Madigan’s Rated Show Debut

After his reasonably successful schooling show debut back in February, Madigan’s trainer, baby school rider, and I started eyeing rated shows. We settled on Oklahoma Dressage Society’s spring show for a couple of reasons. It’s in Tulsa, so it was close enough that Madigan could come home at night. It offered the USEF 4 Year Old Dressage Test. Neither his trainer nor rider were planning to compete, so scheduling wouldn’t be weird.

The 4  year old test was only offered Saturday, so I signed him up for that and Training Level Test 3. His baby school rider borrowed a barnmate’s Fairfax Gareth, and Madigan went very well in the weeks leading up to the show.

I hauled him to the Tulsa Expo for schooling on Friday night. We groomed him, tacked him up, and led him to the cavernous Ford Truck Arena. Tulsa has incredible horse show facilities that are home to events like the Pinto World Championship, the POA National Congress, the NSBA World Championship Show, and the Arabian & Half Arabian Nationals. Every stall has electric, there’s covered access to every arena, the wash racks have hot water, and the arenas have good footing. The Ford Truck Arena about the size of a football field; two dressage rings were set up side-by-side in it for this show.

Schooling on Friday night

Madigan was concerned on Friday night. It’s not like he’s never left home- he’s been to other farms, a couple of horse show venues, the vet clinic, and on trail rides. But this was by far the largest and busiest place he’s been. Once his baby school rider got on, they walked around the arena for close to half an hour. Madigan was on his tiptoes and staring bug-eyed at everything from the stadium seating to the other horses. Fortunately, a young rider from our barn and her experienced horse were there to walk with Madigan and help him settle. Once he got to work at the trot and the canter, he was focused and much quieter.

I hauled him home Friday night and back to the Expo Saturday morning. His rider bathed and braided him before returning him to his stall to hang out. Madigan looked a little wide-eyed at all the activity but quickly zeroed in on his hay bag.

Purchased from Captivation Photography LLC

He did Training 3 in the early afternoon. He looked relaxed and confident in the warmup. In the ring, he did about as well as a very young green horse could. He found the corner at M scary and looked nervous throughout the test. The judge found some things to like about him, including his trot and canter. She rightfully dinged him for tension, and he ended up with a 60.8%.

Madigan went back to his stall after that, as he had 4ish hours between tests. When he returned to the warmup, he looked even better than before. However, I expected him to be weird in the arena because the other ring already finished. He was going to be alone in a giant, weirdly silent arena. He surprised everyone with a very pleasant 4 year old test, though!

Purchased from Captivation Photography LLC

The 4 year old test works differently than regular tests. Horses aren’t judged on the test’s specific movements. The test evaluates the walk, trot, canter, submissiveness, and general impression. Marks range from 1-10 (decimals like 7.3 are allowed) and the total is divided by 5. The score is also provided as a percentage. (The FEI 5 and 6 year old tests are scored this way, too.) The movements in the test are a combination of Training and First level.

Purchased from Captivation Photography LLC

Madigan scored a 6.6 (or 66%), which I think was fair. He looked less nervous than he did in T3, but he was still more tense than the judges would have liked to see. His canter and general impression were good. I’m not surprised his other gaits didn’t score super high. I’ve always maintained that he is not a 10 mover and that I do not need him to be a 10 mover. He needs to be smart, brave, and able to help me out occasionally.

I’m certain higher scores will come with more experience. I can’t complain about his very first rated outing, though. His rider was tactful and calm, he got better as the day went on, and he tried hard to be a good boy (and was)!

Growing pains

I started lessons on Madigan a few weeks ago, and I was excited to do so. He was going well during his training rides and I looked forward to getting more comfortable riding him. My enthusiasm was short-lived. Our first lesson was ugly. He was crooked and so behind my leg that I had to kick him like a kid on a recalcitrant pony to get him to move faster than a crawl. And on the bit? Forget it. His neck took on a llama-like quality and stayed that way while we flailed around the arena at a tranter.

This baffled me. I’m a competent rider, despite spending the last four-ish years exclusively hunting and trail riding. Our trainer assured me my position was good, my body was quiet, and I was doing all the right things. I chalked it up to Madigan having a baby day and figured our next lesson would be better. Spoiler alert: it was not better. I suppose the best thing I can say is that is wasn’t worse than our first lesson.

In February, when the saddle still fit.

At this point, Madigan began acting squirrelly in training rides, too. This was unusual. He’s typically focused and willing. Even when the questions are hard or new, he tries to answer them. But familiar questions like leg yields were resulting in him kicking out, sucking back, or flailing.

Nothing in Madigan’s life changed. His diet, turnout situation, and training schedule were the same. His training rider suggested the saddle might be bothering him. I saddled him with my Trilogy for his next training ride. It’s significantly wider than the King’s, but the points are at a different angle. Madigan went better in the Trilogy for both his training rider and me. Problem solved, right?

