Last Saturday, I hauled Story out to the hunt club’s annual Ride for the Cure fundraiser ride. This was the club’s ninth year hosting this event, which is held in conjunction with the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure to raise money for breast cancer research. HFH is consistently one of the top fundraising teams in the region, and this year was no different- we raised about $2,000!
The ride drew about 25 people, and we rode as one big group. I was excited to see how Story did with a group that size, as we were part of a much smaller group at our last HFH outing. She was an absolute star! We stuck to the middle of the group for most of the ride and edged up to the front for the last third or so. The pace was brisk- lots of trotting and a little cantering- but Story never got overexcited or anxious. She prefers to do whatever the group is doing- so if most horses are trotting, she wants to trot- but she isn’t rude or nervous about it. She just jogs along until you give her some rein, at which point she picks up a real trot.
The only thing she really needs to improve is slowing down and stopping. She’s not terrible about it, but I really have to nag her to get her to stop. There’s no head-throwing or rooting or pulling; she just kind of ignores my half-halts until they become very strong. (This is the opposite of how she is in the arena, where if I think about stopping, she slams on the brakes.) Once she’s stopped, she stands very quietly. She’s currently in a D-ring snaffle, so I may try her in a kimberwicke next time we go out. (Also open to suggestions here- let me know if there’s a bit you like that’s a little stronger than a snaffle!)
We rode for about two and a half hours, and Story felt great for all of it. When I bought her, I was a little concerned about how well she’d hold up for long, fast rides. I’m used to riding Thoroughbreds who can gallop all day. But Story was fine! She was just as fresh and full of go at the end of our ride as she was at the beginning. Her legs were cold and tight the next day and she greeted me at the gate with her usual bright-eyed vigor.
Story is still pretty bad about trailering. She is loathe to get in alone, but seems okay if another horse is loaded before her and stays in the trailer while she gets on. While this doesn’t address the root of the problem, it’s a useful piece of information! I can always load Moe with her at home and someone at the hunt is usually happy to volunteer their horse for loading help. My trainer and I continue to work on trailering, and hopefully Story will come around sooner rather than later.
Opening Hunt is in two weeks, and I have my fingers crossed I’ll make it! I had a tympanomastoidectomy last week to remove a cholesteatoma (which is basically a non-cancerous cyst) from my right ear. The procedure involved drilling a hole in my head directly behind my ear. I feel pretty good, but my ear is very sore and the incision site is exactly where my helmet harness lays. I have a follow-up appointment with the surgeon next week, so hopefully he’ll clear me to ride (and hopefully I’ll feel well enough to wear a helmet for 2+ hours). I’ve missed hunting and I’m really excited to rejoin the field!
I am cautiously optimistic that Story’s ring sour behavior may be resolved. We’ve had several consecutive rides where she was generally happy to go forward without a fuss. I appreciate the suggestions on my previous post on the topic! Here’s what my trainer and I tried, and what I think got her to turn the corner.
First, I began riding her during my weekly lesson. More time off won’t hurt Madigan, and Story needs to increase her fitness level for the upcoming hunt season. I also thought it would be helpful to have my trainer available to help me. My trainer suggested we try to make the arena a pleasant place to be, so my first few lessons consisted of walking around the large outdoor arena searching for piles of sweet feed placed strategically throughout the ring. There were piles on jumps, on a bucket on the ground, on working equitation obstacles, on a chair. Story’s pretty food motivated, so she liked this game and happily walked from food station to food station. When rainy weather kept us confined to the indoor arena, my trainer periodically fed Story a peppermint or alfalfa nugget during our lesson.
When I rode without my trainer, I focused on keeping our rides very easy and relatively short. I asked Story to walk and halt, to back up, and to do a little leg yield toward the rail. Most of the time, I rode for around 25 minutes. I think this was beneficial for helping Story understand that the ring isn’t always a place of difficult and endless work.
