ODS Summer Oasis Recap

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?)

Snacking outside the warmup ring

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!

Cowtown Classic Recap

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.

Schooling on Friday like a total professional.

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.

This is a good baby.

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.

This is a very good baby.

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.

Ditch grass is delicous.

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.

KSMedium canter
Between S & HCollected canter
HGEHalf circle 10 m, returning to the track at E
VPHalf circle 20 m, counter canter
PR Counter canter
RSimple 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!”

Here’s a clip of that counter canter work.

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!

CPDS January Schooling Show Recap

I am very pleased to report that Madigan and I successfully completed our first show together without incident and with moderate success!

This is a good horse!

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.

No photographer at this show, so a screenshot of a video a friend took will have to do.

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!)

the wind was truly hideous

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.