Last weekend I competed at the Cochrane Dressage Show. (okay, it was Aug 4-5, I wrote most of this post soon after the show but then failed at publishing it until now, at first I was waiting for the pro pics but the prices were high and I couldn't justify buying them so sorry for the lack of media)
Just being there with Kachina was a huge win for me. I have been trying to ride at this show for 5 years and it has become my white whale! (Quick summary: 2014 - First year I learned about show but was horseless, 2015 - entered but Kachina came up lame a week before and I had to vet out, 2016 - was having saddle issues, 2017 - show wasn't held due to one organizer leaving). It is a well run show, a Bronze rated show but a nice friendly environment, and it takes place at the most beautiful facility where the arenas are cut into the side of a hill with fantastic views of the Rocky Mountains.
It's only been two weeks since our last show but in that time I have been working on the contact and connection so I really wanted to get some updated feedback, especially from this judge who I know and respect. I entered 2 training level tests and 1 first level test each of two days for a total of 6 tests. In some ways it was nice that I was already out of the running for year end awards, I was able to just focus on riding the best I could but wasn't overly concerned with scores.
I hauled up Friday night after work but got there late enough that Kachina just went right into her stall for the night when we arrived.
|Kitted out for the night in her brand new Hansbo Sport Sweat Rug
(I wanted to see if the magnetic/ceramic mumbo jumbo would help her and we
needed a new dress sheet anyway since she grew out of my beloved wool one)
Lunging was allowed only before 8am so I took her out in the morning for one more quick lesson with the side reins. We only worked for 10-15 minutes total but I think the side reins really are helping her to figure out this new contact. I then brought her back to her stall to groom and braid.
|The mountains peaked out from the clouds a bit Saturday night, view from the show grounds
I started my warm-up about half an hour before my first test and planned to stay on her for both morning tests as they were only about half an hour apart. My warm-up went pretty well, she was being her usual self at walk and trot, but apparently we lost our canter transitions overnight because the first few I did were pretty terrible. We did some practice but I knew drilling it too much would make her more tense so we got a bit of good work and went down to the ring for Training Level Test 1.
Training Level Test 1
Our first test was disappointing to me. I could feel that I got tense in the show ring and didn't ride my best. Kachina always responds to my tension but the blame was squarely on me for this test. I generally do 3-4 tests a day so the first one can be a throwaway. It used to be Kachina who needed a test to get the hang of the show environment but she seems seasoned enough now, instead it is me who needs to figure out how to keep things together in front of a judge. It wasn't a bad test, but just not what we were capable of. Really it is a testament to how far we've come that we can achieve a 60.0% at training level when we aren't at our best.
We did a little focused work between tests but mainly I just got myself into the game before our next test.
Training Level Test 2
I was actually pretty happy with how this test rode and was surprised that it scored lower than my first test of the day. In looking at the scores the big thing that dragged us down is that no matter how good the stretchy trot circle feels to me, it doesn't look that good in the judge's eyes. Of course there is no stretch trot in training 1 so that one low mark makes the difference. For my first two tests I focused on the forward and activity because of the feedback from my last show, but this judge really wanted the relaxation so I dialed the energy back a bit for my subsequent tests and that seemed to help my scores.
Over the lunch break I had a fun adventure with KateRose and her horses while Kachina chilled in her stall. In my second warmup I focused more on First Level movements like the lengthen and leg yield.
First Level Test 1
58.7% is definitely not a 'good' score but I was okay with it. We are still green to First Level and for trying it out for only the second time, plus being a rated show, my expectations weren't too high. Also I was happy to see that at least I wasn't last in the class.
Sunday morning was more relaxed and I had plenty of time to get ready. On Sunday my First Level test was before Training Level which was not ideal. However my warm up went really really well. In fact I put in my best First Level test pattern of the year in the warm up arena! Unfortunately we peaked to soon and some tension creeped back in the competition ring (I think it actually had everything to do with how I was riding and nothing to do with the length of my warm up). I still need to figure out my mental game better when in front of a judge.
First Level Test 2
Having just over an hour between tests is the worst case scenario for me. Since Kachina can be a little cold backed I don't like to take her saddle off between tests unless there's at least a couple hours, but it was warm and she really didn't need an hour of schooling. Instead, as soon as my first test finished I turned Kachina up the trail that led to the cross country field for a low key hack. I had been meaning to explore the other parts of the facility so this was a good opportunity. The trail had some fairly steep sections but it had nice footing. We wound around the hillside facility and first passed by the indoor arena (which is tucked in a hollow and almost invisible until you reach it), then kept climbing to the cross country course at the top of the hill. A cross country clinic was going on so we kept a respectful distance away but it was fun to hack around. I've never actually seen a cross country course in person before (they are few and far between in my area) so it was cool to see the set up and how the footing was maintained. We utilized a straight bit of galloping track to do some trot sets where I focused on keeping Kachina straight and between my aids. We then started the walk back down. It turned out to be a great way to spend the time between our tests and it set me up well for my next class. I just wish I had had my phone to snap some photos.
|I am standing near the start of the trail in this photo
Competition ring lower left, warmup to right, cross country course behind and above me
Training Level Test 1
Mentally I was in the best place for this test. It was my easiest test and I was relaxed and feeling good from my trail ride. I went in and rode my best and it showed. The judge commented about what a positive change it was from the day before and I was really happy.
After this test I stripped tack and let Kachina chill in her stall for a while. We were both pretty tired by this point and the weekend had gone well so I only did a short warm up for my final test.
Training Level Test 3
Our last test wasn't much to write about. It felt solid, but not as good as our Training Test 1. I think the fact that we were both tired meant I didn't push Kachina for much. It still felt pretty good though.
I was really happy with my ribbons but wasn't expecting anything more. The scores weren't posted but the rider in the stall next to me had been figuring out the placings all weekend and figured she knew who Champ and Reserve were going to be in our division (which didn't include me). I really didn't mind much so I started packing up the trailer. I stopped long enough to go out and cheer when they announced the winner and was told that I had to go get my horse! I had to quickly throw on my show coat and Kachina's bridle to reappear for the award ceremony. It turns out that I got Training Level Champion! They ended up calculating the winner by highest score instead of highest average so that is part of why it was a surprise. Some of my scores were low but 64.35% was apparently the highest score in the division all weekend so I'll take it! Sadly there was no giant ribbon but there was an embroidered saddle cover. I love having something that says "Champion" on it =D. Of course Kachina wanted no part of the picture taking after being rushed from her stall but we got it done.
|My ribbon haul and saddle cover
|Champion photo, my pride is evident
PC: BM Images - free image used with permission
|Training Level Champ and Reserve
PC: BM Images
After note: This show was a super proud moment for me and part of me is holding onto that feeling. However, looking back now more critically, including looking at the photo proofs shows me everything we were doing wrong that I have since learned to do better. Most of this post was written shortly after the show but I know that we can and will do even better next time.