Monday, May 9, 2022

It'a Show Season! (part 1)

After the craziness of the show season last year, I have been dreading the start of the season for this year.  It isn't so much that I don't want Gemma to show, it's that the shows really suck up a lot of time.  The practicing, the clipping, the grooming, the bathing, and sometimes the driving.  Plus the actual time for the show.  And buying the snacks.  And making sure all the show clothes for rider and horse are washed and ready to go and in the truck. (Gemma will never let me forget the time we forgot her boots at home.  It worked out OK because my husband could bring them in time, but she refuses to allow me any responsibility associated with her boots.  Apparently, it was an unforgivable sin...LOL!)

Thankfully, Gemma has gotten better and better about knowing what needs to be done and doing as much of it as she can by herself.  At the grand ole age of 9, she can wash clothes, pack snacks, and do most of the grooming/bathing stuff.  Which is awesome, but I still need to be there for everything.  And I've gotten so possessive of my time that I had trouble figuring out how to mentally prepare for the season this year.  (My biggest fantasy is now to have a single day when I don't have to do something based on someone else's schedule.)

As it happens, time stops for no person, so show season started regardless of whether I was ready.  On April 3, I found myself at the first dressage show of the season.  Gemma was not as prepared as I would have liked, having had little time to practice the tests because the arena at the barn was always set for jumps.  (I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  Dear Hunter Riders, instead of jumping your horse every single ride, why don't you try the occasional 20 meter circle?  I promise neither you nor your horse will die from boredom, and it might actually help you learn to balance as you turn from one line to the next...) 

But she was determined to do both Intro B and C tests without me calling them for her.  Last year, she memorized Intro B pretty quickly, and it became her favorite test.  She also did do Intro C for at least a couple of shows (my memory is fuzzy), but I always called the test for her. This year, though, she wanted to let go of the crutch.

So she diligently recited the test at every opportunity and practiced it with just herself in the living room and the barn aisle.  The day before the show, we got the dressage letters set up and ran through the tests quickly on the horse, and while her transitions weren't as clean as they could be, she did have the tests memorized.

Gemma decided that she would show Star for the first show and then she plans to show a little pony named Butters (more about her later) and then hopefully Freya later this year.  Star and Gemma did well, earning good scores.  The main comment from the judge was that the pair needs more energy, but that is a common comment, so I wasn't too fussed about that.  I'm pretty sure that a horse has to actually be flying before a dressage judge thinks it has enough energy:)  I thought Star did well with her walk and trot and just needed a bit of help on one of her canter circles.  There were a few other wobbles, but nothing that can't be worked on for the next show.

One of my favorite things about Star is her ears.  They are such a great indicator of how she is doing.  If they are relaxed and floppy, all is well.

The next weekend was the first hunter show of the season.  I had been seriously stressing for over a week about this one.  The way the show was being run was changing a bit, and I wasn't sure how things would work.  And Gemma would be moving up a division to Short Stirrup.  Last year, she showed in Pre-Short Stirrup, and as traumatizing as it was for me to watch 7 - 15 young kids on spunky ponies aimlessly wander around the arena at the walk and trot, the idea that Gemma would be in an arena with slightly older kids on slightly better behaved ponies WHILE CANTERING was causing me heart palpitations.

Plus, Gemma had decided to add another class to the mix.  She wanted to show a little pony named Butters in Equitation on the Flat.  I'm not sure if I've posted about Butters before, although she may have made an appearance in some videos of Donut out in the field.  She belongs to the barn and is a lesson pony.  Gemma had been riding her for maybe a year before riding Star.  And she was a nice pony, but kind of small and I figured Gemma had sort of outgrown her.

Over the winter, though, I found out she was going to be put up for sale.  She was just a little too much for the beginner lesson kids, and the decision was made that she would be a better fit for either a different type of lesson program or maybe a more advanced little kid.  Gemma helped with the sale video.  And I was sad.  I love Butters.  She is delightful.  I was going to miss her.  I contemplated if I could buy her and swing board for a third horse (no, no, no!) and tried to think if I had time to teach her to pull a cart because she is too small for me to ride at 11.2 hands (no, no, no!).  And then I had an awful wait, that is the Grinch.  Sorry.  It really was a good idea.