However, I think the biggest piece of resolving her behavior is simple persistence. I carry my dressage whip every ride, and I use it. Story’s go-to move is slamming on the brakes when I apply my leg to ask her to go forward. When she does that, I cluck at her and squeeze with my leg. If she responds, I stop. If she doesn’t respond, I kick her. If she responds, I stop. If she doesn’t respond, I tap her with the dressage whip behind my leg.
Story frequently escalated when I used the dressage whip by kicking out with her hind leg on the side with the whip. She’ll swivel around sometimes, and has also tried small bucks. She once attempted to remove her front feet from the ground. (It was a pretty halfhearted try.) I just keep tapping until she moves forward. When she does, I stop tapping and rub her neck and praise her.
When I first got her, it took me about 10 minutes to get her moving forward again after she stopped. Both the number of stopping incidents and the time needed to get her moving again have gradually decreased. Over the last week, she hasn’t stopped more than once and it hasn’t required more than one tap with the dressage whip to get her going. During this week’s lesson, she happily trotted and cantered when I asked and even went over a small crossrail.
My hunch is that for a long time Story was successful in evading work with this behavior. I can see how it might be a little scary to have to ride out the kicks and bucks and hops, and I can definitely see how easy it is to be frustrated by it! Fortunately (unfortunately?), I’ve ridden so many weird and nappy horses that Story doesn’t even make the top 10. (I tell her this every time she tries something.) She doesn’t feel dangerous. She never panics. She just waits for you to give up.
Hopefully this behavior is behind us! We’re continuing to work on loading in order to have a full, fun hunt season this winter. We’re off cubbing next weekend, so fingers crossed Story gets in the trailer (and doesn’t mind foxhounds).
Several years ago, Moe was diagnosed with and treated for EPM. I was surprised- he presented few symptoms and I assumed they were signs of age-related maladies. When he began stopping at jumps, I knew something was wrong. This was extremely unusual (I think I can count on one hand the number of times he’s stopped at a jump), but I assumed he had a touch of arthritis bothering him, as he was in his early twenties. I scheduled a lameness exam with our regular vet, who picked up on subtle signs of neurological disease. She ordered a blood test for EPM, which was positive, and Moe was treated with ReBalance (sulfadiazine + pyrimethamine). He recovered well and went on to continue jumping and doing dressage until I fully retired him a couple of years ago.
Gina was diagnosed with EPM last week and her presentation could not have been more different. She and Moe were turned out with Madigan and Story for several days, as their usual paddock didn’t have water due to plumbing work at the barn. In the evening, I brought Moe and Gina in the barn to eat (and to treat Gina for a small ulcer on her eye) before turning them back out. Last Tuesday, Gina didn’t come to the gate at dinner time. I thought that was unusual, but not extraordinary. Gina is a deeply suspicious horse and will often try to avoid being caught if something sets off her internal alarms. (This can be something as benign as a person opening and closing the horse trailer tack room door.) She let me catch her and lead her in. I noticed she was moving slowly and thought perhaps she’d overdone it running around or had kicked too vigorously at Madigan. She let me treat her eye and ate dinner without a problem.
I called the vet Wednesday morning to see when someone could come out to check her over. No one would be in my area until the following Tuesday, so I offered to haul Gina in if it meant she could be seen quicker. An appointment was available Thursday morning, which was fine with me. But by Wednesday evening, Gina was significantly worse. She didn’t come to the gate and struggled with balance and coordination during her walk to the barn. She staggered as though she had no control of her hind legs. My immediate thought was that it would be a terrible idea to haul her to the vet in the morning- I was afraid she would fall in the trailer or fall trying to back out of the trailer. Since water was restored to the barn, I left her and Moe in their usual paddock overnight and resolved to call the vet clinic first thing in the morning. At this point, I suspected Gina might have EPM- it’s common in our area and her symptoms (ataxia in rear limbs, muscle atrophy that I’d chalked up to old age and lack of work) matched those of the disease.
