Sunday, June 07, 2009

off to see the wizard

When we got home after a long afternoon at the horse show, I checked email and found that my OED word of the day was spooky:

Of, pertaining to, or characteristic of spirits or the supernatural; frightening, eerie.

Surfing. Of a wave: dangerous or frightening.

Of a person (or animal): nervous; easily frightened; superstitious.

Of or pertaining to spies or espionage.

We didn't hold a seance with the pony, nor did we attempt to surf with him. He's a bit boldly colored to be a spy.

But his first ride in the lakeside dressage arena did bring out a bit of anxiety, some fear, and all the relaxation and rhythm, the base of the training scale in dressage, went right out the window!

Combine that with a very tough judge and you get low scores and lots of "glass half empty" comments. The scores and comments were so low and negative that competitors were openly remarking on them at the ribbon table and the scoreboard.

In spite of this, though, we had a good day that I consider quite successful. The pony loaded perfectly onto the trailer, and unloaded just as well. He was well behaved and easy to handle. We parked beside a trailer full of ponies, one even smaller than he is, and that was a first. The little pony nickers were cute, and they all kept checking each other out. Interestingly, the ponies were being ridden by a local trainer (a tiny woman) and it was really fun to see. She was very enthusiastic about ponies in general, and we kept tabs on how the rides were going throughout the afternoon. She told me we should plan to all show up and overwhelm the judges with ponies throughout the season! I love that idea.

We tacked the Little Man up and took him to see the lakeside arena, then went to warm-up. He was quite alert, looking and checking things out, and there were a few upset horses in warm-up, kicking out, rearing, and generally not happy. In hindsight, we should have persisted with a longer warm-up, but at the time, it just wasn't much fun being in that melee.

The lakeside arena had been reduced for the day to a 20m x 40m size, and the extra 20m was being used for the warm-up box. There was another box outside of that so you could warm up while waiting. The pony wasn't thrilled. The lakeside arena is actually quite beautiful. It sits just down a short but steep hill from the big covered arena, and then there's another hill on the outside that drops down to a small lake.

There are geese and assorted other birds, lots of insect noise, especially as the day passed, and a fair amount of distraction on all sides. Upper level rides were going on in the covered arena, with readers calling out upper level tests on a mike. (hearing that while trying to ride my own test would have completely done me in)

I've heard from many riders over the past two years that many folks don't like riding in the lakeside, because it has so much potential for spooking. Most of the time they use it for the very upper level tests.

When my daughter rode the pony into the first warm-up box, he managed himself okay. He wasn't thrilled but he didn't balk. When it was her turn to ride into the next box, he did balk a little, and he really didn't like the A marker that was sitting there. He spooked at it, then she rode up to and had him sniff it, then he tried to knock it down with his hoof. Ahem!

And then the little bell rang and it was time for him to start his test - the most difficult one she'd signed up to ride. We'd already talked about not worrying about score, but using the test to break him in to the new environment.

The first difficulty was the judge's stand itself. Riding down center line he looked like Dorothy and her friends approaching the Great Oz himself. The pony did okay to X, but after the halt and salute he was very nervous about going to C. The judge's stand is a covered gazebo, with latticed wood around the bottom so that it looks like a checkerboard pattern with the white and the shadow. There's a mimosa tree behind it, which was dripping gorgeous feathery blooms down around the little structure, but the woman in the hat who stood up inside this monstrosity was just too much. He veered to the left, he veered to the right, while my daughter sat calm and deep and just kept working him through this. However, it was clearly going to take some time, so the judge called out that she could proceed toward B and continue from there.

B is the mid-point marker on the long side and in this arena was the side nearest the lake. The B marker also had a lovely mimosa planted behind it, and it proved to be a sticky point for many horses throughout the day. The pony was very happy to be heading away from the All Powerful Oz judge, but when he saw B looming ahead, it may as well have been the Wicked Witch herself behind it. He spooked again.

I have to say, my daughter kept her cool. In the face of that much chaos, I would have forgotten the test completely. But she kept her head, kept her deep seat, and continued riding. They had some good moments, particularly the free walk, which she smartly used to relax him and proceed with a bit more relaxation into the second half of the test. Still, it was a tough ride and she knew the score would be low.

We had just enough time to untack and offer hay and water, sponge him off, and breathe, before it was time to go back to warm-up and get ready for the next test.

Second test was the second most complex of the day, but we talked about improving on the first ride and again, not worrying about overall performance.

They did much better. He got over the fear of the judge's stand and redirected his anxiety to the markers, mostly the B. Near the end of the test he knocked over a rail near A. But he was more relaxed overall and they raised their total score by a few points.