Of course not! His training rider suspected he didn’t love the Trilogy either, so she brought out the trusty treeless western saddle he was broke to ride in. He was noticeably better- moving freely and looking happy. She also tried a Fairfax Gareth on him, which he seemed to like as well as the treeless western saddle.

I spent some time searching for a used Fairfax I could try out. I found one at a tack shop in New Jersey, Dutchess Bridle & Saddle. They were terrific to work with- I filled out a form online, they called to get my credit card information, charged me for shipping, and sent the saddle. It shipped on Friday and arrived in perfect condition on Tuesday.

Look at this fancy baby!

The saddle is a Fairfax Classic, and Madigan had a training ride in it on Wednesday. He appeared more comfortable than he had in the Trilogy, but not as comfortable as he was in the treeless western or Fairfax Gareth. I’ll try it this weekend and he’ll have another training ride before the trial period is up. Perhaps he’ll go really well and I can call the nice people in New Jersey, buy this saddle, and not have to order a brand new saddle or hope something turns up on eBay.

Now, you might recall that I had the King’s fitted to him at the beginning of January. It is now the end of March. Somehow, in the span of approximately 3 months, giant baby has widened so much through the shoulders that he outgrew his saddle. This is an annoying problem to have, although I know he will eventually stop growing. And I should just be glad he’s finally getting wider, right? Right?

Madigan Goes Up Centerline

Madigan had a big weekend- he trotted up centerline for the first time! His trainer wanted to take two of her young horses to a schooling show, so we turned it into Babies’ Day Out with Madigan and another student’s young Thoroughbred who came off the track last fall.

Our group’s ride times were spread throughout the day with Madigan in the afternoon. He spent the morning eating hay at the trailer, then went for a brief walk in the arena while it was changed from a long to a short ring. His baby school rider (who rode him at this show) took him for a quick longe before hopping on to warm up.

This show included working equitation in addition to dressage. By time Madigan entered the warmup, all the working equitation obstacles were set up. WE includes a course of obstacles designed to emulate conditions horses might encounter while working in a field, like bridges, gates, and ring mounted atop the cutout of a bull. He was a little bug-eyed at some of the obstacles, but after a few laps around the arena, he stopped walking on his tiptoes and put the hamsters back on the wheel.

“where are cookies!!”

The real trial in the warmup was a group of little girls gleefully riding their horses directly behind Madigan while giggling and screeching to one another in the way only small girls can. He was a little concerned about the noise and proximity, but eventually decided it wasn’t something to worry about. That’s the advantage of sending him to a busy lesson barn for training. He’s almost always sharing the arena with another horse or two, and there’s always some kind of noise and commotion happening inside or outside the arena! It’s a good approximation of any show’s warmup ring.

His first test was Training Level Test 1. He had some baby bobbles: spooking out of the arena at A during the first canter circle, not stretching during the free walk, and attempting tempi changes during the second canter circle. There was a lot to like, though! His halts were prompt and square. The trot work was consistent and rhythmical. The judge kindly let him continue after he left the arena and gave him a 65% on T1.

Training Level Test 2 was an improvement. For starters, he stayed in the arena. His transitions were prompt and quiet, and he seemed more confident about reaching for the bit. Madigan’s natural tendency is to curl behind the vertical, so it was good to see him reaching forward. He had a big spook in this test when he startled at the noise from a stalled horse kicking a wall, but he recovered well and continued on like it wasn’t a big deal. He was also very wiggly across the diagonal. Despite those things, he scored a 68%. The judge pointed out his tendency to curl up, but she liked his gaits and thought he had a lot of potential.

I could not be happier with his performance. Sure, there are lots of things to improve on- steadier transitions, less curling behind the vertical, straighter lines. But he was calm in a new place, trusted his rider even though he was a little nervous, and put in two perfectly respectable tests (well, aside from exiting at A once). No one could ask more from a youngster!

I’m slated to start lessons on him in March, so I’m eyeing schooling shows later this year. It’s fun to see other people ride him, though! I just love watching him go and dreaming about what the future looks like.

On The Trail Again

Madigan and I survived our second trail ride this weekend! ‘Survived’ is a little dramatic- he was weird for maybe five minutes total and didn’t leap at all.

We hitched a ride with my neighbor and Madigan’s baby school rider to a friend’s ranch, where we met up with a couple of foxhunting friends. Madigan’s baby school rider was back on my neighbor’s half-Arabian homebred, while my neighbor brought one of her dressage horses.


Madigan was a little bug-eyed while I tacked him up. I don’t blame him- there was a lot going on! My neighbor’s horse bumped himself in the trailer and unloaded lame, so our hostess offered to let him hang out in a spare paddock while my neighbor rode a squat mare aptly named Piggy. This distressed the half-Arabian, who neighed and danced around on his tiptoes for a bit. There were other horses standing at other trailers. There were horses in paddocks. A totally new horse (Piggy) appeared at our trailer. On top of all that, Madigan was in an unfamiliar place.