On Thursday morning, I called the clinic to let them know I wouldn’t be in because I had concerns about safely trailering my horse. They were understanding and made room in their schedule to send a vet out Friday afternoon. I was relieved. I was also worried and upset that Friday might be Gina’s last day on earth. She is 26. Her symptoms seemed severe. Did she have a chance for recovery? Would the vet recommend putting her down? I wanted to do what was best and kindest for her, but that doesn’t mean I was less sad or distressed about what that might mean.
Fortunately, the vet didn’t suggest that at all. She agreed Gina had EPM and recommended beginning a course of diclazuril + levamisole immediately. She also gave Gina a steroid injection and advised me to give her Banamine for a few days. I was so relieved I nearly cried.
Gina has improved a little over the last few days. She walks more confidently and staggers less. Her appetite remains good, and she is very good about taking her daily medication. She is not back to normal, but she’s making progress. The vet is optimistic Gina will improve enough to get back to her favorite retirement activity: chasing Moe around and threatening to bite him on the butt. I sure hope so! Gina deserves to enjoy a long and luxurious retirement (well, as luxurious as we get around here).
Several years ago, I subscribed to an equine nutrition service called FeedXL. While I found it useful and liked it a lot, I eventually let my subscription lapse. Once I settled on a diet that worked for my horses, I didn’t need it any more.
Many things have changed in the years since I last used it: Madigan is an adult, Story joined the herd, and I feed hay free-choice. It seemed like a good time to reactivate my account.
FeedXL is easy to use. After creating an account and selecting a plan, you enter information about your horse and what your horse eats. The most difficult part of this process is estimating your pasture or hay quality; if you’re like me and haven’t had either tested, it’s a bit of a guess. For example, my horses eat bermuda hay. It’s good quality in that it’s soft, green, smells good, and is free from weeds, pests, and mold. But I don’t know how much selenium it has or if should be rated as “good” or “best”. Entering feed is much more straightforward, as FeedXL has a database of over 40,000 feeds and supplements. If the product you feed isn’t in the database, you can add it yourself. Once everything your horse eats is added to their diet, FeedXL provides an analysis. If your horse’s diet is lacking, you can use FeedXL’s Feed Finder or Supplement Finder tools to find a feed or supplement to fill in the gaps.
I was primarily interested in finding out how balanced Story and Madigan’s diets are. Both are easy keepers. Story is straight-up fat and Madigan is chubby. They eat a small amount of grain every day because it’s the easiest way to feed them medication. (Story is on Equioxx and Madigan is on Platinum Skin & Allergy.) I suspected their diets were lacking, but wanted to see what was missing before searching northeastern Oklahoma feed stores for a ration balancer or ordering my favorite equine multivitamin online.
As you can see, Madigan is deficient in a few areas. Luckily, these deficiencies can be corrected by increasing the amount of salt in his diet and adding a multivitamin. (I don’t do free choice salt any more after Madigan gnawed down a 50 lb block in two days a couple of years ago. Truly a special creature.)
Since the horses’ diets and workloads won’t change much over the winter, I plan to cancel FeedXL after this month and re-subscribe in the spring when the pasture comes in. A standard plan subscription for four horses ran me $33/month, which I think is a reasonable rate.
Have you used FeedXL? Do you enjoy tinkering with your horses’ diets? I prefer to keep it simple and keep costs down as much as possible, and FeedXL is a pretty useful tool for that!
I’ve had Story for about a month, and the closest I’ve come to a trail ride on her is hacking around the hay meadow with one of our friends. She was very good, which I thought was a promising sign. But there’s no better way to see how a horse will be on trails than to, you know, actually take them somewhere and see how it goes.
Story and I headed out to Flint Creek to ride with Harvard Fox Hounds on a lowkey trail ride on Saturday. Harvard hunts hundreds of acres in the area, which is the one of the most beautiful places in the state. It’s close to the Arkansas border; the terrain is very hilly and densely forested. It reminds of the area of Tennessee where I grew up, which is probably why I like it so much! The terrain can be tough since many trails are steep and the soil is loose and rocky in some areas.
