As Lucky and I went in to the warm up I could feel her tense up. I took a deep breath and reminded myself to stay relaxed, and sure enough after a few reassuring nose to arm touches Lucky let out a big sigh and relaxed again. She did like to pick up her head and stare at herself in the mirrors, but I can’t blame her, she is very adorable! I didn’t let her stop and look (see…I can learn new things too) but instead focused on getting her lazy left hind to track up. Eventually she started to pay attention to me too just as my trainer came in.
It was my turn to let out a big sigh. I might not have had a lesson in 7 months, but my trainer has known me for so long and is a good horse person herself that she jumped right in and set Lucky and I to work. Our warm up was fantastic. My trainer had me focus on being clear with my signals to Lucky and being super steady. Of course Lucky loved the fact that I was totally focused on her and started to show off by getting a bigger trot. I wasn’t even thinking about my tests when we did a lovely canter in the warm up. In fact, as my trainer told me it was time to go in I wasn’t even sure I wanted to ride a test.
My whole goal for the day was to get Lucky and I to feel more confident cantering off the property, and that goal was already met. A fellow student and friend was there and she encouraged me to do the test anyway. My warm up might not have been as beautiful last time, but I still had a nice warm up and a not so nice test so I needed to just do it.
I asked my trainer to read the first test for me, more as a security blanket than anything else. The show ring is right along the driveway so as I went to check in I tried to think about the fact I was hearing trailers being closed up. Of course as soon as I went down the centerline a trailer came by, banging around causing Lucky to look over. I took a breath and pushed her on, reminding her that she wasn’t allowed to stop and look at things anymore. My first test was okay. Not great, but not terrible either. We had 3 trailers total come swinging by during the 4 minute test, but I didn’t let her look and she wasn’t too worried about them. Our canter to the right was actually much better than our canter to the left. To the left she didn’t even pick it up at all. She threw herself on the forehand and started to scramble so I made the executive decision to not worry about the canter. The whole test she got heavier and heavier and more and more on the forehand. It was a good reality check about my reliance on figures, clearly I need to work more on getting her back to front on straight lines!
When I went up to the judge to get comments she was really nice. She wanted me to be firmer with Lucky (duh) and gave me a good canter exercise to do at home. She did make the comment that my horse was challenging to ride and inattentive, but no bashing of my riding which was cool for once. I only had 15 minutes before my next test so after wishing luck to the woman after me I quickly went back to the indoor to get Lucky more off my leg.
We did lots of transitions and lateral work in the 10 minutes between tests and before I knew it, training level test 1 was upon us. I sheepishly asked my trainer to read for me again and went back to the ring. Our first centerline was amazing. I got Lucky under herself and we got a nice square halt. As we turned the first corner Lucky started to get heavy. Clearly she was tried and need to move forward. I didn’t have a whip with me and my 10 minute schooling had clearly not done the trick because she started to ignore my leg again. I fought to get her back on the trot circle without much success and our first canter transition was yucky.
I started asking her to come back to the trot too early and lost some points on that, and the stretchy trot was yucky because Lucky went down, but not down and forward. Lucky’s gas tank was running on E. By the time we asked for the canter to go to the right she was ready to be done. She surged forward in the transition and threw her face up in the air. My first thought was “shit, she is never going to trot again” so I tried to bring her back to my aids. She did not like that at all, and ignored me cause me to start with my death grip again. As we started up the long side I took a breath and told myself to relax…and I did. My arms lightened and of course that made Lucky relax.
We were almost done with the canter at that point but out last half circle was really nice. I was sooooooo proud of myself that I had let go of my tension that the rest of the test was just cake. I was so proud of myself when I went up to the judge for comments that I was shocked when she was annoyed with me. She told me that I needed to not pull on my horses face and use her for balance at the canter. She comments what a good horse Lucky was and how I needed to get better. She pointed out how much better Lucky was once I relaxed. The real kicker…she told me I need to trust my horse.
I do trust Lucky. I don’t think she is going to kill me at the canter. Worst case scenario is that she might not trot when I ask her, but that is a far cry on being taken away with. I got what she was saying though and just hadn’t thought about it that way. My arm tension was a fundamental lack of trust. What the judge didn’t realize was that it wasn’t my trust in Lucky I was worried about, it was my trust of myself. I don’t think I am a good enough rider to get Lucky back. I know she will come back when I ask her correctly, I just don’t always feel like I am capable of asking her correctly. I know that doesn’t really make sense, I just don’t know how else to say it…
I was proud of myself for letting go at the canter, even though according to the judge I didn’t do it soon enough. I honestly didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it at all, so regardless of the comments I was thrilled. I also got a massive complement from my trainer. She said (and I am quoting it because I was proud), “All your issues are new issues. Last time I saw you guys you had a lot to fix, and you did it. You fixed all the issues you had in the fall. We are going to be starting over on a whole bunch of new, more challenge issues. That is how I can tell you guys have been working hard”.
When the scores came out they were about what I had expected. I got a 53.something% on Intro C and a 55.something% at Training 1. Pretty ugly, but not unexpected. What was unexpected was that when they placed my training 1 class of 8, my very low score was good enough for 4th place, which meant the judge was also a tough judge. We ended up in the middle of the pack. I was shocked. My tests were 1,000% better than the week before, but Lucky and I still have a very long way to go. It was nice to know that even though we are far away from I think we should be, we were actually not that far away from everyone else. I left the show feeling very encouraged, minus my mental meltdown later that night. Lucky and I are just no good at dressage, but we were at least a heck of a lot better than we were the week before.