Frisco and I are back home and unwinding after the Las Vegas Winter Fling this past weekend. We had a great time at the show: the weather was beautiful, and we both learned a lot and enjoyed each other's company. We showed Training level tests 2 and 3 on Saturday, and on Sunday we made our show ring debut at First level, with test 1. Frisco's growth has been interfering in our canter work off and on for pretty much his entire time under saddle. Last year, as a three year old, he actually was more balanced and our canter work generally scored higher than our trot work. But believe it or not, he's grown more as a four year old than he did as a three year old, and it has been a challenge for him to figure out what to do with his body. Thanks to all our work with Alfredo Hernandez, he has learned how to carry himself in the trot work, and I know that his understanding will transfer to the canter work eventually. His trot work has become the highlight by all judges' accounts, and on Saturday, nearly every trot movement in both tests scored 7.5 or even 8, from Judge David Schmutz, who isn't known for giving out very many 8s...8 8s in two tests!! And two more 8s on Sunday!! In the first class, test 3, Frisco got playful in the right canter and rolled a few bucks. Here is where I had to put on my best acting job, and it was worthy of an Oscar. I rode those three bucks, then calmly turned him onto the 20M circle, and pretended it never happened. I didn't touch his mouth(THANK YOU LOIS YUKINS). I just followed his neck, and used my seat to turn him. The judge very much appreciated my tactful riding and also chose to pretend he didn't see that :) Not a great score on the movement, a 6, but, I think he really appreciated that I didn't make it into a whole big thing. That would have served no purpose in the grand scheme of Frisco's training whatsoever. We came away with a 69.8 even with the small problem in that canter. Then we rode our second class, which was actually the easier test 2. As I rode through the trot work with Frisco, I felt like I was riding in heaven, and the judge agreed. 8s on everything. But, that right canter, which is his least balanced work right now, came back to haunt me. Actually Frisco started to take the right lead, but the monkey knows the test and tried to canter very early. Anyone who has ever taken a horse up the levels knows...this is a habit you want to nip in the bud sooner rather than later, otherwise, you will be hung come time for flying changes, they'll start flipping changes whenever and wherever. It isn't like it was his first show season, where I'm just thrilled he canters sometime in the general vicinity of when I asked! It's his second show season, time for him to stay on the aids. So I didn't let the canter happen when he tried. That flustered the overthinker a little bit, and he got tight which put him against my inside leg and no longer listening to my seat, and then he could not canter right to save his life. By that time, two movements were sacrificed, so, I chose to circle back to C, get a few half halts through, get him listening to my seat and making space for my inside leg, and he then took a beautiful right canter depart. Two poor scores and an error...shot that pending 75+ score right out of the water. Oh well, you win some and you lose some. We still managed a 67.1 because so much of the work prior to that went so well. In one day, I had two scenarios arise: one in which my horse just felt exhuberant; and one in which my horse was about to take me down a road I have seen the end of and knew I didn't want to go there again. He didn't get in trouble, I didn't make a fuss, I just simply chose to regroup, and make myself crystal clear...these are the aids, and you have to stay on them...black and white. I could have just let him take the canter early and faked it, but the problem is, he's done this before, more than once. He's not going to stop doing it, unless I stop him from doing it. If I'd have chosen to just be a show rider, gotten greedy and went for the really fat score because I'm quite sure the judge would have kindly overlooked the early depart just as he did the little buckaroo, I would not have set myself up properly for the next ride, the next show, the next show season....and ultimately flying changes at C after the half pirouettes in the PSG test, when every horse under the sun wants to change at H or M instead of waiting until C. You have to decide, in a split second usually, whether you are riding for the show today, or, the training down the road. It was obvious, the bucking was a one time thing, not something he normally does, and he was feeling his oats. Young horses will do that, and since he's generally a pretty laid back kid, I don't get too upset with any show of energy from him, even if it isn't always quite directed where I was wanting to go with it! So I chose to be a show rider and ride on like it never happened. But when he chose to leave me behind and try to canter without me, yet again, I headed it off. While I had to take a short term sacrifice, I believe one hundred percent that it set me up for a SUPER First level debut the next day, where Frisco has to go from free walk, to medium walk, to working trot, to working canter RIGHT(our current nemesis), within the very tight space of P-F-A. WE NAILED IT. I guarantee...that if I had not, the day before, reminded him that I will always set him up, and then give him the aid, there is no doubt in my mind we would have had at best a depart that was hollow and against my inside leg, but at worst and far more likely, a wrong lead and more hysteria. Frisco would have lost all confidence in me as his guide, and in his ability to take the correct lead. Instead, he waited for the set up, allowed the set up, waited for the aid, and allowed that aid. Absolute throughness. It was a canter depart straight from the dressage Gods. I could have cared less what the final score on the test was!! As it was, we earned a 69.655. I was blown away by his total rideability throughout the test, in spite of the fact that I was tight and sore, and he was tired, and probably also tight and sore. What we lacked in power and brilliance, we made up for in total harmony and ease of the movements. We had a training breakthrough, a breakthrough only gained by actually showing, and choosing the right moments to let slide-to be a show rider, and the right moments to address-to be a trainer. It is easy to get the work done at home, when no one is watching, and you don't have to get it all done within a specified time and space. At home I can wait until he's set up, I can wait until he's on my aids, and I don't have to ask until all the stars are aligned. But I don't own the ride until he is willing to stay on my aids for the entire six minute duration of a test, with all the world watching. I absolutely love this horse, he is going to make me a very good rider. He is teaching me patience, and how to have fun. I've never enjoyed showing so much!
I can't thank Brenda and Dow enough for being my helpers, it made the show easy and fun. And Frisco thanks Toby for giving up his stall at every show...the best seat in the house honestly!
Here is a link to that First level ride, which Dow was kind enough to record for me.