Achievement unlocked: First Level

Well, we made it y’all. Gina and I made our First Level debut, and it was…okay. Sadly, I don’t have any media. My friend Richal read the tests for me, her assistant Audrey was wrangling all the lesson kids who were showing, and Johnny was at home like a sensible person. Plus, I drowned my phone in our trash bucket Friday night. It’s probably better this way, because you can use your imagination!

I got up at 3:45 AM Saturday to get to the barn by 4:50 AM; Gina didn’t seem too perturbed by eating breakfast so early. She was calm and quiet, and loaded on the trailer without issue. Despite a short stop to change a flat on one of the trailers midway through the haul, it was uneventful and we arrived around 7:20 AM. (I rode at 8 AM.)

I stuck Gina in a stall and gave her a cursory brush down; she was still super-clean from Friday’s bath, despite being turned out in her normal field overnight. Good girl, Gina! I tacked her up and got on around 7:40 AM.

Gina was a raging fruitcake in the outdoor warmup ring, despite two calming cookies administered pre-trailer ride and a copious slathering of The Herbal Horse’s Be Calm salve. (I’ll add that on Friday’s brief ride, Gina licked the Be Calm salve and schooled beautifully even with 5 other horses in the 50′ x 100′ indoor. Maybe I should just feed it to her?) She was super tense and seemed stiffer than usual.

I try to keep show warmups similar to how I warm up at home; the routine is comforting for me and the horse. I let her walk on a loose rein, and after about 10 minutes I asked for a trot. She was dragging herself along, swinging her head around like a cobra waiting to strike and generally being unpleasant. I kept her on a loose rein for a few laps, then started serpentines and circles, which usually helps her loosen up and start to stretch over her back and accept the contact.

I asked for the canter and she leaped into it wildly, tail twitching and teeth grinding. She was heavy on my inside rein with her jaw totally locked against me. At this point, I had about 2 minutes until my ride time, so I just asked her to walk instead of trying to pick at her.

The dressage ring was set up indoors. I walked Gina around in it by hand when she got off the trailer, and she didn’t seen fazed by the mirror, the judge’s table, or anything else. Gina’s been to a variety of shows in a variety of venues and while she is typically a little bit looky at first, she settles down quickly. Not Saturday! (What was in those calming cookies?!)

The judge rang us in as soon as we stepped into the arena, which I was not prepared for. I kept Gina walking and asked for a trot as soon as she felt a little bit relaxed. She gave me a very weird up-and-down trot instead of her usual big, floating gait. She gave the judge’s table a hard look every time she passed it, spooked at the mirror a couple of times, tried to buck when I asked for a lengthened canter, and attempted a flying lead change when I asked for a downward transition to the trot at X. (We scored a 4.5 for that!)

After we muddled through 1-1, Richal commented that Gina looked stiffer than normal at the canter. I agreed, and took Gina back to the outdoor to walk on a loose rein until our next test. Gina was nearly lathered with sweat and couldn’t seem to stop staring at everything around her even though nothing extraordinary was going on.

Our next test (1-2) was an improvement. Gina was more relaxed at the trot and had cleaner transitions. The canter work was still hideous; I could feel Gina losing the lead with her hindquarters during the 15 meter circles. But we kept it together and improved on 1-1 by nearly 2 points.

The judge was fair and scored us a 57.222% on 1-1 and 58.906% on 1-2. We eked out a couple of 7s on our halts, which were miraculously square if slightly crooked, and on our upward canter transitions, which surprised me. (I was very concerned about them.) We were dinged hard on geometry; almost all of my circles and half circles were noted as being too large. I guess this is a product of consistently practicing in a 50′ x 100′ arena. (That’s about 15 x 30 meters, much smaller than the 20 x 60 of a dressage court!) When the weather cooperates, we’ll really need to practice with letters set up in the outdoor arena so we don’t lose easy points on future tests! The judge also noted that he’d like to see more of a difference in the working and lengthened gaits.

I’m more concerned that Gina was so tight and tense in her back. She is usually stiff when she starts out, but loosens up after 10-15 minutes on a loose rein at a walk and few minutes of trotting on a loose rein. I’m not sure if she was tighter and tenser because of the trailer ride or because we didn’t have lots of time to warm up before the first test.

Regardless, I’m a little worried. Gina isn’t young, and I don’t particularly want to do something like start her on Adequan. She occasionally loses her canter behind in normal schooling, but I’ve always attributed it to her not having the strength necessary to canter around on a tiny circle in the indoor. I’ve worked to help her develop the strength by doing lots of conditioning work to make sure she’s fit, and tried to incorporate strength exercises like transitions between and within gaits, and some work like shoulder-in and leg yields.

Gina will have most of the next couple of weeks off; I’ll be at a hunter/jumper show in Oklahoma City with work. Her usual lesson people will ride her, and I’ve asked Audrey to take her out for hacks in the field (her lesson kids are too scared to, even though she’s very well mannered). I’m hoping this will resolve itself in time- if not, I suppose I’ll have to consult the vet about what she thinks might be bugging Gina!

Author: Stephanie

Equestrian, amateur cook, people person.

11 thoughts on “Achievement unlocked: First Level”

  1. If the calming cookies make Gina looky, I’m paranoid to use them at a show. 😉 Western pleasure + looky would be an obvious disaster hahah

  2. lol my mare tries to ingest the ‘be calm’ balm too… seriously tho – congrats on solid first level scores! and just imagine what will be possible when Gina is a little less tightly-wound. seems like most of the pieces are there. and hopefully it was just a blip for Gina and that she’ll be more relaxed through her back next time.

    1. Thank you! After having a couple of days to think on it, I imagine Gina will be better after some rest and some work out of the dressage court. (Provided the weather cooperates…) Next schooling show is in September, so we have lots of time to work!

  3. I think I need the be calm balm more than my horses do…hahah I have the worst show nerves ever.
    I have a friend who does yearly adequan injections and the results have been amazing for her. I am so freaked out by the idea of injectables but it really helped her guy. He’s a much a happier dude all around.

    1. Trust me, I was also sniffing the Be Calm!!

      When Adequan was suggested to me on Saturday (by my friend who owns and is head trainer of the barn where Gina and Moe are boarded), my gut reaction was “No way!” I’ve given it some more thought, though, and I’m going to ask the vet her opinion on it for sure.

  4. The nice thing about dressage is that if parts of the test don’t go well, you can still get good scores on some movements (like your halts!). And always good to have the scores move in an upward direction from one test to the next! Maybe Gina would be happier if she wore a back on track sheet in the trailer to start loosening her up? It’s on my list of things I want for Tucker….

    1. That is kind of nice- I was like “praise baby Jesus for halts!” when I looked at the rest of the test…

      I don’t think a BoT sheet would be a bad investment, but I’m a little concerned about heat in the trailer. (It’s regularly 90+ degrees, even in the mornings here!) Time to read up on them!

  5. A wise person who observed on Saturday and who is mentioned in your blog post told me today that she wonders if your new saddle is a problem with Gina. Maybe she’s not comfortable in it? It pinches? Something? I missed some of the possible ideas, but I wonder about trying her with a different saddle, just to see if she moves different with it.

    (Speaking of saddles, children did an interesting job of putting the stirrups and stirrup leathers back on my saddle after the show. Those darn kids.)

    1. I’m not opposed to that theory, and will probably check out a few saddles from work when I get back from OKC. When I’ve tried different saddles on her in the past, I haven’t seen much of a difference in how she’s gone.

      Those darn kids are just about useless- can’t figure-8 a bridle, can’t put stirrups back on properly!!

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