I asked Gemma's instructor if Gemma could ride Butters a couple of times a week and maybe start taking lessons on her again to see if riding with a more advanced kid could help.  I remembered that when Butters had first come to the barn, the kids had some difficulty riding her.  I think she was rusty and needed some time under saddle.  And what happened is basically the more she was ridden, the better she got.  Until she was pretty reliable.  But over time, the types of kids riding and the instructors changed, and Butters didn't get used as much.  And she started to need a more assertive rider.

I'm pretty sure Butters is the kind of horse (well, pony) that just needs regular riding to stay tuned up.  Nimo was the same way.  With some horses, you can leave them out in the pasture and then get back on and the horse picks up where it left off.  Star is like that.  I can ride her once a month and she is the same horse.  But most horses do need regular work.  So my theory was that if Gemma rode Butters regularly, Butters would "remember" what she needed to do without needing so much help from her riders.

Unlike many of my ideas that take on the status of "crackpot" in hindsight, this one worked out pretty well.  More time with Gemma really paid off and then Butters was able to start working for the beginner level kids a little better.  And the barn decided to keep her:)  Yay for me!  (Because this was really all about the fact that I just love that little pony and couldn't bear to see her go...)

Anyway, Gemma really started having fun with her.  Butters is a bit more forward than Star and she will zoom around the arena if you ask her.  (Star does not zoom - she considers it to be undignified.)  So Gemma decided that it would be fun if she could show both Star and Butters at the hunter show.  Yep, that sounds like it won't be any extra work at all...sigh...

And there was an added complication that another little girl would be showing Star in Pre-Short and a little girl would be showing Butters in Pre-Short.  Also, Gemma had no idea what Equitation on the Flat was, and neither did I.  Although, I admit that I assumed it was simply a W/T/C flat class with riders judged on equitation, just like every other blessed class at the hunter show that doesn't involve jumps.  (I concluded last year that there are really just two classes at hunter shows - flat classes and jumping classes - and that the show just comes up with an endless permutation of ages and experience levels to generate different divisions to slowly suck my life away.)

So on show day, we would be coordinating two horses with two other riders for four classes that Gemma had never done before.  What could possibly go wrong?

As it turned out.  Nothing went wrong.  I'm not kidding.  I've never seen anything like it.  Gemma handled the pre-show grooming and prep for Star and someone else handled Butters.  On show day, we got there early and Gemma and the other little girl riding Star worked together to get her tacked up.  Both Star and Butters did their little riders proud in Pre-Short.  Even the instructor who works with the kids was impressed.  She had never seen Star or Butters show because she is fairly new to the lesson program.  But on show day, both Star and Butters brought their A-games and did really well.  Star moved out so well that her rider actually had to ask her to slow down a bit.  And Butters was a rock star, earning a Reserve Champion in her division.  I was in happy shock.  It was surprisingly rewarding to watch those kids show on horses that Gemma and I have worked with and do well.

Then Gemma was up on Star for her Short Stirrup Division.  As if things aren't confusing enough, there are two Short Stirrup Divisions.  One is judged on the equitation of the rider and the other judged on the horse's way of going.  Gemma was in the equitation division because her riding is pretty good and the timing with the other division that Star was competing in worked best.  So she would have one walk/trot flat class, one walk/trot/canter flat class, and one class over fences with a course of four jumps. 

I wasn't concerned in the slightest about Gemma's or Star's ability.  I was, however, concerned, because there were 15 competitors in the division, which meant 15 young kids cantering around the arena with varying degrees of skill.  I will note that usually this division is usually a bit smaller, so I wasn't expecting it to be so big.  It's possible that I was growing gray hairs just waiting to watch the first class.

Star continued to be her motivated self and she did the walk/trot class really well.  Then the walk/trot/canter class was on.  For some reason, the judge did not realize that there was a parent (me) hyperventilating next to the arena while she had the class canter endlessly.  Like laps endlessly.  Longer than any other class I've seen.  Just before someone needed to medicate me, the cantering stopped, and the class wrapped up.  Again, Gemma and Star did great.  

Finally, it was time for the over fences class.  Gemma had decided to canter the fences, which were probably 15" cross rails with flowerbox fillers.  She did have the option to trot, but she felt Star would do better at the canter.  Her starting circle was a little rough and they missed their lead change at the end, but overall, it was fine.  Star cantered the jumps and was quiet and basically the perfect antidote to the stress I'd been having about the W/T/C class.  



