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!
This past weekend my grey unicorn and I were back in the show ring and it was a GOOD weekend! The Winter Frost Fire show was held at The Great Southwest Equestrian Center in Katy, Texas. This was the first year to hold a show at this venue on this particular weekend. I loved that it was so close to Christmas, but since it was the first year for the show and amidst the holidays it was not a huge show. I don’t love crowds and have yet to attend one of the really big Texas shows so this suited me just fine.
Sterling is still dutifully toting me around as I try to figure out how to properly ride him around a course of 2’6″ jumps and by golly this weekend I made it happen more often than not for the first time ever! I intend for this blog to be interesting to read for my friends and family who don’t ride so I’m not going to go into great detail, but rather give a fun overview of the weekend.
Sterling in his festive braids waiting for his turn in the ring.
Since it was a small show I also took this weekend as an opportunity to practice my mane braiding skills. Most ‘A’ show riders hire professional braiders to braid their horse’s mane so that it looks perfect. When I showed Quarter Horses as a kid this wasn’t an option so I always banded my own horse’s mane (this is done for western stock horse events) and when I got the chance I would braid my English horses. I am a self taught braider so my technique was rather rough and inconsistent. My horsey bestie is a fabulous braider and we have practiced together a few times and she gave me pointers so I was able to braid Sterling myself for this show and it wasn’t embarrassing! She put the pom pom in his forelock and a snowflake charm on one of his mane braids, but I did the rest.
My perfect unicorn!
I showed in the Modified Adult Division at this show over fences that are 2’6″. My goal going into the weekend was to keep a consistent canter around the entire course and NOT try to find any distances myself, just leave it to Sterling. I’m so proud to say that I stuck to it about 90% of the time around all 6 jumping courses. There were a few times when I had a brain freeze and threw him away right at an oxer or thought I saw a distance and made him get close to a fence, but they were few and far between. We came home with TWO blue ribbons over fences! I’m riding much more consistently and I think I’m starting to actually be able to feel the proper ride. This has been the hardest part of learning to jump for me is learning the feel. Everything else has come to me so naturally when I ride, it can be maddening that I think I’m doing something right when in reality I’m doing something very wrong.
Sterling has been a saint through my learning process. Not many green horses would put up with the mistakes that I have made over the years as Sterling and I have learned this whole jumping gig together. Thankfully he LOVES his job and while he can be a goofball on the ground, he is nearly always the same horse under saddle. He LOVES to jump and he LOVES to horse show. I am by no means a proficient rider over fences, but I do think I’ve reached a turning point and can finally start working on more of the polished nuances of riding a course rather than just trying to get around without embarrassing myself, my horse and my trainer.
Posing in front of the award winning Christmas stall decorations of JNL Stables.
I even kept it together and had as good of a second day showing as I did first day. I made a mistake in the walk to canter transition in the flat class that probably cost us the blue ribbon, but even that was better than the last show. All in all we won two blue ribbons over fences, three second place ribbons and one third place ribbon in addition to our second place in the flat class. I’m SO happy with this show being our conclusion to the 2017 show year! Hopefully we will be able to move up to the Adult Amateur division in 2018.
The final night of the horse show was a $10,000 1.35 jumper class with a leadline division between the first jumper round and the jump-off. What in the world could be cuter than a little girl on her gray pony with all kinds of Christmas bling AND Santa?
Sterling and I FINALLY got to go to a horse show this past weekend! It was an eventful trip getting to Katy. If you saw any of my social media posts you’ll see that my pickup broke on the trip down on Friday. Thankfully it was fixable in a day and the Firestone crew was AMAZING! We didn’t get to the show grounds in time to ride on Friday as we had intended, but such is life. I did lunge Sterling on Friday evening and he was surprisingly chill after standing on the trailer for 10 hours!
We hadn’t been to a show since February so I wanted to see what kind of horse I had early Saturday morning. We got to our ring well before the show started and hacked around in the dark. There was one other horse in the ring at the same time and all was well until the other horse started acting up and rearing. Sterling can be greatly influenced by the demeanor of horses around him so we got out of there and ended our morning hack on a good note. All seemed well!
I tacked up about 45 minutes before my division was slated to start and headed to the warmup. He was looking around a lot, but he seemed happy. The more we worked the more agitated he became. As a kid I would always show my horse in a different bit than I used at home. It was a way to “tell” my horse that this was a show and not just practice. It worked well for the western horses because they would go nicely in an easy bit and I would use a slightly stronger bit at the shows to better get their attention. This method evidently does NOT work with Sterling! We went over a few warm-up fences and he was clearly getting MAD! There were two trips until mine so I hurried back to the stalls and put his “practice” bit on. It didn’t completely change his demeanor, but he was most definitely not angry about the bit in his mouth any more!
I made a few rider errors on Saturday and we had a close spot (a “chip” in jumping horse lingo) in all of our courses so got 2nd out of 2 in all 3 over fence classes. The other horse was really fancy so we were also 2nd in the hack. Sunday was MUCH better! Sterling was very calm and never agitated by the bit in his mouth. I made a couple mistakes and he was spooking at a wheelbarrow by the judge’s stand in all our trips, but the last one was pretty solid and we won that round!
This is a video taken by a fabulous barn mom of our last trip of the day and the round that we won.
Now that Sterling and I are both a little bit more seasoned at the hunter horse show gig I know that he is quite sensitive and if I try to make a strong fix during a course, he will respond with a strong reaction. I have to correct quietly and when in doubt (which is usually the case!), just leave him alone. I’m pretty darn lucky that he’s been as tolerant of my learning curve at the same time he’s been learning!