If you look at the official score (100.9), it probably looks like Dandy really struggled at Training level and that this was not a successful move up. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The biggest success from this whole weekend, was just how calm and quiet Dandy was. This was absolutely the best he has ever been and I’m so glad we kept pushing through the rough shows (aka, Whidbey) because when JLE was able to swing up and calmly get to work in a busy and crowded warm up (complete with other horses acting up) it was all worth it.
The test was calm, steady and obedient but it didn’t have the normal sparkle that Dandy is capable of and it showed in the scoring. Dandy came out of there with mostly sixes, a few sevens, a handful of fives and one (pretty harsh) four for his halt. The judge was fair but it was obvious that she didn’t really like him. There wasn’t one nice comment on the test, even in the sevens.
Still, it was an acceptable test that both JLE and I were happy with. He has all summer to work on his lengthenings and his stretchy circle.
I was able to walk the course with JLE and the other training riders on Friday night and I have to admit. I was a little worried. Not about the jumps themselves, I knew Dandy had the scope and the will to do anything in that field… but the tough training level questions had me worried. Dandy has been going novice all season and that’s mostly been jumps on a big loop and Aspen in the fall is a notoriously maxed out course for all levels. Really, it was probably not the best move up place. Besides the jumps just being bigger and the speed faster, he also had a coffin, a jump in the water (as well as going into and out of the water), up and down banks with just a stride between, a corner after coming down a hill, and lots of other stuff. And he has never schooled those questions.
Unfortunately, it showed. Dandy had two run outs. The first was the ditch in the coffin and the second was the corner. Both times it wasn’t the jump that was the problem, but the steering. He’s just green. For the coffin (ditch), he had his head in the air and just didn’t see the ditch. For the corner, he had the bit in his mouth and ran right past it. The downhill to the corner in particular was a problem because JLE had to canter back up the hill and into the woods to get to the corner so Dandy also picked up 20.4 time faults.
But there were a lot of good moments too. My favorite was the water jump. He was so game for it even though it rode bad and he couldn’t really figure out his distance so he just padded the ground and sprung over. He also did his first trakehner without even blinking.
There’s a lot for Dandy to be working on this winter and next spring but he still came off XC with a number and a positive experience, which is all that really matters if you ask me.
The good part about racking up 60 penalty points on XC day is that not only are you the first horse in on stadium day but you also don’t have to braid because you are completely out of the ribbons (and can thus be done as soon as you go since it’s 3:00 in 90 degree heat and everyone, including the horse, is exhausted). The bad part is, of course, that you don’t have to braid and can leave right away because there is no way you’re getting a ribbon.
Anyway, the good about stadium was that Dandy jumped every jump cleanly with room to spare.
The bad part was that, once again, we have major steering issues. There were a few moments that I was ready to cover my eyes because it looked to me like Dandy was going to go crashing into a jump. Especially in the below two stride.
You can see how far he was to the left in the first jump and then how far to the right he was in the second. It was scary. I don’t know how JLE got it done but she’s a boss so she of course did.
But even JLE came out of the ring looking a little white. She thought for sure they were going to crash into jump 4 (which was a blue and white vertical with lattice, which someone did crash through after us) and doesn’t know how they got over the two stride at all. There were also major issues with half halting. Lucky for us that Dandy has scope!
To finish, I am very glad we moved Dandy up to training because this was the first real test of his actual skills, and not just his attitude. He finally had to use that brain to think about where his feet where going and he came off every jumping course mentally exhausted. I think it was good for him.
There were downsides, of course, and I won’t lie and say I’m happy with a three digit score for his first training level, but I’m not disappointed with the experience he got. His attitude was also top notch and that was really all the blue ribbon I needed.
Lots of things to think about this fall/winter. We’ll see what happens.