See? I don’t even have a boyfriend and I still manage to get stood up for my Valentine’s Day plans. What a goofy holiday.
Can I move to Aiken yet or…? Winter needs to have been over 3 months ago.
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”.
area 2, area 2 eventing, autumn, beginner novice, bn, competition, eventer, eventing, green horse, horse event, horse show, horse trials, maryland eventing, show report, starter trials, TB, thoroughbred, xc, young horse
TLDR: Everything ended up fine, we finished on our dressage score (37.5), Tebow is an adorable rockstar eventing baby, I am dumb about warm up arenas.
Things started really badly. My dressage ride time was at 7:38am, meaning we had to trailer out at 6am, meaning I had to leave my house by 4:30am to get to the barn to feed Tebow breakfast and get him ready to load. I had a very restless night, including waking up at around 2am and not being able to fall back asleep. I checked and triple checked my alarms set every 5 minutes between 4:00am and 4:15am. I almost never have trouble with snoozing and missing alarms: once I hear my alarm, I’m up.
I woke up without any alarm and thought, “Hm. That’s weird.” Looked at my phone.
I panicked and bolted out the door. Fortunately I’d pre-planned and laid all my stuff out by the door and had already packed my tack in the trailer, so I was on the road with a granola bar by 5:15. I texted my trailer buddy and asked her to feed Tebow, and ultimately we still ended up getting out with the trailer by just after 6… But it was not an ideal start for me. I was tense and panicky from rushing, so by the time I got on and started warming up, I felt like I was running super late, even though I was actually right on schedule…
Our warm up for dressage was really nice. We did a lot of work spiraling in and out on a circle in all 3 gaits, asking him to listen and soften and come through (and getting me to calm down and get it together). I actually felt really happy with how things were going when I headed to C to introduce myself to the judge. Then I heard our bell and headed in the arena, and it fell apart almost instantly.
It wasn’t bad, really. He just sorta sucked back as we entered at A and was suddenly really distracted by everything going on around us, and I never got the connection back throughout the whole test because, honestly, I didn’t push him for it. I didn’t want to fight with him about it, but in hindsight, it would’ve been much better if I’d given him a firm half halt and driven him forward into the bridle assertively as soon as I felt him come apart at the start of the test. Instead, I let him drift around a bit and fall in through his corners and generally put in a really mediocre test. Again, it wasn’t really bad. He was obedient and we had the rhythm and relaxation that we’ve been working hard to develop. But I know he’s ready to show some consistent connection and suppleness by now, and I didn’t get that in the test. We did have some nice moments though. Our left canter transition was well executed, and his free walk was very nice.
We ended up getting mostly 6s and a few 7s, which I felt was fair for the level. All of the comments were what I expected. The final score was a 37.5, which I didn’t think was awful, but it ended up putting me second-to-last in a 13-horse class. Oh well, we were going for the experience anyways, and while I know we should’ve done better, it wasn’t really disappointing or anything.
The timing between dressage and show jumping was actually nice. I had enough time to untack and let Tebow cool down and have some hay. I went to go get a breakfast sandwich, then realized in my rush to head out the door, I’d forgotten my purse. Brilliant! So I broke into my car snacks and ended up eating about 6 Nutrigrain bars over the course of the day.
The show jumping warm up was rough for me this time. Background: I do not like riding in crowded arenas. I rode a really bad kicker for most of my teenage years (like, would run backwards to kick at a horse if they were on the same long side of the arena as him), then the chaos of IHSA flat classes did nothing to help that particular demon.
Basically, I would be an awful hunter/eq rider. Because I’d stop in the middle of the class and cry. A lot.
It was never an issue with Domino, because Domino is small and very agile. On Domino, I knew I could stop on a dime from any gait. I knew I could turn in any direction at any time and he’d keep his feet under him. Tebow is not like that. He is big and still not very well balanced, and he needs a lot of room to plan, prepare, and execute anything – turning, transitions, whatever. No one was getting in my way or anything like that, but I was anticipating people doing stupid things, so I rode him really backwards the whole warm up to feel more in control and it was really counter productive. Finally I pulled up and had a wheezing/near tears panic attack, so I walked around a bit, then my instructor told me I had to get him going forward and that if anyone got in my way, she would personally march the TD over and get them eliminated. I listened, Tebow jumped better, and it was okay.
