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!