Story was an absolute hag about loading. I’m not sure if it’s the ramp or trailering in general that she doesn’t like, but we have to address it either way! That, combined with unexpected road construction, meant I pulled in exactly at 10 AM- when the ride was supposed to start. Luckily, a few friends didn’t mind waiting for me to throw tack and hoof boots on Story, and by 10:20 AM I climbed aboard and we set out.
Our leader chose to go east, which meant the very first thing we did was cross Flint Creek. The crossing is very wide and relatively shallow, and the water is crystal clear all the way to the creek’s rocky bottom. I’m not sure Story realized the water was there until her hooves were in it! She seemed surprised and stepped sideways a few times, then followed our friends across. On the other side, she was a little wide-eyed but generally calm, curious, and obedient.
We rode for about an hour and half and Story was absolutely perfect! She was happy to be anywhere in the group – front, back, or middle. She didn’t mind horses close to her. She trotted and cantered quietly with the group and was easily rated in the D-ring snaffle she usually goes in. Nothing spooked her. For most of the ride I let her hack on the buckle, and she was relaxed and happy. You’d think this horse had been on a hundred trail rides, not that she’d spent her life competing as a fancy show hunter.
I couldn’t be happier with how Story’s first trail ride went! While trail riding isn’t a perfect analogue to foxhunting, I do think Story will make a terrific hunt horse. She’s enrolled in baby school with my trainer to work on loading and standing quietly at the mounting block, but those things are fairly minor and fixable issues. We continue to work on her ring sour behavior- it’s too early to say if that will improve or resolve. Now that hay season is over, I can take her for conditioning work in the hay meadow. The goal is to have her ready for Opening Hunt in November!
In a fit of optimism, I entered Madigan in last weekend’s dressage show, despite him having had June, July, and half of August off due to headshaking (June), travel (July), and heat (August). I signed us up for two Training Level tests, figuring that it would at least be a fun day and a learning experience. And it was! It was not, however, our best or highest scoring outing. (I think it might have been our lowest scoring outing?)
A couple of weeks ago, Madigan turned up with a small spur rub after our lesson. I didn’t want to make it worse, so I elected to ride without spurs last week while preparing for the show. He was surprisingly good, so I left my spurs at home on Saturday. This turned out to be a mistake! He plodded around T-2 at turtle speed while I kicked him every two strides to keep him going. It felt like the longest test of my life!
I had 45 minutes between my first and second tests, so I opted to stay on Madigan so he wouldn’t think we were finished for the day. (You may recall that he was not enthused about a second test way back in March at the Cowtown Classic.) One of the barn rats retrieved a pair of spurs for me while I looked over T-3.
We got off to a bad start with a crooked, above-the-bit halt and things didn’t improve much from there. We had some really nice moments (mostly at the canter) but had some very ugly ones, too (like missing our right lead twice before picking it up). The judge was fair but not generous- she rewarded us with several 7s and one 8, but dinged us heavily on movements that weren’t executed well.
While this certainly wasn’t our best show, I felt it had a lot of positive takeaways. Madigan was well behaved at a new venue and handled competing in an outdoor ring just fine. (All of his shows have been in indoors, though we do ride in an outdoor ring at home when weather permits.) He continues to be unfazed by anything anyone does in the warmup, doesn’t get upset when horses come or go, and eats and drinks well throughout the show. The things we struggled with at the show are some of the same things we struggle with at home- impulsion, keeping a lid on change attempts, reaching into the contact. Really, for a 5 year old who had the summer off, Madigan was pretty good.
There are no more rated shows on the calendar until 2024, so we have all winter to work on our problems!
Story is a bit ring sour. Her previous owner was very upfront about this in her sale ad and in person. Since her new career doesn’t involve an arena, this isn’t a huge problem and obviously wasn’t a deal breaker.
However, it does make conditioning work trickier! My neighbor’s beautiful hay meadow is perfect for hacking, but she’s in the middle of harvesting a second cutting of hay from it. Hauling out isn’t impossible, but the closest trails are about 45 minutes away and not always feasible on a weekday. So Story and I are currently stuck in the arena. She is not a fan.
