Coco turns the ripe old age of 10 this year. I took things vvvveeerrrryyyy slowly getting her started for myriad reasons ranging from resources to preservation of soundness, and now I’m feeling quite behind in her development. Added onto that the COVID year(s) and my focus on foxhunting and she just isn’t where a 10 year old show horse should be in terms of dependability and consistency at shows. Not that Coco has any idea or cares at all!
With my increased flexibility at work and being able to lesson more regularly, it felt like it’s time to “hit the road” this year. I’m still not planning on showing a lot comparatively, but really anything is more than we’ve been doing. We had a great time at Tyler in October and made some huge progress so I was excited to head to Week 2 of the Winter Series in Katy last week. The show goes 4 consecutive weeks, but we only had the bandwidth for one week and we made that week count! We showed in at least two over fences classes every day from Thursday to Sunday and a couple of hack (flat) classes intermingled.
I’m not going to dissect every trip, or really even every day, but suffice it to say there were some really really good things and some not so great things. It is interesting to develop this horse and notice her similarities and differences from horses I’ve shown previously. My first show hunter was a thoroughbred that was bred to show not race. He was always a bit excited the first day of a show and generally settled more and more each day. Coco has proven to be more up on the first day of showing, pretty nice and consistent each additional day, but once she hits her proverbial wall she gets cranky. I’m still figuring out the “wall”, but I suspect last week had to do with the weather and being stalled for 5 days when she’s accustomed to 12 hours of turnout every day. It was sunny and glorious Wednesday to Friday, then a windy cold front blew through on Saturday. She was surprisingly good to show on Saturday, but she was DONE on Sunday.
What do I mean by DONE? Coco is a bit on the sensitive side and we are starting to get to a point in her development where she has all the basics and we need to work on the nuances of polish and detail. I’ve never really had a finished horse to show, so this is new to me and my habits tend to be to ask big questions which result in big answers. On Sunday Coco came out of her stall after spending the night with a tarp flapping against the building all night, a significant drop in the temperature and no turnout since Tuesday. I think she was tired and just a bit frazzled. So when I asked a big question (slow down, lead change, etc). She had a big response either by ignoring my aids (not slowing down) or not doing a tidy lead change (I looked down and didn’t ride straight). She needed a calm, relaxed ride to assure her she was fine and I gave her a frazzled ride.
I was frustrated with myself on Sunday because I knew I didn’t give my horse a fair ride and since it was the last day we didn’t end on the best note. However, it was a huge step forward in our development as a team overall. When I went back and watched the videos from Sunday the trips look 5 million times better than I would have imagined. When she was slow, she was absolutely beautiful. When I rode her to the fences well, her jump was perfection. The bobbles that felt like they were disasters were truly just bobbles. Things often feel so much worse than they look.
Outside of riding, it was a great week. I enjoy getting to know the other riders at my barn during shows. I don’t see most of them very often since I keep my horse at home and haul in for lessons on weekends. I braid Coco myself at shows because it gives us some nice relaxed time together and my braids are getting better again after not having done it much for the past few years. Oscur made friends with every single dog he laid eyes on! We even got one of the indoor arenas to ourselves after the show day ended one night and let our dogs off leash to run around the jumps, which was adorable.
Our next show will either be Pin Oak in late April or Fort Worth in mid May. We may try to make it to a local unrated show in between, just to get more time off the farm and at a horse show, but we shall see. Even with the frustrating and disappointing moments I know how fortunate I am to even be able to dabble in this sport and to have such a quality horse to ride!
February in Texas means time for the Winter Series horse shows in Katy at the Great Southwest Equestrian Center. It is a series of four weeks in a row of hunter/jumper horse shows and for some reason is one of my favorite shows of the year. Possibly because it reminds me of showing at the NILE when I was a kid and probably because I tend to enjoy the precarious weather that February brings to Texas.
The series started the first week of February and had four separate shows going until the last weekend of February. In the interest of not abandoning Boot City for multiple weekends in a row we opted to go to the first and last weekends. I drove down and hauled horses with my horsey bestie the first weekend and she picked us up to go down the last weekend. It is way funner to get to go with your best friend on a four hour drive through a really boring part of Texas.
My name is Sterling and I hate baths. Why a horse who was born to turn white has to dislike baths so much is beyond me. He’s gotten better, but he still thinks you are torturing him.
I have been taking lessons at a local jumper barn and was REALLY feeling READY for this horse show. I’ve gotten much better at seeing distances to the jumps and feeling like I’m actually riding rather than passengering. Well, the first weekend of showing didn’t really prove to be my best riding. We are still showing over 2’6″ fences so my mistakes aren’t hugely cumbersome to Sterling, but man they are frustrating for me. The first weekend of the show was smaller so there were only 10-12 in my division and we placed in all our classes so I’m happy about that aspect of the first weekend of showing. I am still not doing a very good job of controlling the consistency of Sterling’s canter around the course which caused a few chips (getting really close to the jump which is then HARD for the horse to get over safely) and a couple of very L O N G spots.
