Camelot Horse Trials — but mostly tribulations!

This weekend I attended the first of the Summer Horse Trials series at Camelot Equestrian Park.

If you live in Northern California and haven’t heard about Camelot, you should get on that link!  Camelot is an amazing facility for all riders!  With multiple dressage courts, two stadium arenas, a cross country course catering to riders from intro to intermediate (with more jumps being built every day!!!), miles of trails and hills, there is something there for every rider.  They take meticulous care of their footing and provide plentiful, safe housing for horses staying overnight at a great price.  And they have events for all — two-day horse trials (and their first rated event next Summer!), hunter/jumper shows, dressage shows, hit the trail for life, ride and dine.  Did I mention their super, super, super reasonable pricing?  XC schooling for the day is $15.  FIFTEEN DOLLARS GUYS.  In short: GET THERE AND CHECK IT OUT!

Their footing is so good Murray can’t help but roll in it…

Our cross country school the night before the event went really, really well.  Murray acted up in every way I thought he would: he panicked at a cloud of dust brought up by the wind, couldn’t stand still, and refused the tiniest jumps; only singing “Yellow Submarine” kept me from tears (a coping strategy provided by DStew, more details on this later).  My trainer (Alana) and our assistant trainer (Tatiana) worked me through it though, and we ended on a really strong note after jumping all over the course.  (Another benefit of Camelot as a show location for inexperienced horses and riders: they let you school the course before you do it!)  Murray and I entered at intro. Though we have schooled up to 2’9″ at home (ok, one jump) I wanted our first horse trials to be a relaxed event for both of us, with an all-positive cross-country filled with running, jumping, and no baby horse/Bad Eventer antics.  Recently Murray and I have had some problems that I haven’t been able to get to the root of.  At our most recent XC school at a nearby facility, Murray kinda…. melted down.  He couldn’t figure out how to go forwards, and spent most of the second half of our time out there going sideways and backwards unless directly pointed at a jump from a few feet away.  M has melted down a few times at home too, and has been really strong and opinionated in our jumping lessons (bucking before and after jumps, through the changes, and grabbing the bit and running away, to mention a few of his opinions).  I wanted to enter at a level where I was beyond confident we could do the jumps, so I could just concentrate on getting the job done, instead of that job we had to get done.

Thankfully, ponyface loves the water.

The morning of dressage was a little more eventful than I had wanted.  I was running a little short on time after braiding and Tati offered to bridle Murray while I changed into my show clothes.  As I closed the tack room door, I heard that all-too-familiar cry: LOOSE HORSE*.  My last show at Camelot, one unfortunate soul’s horse got loose four times, and I had just been reflecting on how lucky we had been that there were no loose horses so far.  After a second, I snapped to: that’s probably MY HORSE that’s loose.  Sure enough, as I opened the tack room door, I saw Murray bucking his way across our line of stalls, dressage saddle slipping precariously back and pad nearly completely shed.

Like this, but without the rider.

Thankfully, Murray stopped for a chat with his friends and we managed to get things righted.  It only took four of us!  In warm up, Murray got out a few more of his baby nerves bucking at the canter and giraffing around the arena.  Thankful for shows that run late, we got a bit more time to warm up and relax before entering the ring.  We put in a solid dressage test, an improvement from a schooling combined test back in April, with some really lovely moments.  Murray couldn’t relax enough to really show off his beautiful neck and back, but there were times when he shined.  We even got an 8 on the right canter circle!

Sleepy pony after dressage & antics….

Cross country warm up was an utter disaster.  They were running an hour late as the YEH judge was nowhere to be found, and the warm up arena was packed with galloping ponies.  Murray immediately reverted to panic mode: sideways, backwards, half-pass, turn and spin were the order of the day.  Instead of panicking, I employed some of Alana and Tati’s tactics from the day before and took Murray to a quiet part of the warm up to do some polite canter transitions and quiet canter circles.  This worked beautifully, and when things calmed down a bit in the warm up we did our warm up jumps.  That was a bit challenging, as Murray was still pretty distracted, but after six pretty spastic solid jumps Alana and I thought we were warmed up enough for intro.

When we got to the start box, Murray was still a little confused about what the plan was.  We did get into the start box though, and out of it.  Once we got about six strides out to the first jump, Murray locked on and broke into a canter, which is honestly the best feeling in the world.  We ran a fast intro round (30 seconds under optimum, oops) without any run outs or refusals, and Murray locked onto every single jump.  There were a couple of moments when he wasn’t sure exactly where we were going, but steering isn’t his job, it’s mine!

Stadium on Sunday morning was also fantastic.  Warm up was much of the same: too many ponies + too much action = distracted baby horse.  We leapt over the X and vertical a few times and called it good.  Waiting for stadium was honestly the worst: Murray couldn’t stand with any of the other horses, but he couldn’t stand to be away from them.  He couldn’t watch the stadium rounds because it made him nervous, but he couldn’t look away.  Some cleverly timed and over-bent figure-eights (thanks Tati!) helped him get his brain back together, and I was extremely proud when the gate opened for our round and Murray marched right towards it.  Wait until the other horse gets out maybe?  Nope, Murray is going, and I’m not stopping him.

Don’t tell me what to do!

Once in Stadium, Murray was confused again. Where is jump one? What is this sea of crazy? Where do I go? Oh god, what is that whistle?!  My plan of cantering him around a bit to settle went out the window, and we rather uncoordinatedly trotted towards jump one.  Fortunately for us, Murray’s instincts kicked in: once pointed towards jump one, a little kiss got him moving and he became very rideable for the entire course.  I am super lucky to have a horse that is just spooky enough to be careful over everything and weirdly braver away from home, but who is also willing to listen to me when I say “no for real, we’re jumping this jump.”  We didn’t even have any of the over-tired pulling problems from our recent lessons, and Murray still jumped things that I aimed him to poorly.

Murray flexing his sweet abs during our mini-victory gallop.

Over all, a super, super successful weekend where I accomplished all of my goals and more.  We lived and made it through all three phases without getting eliminated.  Even better, we finished on our dressage score!  I worked out some of the kinks in our riding, and figured out how to warm up without killing my horse or crying in frustration.  Murray proved to me that he does like eventing and is capable of everything I ask and more!  A shiny red ribbon was just icing on the cake.

* My trainer heard this in the warm up as well, as Murray galloped toured the stabling area.  As people around spread the word and half-heartedly attempted to catch my bucking steed with nothing to grab on to, Alana recognized Murray and said “Oh, it’s just Murray.”  Evidently, the other trainers found this quite amusing.

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