When I got in the arena and had Loch Moy’s huge show jumping ring to myself, I felt so much better. I got Tebow moving out and in front of my leg, and he put in a very nice, clean course. He was a little peaky to a few fences, which was no surprise – it was our first time schooling seriously decorated show jumping fences – but if I gave him a tap on the shoulder and kept him straight, he hopped over happily. The only really icky moment was the last line, which was set for a long 3 or a short 4. With Tebow, you always expect him to get the long number, and I had planned to go for the 3, but I had the tiniest hesitation as we jumped in and we ended up getting a perfect three-and-a-half strides. Ha. Fortuantely for me, he was catty enough to keep the poles up.
No one was in the cross country warm up, thank goodness, and after show jumping I was much calmer. My trainer just had me do one fence, which we took nicely, and then we went to the start box and headed off.
Tebow ate up the course like a champ. Our only hairy spot was the 2nd fence, where he chipped badly and I lost my reins, but we had plenty of time to get back together and he rolled through the rest of the course. The final two fences were a rolltop and a little produce stand after the only real long open stretch where you could gallop on a bit, and by that point I was exhausted. Tebow came in really hot to both fences and I had no strength left to hold him back, so I was just saying, “Please, please, just jump this fence because if you stop I am going right over your head.” He obliged and got over both.
So we finished up double clear on our dressage score! I’m totally happy with that for our first event together. Our dressage score kept us out of the placings, but I only really cared that we had a positive learning experience and finished, and we certainly managed that.
Tebow continued to be the coolest green horse ever today. I don’t know if I’m allowed to call him green still. He just handles everything like, “Okay, no problem… hey, this is fun!”
We went to a hunter pace today with our barn buddy and her mare. We did the 2’6″ optimum time division and it was fantastic fun, and the weather could not have been more perfect. Early autumn in Maryland is so stunning. It was held by our local hunt club at a really incredibly gorgeous private property. I was debating asking the landowners to adopt me.
But first, it’s time to board Grace’s way-back machine for some context about why a gentle 2’6″ hunter pace is sort of a big deal for me…
The first competition I ever did with Flambards, my first horse, was a hunter pace. And it was terrifying. No fault of Flambards’ – I rode with a few trainers who were bad matches for me on a few unsuitable horses as a teenager and by the time I met Flambards, I had absolutely no confidence or bravery left in the saddle. It took two years with him and another four years with Domino (both incredibly generous, forgiving, brave, honest horses who never put a hoof wrong over fences) to fix that, and I’m very grateful and proud that I’m now a very confident rider. But it didn’t happen overnight, and my first show with Flambards was a bit of a disaster. It was meant to be 0.60m but the fences were much bigger than that, and I was bricking it. I had to bow out after the second fence, in tears. Another rider from my stable got on and schooled him around the course and he was fine, but I stayed too scared to give it another go.
So yeah. It was bad. I was embarrassed and terrified. I wanted nothing to do with field hunting or hunter paces or any of that ever again, thank you very much.
And today was the first time I finally tried to do another hunter pace. It’s been a decade since that disaster with Flambards. It took me a decade to get over that particular demon. But Tebow killed it and I had so much fun.
It was about 2.5 miles around fields over coops and logs and stone walls, and he cruised along like he’d done it a million times. The fences were all set into tree lines surrounding the fields, so we had a lot of moments where I’d see a sign pointing out the next fence, turn towards it, and be on top of it at a horrifically awkward angle within one stride. Fortunately we practice jumping angled fences a lot (my trainer is fond of explaining that it doesn’t matter if the jump is crooked – just keep the horse straight) and Tebow didn’t even blink. We had no idea what was on the other side of any of these fences, they were all in the shade, and he led the way without needing any encouragement whatsoever from me. He loved it.
To be totally honest, I’m less impressed with myself than I expected to be about this. I had built it up a lot over those ten years, but I wasn’t anxious at all beforehand. We had mimosas. I was happy. None of the fences scared me – I just let Tebow do his thing and enjoy himself. No big deal.
I don’t know what kind of time we made… My safety vest doesn’t fit me at all (it’s an adult x-small that my sister used when she was 10, and I am not built like a 10 year old in the chest) and after cantering the first mile or so, I couldn’t breathe and we decided to take the middle of the course a little slower. Even taking it easy, my buddy and I both fessed up that we were shaky in the knees when we got off! We had a lovely gallop at the end going home – there’s nothing quite like galloping a 17 hand Thoroughbred, and I can tell I’ve never come cloes to touching his top gears yet, either.
Anyways, they’ll post times later and I’ll share how we did, mostly because I’m curious about it. But the most important part – it was a lot of fun and I’m really so proud of Tebow. He is one super special, fun kind of horse.