For as much as I hate Poplar’s Schooling Show stadium courses, their recognized courses are always a lot of fun and tend to really suit Gus. When there are big open spaces between the fences I tend to let him get long and strung out and we pull rails. Twisty courses are much more our style and this course was all about the turns and the approach.
That being said, stadium is still my weak point. I’m getting better, and I was pleased to see that the Novice sized fences looked normal sized, but I still struggle with confidence issues. Especially when things start getting hectic in warm-up. There were more falls then there should have been at this level. The icky weather might have had something to do with it but I was still surprised at the carnage both in the warm-up and the ring.
Even with a refusal at the oxer in warm up (I hope we’re not developing a complex!) I felt pretty good when we got into the ring and I rode hard to every jump. We may have gotten a little crazy to some of the fences and Gus wasn’t really willing to be soft, but we made it through with only one rail. Jump 7 was an oxer set on its own with a long approach, see above but I let Gus get long and we pulled it down. Darn.
Coming into the two stride, Gus wanted to refuse and we got right up to the base as I pushed him over it and then kicked my way out of it. I know we knocked the rail there two but it did stay up and that’s all that matters!
After we finished, I took care of Gus and high tailed it down to watch a couple of team mates ride the Beginner Novice course. I was stunned at how little the fences looked. And I say that not take away from their accomplishments or anybody riding at that level but rather as a marker for how far I’ve come. Just a few weeks ago I thought those fences were huge and scary. Now they look like speed bumps.
This sport continues to surprise me in how much of a mental game it really is.
We had moved up to third after Stadium so you better believe I was determined not to get any silly time penalties for XC. Thankfully, I wasn’t worried about any runouts as long as I stayed focused. The course was a little weird but not particularly difficult. There were, however, a lot of faux baby keyholes and light/dark questions. Since Gus is usually very willing and we had just had our best stadium round the day before, I was feeling confident.
As long as I didn’t come in over time that is… because the way I walked the course, I was definitely going to come in over OT if I rode at the posted speed of 325. No bueno.
So what is a girl and her OTTB to do? Well, up the speed of course! Lol. I had all my minute markers mapped out and knew that I had to get a time over 5 minutes but under 6. That shouldn’t be too difficult on an ex-racehorse. And it wasn’t, the course ran fast!
I met my first three minute markers perfectly. We came out of the start box a little heated so the first fence was less than pretty but worked. Then came the coal box which we’ve jumped a million times before but Gus was not focusing so it surprised him. Again, no issue but at least it got his head out from his chest and we moved on to the third fence (a “double” coop between trees) and jumped it beautifully. That’s when the first minute marker rang right on time as we swung around to fence four a simple log into the woods.
The path to fence five from four was weird. We had to swing wide out of the woods and then back in. I actually rode my line completely wrong and almost missed the fence. Thankfully Gus didn’t think twice about the full sized house (complete with squirrels) and we went cantering into the woods. Our second minute marker was supposed to ring after a quick jaunt through the woods and right before we jumped fence six out of the woods and we hit it perfectly (and the fence out… though Gus did spook at the jump judge).
It was then time for the little squid jump and the weirdest BN water crossing I have ever seen. You could have ridden the water in this case without ever going into it. The quickest line was to actually ride as close to the left flag as possible and immediately make a 90 degree turn around it. So silly. I rode hard into the water and did a roll back. I didn’t want to risk missing the flag and we need the water practice. It still rode weird but whatever, sometimes you have to go with it.
Still doing well on time, we jumped a semi related distance of a lattice vertical and a table. Between those was our third minute marker. So far, so good but that’s where my luck ran out. Not with Gus being a superstar though.
The next fence was a “squeeze” and you had the choice of two different skinnies between three trees. I ended up taking the one on the left just because it felt better but I had no really reason for saying that. Either way, despite the squeeze and the dark, Gus didn’t even hesitate. I was still trying to be cognoscente of my time and took a wide swing around to the up bank combo but then I got confused and thought I was behind time and let Gus go a little bit faster to the mushrooms which was fence 13. We were still flying after that fence and as we came down the hill. That’s when I looked at my watch and went “oh crap, we’re going to get speed faults.”
