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.
Definitely looking the part!
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.
Coco with both show trainers, one in the irons and the other providing guidance from the ground.
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.
Getting her Bemer time.
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……
So cute. I just love seeing these pics of my sweet girl all grown up!
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!
October Hill’s Coco Chanel
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!
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!
Even before Coronapocolypse came into the picture in early 2020 I didn’t have big plans to do much horse showing. The trainer I’ve shown with the past few years had moved away from Texas and I was really focused on my new fun fox hunting friends and trips. I was hoping to go to Belle Meade’s hunt week in February, but life and responsibility got in the way. However, the planning made me stop and think that I really ought to get more experience and coaching to prepare for jumping some bigger jumps. The highest I’ve jumped at shows is 2’6″ and in schooling is 3′ and only a handful of times. Most of the jumps in hunt fields range from 2’9″ up to 4′ at the more ambitious hunts. The coops Simon jumped at Burwell in October were more like 2’9″ to 3′. To that end I started researching hunter/jumper barns in my area and decided to take a few lessons at a barn called Bay Yard Farm.
I was attracted to Bay Yard for a few reasons. I knew a few people who rode there and seemed very happy with the program. Fellow blogger Kelly of Hunky Hanoverian has ridden at Bay Yard for the past few years and had blogged about her great experiences there. Most of Bay Yard’s clients are adults or mature junior riders and after riding at a more pony/kid focused barn I was definitely looking for a barn with riders I have more in common. They go to a few A shows every year and sometimes add in a local show here and there. Lastly, they do haul in lessons and and have a focus on hunters with a dollop of jumpers which suits my 2020 goals and my foxhunting hobby.
My first few lessons were delightful! It isn’t terribly unusual to start at a new barn and feel pressure from trainers to get a new horse, go to a bunch of horse shows, or do other things that can be perceived as high pressure. I have ridden with two of the four trainers at Bay Yard and both have been nothing but supportive and complimentary of my horses and riding goals.
At the end of July trainer JB texted and asked if I would be interested in going to a schooling show nearby. With no hesitation I responded “Yes!”. I was hoping to take Coco and started making plans to be sure she and I would be prepped and ready to show in mid-August. Coco then promptly whacked her leg on something and subsequently got a “no jumping for 2 weeks” order from the vet exactly 2 weeks before the show. Horses! Her 2 weeks would expire on Friday before the show that was on Sunday. I opted to continue to ride her on the flat with hopes she would be healthy and sound to show, but knowing that I may need to take Simon if she weren’t ready.
Photo from a fabulous BYF Junior rider/photographer. Coco is not very affectionate. LOL!
Thankfully she was sound and prepared in time to horse show! We entered the 2’3″ Junior/Amateur division mostly because it was the first division to go in the morning, but partially because it didn’t seem fair to ask her to jump bigger jumps after a few weeks off jumping and a couple of minor injuries.
To say that Coco was a good girl is an egregious understatement. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous how she would act. In the past she has been either a bit hot or very agitated at horse shows. She will seem calm and accepting of the situation only to blow up and express her disdain by misbehaving. She’s never been naughty or dangerous, but I’ve never felt relaxed with her at shows. This was completely different. We had hacked around the show grounds the day before and she had been a bit fractious, but on show day she was aware of surroundings yet amenable to do what I asked of her.
Scope has never been a problem for Coco. These jumps were quite small so she didn’t have the loveliest form.
We did two hunter trips and an equitation course and she answered every question I asked perfectly. She was a bit crooked in the lines and she has a bad habit of veering to the right, but she happily jumps the jumps and mostly gets her lead changes (especially when her rider asks for them correctly).
Here is a video of our second hunter trip. Pardon the ridiculously long trot around the ring before we actually start the course. She was a bit looky after the first hunter trip so I wanted to just trot around the ring calmly before we jumped again. And I couldn’t figure out how to mute the talking from the video so inserted some ridiculous YouTube music instead. Feel free to mute your computer now. Haha!
She is calm, keeps a consistent canter, gets her distances and looks like a lovely hunter. I couldn’t be more thrilled with our progress. The regular lessons have made a world of difference and I can feel that my riding has made drastic improvements. This is the first time in my life that I’ve been getting regular lessons and it’s helping so much! We got second place in the second hunter and we won the hack to end up as Reserve Champions in our division!
Happy girl over the tiny jump.
I’m hoping we can make it to at least one or two more schooling shows this year. If a rated show works out I might go to one of them since Bay Yard goes to those shows more frequently, but it’ll depend on my fox hunting trips. I’m going to start getting Simon fit for Burwell so will be taking him to more of my lessons and (hopefully) getting some practice over bigger fences. Learning and getting better is so much fun!
