I hope this will be useful to others. Here's what I learned this past weekend at a small training show held at the barn where I ride and keep my gelding...
Normally Koolio is quite a gentleman. He will do pretty much anything I ask, and other than being a little mouthy and silly, he's very well behaved. Well, at least until this past weekend...
Sunday was the first training show of the season. Although I have trained for the past few weeks, I hadn't ridden for about three months due to equine and human related leg and foot injuries. Needless to say, I was nervous about the show, but expected Koolio to be his usual cooperative self. That's when things started to go badly. There were far more horses at the show than I had expected and the barn was quite crowded in the morning. Koolio began fidgeting right from the get go. He stepped on my already sore feet at least three times before I even got him tacked up. I was getting pretty irritated with him. I saddled him and put him in a stall so that I could remove my over pants. In the time it took me to remove my boots to take the over pants off, he laid down and rolled in the stall with the saddle on.
The announcer called for a 15 minute warm up just as I was brushing the shavings off his body, sending my nerves into overdrive. By the time we got into the ring to warm up, my heart was pounding and my blood was boiling. Koolio felt it too, but after some trotting around, we both began to settle a bit. While everyone was still warming up, the announcer asked that everyone clear the ring, except those entered in the next class, English equitation, MY next class. I needed to tighten my saddle and brush off a few more shavings I had missed in Koolio's mane. The call to begin the class sent my nerves, and my horses nerves, into overdrive again.
There is only one thing worse than a nervous horse in the show ring, and that is a nervous rider on an already nervous horse. Needless to say, the class didn't go terribly well. Although Koolio rounded nicely at the trot, his rhythm was slightly erratic. Before I could settle and steady him, the judge asked for a canter, and that's where the fun began. My lovely gentleman of a horse turned into some bucking demon from who knows where. This was not MY horse! He bucked, and bucked and bucked. Fortunately, I was able to keep him on the rail and managed to stay on with a few jolted canter strides in between. I was so grateful when the class ended.
Hoping to sneak out of the ring before anyone could see my angry and embarrassed red face, the announcer informed us that they had altered the schedule my next class would start immediately and there was no need to leave the ring. Up went my heart rate as I readied for round two, which was pretty much a repeat of round one. The canter transition started out pretty well until a horse passed us and kicked up a four hooves full of dirt right into my face. I'm not sure which came first, my anger or the bucking. It didn't matter, as the outcome was the same wild rodeo we experienced in the first class. Fortunately, that was the last class before lunch, since I opted out of show hack. I wonder if there is a difference between 'collected' bucking, 'normal' bucking and 'extended' bucking?
The upshot of this story is that over lunch I put my guy outside in his pen to relax and I took a long overdue time out. I wasn't sure if I was going to ride in the Western classes in the afternoon, but knew I had to get back on. I decided to tack him up and ride through the warm-up. At the very least, he had to work through being in the ring with so many other horses. This time he was much more relaxed, but again, they called for the Western pleasure class while I was in the ring, so we continued with the class. Even though he was very relaxed at the jog, he responded to my stress and command to lope with a small fit of bucking. It wasn't as bad as the morning, but still bucking none-the-less. We made it through the class without my blood pressure rising any more and I was getting pretty good at staying on and riding him through these little 'fits' by now.
Last class of the day was Western equitation. He offered to buck going into the lope on the first direction, but made a beautiful transition on the second direction. I realize now, that at that point, I had pretty much given up being stressed out, angry and nervous. The worst had already happened and I had nothing to lose. My 'letting go' of the nerves and stress immediately transferred to my horse, giving us both a good, smooth ride, ending the day on a positive note.
I learned three things this weekend. First, never leave a saddled horse loose in a stall, even if you are standing right beside it and only bending down to tie your shoes. The one time you don't want them to roll, they will. Second, training shows are supposed to be fun and more importantly, they are a great opportunity to really learn those hard lessons about what it means to be relaxed on a horse. The third lesson came from a friend at the show. She suggested you eat turkey the night before a show because the tryptophan in it makes you calm and sleepy. Next time, I think I may try the turkey, along with some yoga and deep meditation. I wonder if horses will eat turkey too?