We slowed down to a reasonable pace to jump a really pretty table (seriously, why do I ride like crap when I know my husband is photographing that fence?!) but took the inside turn to a little tiny log on top of a hill and had the worst jump of the day. Ugh. Then I knew we were going to need some forward momentum to get to fence 16 and it was indeed the only fence that Gus slightly hesitated at. I can’t blame him, it was a weird one and was supposed to be jumped at a bit of an angle.
We only had one fence left before the finish and I was under 5 minutes. Cue the major slow down. I think we were barely cantering and, as a consequence, barely popped over the last fence. But you know what? We came in at just over 5 minutes. No speed faults and under optimum time. Lol.
I was so happy when we crossed the finish line. While it definitely wasn’t as pretty of a course as Sporting Days, I felt like Gus had been a lot braver. So in that sense, it was a better course. Gus and I keep getting better each time we go out and our confidence keeps improving as well.
In the end, we did get our third place and I couldn’t be happier. Not only did we qualify for the AECs (which we’re not going to) we also qualified for Area III Champ Shows (going to but not competing in the champ division). That is two major goals on my list and it happened in our first two shows.
Let’s cut to the chase because I know you are all wondering: Gus and I rocked stadium. No joke, we owned that course. Okay, not really, there were places with issues but you would have never known that just two weeks ago I was seriously wondering what was so “fun” about this whole ordeal.
But I got into warm up and felt good. Probably being at Poplar helped since we have shown there quite a bit but also I really do think we both learned a valuable lesson at Sporting Days. I wasn’t the only one who rode hard to the fences, Gus was actually taking me there. He felt springy and happy and excited.
Super trainer, LT, and I had walked the course the day before when it was set for the Intermediate course. They took out several jumps and combos by the time they got to Beginner Novice so we walked it again when it was set at Novice. This course was all about testing whether or not you can ride a corner and keep your horse powered through that corner. A lot of fences came down at all heights due to this.
I was actually feeling pretty good though about the course because powering through the corner is something LT and I have been working on at home A LOT! Also, we ride and jump in basically a dressage arena so making these types of turns are second nature to us.
After a spectacular warm up, we rode right into the course and had an awesome round. I had to push a little bit to the first two fences as the switch from plain warm up fences to brightly colored and decorated jumps backed Gus off just a bit. But he was willing and by fence three, was raring to go again.
Because we rode so late in the day (I don’t think we actually got into the ring until almost 6:00 pm), there were a lot of jumps with light/dark questions. I made sure I rode hard to those because I didn’t want a stop over something silly.
And Gus handled everything like a champ. No rails, no time. We marched out of there so happy. Best of all, we both had a blast!
We have really been struggling with stadium recently but I think this trend of good sessions has really helped us find our footing again. I have to thank LT for that because I don’t know what would have happened to us without her. She has been so supportive and knew just the right exercises to get us both feeling confident again. I know she was riding every step out there with us and that she was just as excited for us to cross the finish flags.
I may have been a little bit exhausted doing Poplar just two weeks after Sporting Days, but it ended up being the best choice! Having two back to back shows really helped Gus and I settle into show life and I think we both learned a lot.
Dressage was no exception to that! I was a little bit worried on Friday because I had a firecracker in warm-up. To be fair to Gus, warm-up was crazy and it was cold and dreary. I didn’t really want to be out there either. Still, I wish he could have just settled and got to work. That way we could have both gotten inside faster!
Thankfully Saturday was much nicer weather and Gus was much calmer in warm-up.
The test was really nothing special and the judge, apparently already a tough judge, scored it that way. However, what the judge doesn’t know is that it was the most consistent test Gus and I have ever had. We rode Test A, which I like better than Test B. I did have to really fight for the consistency with Gus but I’m proud that I went in there and held him to the rules.
The one thing that I was sort of disappointed with my score about was our free walk. I really thought that was the best free walk we’ve ever had but we got a 5.0. That really hurt considering the coefficient. I hate to think what the judge would have scored our Sporting Days free walk!
Our final score was a 36.8. Yuck! I thought we had done at least a 34. But the judge scored everybody just as harshly so I ended up being in fourth place afterwards out of eleven. Can’t complain too much.
He’s a good boy though and we keep getting better and better in the actual ring.