Y’all. I think Coco has found her Big Girl Pants! A little help from some hormones and better riding doesn’t hurt, but we had an AMAZING weekend recently! I took Sterling and Coco to my trainer’s place outside Houston a couple weeks ago. This was Sterling’s first leg of his trip to his lessee and I took Coco to a small schooling horse show as well as a few lessons with my trainer.
The first day we were there both horses acted like lunatics; first when they got off the trailer and then later because we separated them into separate pens so they would (hopefully) not hurt themselves. By the time I rode Coco for our lesson that day she was pretty much exhausted so was a super easy ride. She jumped all the jumps with no hesitation and we even got in a few nice flying changes.
The horse show was on Sunday only, but we opted to take Coco and the other horses showing to the show location early Saturday morning. This allowed us to ride in relative peace and get her away from Sterling. It turned out this was a really really good idea. She schooled fantastically and was generally pretty chill about the venue. Much better than she had been at the previous two small shows I’d taken her to. Perhaps she was getting the hang of this leaving-home-and-showing thing.
Fast forward to Sunday morning. My division was going first so I got on pretty early to attempt to warm her up in my ring before it was closed. Long story short, the warm-ups were ALL chaos, she was very agitated and amped, and the start time was delayed AN HOUR! Needless to say, by the time my ring started I felt like I was riding a hot wire. My trainer had another student showing in the same division so she had me get off and take Coco to her stall to chill out until the other student was done. Coco never really chilled out, but I do think it was a better idea than continuing to wait around with the other horses and make her more frazzled.
We were showing in a 2’3″ division with 3 hunter trips and a hack plus a warm-up trip over fences. My trainer sent us into the warm-up trip and with the guidance to trot the first fence in every line. Just get her around soft and easy. And I’m so pleased to say that it was just that, soft and easy. She definitely relaxed and was happy for the first time in a few hours.
Looking happy and fancy! Photos are all from Ernesto Photography!
For our second trip we opted to trot the first fence and my trainer said that if she felt good go ahead and continue cantering. If she felt hot, then bring her back and trot to each jump in the lines again. Well, she felt great so after trotting the very first fence we cantered the entire course. We did one lead change and it was spot on.
She’s definitely very green over fences, but I don’t think we have to worry about her scope!
For our second two trips I took it very slow before starting to canter, but we cantered both trips entirely. She is SO FUN TO JUMP! She seems to really like it and you can really feel her spine curve over the jumps. She overjumped the jumps on the first course by quite a lot, but settled down a bit for the last few trips. All her lead changes were perfect, especially when I didn’t look down.
She looks so happy to be jumping!
After our four jumping trips we opted to skip the hack. The thing about schooling shows is that there are often horses and riders that are a bit on the rough and ready side. Either the horse and/or rider are inexperienced or maybe don’t ride under the guidance of a trainer, so they can be a bit crazy. Being that some of the horses in my division were also very green, it just didn’t seem like it would give Coco a good experience in case one of the other horses got out of hand or they did something that would unnerve Coco (like ride up too close behind her, or pass her too close, basically anything to crowd her would be bad).
All things considered I was ecstatic about our day. It had the makings of being a true disaster, but through the fantastic guidance of my trainer and a little patience on my part, it was an unforgettable day. After six long years of waiting I finally feel like I really might have my fancy hunter. Don’t get me wrong, we have a long road ahead and there will be plenty of bumps in the road, but she proved she has the talent and she likes jumping and showing. Those are things you can’t train or teach any horse.
Not a bad horse show day!
The icing on the cake was that we ended up Reserve Champion in our division, even without doing the hack! My barn-mate was Champion! Coco won the two over fences classes that she cantered in their entirety and was 2nd in the first hunter and 3rd in the warm-up. There were six horses in our division. What a good girl!
I took Coco to another show this past weekend and we had a much different experience from the previous weekend. In a good way, too!
Hidden Lakes is a great little show venue near Flower Mound, Texas. They often have show series throughout the year that are great to attend if you are starting out as a rider or for young horses that need miles. Clearly, Coco fits the bill for #2. I had intended to go to more of these shows, but at our first attempt Coco was having nothing with getting on the trailer. We worked that out. Then I had a show with Sterling in Waco. Then we opted for the closer to home show we went to last weekend, so we only ended up going to the final weekend of the summer series.
We got to the show grounds at 7:30a (my ring started at 7a). I THOUGHT there were only 6 jumpers so we would go around 8:30a or 9a. I was very wrong in this regard.
When Coco gets to new places she isn’t particularly energetic or spooky, which is great. However it makes me a bit lackadaisical in getting her acclimated to the venue. On this occasion I got her tacked up and headed to the warm-up ring immediately after completing our entry at the office. She started out OK, but got more and more amped up as other horses entered the warm-up area, she started to notice horses showing in other rings and the energy of being at a show started to spark.
