Podge checking out the cross country
I had a game plan going into this weekend and was feeling more prepared than ever as Podge and I started our first Preliminary together in nearly a year. I've started to realize that, while I've made some improvements in my riding and Podge's training, I've been mostly stalled the last few years. I've really taken a step back and tried to figure out what exactly is needing improvement and how to go about it (rather than going on what I've come to realize is a bit of "autopilot training" lately). I got stuck doing things a certain way because that's how I always did it ... and that didn't always work for us. The funny thing is that things I've noticed in my own riding and training are things that I tell my students all the time - I just needed to pause and reflect on my own riding more! Those kind of things that seem to obvious in hindsight!
So, bottom line is that we've made huge progress in all three phases with this realization and I'm looking at events more as a check of our progress than being competitive ..... not that a good placing would be so bad though! I also realize that, with Claire just turning 3 years old and Ian just 4 months, my time in the saddle needs to be so much more productive as this time is more limited than in the past.
Dressage was by far the best test that Podge and I have had together. He warmed up great and I knew that was partly due to my newfound realization that he needs more time to do suppling work at the walk and very little work at trot and canter before we head into the ring. I've also realized that he needs plenty of time outside of his stall grazing and handwalking before we even tack up. He's always been a stoic, calm horse so I admit that I haven't given as much thought to his mental well-being at shows as much as I would with a young horse that gets anxious or a hot horse that just needs to move. But, he was a very happy horse all weekend - that's saying a lot for a horse we jokingly refer to as "Eeyore" for his lack of emotion! He was light and supple in the dressage ring - still room for improvement in the leg-yields and transitions - but the tightness that we usually struggle with was gone. Hooray! We scored a very respectable 33.5 to put us into 4th.
Heading to stadium next, I had a very thorough plan for how I was going to ride my course, I knew my lines - up to 10 stride ones and walked the course 3 times. I planned to ride him in a snaffle again. He's always gone in a 2 ring elevator bit but I was finding that it was curling him up too much. We always school in the snaffle at home and I felt fairly confident that if I stuck to my plan - be patient and ride one fence at a time - he'd be just fine. He maintained a really good canter all the way around the difficult course and we just pulled one rail coming out of a combination. He had drifted a little right over fence 7 shying at something outside the arena and I planned on 7 quiet strides to the in and out at 8 but we ended up coming in on a strong 6 due to the drift. Ah well...everyone had troubles with the course and we actually moved up a spot even with our time penalties. Time is not usually an issue for us in stadium but I really didn't mind since my goal had been to go around quietly and PATIENTLY.....so hard for me in stadium!
I made sure he got his walking and grazing time before cross country on Saturday morning. He was in a good mood and his body seemed in good shape after the previous day. I had some concerns about the XC course and spent time rewalking parts of it and going over my plan. I decided to switch out my old bit for a slow twist snaffle, We always lose so much time on XC because I spend a lot of time rebalancing him before jumps. His overall balance has improved so much and, just like in stadium, I was finding the old bit was curling him up too much. He warmed up great in the new bit and was definitely feeling ready as he danced to the start box - who is this horse?! He jumped beautifully around the first part of the course.I was able to allow him to gallop on between fences without feeling like he'd trip over his feet or we'd need half a mile to set up for jumps! Two waters, some gigantic tables, a combination were all great.....right up to the brush and ditch combination. Admittedly, I was worried about this jump since he'd never seen anything like it before and we had to jump a big brush fence and land with just one stride downhill to the biggest ditch we've ever seen. I rode in just as I planned and put my eyes on other side. He wouldn't see the ditch until he was right at it. I sat up and back over the brush....but might have needed to sit a little more to the right as he spun off that way on landing and I ended up sitting on the edge of the ditch in my inflated air vest. Sigh. A long walk back to the barn.
So, we go forward to Jumpstart in a few weeks. It's hard to feel sorry for myself for too long with two beautiful little faces watching me watching me in warm-up and knowing how fortunate I am to even be able to compete right now much less at preliminary! We came back to Ohio and got on with "real life" - a birthday party for Claire who turned 3 on Saturday. She, fortunately, didn't mind spending her birthday at an event just so long as she could go to the playground by the dressage arenas!