and competing), which means we haven’t had much time together since then. Tebow and I have been coasting a little, but I’m hoping we can get rolling again now that the days are getting a little longer…
The barn owner has offered to trailer Tebow & me to an evening jumper show on Valentine’s Day, so that’s something to look forward to! Thank goodness. We’ll probably just play around in the 2’6″, but I think it will be really nice to get both of us off property.
Which brings me to the point of this post: I hate warm-up arenas.
Well, not all warm-up arenas. Dressage warm-up is tolerable enough. Cross country isn’t too bad because there’s usually a lot of room. But show jumping warm-up?
Show jumping warm-up arenas are my hell.
My dislike began when I first started showing in my teens. I was leasing a school horse named Turfway, who I adored. He was an off-track Thoroughbred gelding; he was the first horse I ever competed and the first horse I really “clicked” with. I loved him, but he was the grouchiest old man-horse I’ve ever met. He was neutral-negative towards humans, but he hated other horses. Like… get-within-a-15-meter-radius-and-he-will-pin-his-ears-and-charge-kicking-in-your-direction type hatred. I wish I was exaggerating.
Everyone at our barn knew about it and we had a lovely, huge arena, so it wasn’t much of an issue while I was only competing at little home shows. But Turfway was the first horse I took to off-property shows eventually, and that was a whole new ballgame. I mostly just did little 2′ classes that didn’t really need a super intense warm-up, so my trainer would usually just take me to some quiet corner of the property where I could walk-trot-canter in each direction then send me in to quickly hop a fence before going into my class, but even with such limited time in the warm-up arenas, I learned to hate them really damn fast. People were utterly oblivious to the red bow/my warnings/my trainer’s warnings. It almost always ended with either me or my trainer screaming, “Your horse’s guts are this close to getting splattered into the fence. You need to stay the fuck away.” And despite the classes being low and well within our capabilities, our crappy warm-ups had a pretty crappy effect in the show ring. I think I fell off or got eliminated for 3 refusals more often than I had a clear round…
Ultimately we avoided any major disasters, fortunately. But it left a bad taste in my mouth I’ve never gotten over.
We interrupt this blog post for an important announcement. IF A HORSE HAS A RED RIBBON IN ITS TAIL, STAY AWAY. Like, do you think you’re far enough away? Okay, multiply that distance by two and add a couple more horse lengths and at that point you’re probably alright. A red ribbon doesn’t mean: “Don’t ride up my horse’s tail, but stay one horse length away and it’s cool.” It means don’t get anywhere near a possible kicking radius of that horse. Do some people use it for stuff that’s more mild than what I describe with Turfway? Sometimes just to get a little more personal space in the warm-up arena even if their horse doesn’t have a mean bone in its body? Sure. But give them the benefit of the doubt anyways and go ahead and assume that red ribbon = as far away as you can possibly keep yourself. It’s a lot better for everyone if you stay too far away than if you cut it too close.
I think people who haven’t ridden really nasty kickers don’t realize how awful it is to deal with. I can handle bucking, bolting, and moderate/non-vertical rearing without much trouble, but I hate riding a horse who’s actively trying to kick another horse. It’s kind of terrifying to realize that your horse is likely to seriously hurt another and there is sweet fuck all you can do about it. At least on a bucker or bolter or rearer there is something you can do – sit back, circle, shift your weight. If you’re on a kicker and someone’s gotten too close, you’re basically S.O.L.
I kinda forgot about how much I hated warm-up arenas while I was riding Domino, because Domino is very small and agile and responsive and easy-going. He could stop, start, and turn on a dime without any notice, so if someone else lost control or was off in la-la land, I could still count on Pony to get us out of anything tricky. He was also totally unfussed about whatever anyone else was doing.
You want to know who’s not small and agile? A green 17-hand Thoroughbred. Tebow needs a damn runway to start and stop right now. I need to be able to plan our movements and prepare him for things about half an arena’s length in advance, minimum. When I took him into a small, crowded jumping warm-up arena for the first time, I panicked. No one was doing anything wrong – everyone was riding politely, left shoulder to left shoulder, calling fences, jumping in the correct direction, in control. But the “what if” thing destroyed me. I rode like a dummy, I wouldn’t let Tebow get any impulsion to the fences, we had refusals or chip ins like mad, my trainer finally told me to MOVE IT and if anyone got in our way we could run them over and/or she would personally go to the TD and get them eliminated. I sniveled a bit then got over it enough to have at least one decent warm-up jump, then went in the arena and was so relieved to be able to ride without other horses around that I jumped the loveliest course ever.
Anyways, all this is basically to say that I really want to get over being terrified of jumping warm-up arenas because if I ever want to compete much higher than 2’6″/Beginner Novice, I’ll need to be able to have reasonably un-terrible warm-ups over fences, and I think this Valentine’s Day show might be a good way for me to work on that. It’s an indoor schooling show so the warm-up area will be really small, but it’s a winter show in the evening on a holiday so I don’t expect there will be a huge swarm to deal with, and the heights are all quite low.
Maybe we need to come up with a tail ribbon for “Rider is prone to warm-up arena panic, please stay away and be kind”.