The homes shows were pretty uneventful and we did well. I got quite nervous going to the AMIT show even though I know the facility and most of the people well because I used to ride there. Although Patrick is super quiet at home, I knew that could change in an unfamiliar place. I had not ridden him the day before the show since it was a last minute decision to go. Trainer, Holly, also couldn’t make it so my friend and also a trainer, Julie, subbed. Things went fine, but in my first round, I felt that we were going super-fast compared to what I was used to at home. As a result, I choked up on the reins during my next course causing my pony to chip in an extra stride in each line. Julie’s recommendation was that I needed to use more leg. In hindsight, Patrick is my first push-ride horse ever, and the AMIT show exposed my inexperience with that type of ride. I was used to half-halting and holding a fresh, overexcited horse, but when I tried the same strategy on Patrick, he would happily oblige my half-halts and lack of firm leg by crawling around in a “teacup” canter, making him take an extra stride between jumps set at related distances. Furthermore, my previous horse could be quite a handful at shows, which I think has made me timid and tentative in that environment; and I’m a pretty cautious rider to begin with!
The BEST horse show at PG Equestrian Center brought the issue into sharper focus. I knew that I needed to apply more leg on course at this show to lengthen Patrick’s stride and get the appropriate number of strides down the lines. Unfortunately, that plan went out the window after we had a miscommunication in the warmup ring. Patrick was a complete saint in the bustling warmup ring, an area on the show grounds that makes me very nervous. He carefully avoided the other horses while packing me around in a slow, deliberate manner. Then it was time to school a few jumps. We popped over a few singles and then Holly put up an oxer. Mr. Paddy Pony saw the long spot while Yours Truly saw the the chippy spot. P.Pony took off from his spot while Yours Truly never even made it into a two point position. I got left terribly. I managed to slip the reins to avoid hitting his mouth, but, in catching up, got thrown all the way out of the saddle and onto his neck. For a few seconds, I had zero control of him. I wrapped my arms around his neck to stay on saying “good boy, good boy, good boy.” If he wanted to try any naughty behavior, he could have done anything and would have had an excuse for doing it. Instead, he landed from the jump, cantered in a straight line, slowed and stopped. George Morris has a name for this type of horse. He calls them Rescuers and I certainly was glad to be riding one when this happened!
Although I was very grateful that Patrick had saved me from a fall by being kinder than necessary and taking care of me, the incident did make me more tentative about jumping for the day. I didn’t feel confident in my ability to stay with him over the fence if I wasn’t sure of the distance. As a result, I proceeded to “teacup canter” around my next three courses, adding strides everywhere. Because my courses were consistent and the distances at each fence were generally good, I still got decent ribbons, but it was disheartening. I had never had trouble making the correct number of strides in my lines before and it made me wonder if we were capable of doing it (although Holly assured me we were).
I had one more over fences class left. Holly told me to stop worrying about my equitation and everything else and just “gallop around like an old Pennsylvania fox hunter.” Having grown up riding in Pennsylvania hunt country, I understood what she meant. I decided that, if I did nothing else, I wanted to do the correct number of strides between the fences. I took off at what felt like a fast hand gallop. Holly is fond of encouraging students to “go as fast as you’re comfortable, then go faster” when selecting a jumping pace. That’s exactly what I did. We jumped into the first line and I counted the strides, 1-2-3-4-5! We jumped out in the correct number! We jumped the next two lines in the correct number of strides as well and even placed third in the class of ten. It turned out that when I firmly pushed Patrick forward, he not only got the correct number of strides, but nailed his take-off distances too. It was a great way to end the day and a great lesson about Correct Pace for Jumping.
Following that day, Holly gave me a schedule of exercises to do with Patrick to practice lengthening his stride between related distances such as poles on the ground or jumps. He isn’t short strided at all, and is, in fact, very adjustable, but if you want the 12-13 foot stride, you do have to ask. We also practiced our hand gallop and schooled in an 8 acre field on the farm to encourage him to stretch out and, most importantly, to get me comfortable with the feeling of his bigger stride and a quicker pace.
Last weekend, we headed out to a schooling show at MerryMount Equestrian Center. My plan was to ride in the 2’6” equitation division and if that went well, to ride in my first 2’9” division with Patrick. I had showed at 2’9” a little in the past, but hadn’t done it since 2007. We had been practicing 2’9”-3’3” at home, but the horseshow environment is definitely different for me.
The warm up ring went great this time, as did the 2’6” division. The show was well-run and I liked the jumps. There was a coop, a gate, a couple of oxers and a roll top…great hunter-style jumps. A lot of brush fill was used and there was a one stride, a six stride and a four stride that was set quite long; on maybe a 13’ stride. “Get down these lines and BEST will be no problem,” exclaimed Holly.
We nailed the 6 stride line every time but had to chip out in 5 strides in the 4 stride line. I didn’t let it get me down. I was feeling great going into the 2’9” division. Normally I would have been really nervous, but I was so prepared to do it and so trusting of Patrick that I didn’t have the usual nerves. We galloped around at a good pace and had good spots at most of the jumps. When riding into the 4 stride line, I pressed Patrick as hard as I could. The spot into the line was a little short and despite my pressing, he didn’t stretch out in the first stride away from the jump, but I kept after him. In spite of the super long line and less than perfect jump in, we sailed out of it in 4 strides. I was thrilled. A month ago, I don’t think we could have done it, but through hard work and a good training regimen we had become a much more effective team. I have never had more fun on course in a show than I did in that division. Getting good ribbons is just the icing on the cake for me at this point, but we did win the class! More importantly, I feel that I’m getting closer to my goal of being able to compete in the adult amateur divisions in which the fences are set at 3’. It was a fantastic day, and reminded me how lucky I am to have Patrick. He’s pretty special!