Horses, Life, A Touch of Geek

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ASHAA Horsemanship Challenge
Heathermoor Farm
Leeds, AL
February 28, 2016

SHORT VERSION
Did what I set out to do [Motivation]. Rode two horses. Established a baseline for next year.

Lining up after the second round.

Lining up after the second round.

LONG VERSION
First Round: Annie
I managed to throughly annoy a very nice beginner horse. Annie has a thing about whips. One does not carry a whip on Annie. Instead I was given advice on how to keep her going. Well. Years of jumping position has given me a lower leg that Saddlebreds do not usually experience. By the second canter, she was saying, ‘Okay, okay, STOP YELLING!’ I thought she may have given a little back end hop as punctuation. My ground crew says she didn’t, but was definitely heading in that direction. We have it on good authority that Annie does not buck.

Second Round: Elvis-The-Other
When I drew for my second ride, the card said Elvis. I was supposed to ride a cute little Morgan from barn X. Instead, I located a different horse of the same name from barn Y. Other Elvis was milling and kicking and aggravating the child tasked with holding him. He didn’t look neurotic as much as annoyed.

Getting 40 or so riders on strange horses for two (or three) rounds meant 100+ instances of Where is So-and-So? I got the wrong horse mainly because I was confused. However, part of me rolled with the change. Cute Elvis would not have been as much a test of my ability to ride a new horse.

Other Elvis and I never achieved sympatico. I could never figure out what he wanted me to do with my hands: hold? give? top rein? bottom rein? both? neither? For a few steps, I’m fairly sure I was cantering in two-point.

Results
I did not make the final round. Perhaps if I had ridden the pleasant pony, I might have. OTOH, only 12 out of 27 WTC riders made the third round. Most of those 12 were names I recognized as suit riders. I ended up in a 5-way tie in the high teens.

LESSONS
My saddle seat riding comes in three levels.
Surviving. Getting the horse from point A to point B. Achieving three gaits and arriving at the line-up. This I can generally do. It may not always look pretty. The more trouble I have, the less pretty it looks. Other Elvis and I spent a lot of time here.

Sustaining. Maintaining an effective position on an agreeable horse. This is the level expected at Academy.

Succeeding. Influencing the horse. Asking for more. More speed. More containment. More verve. I was able to ask Annie for one or two zippy trot passes. She didn’t necessarily give them, but at least I asked. Collecting the horse into the slow, little teacup canter is easier for me than containing the trot. The ideal show trot has form and speed.

It doesn’t matter what you do. What matters is how the judge interprets what you do.
After the show, the judge was kind enough to critique my rides. In the first round, she liked how I took risks and put Annie out there. Nod from me. Then she evaluated my plan with Elvis. Trouble was, I never had a plan with Elvis. She said that after a bobble, I faded to the rail and hid from her. I needed to get back out and recapture her attention. Huh? Hiding? I was happy to be at the correct gait in the correct direction. Where we were in the ring was an accident of geography. She was crediting me with far more intentionality than I possessed.

I wasn’t wrong.
Someday, maybe, I will trust myself. I had a reason to be extra nervous, given my internal wiring.

I don’t like riding new horses. Never have. But part of Sunday’s meltdown (yes, there was a meltdown, albeit a small one) was apprehension about riding a new Saddlebred. I do not – yet – truly understand what makes a Saddlebred go. Without this, I feel lost, which undermines my confidence.

When comfortable with a horse, I can put my hands up and look the part. If the planets are in alignment and the horse is feeling generous, I can get a few suit-quality steps of engagement from the hind end. When the wheels come off, all of that goes out the window. I am not solid enough in my convictions to enforce proper Saddlebred-style behavior.

I need to ride from a position of solid understanding and strength. I need to be over-prepared. If I’m jumping X height in a show, I warm up at that height, or a hole higher. I need to feel that I know, deep down, what is going on. If I have that, I can be bulletproof.

Something to work on.
~~~
Thank you to Rocking S Farm, Heathermoor Farm, and Harris Riding Academy for providing horses: the ones I rode and the one I didn’t.
~~~
Photo notes: Smile from OpenClipArt. I didn’t have the identity of the other rider, and therefore could not ask for her (or perhaps her parents) permission to use. Paranoid? Moi? Photo by Greg. Included as a service to the reader [Lights, Camera, Canter]. All I can see are my potbelly & rounded shoulders. Ick.

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