Two weeks before the Connecticut Morgan Horse Show I decided to enter Secret in a couple of dressage classes. As long as it wasn’t too late to enter. My thoughts were that it would be good for Secret; she hadn’t been to an event – besides the trail ride at Steep Rock – in two years. I also wanted to support the club.
I got the okay from the show manager and secretary and faxed my entries in. Ready or not, here we come. The only glitch in this plan; was I hadn’t done any actual ring work or dressage with Secret in two years. I’ve been trail riding her around the farm, trying to improve her confidence. There were a couple of other glitches in the plan: I don’t actually have a dressage saddle anymore, I was borrowing a friend’s and she needed it back, and I had no idea if my show clothes still fit. I wasn’t too worried about either of these things though, since I entered her in the introductory level tests, I figured I could get away with riding in my all-purpose saddle. And, since I had lost the chemo weight since the last time I had shown, the show clothes should fit – and at least I had put them away clean! I had good intentions of trying them on before the show, but never did until the morning of my first classes.
My friend Megan trucked Secret up to the show for me on Friday morning. I was stabled near some other friends, so I settled Secret in and then took her for a walk with Jackie and her horse Joy, who was also entered in dressage. I talked to Dee Loveless about warming us up for our tests, and then left for work. I went back Friday night, and rode Secret over near the dressage area. You can’t go in the ring prior to a test, but you can ride all around it. In the past, the judge’s box has been incredibly frightening for her, but I was very glad that after our morning walk, I was able to ride her right past the judge’s box.
Saturday morning, we were riding two tests, Introductory A and B. These are both walk trot tests, and very simple. Given our lack of dressage work, and challenges at the canter, I thought this was a great place to start. The bugs at the dressage area were terrible. I had put fly spray on Secret but not enough. She is so sensitive to bugs. One of the other rider’s grooms sprayed her again, but she was still mad about the bugs and flipped her head quite a bit during the test. I got permission from the judge to put her fly bonnet on her ears and went back to the barn for that. The second test was quite a bit better. She scored a 60 on both tests; placing 5th and 4th. I was very happy with her. I knew she could do better in test A though, and the dressage steward said she had an open test time, so I added that one into Sunday’s schedule.
On Sunday, we rode Test A first (with our fly bonnet) and it was much better than the first day. She scored a 62 and won the test. Dee hadn’t worked with Secret and me since the horse show we were at two years ago, and asked who this new horse was, she was doing well. When I told her it was the same horse from two years ago, she was surprised and mentioned how much calmer and more focused Secret was now. I told her about the trail riding and going back to see the scary things again and again until they were no longer scary.
Before her second test – B – we decided to school canter since Dee would not be able to warm us up for Intro Test C, when we had to canter. Canter on a circle is not Secret’s strong point. And although I have been working on her canter (and getting beautiful canters in the cornfields), a 20 meter circle is not a cornfield. When I went to ride Test B, Secret was irritated and flipped her head quite a bit during the test. She still scored a 61 and placed second, but I felt bad for pushing the canter issue with her.
Dee had to go help her husband with his carriage horse, so I was on my own to prepare for test C. I knew Secret was getting tired (I usually would not have entered her into three tests), and I knew she was also tired/frustrated from all of the work on the bit. When I trail ride her, I generally keep her on a long rein; unless she gives me reason otherwise. I let her walk around on a long rein until it was time for Test C – or stand still, whichever she preferred. When it was my turn to “warm up” for the test, I let her trot on a loose rein around the dressage ring until the judge rang the bell. She dropped her nose nearly to the dirt and trotted in a nice, relaxed frame.
We went in and rode the test. The walk and trot work was much better – she was happy that I didn’t push the contact/on the bit issue as much as I had in test B. I think we got right lead canter for a few strides, but when Secret broke, I didn’t push the issue, and finished the circle at a trot. She did get left lead canter (always easier for her anyway). We finished the test, and I walked her out of the ring, where I promptly dismounted and hand walked her back to the barn. What a good girl to go do all of that without any horse show practice or dressage work leading up to it.
We won Test C, because we were the only ones entered in the class. But, what made me really happy; is that Secret scored a 60, despite not cantering to the right! I was so proud of her, and she was reserve champion for Intro Level. I want to take her back out to another dressage show this summer; she’s really stepping up and becoming the athlete I always knew she could be. Before the next show, I will do some dressage prep work with her, just to be a bit fairer!
Photo of Secret and me at CMHS taken by Megan Thompson - who also trailered us up and back, thanks Meg!