Story is happy to walk around in the big outdoor arena on a loose rein. She marches along over ground poles, raised cavaletti, and the wooden bridge. She’s unfazed by cows, galloping yearlings, or people on mowers. I’m really pleased about all of that! But eventually she makes a beeline toward the arena gate and becomes very unhappy when she’s redirected. She stops dead and wrings her tail or kicks out when asked to move forward. Once she’s moving again, she repeats the behavior after a few strides. This is also her go-to if she’s asked to move from a walk to a trot.
It’s difficult for me to tell if this is a physical or mental problem. Maybe she stops because she’s out of shape and needs a break. Maybe she stops because this is a evasion that worked in the past. Maybe something is causing her pain. Maybe she’s just burned out on arena work.
So far, I’ve addressed her behavior by asking her to go forward when she stops and rewarding her when she does so by releasing my leg or dressage whip, petting her neck, and verbally telling her she’s a good girl. I’m trying to keep rides short (around 20 or 30 minutes) so she hopefully learns the arena is not a place of endless work. I’m also trying to introduce some variety into our rides – leg yields, turns on the forehand, halting, backing, cavaletti – so more than her ability to walk laps is challenged.
I hope after a few weeks or months of this type of arena work combined with excursions elsewhere will help! I don’t mind if Story never goes super well in an arena, but it does help to have somewhere to ride when the hay meadow is unavailable and hauling out isn’t feasible.
I’d love to hear your suggestions for or experiences with ring sour horses!
It’s been a slow summer here at Hand Gallop. After a mediocre outing at the Oklahoma Dressage Society spring show in April, Madigan began headshaking. His trainer and I tried a variety of things to address it – nose net, fly mask, fly sheet, dental work, chiro work, changing pastures. It was ultimately resolved after about a month of feeding him Platinum Skin & Allergy at the suggestion of his vet.
Johnny and I spent what felt like half of July on vacation, first to Colorado for a family reunion, then to Iceland for general recreating and seeing Johnny’s favorite band Pavement in concert. When we returned at the end of the month, it rained for a week before becoming unbearably hot for the next two weeks. And now it’s the end of August!
I am taking lessons as regularly as the heat and my trainer’s schedule permit. My trainer participated in USDF’s L Education program this year and spent a lot of time sitting, scribing, and judging at shows, which meant she was often traveling on Fridays during our usual lesson time. Madigan is none the worse for wear for his summer off. He broadened through his chest and hindquarters, seemed to grow another quarter inch, and continues to approach work with his usual equanimity.
By far the most exciting thing to happen this summer was my purchase of another horse for trail riding and hunting. I felt that Madigan and I gave trail riding a fair shake- he’s been out about ten times to a variety of locations and seems to truly dislike it. Maybe he’ll enjoy it as a more mature horse, but in the meantime, falling off (and subsequently climbing back on) a 17-hand baby is not my idea of a good time. He’s happiest in an arena doing arena things, so why try to fit a round peg in a square hole?
Story is a 15 year old Hanoverian mare who I hope will be a suitable trail riding and hunt horse. She spent her life in the hunter ring on the East Coast before being purchased by an adult amateur here in Oklahoma. Her former owner clearly loved her and gave her excellent care, but recently expanded her family and no longer had time to dedicate to her own riding pursuits. Story is a sensible and easygoing horse. She and Madigan are now best friends (well, she’s Madigan’s best friend, at least) and Moe and Gina are enjoying a break from babysitting.
Now that the heat is beginning to recede, I’m excited to return to all of my favorite equestrian activities. Next month, Madigan and I head down centerline at another Oklahoma Dressage Society show and Story and I will get our feet wet (literally and figuratively) at Harvard Fox Hounds’ annual Swimming Hole Day trail ride and swim.
Madigan, Madigan’s trainer, and I spent the weekend in Fort Worth, Texas at the Fort Worth Dressage Club’s Cowtown Classic. Overall, it was a good weekend and a great first rated outing for Madigan and me.