I went home and watched a bunch of videos from trainers teaching how to practice to find distances and set up some small cross rail and cavalletti jumps to practice. The weather wasn’t very cooperative towards the end of the month so we didn’t get as much practice as I would have liked, but thankfully I have two other horses I can ride to do the exercises multiple times in one day. Plus Simon and Coco benefit a lot from going over cavalletti. I went into Week IV feeling a bit better about my skillz. Now if I could just keep my brain tuned to the right channel while showing I would be in good shape!
We got to the show a day earlier for Week IV than we had for Week I because horsey bestie was showing on Friday. It was nice to be there and get to settle in before showing. Sterling gets a bit nervous so I felt like the extra day allowed him to settle in more. Plus it was WAY warmer in Katy than in Azle during the two day iceapolooza storm we had. Sorry Boot City for leaving you to blanket-unblanket-blanket-repeat three horses while I basked in the 75 degree temps with my one horse.
Our first schooling ride over fences was fabulous. He was relaxed. I (mostly) made good decisions. We got to school in our show ring without a ton of other horses to distract us. I finally felt good about showing. Hopefully I could keep it together for another 48’ish hours.
Nap time for the Unicorn. He doesn’t lay down often, but I think it is so cute when he does. I imagine this is how parents of real children must feel times 100.
The second weekend of showing definitely went better than the first weekend. It wasn’t perfect, but it was much better. Not once did we come out of the ring and trainer ask if I was trying to kill my horse! We had one bad chip the whole weekend. A few close spots and a couple long spots and for some reason I still let him zoom around the ends of the ring. There were nearly 20 in our division and we placed in 3 of 4 trips over fences so I was very happy with those results! We were in very good company (read, competing against horses WAY fancier) and didn’t make fools of ourselves. Plus I had SO much fun. Like SSSOOOO much fun! I love my barn family, my horsey bestie and pretty much everyone I get to hang out with at horse shows. And, of course, I adore my horse. Never would anyone have thought that the ugly steel grey yearling would turn into such a wonderful show pony!
Maybe one of my most favorite horse show pics to date. He just looks SO cute!
I recently had the amazing fortune to spend 10 days with a delightful friend in France and England. It was the horsiest non-riding vacation imaginable and it was heaven! Not to be rude, but I generally have little or no interest in looking at other people’s vacation photos. So, rather than inundate the world with annoying photos I’m going to blog about a few of my favourite parts of the trip, include a few photos and keep the rest for myself to enjoy the memories that go with the photos.
Our first full day of the trip was spent visiting the Domaine de Chantilly with priority given to the Grandes Ecuries (aka Grand Stables). This trip was ALL about HORSES. Anything we could possibly do that involved horses, without actually riding one, we pursued. And let me tell you. These stables are GRAND.
View of the Grand Stables and Hippodrome (or race track in English).
I can’t even comprehend what went into building a stable like Chantilly. The focus and energy that went into horse care during a time when the horse was the hot rod is difficult to wrap one’s head around 100 years after the automobile has taken over as the choice of transportation. Horses today are just something that little girls (and some big girls) obsess about and are a luxurious hobby. These stables were the difference between Jay Leno’s garage to store priceless Maseratis and street parking an old Honda Accord in a bad neighbourhood today.
Imagine warming up your horse in this setting in preparation for a morning stag hunt (I should be wary of imagining such things considering women at the time the stables were built were assuredly NOT going on stag hunts).
From the description of the Grand Stables, this may have been where the hounds were let out just prior to hunts, but is now a lovely riding area.
We toured the stables and clucked at all the horses, however they were onto the clucking thing and were having nothing to do with the tourists. Most of the horses in the stables were Spanish types, which we found odd but they are likely more suited to living in a stall and doing public shows than the average Selle Francais. We also toured, and loved, the Musee du cheval (Museum of the horse). It was without a doubt one of the best presented horse exhibits I’ve ever seen.
To finish off our Chantilly horse fix we attended the Equestrian Spectacle. The show was lovely, not the most amazing horsemanship in the world, but they do the show most every day and the horses and riders are actually lovely. Definitely a flight of steps higher than Medieval Times in the US. They did all the announcements before the show in French and (evidently) a select few in English at the end. One of the ones they didn’t say in English was no photography, so I got yelled at by the cute French boy charged with chastising audience members for photography. BUT not before I got at least a couple of good shots. We think this location was probably where the horses were shown off during the heyday of the Grand Stables.
Breathtaking architecture and a beautiful horse.
As a relative newby to the sport of fox hunting I really enjoyed the French take on the sport. The Chateau at Chantilly is full of art and homages to the sport of hunting. The French did/do a lot of stag hunting as well and it is depicted in their art. At the entry to the Chateau grounds there are stags on either side of the entry and then further at the actual structure are hounds. I would LOVE to have a larger than life bronze of my hounds at my front gate. Someday.
The stags. Kind of hard to see, but they are on either side of the entry way.
If you are going to France and you are horse crazy, I highly advise going to Chantilly. It is a short (and lovely) train ride from Paris and is an unforgettable experience.