Since Birdie’s big advance in dressage, everything has gone downhill. He has had horrible tantrums and at times has been unrideable. I had entered both him and Willie in the unrecognized starter horse trial at Fair Hill. I really wanted to ride there. I worked at Fair Hill for Gene Weymouth as an assistant and exercise rider and loved the place. I was considering scratching Birdie just the same. I couldn’t find a reason for his sudden and sharp decline in performance. He wasn’t lame and I could find nothing wrong with him, but I suspected he needed a break. Elizabeth had said he’d progressed at such an incredible rate, it was likely he needed one. I talked to Sam Allan about it and she encouraged me to take him. One thing that ran through my mind was that Sam would be there and she would see how he behaves at the show. He’s always ten times worse there and perhaps she could help me find the answers, so I decided to take him.
When I was an exercise rider,I was proud of my work and felt I really made a difference to the horses. I was good at it. It’s been hard to go back to being inexperienced and green, which is what I am at eventing. Lately, I’ve been really tired of feeling like a bozo on a horse. I longe to go back to the track and do what I am good at. I understand that I am starting over, but it’s been a long time since I felt good about my riding. This feeling is not helping the situation at all.
Sam suggested I take them the day before and she would give me a lesson on Birdie. It was frustrating and we didn’t get anywhere with him, but at least someone I work with saw us in action. She walked Bird’s course with me and I then walked it once more. Then I walked Willies. Bird’s course seemed challenging. Willie’s presented a glaring problem – water. I had only schooled him once in water and I was fairly certain he would not go right in. I also knew I was going to have to ride him every step of the way. Willie hasn’t figured out cross country yet and he’s a conservative horse. If he’s not sure, he wants to think about it. He wants to stop – then think. Not good for cross country. We also recently figured out he likes to stop at the first fence, even in practice. I needed to be sure that didn’t happen.
I got up at 3:30 am on Sunday and headed to the barn to feed my boys. I then went out and walked the show jumping course. I didn’t want to go off course again. I then walked both Birdies and Willie’s cross country courses. This was going to be a long day. First ride at 9:26 am and last ride at 3:26 pm.
Birdie tanked in the dressage – again. I can’t convey how upset he was. It was sad and I am so touched by how hard he tries for me when he is obviously so frightened. He is so generous and I respect him immensely. He simply can’t bring himself to relax, but he tries despite this fact. This is the first time I can say that the judge hated me. I am sure she thinks I did this to him. She was very unhappy with me and told me I should not take him to shows. I should take him to perhaps a friend’s place and not put so much pressure on him. There was no time to tell her I school with Elizabeth Madlener every week at another farm and Jimmy Wofford every other week, (except for lately) at Sharon White’s. He travels more than any horse I know, but he’s smart enough to know when he’s at a show and when he’s not. I will say I was grateful because she tried to work with me in getting Birdie to walk after my test was over. Apparently there was a break and she spent her time helping me get him to walk. I really appreciate that even though she talked to me like I was a horse abuser and the crappiest rider in the world.
Show jumping with Birdie was humiliating and all my fault. I was coming unraveled and I was telling myself I better get it together when he stopped at the roll top. Let me just mention, I’m the one with the roll top evasion – not him. Sam said he was being dirty, but I know it was my fault. After the ugly stop, I got myself together and even though it was ugly, I did a better job.
Cross country was unbelievable. He was even stronger here than he was in show jumping, but I have so much more time to get him back. We completed the course on time and without a mistake. I love my beautiful Bird.
Willie put in nice dressage test for Intro, but I had the same judge and I think she hates me, so we did not get a glowing score. It was only his second show and I was happy with him, so what the heck. His show jumping was flawless. As we walked over to cross country, I told myself you have to get him over the first fence. As we left the start box I started screaming at him. He ran from Satan himself and soared over the first fence. My adrenaline was at an all time high and that was a good thing because I was tired. We approached the second fence and I was even louder, he started to hesitate and I let out an inhuman sound. He went. The third fence should have been easy. Sam Allan has the same one only bigger at her place. He’s jumped it a ton, but elected to stop at this one. I was disappointed, but he had been trying to stop at the first two, so we just jumped it and went on. For the first six fences I practically carried him over them. I was getting tired and my voice was straining. At fence seven, he stopped again. Sam had warned me about this one. The course loops in a circle and he likely decided we were done since we were headed back to where we started. I really screamed at him and he went. I rode his hair off the next two and now we were at the water. I decided to trot around it and then try to go in. Maybe if he had a good look, he’d go. He was a complete gentleman when he told me it was a bad idea and he didn’t think we should do it. The jump judge was supportive and even tried to lead him in. After three horses went by he finally went across. The jump judge and camera man where cheering as we galloped away. Oh, he did stop at the one coming out of the water, but fair enough. He’s never seen a question like that before. After all he’s only schooled cross country once and completed one horse trial at elementary. We galloped down a hill and he jumped this next jump quite easily. In fact I didn’t have to ride him to it. The next jump was a “wagon” I was expecting him to balk, but instead he took me to the fence. He was taking me to the fences and he jumped the last fence perfectly. Suddenly he was having a good time and eager to find the next fence. Unfortunately I had to tell him it was over.
I am really proud of Willie. The light bulb went off. He gets it now. I told JK it was similar to breezing baby racehorses. In the beginning you have to pick them up and carry them. Then one day they say “Oh, I understand – GO! I like this.” After that you just sit there and point at the pole, then they carry you. Willie gets it now and I’m really looking forward to his next outing.
Birdie is getting a rest period. He hasn’t had one in over a year. We also have a couple things we’re going to work on during that time. I am embarrassed to admit that I was really sore yesterday. That hasn’t happened in a very long time. Jimmy has been on me to start riding them instead of being a passenger. I think I started doing that at some point on Sunday at Fair Hill.