We left Oklahoma on Friday around 9 AM. The drive took nearly 7 hours, mostly due to a missed exit that caused us to be re-routed on less direct route. (Stopping at Buc-ee’s probably didn’t help either; I don’t think it’s possible to get in and out of there in under 25 minutes.) I spent much of last week worrying about traffic in the metroplex, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected and we had no trouble other than a few slow construction zones.
The show was held south of the city at the Somervell County Expo Center in Glen Rose. The facility was fine and very similar to venues here in the Tulsa area. Madigan walked off the trailer calmly and was completely at ease when I took him for a short walk around the grounds while his trainer set up his stall. Both dressage rings were open for schooling, so his trainer rode him briefly in each ring. One was a covered outdoor and the other was an indoor surrounded by stadium seating. He was absolutely fine and schooled so well that I felt no need to ride him. We fed him dinner, grabbed some food for ourselves at the welcome party, and chatted with the incredibly nice show volunteers before driving back to the city to stay with my in-laws.
My rides on Saturday were at 11:30 AM and 2 PM, which meant we didn’t need to get to the show grounds very early. We arrived around 8:30 AM, fed Madigan breakfast, and took him for a walk. His trainer forgot her braiding kit, and neither of the show’s vendors had braiding supplies beyond a couple of packages of braiding bands. I was appalled; when I ran the mobile unit of the tack store where I worked, we never left for a show without yarn, seam rippers, needles, latch hooks, Quic Braid, bands, combs, or those little braiding belt kits! Luckily, I had a belt bag and some black yarn stashed in my trailer from braiding Gina for hunting. While his trainer braided him, I changed into my show clothes, and then hopped on to warm up for our first test.
The warmup arena was chaotic (as warmup arenas often are). There were probably a dozen people in there, and I’m not sure if any of them had heard about passing left-to-left when approaching someone going to the opposite direction. Highlights included a child on a pony gunning it at a canter between Madigan and another horse passing him in the opposite direction, someone nearly half-passing into us (as we trotted along the rail in the opposite direction of their travel), and several riders cutting us off as we attempted to circle. Fortunately, Madigan is well versed in this sort of chaos, as our training barn is frequently full of lesson kids of varying skill levels on horses of varying temperaments. He’s been cut off, run into, and had horses and ponies whizzing by at various speeds for years.
I gave up all hope of doing anything except walking, trotting, and cantering on the rail in both directions. Madigan felt good- forward and relaxed, and I walked to our ring- the covered outdoor- feeling confident. As we waited for the rider in front of us to finish, the ring steward looked at me apologetically and said, “We’re having some problems with the pigeons roosting in the rafters.” I looked into the ring just in time to see three pigeons circling the head of the rider before me as he trotted down centerline for his final salute.
Now, we have a lot of activity at our barn: horses, cows, dogs, cats, children, tractors, trucks, the wind. But we do not have birds. I didn’t know what Madigan would think if a bird swooped down upon us during our test, but I figured there was nothing I could do about it now. I entered the ring to await the bell and tried to not to think about pigeons or getting run away with or bucked off or otherwise embarrassing myself because a bird dive bombed me at E.
The wind picked up as we began our test, which was deeply unfortunate because it caused the oversized black tablecloth covering the table on the judge’s stand to begin flapping in the breeze. As a native Okie, Madigan is generally unfazed by the wind and he is used to seeing horse blankets hanging on the indoor arena rail moving in the wind. He didn’t spook at the flapping tablecloth as we moved off from our halt at X and tracked right at C, but he did turn his head slightly to the outside to keep an eye on it. He was otherwise perfectly fine. He occasionally got distracted by something going on outside the arena like a person walking in the vendor area or a dog barking, but every time I asked him to refocus his attention on me, he did so immediately and politely. I was extremely pleased with our test and thought it went very well. His trainer did too.
