Okay, now that I’m back to a real computer let’s kick off this Week 2 recap party!
Since our new pre-ride tactic seemed to work really well Week 1, I repeated the same kind of prep. On Friday morning I hopped on him before we left Alabama, just for a quick 10 minute walk trot, going from stretchy to regular walk and trot. Just enough to get him to take a deep breath, basically. On Friday when we got to the show grounds we did the same thing. I think I was on him total 10 minutes again, maybe. He went right to work and was super, so we quit while we were ahead.
On Saturday my ride time was at 10:51, so I got on at 7am and did another 10 minute session. There’s something about these quick little 10 minute rides that really help settle his brain. It’s like they’re enough for him to loosen up and relax, but not so much that he starts feeling pressured or gets worked up. I took him back to the barn, bathed him, braided, and slowly got ready.
I got back on at 10:30 and walked up to the ring to find that they were running early. My ring was finishing up a break, and then there was only one person ahead of me. I think I warmed up for maybe 8 minutes before the steward asked me if I was ready. Henry felt relaxed and happy, so I went ahead down there about 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Another few minutes in warmup wasn’t going to change anything for the better.
They had all new judges for week 2, none of which I was familiar with, and we were in a different ring. As soon as I got down there, said good morning, and gave them my number, she asked if I was ready and blew the whistle. Alrighty then. Nobody needs a full lap around the arena anyway, right? I see how they were already running so early.
I trotted up centerline on the most rideable version of Henry that I have ever had in the dressage ring. It’s amazing how much easier things are when they’ll let you use your legs and ride them forward into the hand. It’s taken literally years to get him okay with that. The first half of the test was pretty decent… he came bangin up centerline like a real horse, then we tracked left and went straight to those stupid 10m half circles. These have always been challenging for us, it kind of takes away some of your momentum there at the beginning and tends to get a tense horse a little stuck. They weren’t amazing this time, but they were the best we’ve done in the ring. From that movement you go straight to canter. He was reasonable about that, a bit hurried in the transition, but for him decent. The lengthenings on the circle will never be great, so whatever. Next time we redo the tests can we please keep the canter lengthenings on a straight line? My horse is built too downhill for this crap.
From that you go to stretchy trot. His was fine. He stretched a little but he’s never as good with this movement in the ring as he is in schooling. Tension makes that difficult. Then it was the walk work, medium to free to medium. All that was actually quite good for him. Last fall/this spring he was going through a serious jigging phase, or would try to launch back into canter as soon as I touched my reins. That seems to be gone now, knock on wood. I only did about eleventy billion walk transitions at home.
After the walk he definitely was more tense. The canter this direction was not as good, and the transitions weren’t as balanced, and the trot lengthening was bleh. He stayed with me though, so that’s okay. At no point did he tune me out and turn into a panicked 2×4 (his favorite go-to panic maneuver).
For the first time I felt like we put in a test that was kind of reasonable. It’s still not up to what he’s really capable of, and we still have a lot more tension through his topline than he does at home, but he never really got stuck or up and down or on the verge of explosion. As usual the comments were mostly about improving suppleness in his back (trust me I know, I’m sitting on it!) which really is just his tension showing.
Our score was 32.4, his best ever at a recognized Training, and was good enough to put us 3rd after dressage in a field of really nice horses. THIRD. Henry. What?! He also got his first ever 9 on a recognized test. There were still plenty of 6.5’s but nothing scored lower than 6.
I’m pretty darn pleased with that. There’s still a lot of room for improvement from both horse and rider, but to see such immediate payoffs from the little bit of tweaking we’ve done in the past month has been really encouraging. We were near the top both weeks of Chatt after dressage, which is NOT a place we typically are, we have always tended to land solidly in the bottom third of the field. Plus he improved from week 1 to week 2. I really feel like we’re on to something with this and for the first time I think maybe, just maybe, he’s finally starting to get this sandbox thing. Maybe?