May 23 / The Dressage Show

Saturday, May 23, 2009

So the day finally came when I was able to take the Bird to a dressage show. I’ve entered him three times only to have three rain outs. I know when Birdie is keyed up he needs an hour to warm up so I made a plan. I got up at 3 am and went down to feed. He takes his time eating and I wanted him to have a good day. I went down at 5 to give him a bath and braid him. I know it’s not necessary to braid for a schooling show, but I figured I should practice braiding. After all, in racing if you spend all the time to braid as soon as you throw the jock up he starts ripping them out. By the post parade half the braids are gone. Incidentally they do this because they want to be able to grab mane if they need to. As a result, I gave up braiding my runners long ago. Add to that my loss of dexterity in my left hand and you’ve got crappy braids, but at least I had them.

So I leave the farm at 6 am and the drive is uneventful. I’m so glad I have GPS. It cuts out the worry and uncertainty of “What if I get lost?” My first ride time is 9:08 am and I want at least a half hour before my hour warm up. I arrive in time, but I hit the first snag in my day. The park where the show is being held is closed. It doesn’t open until 8:30. Great, this is starting out to be a fantastic day. I think to myself, don’t let this derail you. You’ve got to be ready to change your plan. Still I know with no time to warm up, Birdie will be a road runner, not a swan. I tell myself the more he tenses, the more you must relax. I wait, I’m the first one at the gate and people start piling up behind me. Finally at 8:25 someone drives up and unlocks the gate. We head in and I tell myself there is no sense in rushing, it will only upset the Bird more. I offer him water and begin to tack up. Then we walk over to get my number. He is surprisingly calm, well calm isn’t the right word, but he is surprisingly not as wound up as I expected.

Samantha Allan and some students are there and she asks me if I’m nervous. I tell her no, but now that I’m thinking about it….. She asks me if I need a reader and I tell her I’ve got my tests memorized. She asks me if I want a reader and I decide to be smart and say Yes. We ride our first test with about five minutes warm up. Birdie is tense and well – Bird Like, but he’s better than he’s ever been. I think he might even like this. The judge tells me I need to get him to relax and lower his head so he’ll be more active behind. I know this and expect it to improve now that I have time to warm him up.

My expectation for improvement falls short, but on the other hand, Birdie is not getting worse. He also seems to be enjoying himself, which is something he has never ever done at a dressage show. Last year I took him to two dressage shows and he acted as if I was abusing him. He was so upset that I felt like a heel for making him go.

We rode the second test and it was much harder this time to do the dreaded walk across the diagonal. This is the bane of my existence with the Bird. He does the jig across the diagonal. I think this will be the last thing to improve in his performance. It’s harder than anything else, but I know one day he will and I will be the happiest rider you ever see walk a horse on a long rein across the diagonal. After the second test the judge tells me basically the same thing. She was a very positive judge and I appreciate that. She suggested I try to get him bending more. I took the suggestion and went out of the ring with a plan to get that Bird to be supple before the next test. It has canter and Bird ramps up with canter work. I worry about his leads. He’s picking them up from the walk now during jumping but when he’s tense, he picks up the wrong lead occasionally and this is such an occasion. Do you ever think you make your own fate? I go back to the warm up arena and I ride and ride and ride. I want his back to come up, I want his neck to be supple. I want him to relax. He never really does any of it and now it’s time for the last test.

I go in and he’s up tight. He’s like riding a board. I try to soften every chance I get, but I know this isn’t pretty. First canter, a charm, walk across the diagonal after the canter, not so much a charm. Second canter, wrong lead, oops, fix, correct lead. Downward transition, OMG, beautiful, smooth, supple – WOW! Five more beautiful, smooth, supple trot strides! Okay get off the cloud, Birdie is going right back to uptight mode – that’s all you get today human, I hope you enjoyed it. I come down the center line with a smile. I am so happy. Bird has done something he has never done before with me. He’s relaxed for a transition and five whole strides at a dressage show. He’s done a very tiny amount of dressage at a dressage show. Birdie you are a star. The judge mentions that he did a beautiful transition and some nice steps. This whole day has been worth it. We leave with a second place and a fourth place. I haven’t gotten the ribbon or result from the last class yet. I love my Bird.

So today I was thinking and I realized what Elizabeth is constantly telling me is true. Imagine that. When things don’t go right with the horse, it’s something you are doing to block the horse. I thought about the ride yesterday. Yes, Birdie was uptight and failed to use his back, but I over rode him. I tried too hard. The next show I ride him in, I’m going to be patient and everso soft. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and we’re getting closer to it all the time.