The judge…did not think it went very well. My best guess is we made a poor first impression by looking at the flapping tablecloth at the beginning of the test. None of the comments on any movements were useful (nor were the remarks at the end of the test)- every movement simply said “tense” except for one movement that said “tempo???”. I was genuinely surprised. I am still surprised; I watched the video of our test, and while it wasn’t lighting the world on fire, I thought it was perfectly appropriate and not tense at all.
Since I had a couple of hours between tests, I put Madigan back in his stall and untacked him. When I re-saddled him and got back on, he was clearly annoyed. I didn’t spend a lot of time warming up, but I got him moving and went down to the indoor for our second test. It started off very well, and then sort of devolved into what you might normally expect from a green young horse. He tossed his head during some of the canter work, picked up the wrong lead once and was crabby about fixing it, had a couple of late transitions, and was just kind of a fussy baby. It wasn’t so much that the hamsters came off the wheel, more like the hamsters took themselves off the wheel after the first test, put on their pajamas, turned on the TV, and were unhappy about being told to get back on the wheel. I was certain we’d scored very poorly and was disappointed it hadn’t gone better.
However, this judge liked Madigan and gave a fair score for each movement, complete with useful feedback. She thought he was a nice horse who was having a bad test with good moments and that I rode him appropriately. We even earned an 8 on our final centerline and salute! Our score was better than the first test, so that took the sting out of the disappointment.
I took Madigan out to graze and walk, then we fed him dinner and headed back to Fort Worth for dinner with my in-laws. They’d dropped by the show to watch both of my rides and spent part of dinner asking enthusiastic questions about a musical freestyle they watched before my ride. I’m very grateful to have so many supportive people in my life, from my spouse to his family to my parents to the many friends who cheer me on from wherever they are!
We went to bed early since Madigan and his trainer were scheduled for the FEI Five Year Old test at 8:15 AM on Sunday. We arrived around 6 AM, fed Madigan, and took him for a walk around the perimeter of the indoor. On the way back to his stall, his trainer mentioned she thought he might benefit from a brief longe to stretch his legs. We stuck him in his rope halter and long line and went to the warmup around 6:30 AM only to discover it was past the longeing hour, which was between 5 AM and 6 AM. (I thought it was from 5 AM to 7 AM, but I was thinking of Saturday’s longeing hours.)
Madigan was fine when his trainer eventually got on him about an hour later. He wasn’t wound up or especially tired, although he was a little jumpier than he was the day before. The warmup ring wasn’t very busy, so his trainer had plenty of space to run him through a couple of the more complex sequences of the test. The test requires some counter canter work; here is an excerpt for the first sequence that occurs about halfway through the test. The horse is on the right lead.
Between S & H
Half circle 10 m, returning to the track at E
Half circle 20 m, counter canter
Simple change of leg
Madigan is beginning to learn about flying changes, and sometimes attempts a flying change at R instead of the simple change through the walk. He can become frustrated when his rider tries to prevent the attempt, and he expresses this frustration by wringing his tail, bouncing his back legs up in a kind of tiny buck, and shortening his canter stride to be about seven feet long. (I’m sure a judge would find it terribly unpleasant to see; I think it’s sort of funny because he’s a 17 hand horse trying to canter in place. He looks ridiculous.) He usually attempts to change when he’s already done the sequence a few times or if he’s done several walk-canter-walk transitions. His trainer did exactly one walk-canter in the warmup and said to me, “He’s right on the verge of trying to change, so I’m just going to walk him around and NOT think about changes!”
I held my breath throughout the canter work, but I shouldn’t have worried. His trainer is an excellent rider who has a good feel for Madigan. (She’s ridden him for 99% of his training rides since he was first backed at 3.) He was on his best behavior, his trainer rode him very skillfully, and there were no angsty change attempts made. During the second counter canter sequence, he broke to the trot once but picked the counter canter back up right away with no fuss. Other than that, their test was perfect.
If you are unfamiliar with the young horse tests, the 4, 5, and 6 year old tests are judged a bit differently than regular dressage tests. Instead of evaluating each movement individually, horses are scored on their walk, trot, and canter and given a score for submission and perspective (which is “potential as a dressage horse, ability to collect and take weight”). After the test is completed, the judges (of which there are two) speak with the rider and give feedback about what they saw. The test with written comments is also provided. USEF has a guide for judges that I found very insightful.
