Unfortunately, in reality it went like this; Sunday I took Ruby to her 2nd ever show to do some dressage. Although she didn’t misbehave, she was so entirely mesmerized by all that was going on around her that she was pretty close to unridable. Her neck was rigid with tension, and she spent most of her time looking around wide eyed at everything with her sizable ears up my nostrils. It did kind of feel like all the time I’ve spent working with her over the last few months were irrelevant, bar the odd few minutes when I managed to get her attention and she softened, before something else caught her eye and she reverted to surprised giraffe.
Rhythm, relaxation, collection, harmony, straightness – we comprehensively managed to achieve none of these things, quite expertly. I’ve never tried to ride an ironing board round a corner, but I can only imagine it would feel quite similar to Ruby on Sunday.
She was so good on her first outing completely taking it in her stride, and is so bold that I didn’t anticipate the show environment getting to her like it did. It has to be said this was very different to the first time which was in a field, on a grass arena - there was a lot going on at Sparsholt; the warm up arena was sectioned off and we had to do our test in one corner of it, in full view of the other horses, and with no room to circle or trot round before entering. There were horses and sheep in the fields next to us, and Ruby also happened to be in season – so when they brought 15 odd horses in past the arena, Ruby rooted herself to the spot squealing. These are all things she will have to learn to contend with, but to happen all at once so early on, I kind of felt like our ‘low key’ outing had turned into ‘in at the deep end.’
I actually retired from the first test – after a few movements, and tripping all over the boards, it was almost impossible to even steer her. I then took her back to the warm up arena for a good 20/30 minutes until she eventually started to produce some nice work, listening to my aids again, and became soft and more like the horse I have at home.
There was a PYO class later on with a free spot, so we took that, hoping she could have another chance at the same test now she knew a little more of what it was all about. I had nothing to lose by this point! She had a munch of hay and chilled out for a bit, before we brought her out again.
Then we had to stop to go and speak to the judge, and the lack of room to prepare before going in meant we had to start off again cold, and just as we entered, she clocked a horse riding a test in the top arena which she would stare at for pretty much the duration of the test. Super.
When we came back to walk there was a little moment where she relaxed for just long enough that she softened and came round momentarily, a glimpse of what she could do, but was off again when she rounded the corner and was facing that top arena again, ears firmly up nostrils. Our final centre line was anything but straight. She then wouldn’t halt for the centre line and went sideways instead. I turned a circle and made her do it again until she halted (roughly) where was supposed to. By this point I was completely devastated about the test we were doing, but had to think forward to the future and use it as a learning experience – so it was important to me that she did as she was asked and completed.
I left before seeing our score. Probably wise! Painful though it may be, I think I need to get her out again soon to some more clinics and low level competitions so she gets used to it, and can start giving the performance she’s capable of without the tension.
Whilst I have threatened her with being a Tesco lasagne (kidding)...I think next time I need to be more mindful of her inexperience. When some horses feel tension, they might jog, buck or nap. Ruby didn’t do any of that, which is a credit to her, but because of that it’s easy to forget that she’s still a baby in competition terms. Her reaction to the environment was to tense up, and the only way around this is to keep going and take her out again until it becomes ‘normal’ for her.
A stark reminder that horses are not machines – sometimes they surprise us by being great against all the odds, and others when you’ve slogged your guts out preparing they can throw you a curve ball like this. I’m reliably told 'we've all been there', especially with young or inexperienced horses, so I will cling to that, and hope that next time we will have less ironing board, and more smart little event hoss in the making!
There weren't many positives, but my disgustingly optimistic outlook on things (after sleeping on it) found these: Good experience. She looked pretty in her blingy browband. It didn't rain. Some nice work at times. Not naughty, just tense. Loaded and travelled like a pro.