Man this month has been nothing short of insane. But here is the story of Merlot's first horse show!
|Storms a brewin|
June 10th was a league dressage show at a local barn in town. J still has Mr. Merlot at her house for various reasons and was planning on doing this show so I signed us both up and she loaded the trailer! I believe Merlot has been to some rodeos (to hangout at the trailer) and trail rides, but that is about it. J pulled up to the show around 9 and our ride times began at 10. I signed us both in, and tacked him up quickly and just hopped on.
Normally when I work with him I lunge him first, not really as exercise but more for groundwork. He isn't one to get tired and that isn't by any means my goal when I throw him on the lunge. Sometimes he has some snorts and scoots to get out but that is few and far between these days. J prefers her horses to immediately start working (aka trotting) when she sends them out, but I prefer a horse to relax and walk. I personally do this because I don't want a horse to feel like the lunge line is always hard work and punishment (not implying that J does). Lately on the lunge I send him out and just have him walk a few laps and focus on my body and vocal language. I digress..
Back to the story- I walked Merlot around the trailer parking area to get a feel for his mood. He was alert and paying attention, but also fairly relaxed and stopping to steal some snacks. I was super pleased with this behavior. He definitely was looky but far from spooky. Because he is green I underestimate myself and get nervous sometimes when it comes to riding. Really he is a fantastic horse and I have nothing to be worried about.
We walked to the grass warm up arena and I hopped on. J wanted me to immediately start with some trot work to get him focused on working and not looking for things to spook at. I prefer to walk around but I can't argue that walking around wouldn't give myself time to psych out. Trotting was good for both of us mentally. He was fairly rhythmic and wasn't reaching for the contact like at home, but I was pleased. The warm up was right next to a large cross country field and the venue was also hosting an open cross country schooling that morning. Merlot definitely got nervous when he saw horses galloping and jumping huge fences next to him but I did some figures to keep him distracted. Thank goodness they were running behind, it gave me extra time to warm up.
Towards the end of our warm up we stood facing the dressage court and he was pretty relaxed and even rested a hind leg. He was alert coming out of the arena and definitely showed off his green behavior when he refused to enter the arena to do our test. We got a horse to lead us in and he was fine, minus some spooking at flowers on the letters. Once in the sandbox he wasn't very spooky. Don't get me wrong, the test was...unattractive but is pretty accurate to where we are training wise right now. I've never practiced the test on him (but c'mon it's intro..) and I really was using the show for exposure not because we are ready to kill the competitors at dressage. The test had nice moments and looked better than it felt to ride. He didn't want to stay at a consistent tempo or steer but listened to my whoah and go very promptly.
Intro B was just a few tests after Intro A and he seemed like he was ok with this whole dress up and ride in an empty arena nonsense. Mentally he was getting over it and I again had to follow a horse in the arena (yeah I could have booted and gotten mean with him but my goal was for a positive experience and getting led into an arena at a schooling show is nbd in my eyes). This test felt worse, mostly because our steering was really gone. Merlot was all "wat r circles" and "I ignore your leg aids for turning because instead I'm wondering whats up with all those horses running and jumping". Again, not necessarily bad behavior or hot and spooky but really better than how I expected him to act.
I also signed us up for a ground pole jumper division (they held a jumper show after dressage around 12:30) for more exposure. There was about an hour break between my dressage and ground poles so I hopped off and took him back to the trailer. His ground manners were absolutely fantastic and he acted like an old gentleman who has done this a time or two when I was leading him around. It was mostly the whole "riding in new places" that was weird for him.
He stood fine at the trailer while J and I ate lunch and drank victory beers. Much to my unfortunate luck, right when we needed to get on for the "jumping", it started storming. Nearly everyone was eventers and a little rain doesn't stop their fun so the show continued. The storm only lasted about half an hour and put a pause on the show. I hopped on after the showers slowed. The rain and wind really amped Merlot up though.
I had to get someone to hold him for me while I got on and he was still extremely jumpy. Because there were no jumps in the grass warm up ring they had open schooling of the show arena before each division. I made the mistake of going in and attempting to school with the other horses. This arena is about the size of a full court and there were probably ten other people attempting to school at the same time. And because it was the ground poles division, there was a slew of beginners who weren't polite about steering and getting close to us. Poor Merlot was terrified of all these horses coming at him and politely asked to just not horse. I made him stand and take the abuse of all the horses that wanted to eat him. Of course I got tons of dirty looks for having "that horse" at the show. Whatever, its not like a bunch of people haven't been in my place before. Gotta start somewhere.
I wanted to know if he would be spooky towards the bright jumper standards so I could plan my attack (because everyone knows how seriously you need to plan a ground poles trip lol). I just had him go through the course once at a walk and exited the arena of terror. We headed back to the grass warm up just to stay away from the chaos. At this point homeboy was feeling insecure and I had to hold his hand. I was admittedly a little nervous with his behavior (I mean..I did break my foot falling off him in the dumbest way last year) but tried to stay calm and supportive. As we waited for the juniors to do their rounds I kept him busy by just walking around. He was on high alert and sometimes refused to turn. I mostly just let him go where he wanted as long as he stayed reasonable and walked politely. A few girls that had just trailered in were beginning to warm up their horses with some quick cantering. This made Merlot nervous again but he got through it.
When he seemed to be more relaxed we would take a few minutes to stop and he would rest a foot and be mostly ok with the situation. As soon as he became nervous again we went back to walking and I think the regularity of me guiding him through the scary day helped him out. It was time for our round and poor dude did not want to leave the warmup. The ring steward was kind of being a bitch and wanted to skip over me (obviously need to take her job seriously at a schooling show..) and kept yelling my number saying it was my turn. She was only twenty feet away from me. Luckily some innocent bystanders were nice and were basically like "yo lady calm your tits her horse is scared just give him a few minutes its a schooling show" (not really but that's what I would like to imagine).
An older gentleman came in the ring to escort us and Merlot tried halfheartedly to escape the terrifying human coming towards him. Luckily as soon as he walked forward he realized the man was a nice hooman probably harboring cookies somewhere and following was safe. He was actually relatively calm in the arena when it was just us by ourselves. He wasn't spooked by noises or the whistle but was definitely slightly on edge. I asked for a trot and pointed at the brightly colored sticks and he was like "yeah sure whatever I'll go over things but I'm going to periscope up to monitor small children on fat ponies that might attack". He did have one random NOPE moment with a decent spook in an unrelated spot in the arena. I stopped and patted him and we moved forward pleasantly. We trotted nearly the entire thing and I was happy that he gave no fucks about the "jumps". I gave him big pats and he almost seemed relieved when we crossed the finish flags and the crowd encouragingly hollered. I hopped off right there in the arena and gave him a big hug where I could feel him release nearly all his tension.
Cringing watching this..
We had done the thing! Immediately after getting off he returned to old pro at the horse show status and I had a big smile plastered on my face as I took him back to the trailer.
The whole "jumping" phase was kind of a shit storm because of the weather and poor warm up but I'm really glad we both were pushed outside of our comfort zones and successfully completed our first show together! We even managed to get a second place at Intro A! (I guess you could say things are getting pretty serious lol) I'm super proud of how Mr Green Bean performed and am excited to come back in July!