So I did the sensible thing and stuck him on a longe line for five minutes. It’s funny- I used to think it was silly to longe a horse before you got on. Now I use it as a vibe check if I think Madigan needs one. It’s a useful tool for assessing his mood (which ranges from “feral” to “asleep”) and gently bringing his attention back to me. I don’t longe him every time I ride, but it’s a nice tool to have in the bag.

Madigan mostly settled down after a little walking and trotting. I mounted a little nervously, but my neighbor assured me that everything would be fine. (It’s so nice to have supportive friends!) And wouldn’t you know, everything was fine!

The first stretch of trail at my friend’s ranch is a long descent down a winding farm road. It’s wide enough for trucks to drive down it, but because it’s built into the side of the hill, it’s a little scary. Well, it is on a young green horse, anyway. I’ve ridden here on both Moe and Gina and never thought they were going to accidentally send us both somersaulting over the side of a cliff. To be fair, Madigan wasn’t actually doing anything to make me think we would fall off the road. You know, other than walking close to the edge and occasionally tripping on a rock or his own feet. I had visions of us tripping and sliding off the edge anyway.

Once we made it to the bottom of the hill, we rode a long loop around some of the ranch’s vacant cattle pastures. It’s a beautiful trail that weaves through densely wooded areas and open fields. The trail is well maintained, mostly flat, and has soft dirt footing. Our group consisted of the two green horses (Madigan and the half-Arabian) and five very experienced trail horses, and everyone made sure it was a positive outing for the youngsters.

For the most part, Madigan was very relaxed and walked along on a loose rein. He stayed toward the front of the group this time and seemed content. He stood quietly when we stopped to let slower horses catch up and walked off confidently when the group moved again.

Around the 80-minute mark, Madigan got antsy. He didn’t leap, but he jigged and threw his head. I kept him moving forward and he settled back down pretty quickly. I suspect this behavior stems from tiredness- either physical or mental. His baby school rides are usually between 45 and 60 minutes long, so this ride (and the previous trail ride) was longer than he is used to being ridden. Trail riding can be a mental challenge too, what with the group of horses, varying terrain, and changing scenery.

le tired

Fortunately, we were almost back to the parking area. We climbed back up the big hill (less scary going up because he was not fixated on staying on the edge of the road) and I fed him a very large handful of cookies when we got back to the trailer. He ate hay, drank water, and napped while we ate lunch, then loaded right up to go home.

I’m super proud of him and cannot shut up about how good and smart he is to anyone who will listen. (My neighbor, his baby school rider, my spouse, my friends, and my mom all received the “Madigan is sooooo good!” speech. Some of them more than once.) He is good and smart and a total joy to ride. I can’t wait for more trail riding adventures!

Snowmageddon 2022

Oklahoma is a place of relatively mild winters. There’s a lot of wind (which is a year-round phenomenon), but temperatures usually stay above freezing and there isn’t much precipitation. That said, there’s usually some kind of late-winter snow event every year.

The Mesonet is the authority on Oklahoma weather. A very serious authority.

Local forecasts called for snow and ice beginning in the middle of last week. The Mesonet issued a rare Level 1 Bread And Milk Emergency DEFCON warning. Temperatures were predicted to remain below freezing until the weekend.

It was a beautiful day to ride!

So I did what any sensible person would do and went trail riding when it was 70°F on Monday. Gina and I enjoyed a two hour ride around Oologah Lake with some of our foxhunting friends. It was nice to be out on a reliable, trustworthy horse after Madigan’s green bean antics on Saturday!

I made trips to the feed store and grocery store, asked a neighbor to move a couple of my giant square bales for me, double checked the propane tanks for the house and the generator, and waited for Snowmageddon to begin.

Madigan’s blanket is the watermelon pattern from Ponyo Horsewear.

Flurries began very late Wednesday evening. By Thursday morning, ~5 inches of snow had fallen. I swapped the horses’ sheets for blankets, threw them more hay, and returned to my sofa and electric blanket. The snow tapered off during the day, but the north wind was brutally cold. The horses barely peeked out of their stalls. More snow fell Thursday night, but by morning the wind was milder and the horses ventured into the paddock.
Madigan romped through the snow and seemed to delight in kicking it up into his face and into Moe and Gina’s faces. Moe and Gina were unimpressed by the snow and Madigan’s antics. Gina kicked at him while Moe just tried to avoid him.

The sun made an appearance on Friday, and while it was still cold, the wind was hardly blowing and the air felt much warmer. By Saturday, temperatures were well above freezing and the snow began to melt. Now the snow is nearly gone and everything’s a soggy mess.

I’m hopeful the mild weather is here to stay for the rest of the season! Winter has been very manageable this year, but I’m ready for summer.