Because Peony is an enabler, a few weeks ago she encouraged me to sign up for a schooling show at Davis with the tantalizing offer of being my ride. Why not? I thought. Murray and I need the practice, and it will be fun to see how we stand up to pure dressage judging! I’m pretty sure I still remember T3 and 1-1 from that November that I had to scratch this same show, right?
Wrong, Nicole, wrong. You do not remember T3 and 1-1 except for the first few moves, minus the halt at X. You do not have time to practice, and seeing how you stand up to pure dressage judging is really not necessary for an eventer!
The night before the show, Murray got some kind of weird scratch on his back that went just under the saddle region. Perfect! I thought. This is a great excuse to scratch!! But my barn manager ruined all my plans by inspecting the scrape, poking Murray rather violently, and telling me to ride. So ride I did.
On Saturday morning, Peony’s husband kindly picked me up bright and early (second theme of the weekend: horse husbands being awesome), and Murray politely loaded directly into the trailer. We picked up Peony, Spot loaded like a champ, and we were on our way. I will admit, it’s very nice to have a show venue just 20 minutes down the road with the trailer, albeit a show that is frequently a little poorly organized (this year was no exception, but they were very flexible and accommodating, which more than made up for it).
When we got to UCD, we checked in and unloaded the ponies. Murray and I went for a little graze and groundwork stroll while Peony got Spot ready for her T1 and T2 tests. I didn’t ask Murray to do too many of our groundwork exercises, but did ask him to stop and go and back a few times, with plenty of cookies as a reward. I set him up at the trailer with our new blocker tie ring and a hay bag full of alfalfa. Yep. Alfalfa. I gave my pony a forbidden food to shut him up at the trailer. I regret nothing (because I haven’t ridden since that day).
It was around this time that one of the organizers came up to me and pointed out a grievous (her word! but accurate) error she had made. In scheduling the times, she had scheduled one ride at 10:24 and the following ride at 11:30. So really, I could go an hour earlier than my ride time — as early as 10:39 — if I wanted! I looked at my watch. 10:10. There was no universe in which Murray and I were ready to go at 10:39. Fortunately, the organizers were very flexible and worked hard to make the ride times run smoothly for everyone.
After Peony’s rides, I headed over to Murray and quickly threw on a saddle. He had pulled all the way to the end of the leadrope at the trailer, but thanks to the blocker ring was just wandering around on an extremely long leash. Mostly it seemed like he was trying to reach the water bucket that Peony and I had put down for Spot. Tacking up went really well. Andy and Peony both commented on how mellow and relaxed Murray looked compared to previous outings at UCD (and elsewhere). He really was just chilling.
We popped into one of the small turnouts and lunged both ways with no dramatics. Murray just… walked, trotted, and cantered with no dramatics or theatrics. So I walked him over to the warm up by the ring, and chatted with the organizers about my rides. I was ahead of time, so I rode ahead of time and they said I could go in for my T3 test and immediately follow it up with the 1-1 test. Super! That was the best possible outcome!
As we warmed up I tried to keep a few things that I’ve been working on in mind. I didn’t give up on my position or the reins — no giving it away just because someone doesn’t want contact. Same thing for trot and canter cues: I know how to ask Murray for them correctly, and he knows what they mean, so there’s no reason to back off just because I don’t get what I want immediately. And Murray respected that. There was a moment when I felt his back back get a little tight in the canter, so I just stood up in my stirrups and let him canter around on a loose rein.
Our T3 test went smoothly. Really, both tests went smoothly. The extra time you have to ask for canter departs between A and F (instead of at A, for example) really let me prepare and ask correctly and not give up the cue just because Murray didn’t step into the canter immediately. But we went in, he put his head down, and did the thing! It was so cool!
After the test, the judge commented that Murray was tense in the canter and he needed more suppleness there. Our cadence and steadiness was evident, but the suppleness was not. She suggested a bit more hip and seat to get him bending. That was fine by me! The 1-1 test has more bending than the T3 one does, so I made that my goal to improve upon for the next test.
Doing the two tests back to back was HUGELY beneficial to us. Because Murray never thought we were done working, he just stayed on task. And because I got the feedback on my riding without a big gap, I could incorporate it immediately. I was especially please that Murray didn’t break to canter in either of the trot lengthenings, and that he was so good at coming back after the canter lengthenings.
I was incredibly happy with both of the tests even before I saw the scores. I’d gone in expecting to score in the 50s (I like to set my sights low to avoid disappointment) an work through some weird dramatics. That was the whole point of going to a schooling show, to get the drama llama out of the way and into work mode. And instead, Murray turned up worked with me!
I got a sweet flow chart drawn on the comments section of my test (it makes a lot of sense, actually) and came home with 2nd and 3rd in 1-1 and T3 respectively! This has obviously got me pretty jazzed for Camelot this weekend. If Murray and I can keep it together half as well at Camelot as we did at UCD, we will be in GREAT shape!