I hope y’all are ready for a whole lot of pictures with a sprinkling of proud mom emotion, because this show recap is gonna get out of control really quickly. Spoiler alert:
As some of you may already know, this year was the inaugural Central Future Event Horse Championship show. The East and West Coast Championships are both pretty well established by now, but this year a local breeder/rider/trainer, Jayne Lloyd, stepped up and volunteered to organize a Central location, for those of us who just can’t justify making a long to trip to either coast with a young horse. They use the same judges across all three sites to help give consistency to the scores, which is really nice.
The FEH and YEH programs have been a little bit slower to get off the ground in this area of the country, probably partly due to the fact that Championships are great motivators, but it was just way too impractical for any of us to even try to get to a Championship before now. A lot of people kind of figured “Why even bother?”. Having the Central site seemed to help boost participation a bit this year at the qualifying shows as people tried to get the scores needed for Championships, and I hope that it continues to help the FEH program grow in this area. Jayne did a great job organizing and putting everything together, many thanks to her and all of her volunteers and sponsors. I know this definitely was not a money-making venture, but rather a labor of love, and it took a lot of time and resources. I think everyone had a great time and came away having learned something, which is really the whole point. It seemed like a big success.
Presto and I headed up there on Friday morning. The venue, Texas Rose Horse Park, is about 4 hours from Austin, and we had signed up for the in-hand clinic with Martin Douzant on Friday afternoon. Our time slot wasn’t until late, but I wanted to give myself plenty of time to get there, get him settled, get me settled, and let him take in the sights. Presto is certainly not new to traveling, but that was a pretty long trip and he’s never been to any place quite so grand as Texas Rose. There is A LOT to look at, and when there are a whole bunch of young horses stabled in one barn, there’s also a lot of noise and distraction. If one neighed, they all answered. The fun part was picking out which one was yours amid the cacophony. Presto, of course, is always the loudest.
He hauled like a total champion (except for those few minutes where he was chewing on the padding of the chest bar and I had to lightly brake check him to get him to drop it – ah, the joys of having a camera) and unloaded a bit bug-eyed, but reasonable. I let him chill in his stall and eat hay while I checked in and unpacked and parked my trailer, then we went for a walk. He was pretty sure that every horse he saw was his new bestest friend ever. Presto is ever the optimist. We got there shortly after lunch, so most people still hadn’t arrived yet, and it was nice to get to walk him around all over the grounds before it got super busy.
After his tour I put him back in his stall and went over to the indoor to check out the free jumping clinic. It was interesting to watch Martin and the team of handlers putting different horses through the chute, and seeing how they dealt with things when issues popped up or horses had a hard time understanding. Later in the afternoon Michelle showed up with her 4yo filly Inca, and it was her turn in the chute for the clinic. You could tell that Inca, who is already started over fences, had a pretty good idea of what to do, and easily hopped through the chute. They were able to raise the jump a bit bigger, and Martin had a lot of nice things to say about Inca. I will say this: there is a stark contrast between watching a more dressage-bred horse go through the jump chute versus a very jumping-bred horse. The natural instincts and ability are obvious.
When they finished with the free jumping portion I stuck Presto’s halter on, grabbed my helmet and whip, and headed to the outdoor ring where the triangle was set up. Martin was super nice, talked to me a bit about the horse, asked what things I wanted help with, etc. His big thing was, as a handler, making your own gaits mimic what you’re wanting the horse to do. So if you want a longer, slower walk, make your own steps longer and slower. If you want a more uphill trot, get those knees up and get to stepping.
I asked him his preference as far as showing a yearling in a halter vs a bridle, and he was very firmly Team Halter for yearlings. I get that, and I agree. We practiced standing him up a few times, positioning each leg where we wanted it, and figuring out how to keep his attention. He also stressed the importance of keeping the horse’s head very straight for the first leg and last leg of the triangle – the parts where you’re going straight away from and then straight towards the judges. He said that it’s very easy to make a correct horse look incorrect, or even lame, if you pull the head to one side or the other. Those two parts of the triangle were about straightness. The far side of the triangle, where you’re traveling parallel to the judges, that’s where you go for it and show off a big trot. That all makes total sense and is similar to what I’ve learned before. Of course, everything is easier in theory than it is in execution, especially with a yearling.
Then he took Presto from me and demonstrated what he was wanting to see in the trot work. As soon as Martin took off in his very elegant, long-strided, tall skinny guy, professional handler run, I was like… man, it is WAY more fun to watch Mr Gazelle run with Mr Giraffe than it is for me, Ms I-Really-Like-Ice-Cream-and-My-Thighs-Are-Nicknamed-Thunder-and-Lightning to try to keep up with that safari on hooves. Let’s face it, I am not fast enough or elegant enough for the job. He made Presto look amazing, and I loved actually being able to stand there and enjoy watching my horse do his thing. I very rarely get that opportunity. Before Martin even made it all the way around the triangle, I told him he was hired to handle Presto for me the next day. With that abrupt change of plan, Martin quickly outlined our new strategy. My job would be to assist – to help keep Presto’s attention while he was standing still, and to help motivate him to move forward for the trotting parts. We practiced our plan a couple of times and then called it a day.
Michelle and I gave Presto a bath (which he hated, but he knows better than to do more than glare at me about it), he got his dinner (which he loved), and we headed over to the competitors dinner. Which, despite it’s small size, ended up being one of the rowdiest competitors dinners I have ever been to. You should see what happens when the wine flows very freely to a wild group of older women. They were so rambunctious that eventually us young folk tucked tail and slinked off to bed in defeat. No way we were keeping up with that. I think there was some kind of impromptu karaoke going on when we left.
Presto was slated to be the 3rd horse of the day in the ring the next morning, at 9:20. I still had to get up and braid him and I wanted to walk him for a while since he’d be spending all night in a stall, so I set my alarm for pretty early the next morning and went to bed.
As for the rest of the story… you have to wait for tomorrow for Part 2…