I decided to take Thunder to a hunter schooling show on September 5th. It was at a farm about an hour away and I rented a truck and borrowed a trailer. I rode two divisions, green horse and the crossrails division. I’m not going to lie. It was rough.
Thunder has never been to a show before. As we all know, it can be a little much for horses with all the people and other horses. Thunder was PERFECT outside the arena. He hung out quietly in the shade and dozed off. People were commenting on what a good boy he is, especially for his first time out. For his first class, we did leadline with my 7 year old daughter. The judge was lovely and complimented him and he behaved like a perfect gentleman. There was only one other horse- a 24 year old pony actually- and Thunder was just as calm as the elderly pony.
Then it was my turn. We went in for green horse division and Thunder was EXCITED. He walked like an old pro, but when the judge asked for a trot, he wanted to canter. I spent the whole class trying to keep him at a consistent gait. He cantered when it was trot time and trotted when it was canter time. It was rough. He also parked himself at the gate every time we got near it and had to be cajoled back onto the rail to continue trot/canter/hopping.
Then it was time for our green horse over fences class. It was just crossrails, but he was EXCITED about jumping. Holy moly. It was like riding a freight train. He wanted to race around the jumps and I spent the whole time trying to keep him under control. I didn’t have time to think about being nervous or whether I was on the right diagonal. It was all I could do to keep him going around with some semblance of a smooth ride. After the last jump he would high tail it to the gate, no matter how hard I tried to steer him into a courtesy circle. Thunder thinks courtesy circles are for chumps.
We came in last or second to last in every class. That’s a really sucky feeling. But I wanted to do my other division, and see if I could get a more behaved ride out of him. It didn’t happen. He was still really, really excited and it was not smooth or hunter-ey. We had some good moments, but it was not a smooth, consistent ride.
So yeah. It was rough. It was rough to the point that people on the rail were encouraging me. It was obvious that my horse was exuberant and slightly naughty. By our last class he had calmed down a little and we got some nice trot and canter work. When we exited our final class, one guy said, “That time he did much better!” It was a little embarrassing to tell the truth, but I just laughed it off. You can’t win every time, especially on a green horse at our first show. All the spectators on the rail were polite and sympathetic. I told everyone that it was his first show and someone said, “Hey, we’ve all been there!”
There were some definite positives though. He jumped like a champ and didn’t knock any rails. He understands that his job is jumping. I just need to teach him that his job is also to do courtesy circles before and after jumping.
He looked like he belonged at the show. A year ago he was muscled in all the wrong places and looked like a backyard nag. Even though our classes were rough, a year ago he could not have competed at all. A year ago he did not even have three decent gaits.
In spite of not placing very well, I think I actually rode pretty well. I kept my cool and kept him under control. I didn’t get frustrated with him and I managed to calmly bring him down when he tried to rush. My position was decent in all the pictures. Mainly I was concentrating on slowing him down. We had a lot of rough edges, but I rode as effectively as I know how. I just need some lessons and more practice over fences!
This show did a great job of showing me where our weaknesses are. First and foremost, regularity in the gaits is a huge problem. We need to do a whole lot of walk/trot and trot/canter transitions. I think at the show he was excited, but we have to get to the point where he is obedient to me even when he’s excited. Second, he is very naughty at the gate. He tried to turn around on me a couple times, which is a BIG problem. I’m going to start schooling him right next to the gate at home until he gets over that crap. Finally, we’re just really rough around the edges. He likes to jump and he’s honest to the jumps. Now it’s time to start smoothing out the ride. We have our work cut out for us!