Sunday, October 21, 2012

2012 GAIG/USDF Region 5 Championships, Heber City, UT

Frisco and I headed up to Heber City the first weekend in October to participate in the Regional Championships. The setting was beautiful, with the Wasatch mountains framing the outdoor rings, and the weather was bright and crisp. Frisco had only been back under saddle for six weeks, after having a seven week summer vacation turned out on grass. Our last show was in May, so, we were a little bit rusty compared to some of the other pairs, who had been showing through the summer. Down in Dixie, show season is fall through spring. I may show Frisco through the summer in 2013 in order to avoid this issue next year. It is a disadvantage, when the championship show is always in the fall.
Our Training level Championship class was on Friday, and normally, that would be a good thing for Frisco. He has been fairly laid back in the past, but he seems to now understand that shows mean it's time to bring your A game. So, he was a little more exuberant than I'd expected, and I probably could have planned 45 minute warmups vs. 35 minute warmups. That said, it was going to be a long weekend with six classes for the show and I didn't want to put too much stress on his legs and soft tissue. So on Friday, I had far more horse than I typically have, and, he was rather spooky. We managed to still get decent scores, a 61.4 on the warmup class and 63.7 on the championship class. We placed 5th in the championship, not bad in light of the spooking and utter lack of a half halt! The judge in the warmup test(61.7) commented that the miscommunications needed to be sorted out before getting to the show. That will be a major theme in our training for the next year. That is essentially life with a developing young horse, really...establishing reliable communication. At home, I generally have way more whoa than go, but at shows, it is the opposite, which makes it difficult to prepare for. In the end, the resolve is the same: he has to learn to be ON my aids, not behind them, and not getting ahead of me.
Saturday was a much better day in terms of submission. Frisco was a lot more attentive and I felt our rides went really well. However, the judge did not quite agree. Our scores were not bad at all, with a 64.2 on the Training Test 3 and a 68.2 on the USEF 4 Yr Old Test, but I sure thought that Training level test was going to be a better score. After watching the video, in comparison to some rides in the previous show season, I do think there are judges who would have scored it quite a bit higher. In fact on Friday, this same judge scored our ride over 5% lower than the other judge in the championship class. At an International show, this kind of scoring differential would result in a judging committee meeting. She had a bone to pick with me, and that was this: my horse is naturally very easily brought "round" in front. He has three fingers of space in the throatlatch, which  makes his poll extremely flexible. And even though he has a super shape and set to his neck, it is rather short. This particular judge was absolutely adamant that I not "cheat" to make him look round, and to make sure he was developing the necessary topline strength by not letting him settle behind the bit no matter how hard he tried. She wanted him honestly stretching for my hand in all the work, and she wanted me to make absolutely sure that when I employed the half halt, I did so in such a way as to not shorten his neck and discourage his desire to reach for my hand. While I felt somewhat picked on in this respect, and that she possibly focused on this to the exclusion of recognizing some of the more positive aspects of the work, in the end, the judge is always right. I resolved that I would figure out how to get a half halt without shortening my horse's neck. On Sunday, the videos revealed a MARKED improvement of Frisco's uphill balance, particularly in the trot work. I believe that we learn the most from our disappointments and failures. We certainly didn't fail, but my disappointment stung enough to light a fire under me. I have folded this experience into my training with Frisco since then, and he is gradually getting stronger in the topline and improving his uphill balance, day by day. This will take time, but now is the time...Frisco can't get by on his good looks any longer, the work has to be very correct, and I place extreme value on the learning experience this day provided.
Sunday was the highlight, and despite Frisco getting a little over eager and getting ahead of me, I made one hundred percent sure my half halts did not suppress his forward desire or his reach to the bridle. You can see in the video that there are times when he still cheats and settles behind the bit, but overall, the balance was much improved, and I received 8s from both judges for rider seat and position. Frisco earned a 70.4 on Training Test 3 for a championship qualifying score for 2013. He also earned a 70.6 on the USEF 4 Yr Old Test. Frisco was repeatedly complimented for his work ethic and willingness to please by all four judges who saw him on Saturday and Sunday. In fact one friend of mine who saw one such comment said "you should frame that!". This alone was an enormous victory over the problems encountered on Friday. Everyone has their own philosophies, but as I said earlier, we learn most from our failings. Frisco's mother was also very spooky. I handled the problem wrong when she was young, and as a result, she spent a lifetime not sure whether to be more concerned about the boogy men in the corners, or about my lack of tact in handling her fear. I vowed to never make that mistake again, and so with Frisco, who can be very spooky just like his mother, I have always just completely ignored the spook, ridden him forward, and put him back to work. By not overreacting to his fears, I help Frisco overcome them. He realizes that if I am not scared, there is probably no reason for him to be either. By Sunday, he was walking by the 20 foot tall tractor like it was not there, and when a new judge's tent appeared where there had previously not been one, he strode past it with boldness, like he fully expected it to be there. I have to take pride in the things well done, and this is one thing I am proud of...I now know how to teach a young horse to be brave and confident. This is a success that was born of failure.
Here are links to the videos from Sunday:
Many thanks to my friend Brenda for travelling to the show with me. While she and Poetic Justice did qualify, she chose to focus on her training rather than going to a show. It was great to have the moral support, and a dedicated video person and polo wrap remover, and also an emergency fly spray retriever!