They didn't place in any of their classes, but Gemma didn't care and neither did I.  For me, I was glad that they were alive with no mishaps due to misbehaving ponies or rider errors, and they had done everything Gemma had wanted to do.  There is definitely room for improvement for the next shows, but Gemma has very little experience with flying lead changes at this point, and now she has a better idea of what skills she needs to work on.  And Gemma was so excited after she was done.  She has been waiting and waiting to do an actual jumping class at a show, and she got her wish.  Plus, Star was rock solid, and after seeing some shenanigans from other horses, I think Gemma has an understanding of how priceless a solid, if less flashy, horse is.

But we weren't done.  After we got Star settled with a snack and then back out in her field, it was time to turn our attention to Butters.  The class Gemma was doing with her wasn't until a bit later in the day, but unlike at dressage shows where rider times are known ahead of time, hunter shows proceed based on how many people show up that day and how long the judge takes with each class.

When it started looking like it was time to get ready for the class, Gemma got Butters tacked up and she headed to the warm-up arena.  If you have never seen the warm-up arena at a hunter show, let me assure you that it is a death trap.  There are lots of riders on big, spunky horses paying absolutely no attention to where they are going or what anyone else in the arena is doing.  They never call their lines when they plan to go over jumps and appear to not have even the most basic understanding of physics, particularly the bit about two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time.

For these reasons, I have never allowed Gemma anywhere near the warm-up arena.  I make her warm up in either a round pen or the field next to the arena where there are no other people.  But today, Gemma was determined to take the world's smallest pony into the warm-up arena.  Her instructor was in there warming up too, but that didn't give me any confidence because honestly, what could she do when one of the 17-hand horses ran over my child?

I told Gemma she could try, but if I saw any sign of trouble or thought she wasn't paying attention, I was pulling her out and she could warm up in the field.  As it turned out, Gemma did an amazing job of being very aware of where she was in relation to the other riders.  She walked, trotted, and cantered that pony, who was completely comfortable in a sea of large horses.  There were no other younger kids or ponies out there, because none of the remaining classes were for younger riders.  (I discovered that Equitation on the Flat does not have any age restrictions, but in general, it is probably a bit more advanced than younger kids can handle.)  Gemma told me later that she overheard the judge radio to the Secretary's booth that she should be pulled from the arena because she was too little and the judge was concerned for her safety, but her instructor stepped in to say that she was confident Gemma would be OK.  So she was allowed to finish her warm up.  And she did a great job, leaving the arena about one minute before two large horses almost collided right in front of me because their riders were not paying attention.

We waited for a little longer than we thought we would, and then it was time for Gemma's class with Butters.  The pair walked into the arena like they owned it, even though Gemma had very little prep for the class.  What we learned in the few days before the show was that Equitation on the Flat adds some more advanced movements, like turn-on-the-haunches and turn-on-the-forehand, as well as more advanced transitions, like halt to canter and canter to walk.  Just before the show, I had Gemma and Butters take a lesson with an instructor at the barn that specializes in equitation to at least get a basic understanding, but anyone who rides knows that it can take years to do those more advanced things well.  

So I wasn't expecting any great things - I figured it would be more of an experience for Gemma and she would decide it was too hard and not enter the class again.  Because that is the art of parenting.  Letting your kid do something that you're certain will be too hard so they can learn that it is too hard, rather than trying to tell them it is too hard and prohibiting them from doing it in the first place.

Yeah, as it turned out, Gemma got second place in the class, competing against kids much older.  I'm pretty sure part of that placing was the cuteness factor, but they did do all the things.  Not as well as a dressage rider would do them, but they were in the ballpark.  And Gemma LOVED the class.  So this is when the art of parenting backfires on said parent and now the parent is stuck supporting a second horse competing in all the hunter shows for the next six months...

Butters and Gemma make such a cute pair!

But I breathed a sign of relief anyway.  Gemma survived the cantering flat class, the jumping class, the warm-up arena, and the Equitation on the Flat class.  All the coordination with the two horses and the other two riders went really well.  Now we just have to repeat this like six more times...

At this point in the month, I thought I was done with shows, and I was excited about the prospect of three weekends in a row with nothing to do...Stay tuned to find out if that is really what happened:)

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