It was at this time that I figured out there was no way we were showing around 9a. “Then she started doing the same thing she had done the previous weekend (which she didn’t do at home all week) and offered to buck when I added leg to ask for the canter. Rather than be in a dangerous situation and scaring other horses/ponies and riders, I decided to untack and go the the lunge ring. This was the BEST idea I’ve had in a long time.
She is nothing if not beautiful!
It was a hot day and it didn’t take too long before she was showing clear signs of getting tired. Thankfully she’s a good sweater in the heat.
After lunging I led her down to our show ring to await the completion of the jumpers and get her into the ring to lead her around and show her the jumps. This was happily uneventful. At this point in her life she had never jumped anything with fill under it. No flowers or walls or really anything other than rails and standards.
There was a still a full division before mine so we headed back to the trailer to tack up (again) and get ready. I could tell when I got back on her that the sassiness was still there. The edge was gone, but not the sass. We meandered to a warm-up ring and she was clearly going to kick up at the canter again. I was about at my wits end with her shenanigans. Back to the lunge area we went , which is just a circle area of sand, but I stayed on her rather than lunge her again. We trotted, all was well. I asked for the canter, head down and hind legs go up. I sat down in the saddle, grabbed the reins in one hand, and gave her 2 strong (not hard) taps with my crop. This got her attention and she rocked back to her haunches and cantered on. YAY! A win!
We changed gait a few more times with no issues then walked a bit and changed direction. She did the exact same thing again; trot, leg on for canter, head down and hind legs up. I sat down gave her 2 strong taps with the crop and it was back to business. From here on out for the rest of the day she was awesome. Relaxed and willing to do everything I asked her to do.
Our first trip around the course was OK. She stopped at the second fence in a four stride line, but it was completely my fault. I looked down, leaned forward and forgot I had legs. The second trip was fine. No big mistakes other than a couple close spots to jumps. Same with the third trip, except I think we may have added a stride in a line, but I’d rather have a calm young horse add an easy stride than one running away with me around the course.
My goal for our hunter trips were these:
Jump all the jumps
Use my legs for the entire course
Look ahead to help her get leads and not have to change lead
Should the need arise, do lead changes
And guess what, we pretty much met all these goals! She did multiple flying changes exactly on purpose. I got so excited she got the changes, I forgot to look where I was going and she dang near jumped out of the ring!
Before this Saturday I really was having reservations about Coco’s future. Was I asking her to do the right job? Would we ever “get along? Am I wasting a nice horse that should be doing something else with someone else? I’d be jumping the gun (pun kind of intended) if I said that all these questions have been answered, but I feel 99% better about us getting along and at least 70% better that this might be the right job for her.
We didn’t place very well and I REALLY wish I had video of our trips so I could see what they looked like, but it FELT good. She felt relaxed over the fences. She was incredibly consistent in her canter. She didn’t look at the jumps. She didn’t get spooky in the ring. SHE DID FLYING CHANGES ON PURPOSE. We have another outing planned this coming weekend, then she will get a few weeks of a break from “showing”. Miles, miles and more miles are what she and I both need right now! I’m sure excited to see where we are at this time next year!
Y’all. Mares. Are. Hard. We had lots of mares when I was growing up, but only one that was ever “mine” and she wasn’t “mine” for very long because she turned out to not be very good at her job (reining) so she went to the broodmare band (makes sense, right? Notsomuch). I’ve never had a long term relationship with a mare, until now.
Coco has been at the farm for 5 1/2 years as of this September. The first year was pretty easy, but every subsequent year has had challenges of one form or another. When she was a yearling and I switched farriers I learned that she had a club foot which required surgery to fix. She probably should have had the surgery 6-10 months sooner, but that is a post for another day. Few things are as fun (insert sarcasm here) as a yearling on stall rest, but I must admit that she actually behaved quite well considering the circumstances.
Her two-year old year was actually fairly drama free, but her three and four year old years more than made up for it. I opted to breed her as a three-year-old as I’d learned from other breeders that this can be good for the brain of a young mare and it also may help their fertility when they are older if they have already carried a foal to term. Breeding went fine, but she got injured a few months after getting in foal, so we were back to stall rest and hand walking. She was a bit more of a handful this time when being hand walked.
Coco about one week before she foaled.
When she was four was when actually had the foal You can read here about the actual foaling. It was heart wrenching and awful and I don’t ever want to re-live a similar experience.
So here we are today. Coco is six and has been under saddle for exactly two years. And she is a Pain In The Ass. Backing her was uneventful, and I’m grateful for that, but the past year has been challenging. I’ve backed lots and lots of horses. At least 10 before I graduated from high school and a handful since then. Every young horse has it’s challenges, but Coco’s have stumped me more than any other horse.
She sure is pretty, though!
