Henry and I took a step out of our comfort zone this past weekend! Okay it wasn’t really that far out of the comfort zone, maybe just like a foot or an arm or something. We tried something new though… on Saturday we had our first go at a Prelim combined test.
Granted, I don’t think it totally counts since a couple jumps were under height and there were 7 fences with no combinations. That’s like… partial credit? But it was our first time trying to ride a Prelim dressage test, for sure. Which, since I didn’t decide to enter until the last minute and then I wavered on what to enter until Trainer put in her vote for Prelim CT, I did not actually learn or ride through the test until the day before. And by “ride through” I mean guessing at geometry and arena size in my big giant hay field.
I am bad at this.
I love this little venue because it’s SUPER relaxed, but the warmup is not the greatest. It’s small and on a hillside and the footing is iffy. They do have a covered arena on the other end of the property, which I tried to utilize, but Henry’s brain absolutely fell out along the way when we had to pass within close proximity of a cow in a neighboring field and then he just COULD NOT after that. Back to the tiny hillside we went, where I spent the next 10 minutes trying to stuff his brain back in, but the tension stayed. You never know when that cow might try to sneak up on him again. Sneaky devils cannot be trusted.
I opted to ride the first part of the test, with all the 10m circles and turns and halt in the middle, in a pretty collected sitting trot. I wanted to try to keep him “with me” mentally, so we sacrificed the true working gait there. Sometimes when he’s tense he gets his feet moving so fast that his brain can’t keep up, and then he’s just a hot mess express that comes totally off the rails. Slower is better for thinking, and keeping him thinking in the sandbox has always been a problem. We did the circles and the turn and the halt just fine though, so I was okay with taking the dinged marks for a too-small trot for those movements. The leg yields were ok, not as good as we’re capable of. Stretchy trot fine, walk work fine, lengthening too conservative but again I was trying to keep him with me more than go for scores, since he was still a ball of tension.
For once in his life he DID NOT try to jig in the return to medium walk so I’ll take that. The trot to canter transitions and turns up centerline were our best scores, which I found hysterical. His medium canter was legit nonexistent but I was not going to push the issue and risk unleashing the dragon at that point. The 10m half circles in the canter rode a lot better than I thought they might, although my biggest issue with these is that he REALLY thinks we should be doing a flying change when we get back to the rail. It takes a lot of convincing to keep him from swapping. I did manage to keep him in the correct lead for both of them, but it was a bit… bouncy.
Also I uh… halted way too early at the end. I didn’t think his whoa was gonna work that well after the canter so I asked early and was shocked when he immediately came to a halt. Like… way before G. Whoops. The judge did not like that one bit. Guess I should have had more faith in all the work we’ve been doing with the halts.
Overall it was an underwhelming (and tense) but steady and obedient test. He did what I asked, when I asked, and he kept his brain together, it was just all mediocre. I was totally fine with that. The judge gave us a 39… she has never given us better than a 36, so I am not surprised. She’s always on the higher side of even my recognized show scores.
For a first attempt at a harder test, though, I wasn’t at all unhappy with him. Next time I think I can ride it a little more boldly, and I know what to go home and try to improve. There were a lot of places where I knowingly sacrificed points and I think it would be easy to get them back. Also will try to avoid close encounters with cows during warmup, because Jesus H Henny.
After dressage I jumped off, switched my tack, and walked over to the arena to look at the stadium course. It was short and very basic, and the one bending line walked at kind of a 3/4 distance. As I was putting my bridle on I realized that I had forgotten to switch from his “home” bit, a copper french link loose ring, to his “show” bit, a full cheek Dr. Bristol. I didn’t really think it would matter for stadium, though. Ha. Hahahaha.
I got on, cantered a few laps of the hillside field, jumped the lone warmup fence a couple of times, and then went up to the ring. As soon as I picked up the canter and came around the turn to fence 1, I instantly regretted not having that Dr Bristol. I went to rebalance and he said LOL U IZ HILARIOUS BYEEE. Heavy in my hand + running past the distance = rail at fence 1. Are you joking right now, Henry? The whole course was a bit of a power struggle, basically. I was able to get him rocked back for most of the fences, but both of the ones where he blew me off and got heavy in front, we ticked the rail with a front foot.
I asked if we could stay in and do an additional round for schooling, which they happily let us do, and by the 2nd trip he had lost enough of his cockiness to where he decided maybe he should listen when I half halt. That round we were clear, and he was actually getting to the base nicely and really powering off the ground. He felt great. Of course… the 2nd round… the one that doesn’t count. Note to self: always bring Dr Bristol and avoid that whole power struggle in the beginning. Clearly these fences are not big enough to back him off at all.
So it wasn’t a perfect outing, but it was a good first run at testing the waters with some bigger/harder stuff. There were no disasters, and I learned a lot about what we can do better for next time.
And after all, that’s the point of schooling shows. The best part is, NO ONE DIED! For a first “move up” type of experience, I’ll take that as success.