The judges were very impressed with Madigan’s confidence and attentiveness. They remarked that his foundational training is very good and he appears to be progressing on the correct path. Their only criticism was of his gaits- while they are clear and correct, they are not very expressive. They encouraged his trainer to work on his strength and continue to develop the gaits. He ended up with a 70.4% on the test, which isn’t quite enough to earn a qualifying score for the Festival of Champions, but is a good score nonetheless.
We packed up quickly after picking up the test and headed home. The drive was uneventful and we got in around 3:30 PM. Madigan seemed glad to be home and ran around a little and rolled before parking himself in front of the hay feeder until dinner time.
I am incredibly pleased with the results of the weekend! Madigan was a perfect angel who behaved like a seasoned show horse about every single thing. I had fun riding him even if our scores were nothing to write home about. He was extremely good for the 5 year old test and received positive feedback from the judges. I am unconcerned about his gaits being a little lackluster; they will improve as he gains strength. And the best part of the weekend was that no one died hauling a horse trailer through the metroplex!
I am very pleased to report that Madigan and I successfully completed our first show together without incident and with moderate success!
I spent most of Friday cleaning my tack and packing my trailer so I would have as little as possible to do before leaving at 7:00 AM for the show on Saturday morning. Since my trainer wasn’t going to this show, I roped my mom into coming and serving as my runner and extra set of hands. We pulled out more or less on time, had an uneventful drive, and got to the venue around 8:35 AM. I got hung up at the show office discussing the new show management software with the secretary, so I tacked Madigan up a little later than I wanted to. He was (for the first time in his life) an absolute twit about standing at the mounting block, so I started my warmup approximately ten minutes before my ride time.
Fortunately, he is an easy horse who doesn’t require a lot of prep. We were both a bit flustered by the 20 mile an hour wind gusts sweeping down the outdoor warmup, but I did my best to sit quietly through his silly leaps and other nonsense and managed to do some trotting before we went in for our test. The main piece of advice I received from his trainer (who is my trainer’s assistant trainer) was to be sure to walk, trot, and canter him in the dressage arena before turning down centerline. For whatever reason, his first canter in the ring is always full of head flipping and wiggling. Then he settles down and behaves civilly. I managed a 20 meter canter circle at C before the judge rang the bell, and then we were off on our First Level Test 1 adventure.
The test had some good pieces and some less good pieces, as all tests do. He was very behind the leg and crooked in the left lead canter, attempted a flying change on the diagonal, and shuffled around in the halt for what felt like five minutes. His trot work was all generally pretty good, though. We ended up with a 59%- a fair score, given how terrible the left lead was, and how behind the vertical he got at times. Ducking behind the bit is Madigan’s go-to evasion, and I am still learning how best to get him out of it. All of my other horses have been above the bit evaders, so this is a new experience for me!
We had about 45 minutes between tests, so I returned to the windy warmup to walk for a while. I chatted with about a dozen people I recognized; I think my mom is now convinced I know every horse person in the state. (Which is not true at all- I only know the english riders!)
First Level Test 2 felt much better. Madigan was still a little crooked and wiggly, but the test rode smoothly. Our leg yields were good, the canter lengthening existed, and the 15 meter circles weren’t too big (and only slightly egg-shaped). Madigan again felt the need to attempt a flying change across the diagonal (which I think he actually achieved in this test), but was overall much steadier and straighter than in Test 1. Our score improved to a 62%, which was good enough for a close second place (of five!) in the class.
Despite our relatively low scores, I feel good about the day! Madigan was pretty much the same at the show as he is at home. The problems we had at the show are the same problems we work on in our lessons (crookedness, especially on the left lead) and the same problems he has in training rides (making assumptions about when flying changes are appropriate). He was a good boy! I can’t ask much more from a five year old than to pack me safely around a couple of First Level tests.