Last fall she started a thing with pinning her ears and kicking up when I asked her to move forward with my leg. She had been going really really well and it kind of came out of the blue, so I thought perhaps she was in pain. I had a chiropractor/acupuncturist out and she was diagnosed with ulcers. I treated the ulcers, but the behavior didn’t change. This spring I had her back and hocks x-rayed. Nothing there either (thank GOODNESS!).
I’ve learned that she needs to walk around for about 5-10 minutes before you ask her to work. If you get on and immediately ask for a trot she will pin her ears and kick out. It’s like she needs a few minutes to get her head into the game, nothing wrong with that. I’ve found that letting her stretch out and walk nearly eliminates the crankiness at leg pressure. She’s been doing lots of lead changes over a log and even gotten a few that I’ve just asked for on the flat. We have been doing some cavalletti work as well as small jump gymnastics. I can’t help but get really excited about her scope and athleticism over even tiny jumps.
Her behavior has improved in general (the kicking at leg pressure had gone away almost entirely) so this past weekend I took her to a little horse show not far from home. She needs more time off property and they offered flat classes as well as some small jumping classes. I let the show organizers talk me into doing a showmanship class, which I think contributed to her developing crankiness during the day, and she was OK but definitely irritated. By the second flat class she would NOT canter. She would only buck. Not hard and she never got me out of the tack, but she was MAD!
I didn’t want to continue to fight with her in front of a crowd (they were extremely accommodating and the show was really delightful) so I scratched the over fences classes and took her home to see what was the deal. We got home, I tacked her back up (added a sheepskin Thinline pad in case it was a pain issue) and headed out to my arena to see if she would do the same thing. She didn’t. She was a perfect angel. Cantered off my leg from a walk, even did a couple flying changes over a log.
I think a few things contributed to her badittude on Saturday:
She hasn’t been off property very much
The other horses in the ring really jazzed her up and got her more “up” than usual
I forgot to put in ear plugs before I got on and I think the loud music and announcer contributed to her irritation
She is going to try to do what SHE wants to do until I make it clear that the final answer is NO
She is very smart, very athletic and young
Coco is challenging me more than any horse has before and I really think it is going to be a good thing for both of us. She’s not bad and she’s not mean, and I’m also not convinced that she doesn’t have some pain from her heat cycle that I’m hoping to get treated this week with some hormones. I plan to get her out a bunch this summer and fall to lots of local shows and venues. Time on the trailer and around new places will (hopefully) convince her that as long as we are together she will be just fine. We don’t have the trust established between us yet that we need to be successful. I feel like right now we coexist and my goal for the rest of the year is to develop an actual partnership.
Have you had a mare? Have you had similar issues? I’d love to hear from other mare owners, especially warmblood mare owners.
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 have been showing at regional and rated shows for about 3 1/2 years now. Pretty much all three years we have been showing over 2’6″ fences because I was basically starting at zero. I REALLY want to move up to bigger fences, but the only way to to do that is to ride better and to ride better I need to jump more. The primary barrier to that has been that the trainer I ride with at horse shows is located about four hours away from me and I really only see her at horse shows. To remedy that I started taking more lessons with a couple of trainers close to me who have similar approaches to riding and jumping to my horse show trainer. I still don’t get lessons as often as I should and now that fox hunting will be starting it will be even harder, but I’m committed to doing it both for me and for my horses. I want to bring Coco along correctly and not put her through the misery of my beginner mistakes that Sterling was such a saint about dealing with.
In that vein I had a lesson on Sterling last Saturday and it was SO FUN! The barn is a primarily jumper barn so the jumps are much wilder looking than hunter fences. Sterling has always been a brave jumper (he isn’t brave in any other aspect of his life, though. Remember trail rides?) so wasn’t phased by the crazy striped poles. He even jumped a liverpool with no hesitation! Most horses freak out the first time they jump a liverpool because they are moats of horse-eating scariness. Not Sterling. Other than me riding like a dufus he was perfect.
This is a liverpool jump. I don’t think we were jumping anywhere near this height, but you get an idea of what it looks like.
I made a ton of mistakes throughout the lesson, but he marched right along and WE JUMPED AROUND OUR FIRST EVER 3′ COURSE! This trainer had given us some lessons when I was first starting to jump Sterling and she commented about how much more forward he is now, so at least I’ve done something right along the way. We got our strides down every line and didn’t have any hard chips. A few close spots and a couple Tara-why-are-you-looking-down-and-not-forward moments, but I did better at keeping him forward and even used too much leg a couple times.
This isn’t from our lesson, but it is a pretty pic of Sterling at the horse show in Katy last weekend. Hopefully we can continue to get more lessons in and move up to bigger fences at the shows sooner rather than later. He’s such a good boy!
Photo by Jerry Mohme. It looks like we are in a forest, but we aren’t.
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!