Despite my not-unexpected AI flareup, I competed Hamish this weekend at Plantation Field starter horse trials. This is a special place, basically a good sized Chester County old-turf hill with a field full of jumps, run by enthusiastic, old-fashioned eventing enthusiasts. Denis and Bambi Glaccum put on a whale of a horse trial complete with a really cool cross-country course online app that makes you feel as though you are right there walking the course in person. It is a meet-up of all friends and a good-bye until spring (or the next fun thing to do, like a clinic or expo.) Bringing a horse is just part of the day!
Highlights included Boyd Martin judging dressage all day (due to having an arm in a cast) and some of my friends got some classic comments on their tests with some pretty exciting scores. Everyone thinks Boyd ought to be a judge for real. (Did you ever get a test scored as a “12”? I know someone who did!) Another highlight was the absolutely perfect footing. There was no tractor needed all day! And footing kudos include the marvelous footing in the new arena at the top of the hill, which included an ample warmup. It’s a synthetic mix and it’s beautiful to jump on, and how fun to ride in the same ring as the big competitors! I really appreciate that, because it’s an organizer’s way of saying “thank you” to the little guys, who really do fund the big events. Being able to ride in a hallowed ring is a Big Deal.
When you go to bed tired, and wake up tired, and go through your day struggling to concentrate, drive, stay awake, remember times, remember courses, try to ride right, support your horse, remember your friends’ names, remember to smile, try to have fun…wish you had help….it is a long day. I love to compete, don’t get me wrong. But on occasion it is difficult for me. When you look back at the overall picture it’s a positive one and you have to think about that.
Hamish was sterling. He calmed a lot by the trailer when I sat with him, and ate from his haybag for an hour and half between dressage and the jumping. He really was quite good and didn’t fuss hardly at all, so I think he’s getting that the trips and stuff are not scarey but fun. He was good for dressage, I got way more in warmup than I did in the test, though. I am learning that I need to ride him enough to supple him, and have him warmed up and responsive, and in front of the leg, but not so much that he is bored, and turns off and requires the uphill battle in the ring — this is a fine line. It also could be that he is a real smarty and knows the difference between warmup and judged!
I got on plenty of time for jumping because I know in the past I have not warmed up enough for jumping. He felt wonderful, and was a little leary walking up the hill all by himself, fearing he was leaving the trailers and horses behind — after last week’s little meltdown hunting, (more on that in a minute), I was just letting him walk slowly, as slow as he wanted, so he could see there were horses up on the hill as well as down below in the parking field. When we got up to the warmup, I soaked up the atmosphere – the beautiful view, the horses going around in the ring jumping, the course and how it rode. (It is a joy and special privilege to ride in an internationally-acclaimed competition arena with superb footing, and the organizers really show how much they respect the little people by doing this.) I warmed him up and jumped a few more than last time and I think that helped. In the ring he was nicely rideable. Where I erred was on the right hand turn around the end of the ring, from the 5th fence to the 6th fence, an oxer set on a turn to four-stride oxer. While the dropped rail came at the 7th fence, what I did back at 5 caused the problem. I landed and worried about the lead. He landed on the left lead, which was expected, but I swung really wide and asked him to change naturally — rather than waiting so long after 5 to do that, I should have ridden more professionally, half halted, trotted, got the lead change and stayed on the turning line for fence 6. While a little loss of rhythm to get to trot and back up to canter would not have been the end of the world, I was just thinking, “keep going, keep going” which is a typical amateur mistake. So, as a result, my corner was WAY wide, I got to the outside left side of the oxer in the corner, fence 6. This put me a half stride off for fence 7 because I had a longer distance to turn to get to it. I thought I had a good stride but he landed flat, and instead of putting my leg on, I got there on NQR and he wacked the front rail of the oxer with the front toes on the way up. He cleared the back rail, and was fine to the aqueduct jump, and finished nicely. When you have a horse like Hamish to ride, your mistakes are clear — it’s easy to know what you are doing wrong because he doesn’t waver, and doesn’t ask “why”, but he just can’t quite get the jump perfect — such a wonderful pony without a mean or uncooperative bone in his whole body. “I’ll get there, Mom, even though you didn’t make me right for it,” he says.
On to the cross-country. While Hamish had never seen this field, and has not schooled there or been in the territory, I knew I could count on him taking a scope, and being his good pony self. I have confidence in him, because I’ve been riding him about a year now, but also because I trust him to trust me. I try not to rush him or worry him, but occasionally I have to just put my leg on and say, “let’s go – now”. I try to limit those sorts of conversations because Hamish is a good egg and it worries him to be rushed. I let him canter quietly to the first four fences, then we came to a blind drop into the woods from a cute little plastic-brushed steeplechase type fence, a really nice question for the novice horses. He pricked his ears like a good hunt horse, I throttled him back, and he jumped it kindly from a trot, then landed and knew he should slow down to go down the hill. He actually wanted to keep trotting as I know he was unsure. I cantered as soon as we got uphill to jump out of the woods, then had a good strong canter landing to back into the woods and back out. We jumped a good sized pheasant feeder downhill to a log/ditch — I spoke to him on the way down to the log and told him, “it looks like a log but it’s a ditch” and he sure enough put his head down to look while I sat back and supported him and slipped the reins. I was very happy with that, and petted him.
We galloped on up to the upbank, and here, he actually took a big sideways look at the big dark upbank just to the right of the little upbank we were doing. I wasn’t ready for that, and didn’t support him enough on the left side, so we landed a bit to the left up the bank and a bit crooked, and I wasn’t looking at the next fence just three strides up, and we had a massive wiggle and quite a crooked leap over it but made it. I was not coming with enough steam, did not hold the line and did not look up. So I was lucky there, and had it been a bit bigger or a bit more of an angle I would have had 20, so I need to sharpen up a little. The rest of the course was perfect, a few singles, into the water, had to sort of turn a bit quickly to get to the house out but he was fine, the great down-up jumps beside the road, which is fun to ride — like a roller coaster — and the last two, and home. 19 jumps is a good course and while it was fairly small throughout, it still was a good test. Overall I would say I did not go forward quite enough, had I encouraged a bit more gallop I think I would have made Hamish’s job easier.
I got my test back and was very pleased, it was a nicely marked test, and found we were in second after dressage. My rail in stadium did move us down four places so we were fifth after a tie above us at third place. The placings really do not matter, because the experience is what you need. I think at the starter horse trials I really want to educate the horse and practice for me. Entries in the recognized horse trials are expensive and you can’t make those kind of mistakes and expect to have a good day, so I need to remind myself to carefully scrutinize what I am doing. I lack a good set of eyes on the ground and/or someone with a camera, and we’re going to address that next week, with a spot in a clinic with the Master (more later).
(Hunting Meltdown: we went at the end of first field and I stopped to let some hounds go by on a good run, and we got behind – and suddenly Hamish could not see a horse and started to neigh loudly. This actually was a good thing, since second field, behind us, could hear where we went, and I had to stop and circle to avoid having him really upset and running away, and 2nd field showed up, which calmed him down. Hamish does not like being alone AT ALL, so Plantation Field, where once you get over the top of the hill, you can’t see any other horses, is good for him to practice trusting Mom-mom.)