We had a longer break before the last test, so we untacked, sponged, and tied him to the trailer so he could eat and drink and relax while we had lunch in the little bit of shade our trailer cast.

We reviewed the score sheets and comments and relaxed.

Then we got ready for the last warm-up and ride of the day. By this time the pony was fairly ready for the routine. He had a couple of rough spots but managed to get a fifth place and again raised the total score. My daughter decided she wanted to spend a little time riding him before we left, in order to continue to build on his improved demeanor and comfort level.

The rings were all clearing out, and she took him back to warm-up to do some big trotting and cantering, and then hacked around the grounds a bit, by the portable john, over to the jump ring, and past the award stand. We asked if we could go back down to lakeside and ride a few tests on our own, since the rides down there were all done. They said we were welcome to, and off we went. Daughter rode him down and I marched in on foot, and headed directly to B. He touched the top of the marker with his nose, I shook the mimosa branch and let him smell a mimosa bloom. I walked up to the judge's stand and then stood there, trying to be menacing as daughter rode him back through the first test of the day. He of course did much much better, and they had a full ride with no spooking.

She trotted by B in both directions a number of times, circling to make sure he was comfortable with it. It was nice to end on a fun note in that scary place. Much like coming back to Oz with the witch's broom and realizing - there is no Great and Powerful Oz. Just an empty judge's stand and a sand arena, with a few not so scary geese and some mimosas swaying in the breeze.

But we didn't stop there. My daughter rode him out of the arena and onto the grass around the arena, behind B and the mimosa, right by the lake, and right by the judge's stand. He was fine. We were then able to head back to the trailer feeling like we had truly accomplished something, and very proud of a little painted pony who faced down his fears and conquered them so nicely.

The next show in the series is in August, so we're looking forward to another day with some challenges and opportunities to improve.

Today we woke up to fog and clouds. A nice respite from yesterday's sun, and a quiet day on November Hill.


Grey Horse Matters said...

It sounds like an interesting arena. I can see why the little man might spook.

It's nice to see someone with your attitude towards winning scores and shows.Your daughters determination to improve her pony's experience by helping him get over his fears is wonderful. She and you are real horsewoman with the welfare of the horse in mind, instead of just wanting a ribbon, you are more interested in doing what is best for your horse.

Good luck in August, I hope he doesn't forget all his new found courage after this show.

ponymaid said...

Billie, what an exhausting and exhilarating day! Will team R&R be attending any of these events? I know for a fact they would very much enjoy standing in that judge's pen and viewing the proceedings. And you know how Redford loves to travel...The pony and your ofspring are to be commended for their systematic approach to de-spooking the very strange venue.

billie said...

Arlene, we too are hoping he remembers his courage! :)

This arena would be a dream were it in our backyard and something the horses rode in daily, but to do it in a show setting was a bit intimidating.

billie said...

Sheaffer, I don't think Team R&R will be heading over any time soon, as Salina would go completely crazy if I packed them up and drove off!

They did enjoy exploring the trailer when we got home, and I'm sure they would have a blast taking over the judge's gazebo. I have a feeling there would be even more horsey spooking if two donkeys were turned loose in that venue!

I can see it now - big frantic warmblood comes down center line. Donkey wearing hat in gazebo brays instead of ringing the bell. Horse leaps 5 feet in air and departs the arena!

Anonymous said...

Pony: 1, Fear: 0 !!!!

billie said...

He got lots of pats and praise, believe me!

Anonymous said...

This is such a wonderful example of having goals within goals, and working with what's presented. By approaching the whole event as a learning environment, rather than a competition against everyone else, you turned what another might see as a failure into a success for both your daughter and your pony.

Dressage is so much more like track or gymnastics...the goal is to do better than the last time, and not worry about what everyone else is doing (or saying!).

I enjoyed the juxtaposition with the Wizard of Oz, too - it's the journey, not the destination. :)

billie said...

Thanks, Wendy.

It always surprises me that at these schooling shows you get to ride with professional riders on very fancy horses. I can't imagine doing this with the idea of wanting to compare my performance to theirs. But clearly people do.

For the most part, the demeanor at this particular series is laid back and supportive, so it lends itself to focusing on the journey and the individual path with one's horse.

We enjoy the ribbons, don't get me wrong, but it's more a sense of pride in the pony and enjoying it when he and daughter get a reward for a good ride.

Still, the best part of Sunday was that last private ride when he overcame his fear. I'm so glad we were able to do that before heading home.