The journey with any hobby (or general thing that takes tons of practice and constant improvement) is rife with turning points. Some of those turning points are for the best and some are for the worse. Thankfully this post is about a turning point that is GOOD!
I don’t know if it was a conscious decision at first, but I have made it an active one for the rest of 2022 to be the year of Coco Chanel. While working through Simon’s ailments it didn’t seem fair to put pressure on him to go hard on the weekends and endure long trailer rides so he’s having a year of horse yoga, fitness and general veterinary visits until we get him put back together.
Coco, on the other hand, is in her prime. She’s ten this year. (I fear even typing these words….) She’s sound, at least she has been all year and is as I type these words. She’s talented. She’s pretty. And she’s going to horse shows! I blogged after our show in February in Katy, which was a great growing experience, but I didn’t come away from that show feeling super great about our long term future showing. She was much hotter than I’d hoped. She was anxious. She got around the courses, but I didn’t see the spark of fancy I had hoped for. We have been lessoning almost weekly and it has been going great, but it was going great before Katy, too.
For the past few years there has been a USHJA/USEF rated hunter/jumper show in Fort Worth that I usually miss because I’m in Montana the week leading up to the third weekend in May. I went to the show during it’s inaugural year with Sterling, but hadn’t been back since then. Well, this year we made it happen again! My plan going into the week was to take Coco to the show facility late Wednesday or early Thursday to get acclimated, then show over the weekend. As things often do, they changed. My trainers convinced me to take her early Tuesday morning as that was the only day the rings were open for schooling. So my trainer schooled her on Tuesday and then we opted to have my trainer show Coco on Wednesday.
Slight rewind, Coco went to stay with my trainer for a couple nights for training rides the weekend before the show. She got two training rides then I had a lesson and brought her home a couple days before the show started. I could already feel some more polished buttons after only a couple training rides, so it wasn’t a hard sell for me to be OK with my trainer schooling and showing Coco at the show.
My trainer showed her in three over fences classes. The first, a warmup, was good. Coco looked anxious, but she jumped around fine. The second course was MESSY. Coco was MAD she had to go back into the ring to show. She was mad it was hot, She was mad there were flies. She was just cranky and it showed! I don’t think she’s had a full-on hissy fit like that before, so truth be told I’m glad it was with my trainer and not me. Trainer skillfully corrected her, but made her do her job and it was totally fine. Third course was fine with a lot more good moments.
The primary thing I noticed consistently in all her trips was that Coco was working the bit a LOT. I ride her at home in a D-ring Herm Sprenger Duo. This is a super soft bit and I prefer to keep the bit I use at home to be as light and easy as possible since that is what is in their mouth nearly every day. I rider her at lessons and shows in a Neue Schule Tranz Angled Lozenge D-Ring. When I rode her in a lesson on Thursday before showing on Friday I asked my trainers what they thought about her bitting and they said, almost simultaneously, that they were already planning to talk to me about changing her bit! Great minds! Since she already knows the Duo we planned to switch back to it.
I bought the Bemer blanket for Simon, but I like to use it on Coco at shows, so she got some Bemer time after our Thursday training ride. I really think it contributed to her calmness the rest of the show.
Friday came and I got to the barn fairly early so I could get her braided (I think I’m one of like 4 people who braids their own horse) and have plenty of time to chill out (and work) before my division went. My barn had 8 horses in my division (which had 21 in total) so we had to coordinate when each horse would go to spread our trips out over the duration of the division. Side note about horse shows, when there are more than about 5 horses in a class they separate groups into “rotations” where 3-5 horses take turns doing their courses (there are usually 2 or 3 if there is a warmup option), then start another rotation until everyone is done. Back to our regular programming.
We went in the first or second rotation and our first trip, a warmup, was great! Good pace. Good distances to the jumps. It was all good. Not great, but solid. The second and third trips had a few bobbles like getting to close to the jump (chipping) or taking off too far away from the jump. In all the trips Coco was chill and happy. She clearly was happier in the Duo than she had been in the NS bit, so I was glad we made that change. We also did our flat class (this is where all the horses are judged on how well they move, it’s based on foxhunting so the horse should move in a way that uses as little energy as possible so it will have energy for a long day of hunting, this explanation could be long so I’ll stop now) after everyone was done with their jumping courses for the day. I am DELIGHTED to say that Coco got second in the flat class! She FANCY! We placed in our warmup jumping class, but not in our division classes. This may be a pattern……
The second day of showing we just had 3 jumping classes; the warmup course and 2 division courses. Pretty much the same as the day before, our warmup was smoothest and the 2 division courses had some bobbles. I’d have to go back and look at our placings, but I’m pretty sure I used to do this with Sterling, too. I’d have a decent warmup course then they would get worse every time I rode again. Thankfully with Coco, the second trip tends to be the worst and the third one is better but not great. The mistakes I’m making (because it’s all me, Coco is just doing almost EXACTLY what I tell her to do) have their basis in my greenness to jumping and her greenness to jumping. The hunters are hard because every single step and jump matters and the steps between the jumps make the difference in how well the jumps happen.
This is where the turning point is coming. I can feel it. Literally. My eye for distances is getting SO much better, but I seem to choke in the show ring. I feel it getting better, but it’s not there yet. It is HUGE that Coco was so much quieter in the ring at this show. It’s a big environment with a lot going on outside the ring, in the stabling, and around the venue (The Pro Bull Riders PBR was having their World Championships at the same time as the horse show, talk about a mashup of crowds!) plus the weather changed quite a lot in a couple days. She handled it like a pro. She literally didn’t have a spooking meltdown until the moment I loaded her on the trailer to go home and she saw the pens FULL of bucking bulls. Needless to say she jumped on the trailer and was ready to get the heck out of Dodge!
We are showing again this coming week and I really really really hope that the changes coming are good and we have some solid trips with few mistakes. I’ve watched and rewatched our videos from this past week and she looks so good 90% of the time. I just need to give her the ride that will make her look that good ALL the time! Regardless, I’m grateful to Coco. My husband. My family. My trainers. My friends. All the people and the horses who afford us the ability to participate in this amazing sport!