I’m being honest,
I’m working with a third of what our Congress has promised.
We are a powder keg about to explode,
I need someone like you to lighten the load.
– Right Hand Man; Hamilton
This entire weekend’s recap is being brought to you by Hamilton, thanks to Emma and Austen, since a) Hamilton is great pump up music, and b) appropriate for all times. No, really. Also, there is sadly no media of our dressage day just yet – but I ordered a Ride On Video so there will be!!
We arrived at Twin in the early evening on Thursday and quickly unloaded the horses and tack room (which would lead to my later wardrobe malfunction). After checking in I snagged a little bit of food and wine at the Adult Team Challenge mixer and then jumped on my horse to school before we left them for the night. Since the whole goal of the weekend was just to be zen and not a freakshow, I opted to go with our standard dressage protocol: lunge, lunge with side reins, then ride.
Murray wasn’t as bananas during the lunge pre-side reins as I thought he would be, mostly just looking around and periscoping a lot, but fairly obedient. He was super for our actual ride, and we got down to the warm up late enough that there were very few people left and we mostly had the space to ourselves. After some good walk, trot, and canter work in each direction trainer B left us with the advice to go wander around the courts and judges’ booths a bit before coming back in. Murray was shockingly incredibly brave (a theme that would, weirdly, last the whole weekend) to walk around the booths, and after a brief pause to take them in he wandered right up to them on a loose rein with only a little tension. That little tension did lead to him nearly tripping and impaling himself on C, but nobody was looking.
Friday morning we woke up very early and I walked Murray for a bit after giving him breakfast. My ride time was 11:07 so I backed it out to figure out what time everything needed to be done.
20 minute warmup – start at 10:45
20 minute lunge – start at 10:25
20 minutes to get the saddle on – start at 10:05
15 minutes to get dressed – start at 9:50
~1 hour to groom – start at 9:00
~2 hours to braid – start at 7:00
It seems really ridiculous to have that much time allotted for things, but I wanted to keep things really, really mellow while I was working on Murray so we could both stay mellow. While I was braiding I just kept reminding myself “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” — my past experiences with even slightly rushed braiding have led to shitty, messy braids. Murray was so, so, so good for braiding — like really ridiculously good. I think because I didn’t use any spray, he was just like “well, keep on playing with my hair you ridiculous, tiny human.”
Unfortunately, Murray was also FILTHY because he rolled in the mud right before he got on the trailer, so I spent longer grooming than I intended (and yes, honestly, I got started grooming a bit late). I decided to forgo the lunging in favor of an extra long walk to warm up, and headed down to the warm up ring around 10:40.
The warm up at Twin was honestly my worst nightmare, but it really wasn’t that bad. There were horses and riders everywhere in all kinds of undefined and unconfined space. Murray kept it together with a fair bit of aplomb, and only bucked repeatedly the first time we cantered right. I kept my leg on and changed direction when he swapped leads and didn’t let him get away with any of that silliness.
i count 19 horses in this warmup, and it was relatively quiet compared to the morning
At one point I trotted past B and said “look how damn short my reins are!!!” I was holding them between the first and second stops. (In the past I’ve struggled to keep my hands between the third and fourth stops, which I now realize is a rather absurdly long rein!) Murray didn’t feel as good as he has at home, but a far sight better than he has ever felt at a show — not perfectly through, but forward and even in the reins and keeping his head down. Like really, that’s all I can ask for.
When it was time to get going, we walked and trotted around the arena to a cheerful “have a good ride!” from Ann Howard at C. As we trotted down centerline I remembered that Murray and I hadn’t practiced a single centerline prior to the show, and it was definitely evident — we fishtailed and noodled a fair bit to the left turn at C. The left trot circle was quite reasonable, and the left canter transition was quiet if a little fumbly. I expected this — we’ve had trouble with trot-canter transitions when Murray doesn’t know exactly when they are coming, and I realized that I don’t have a fully reliable way (aka half halt) of warning him that they a re coming.
The left canter circle was honestly pretty dreamy, but Murray broke to the trot at A, a relic of my constantly schooling of one circle at a time. He corrected quickly when I put my leg on, and cantered again before the corner, and even came back to the trot between B and M as I instructed — which earned us a “well recovered”.
Tracking right (the walk work was unremarkable) Murray trotted promptly at A without resisting my hand which was wonderful. In the right trot circle I added a little leg to get some more oomph and forward and Murray took it upon himself to canter instead, which obviously wasn’t what we wanted. I slowed him back to the trot — prompt once again — and finished up the circle, after which I could feel the annoyance emanating up from Murray’s body and into my seat, so I knew we were in for something in the canter transition.
I was correct. Murray bucked in the right canter transition. Of course.
But it was okay. We kept on cantering right and really did a pretty reasonable canter circle, all things considered! Murray got a bit strong and heavy on the fore toward the end of the circle and I had to haul him into the trot again, but at least it wasn’t against the hand (a frequent comment on our tests). I hardly thought about the halt, but peeked out at B from the corner of my eye as I came up to it and somehow we came to a stop. The judge laughed and told me “well recovered!” after I saluted and walked toward her, and we laughed together about how much Murray was anticipating that canter movement. “Yes,” she said, “he was looking forward to it for five movements!”
The test was wonderful, really. We ended up scoring a 42.9 which was right where I expected for a test where we broke to the trot in a canter circle, to the canter in a trot circle, and bucked through a canter transition. We were dinged for obedience and submission — shocker! — as well as impulsion, none of which are awful or surprising. We do struggle with obedience, submission, and impulsion!
But Murray went into that arena, kept his head down, and did almost everything I asked. Even better, I didn’t stop riding just because we went in for a dressage test. That is truly the biggest accomplishment — I kept my leg on, kept my reins short, and Murray listened and did all the right things. It was wonderful! I have rarely felt so proud of the two of us after a dressage test. There were bobbles and I couldn’t get him as soft and through as he can be at home, but I never expected that! Next time, I’ll try to squeeze a little more tension out through the each movement of the test, instead of letting it wait until the last canter transition. Bucking and all, it was a great test, and a huge accomplishment for the two of us.