Off the Track(s)


    The last weekend of August was the biggest show of the year for me and Zephyr. I felt like we’d done a lot to prepare, and all of the smaller shows had led up to this in an orderly fashion. Little did I know my Thoroughbred had other plans in mind for us, and decided to harken back to his 4-year-old fresh-off-the-track days instead of acting like the 12-year-old reliable man he usually is. On the bright side, he jumped every jump (on the first try, even).

    Let’s start with dressage. The warm-up went well, but when we got in the actual ring, suddenly he was tense and looking everywhere. Other than two head-tosses in one of the canter circles, there was nothing shockingly disobedient—but we still got the worst score of our careers: a 50.5. Turned out the judge was scoring everyone about 7 points higher than they’d ever gotten before, and there were several other 50s (whereas usually there is NEVER a 50!), so I felt a little better about it.

    A couple hours later, I headed up to show jumping. I had walked the course twice, as some of the approaches were tricky (short turns before the jumps). Jump #2 fell for four people in a row during Beginner Novice, a level that almost never has any rails down. I made a mental note to give myself the longest approach possible to #2.

    The Near Side - Off the Track(s)
    Photo: Elizabeth Moyer

    I was within the first 10 of my division, slated to start at 4:00, so I got up there about 3:30. To my surprise, they told me they’d already passed my number and I needed to hurry up and get through my warm-up and head to the ring! Apparently they’d made an announcement in the barn about the change in time, but I never heard it. Oh well! At that point you’ve just got to carry on.

    I was a bit frazzled, and I think Zephyr knew it. He was trying to buck while warming up—a habit he left behind years ago. I was a bit nervous to warm up over a fence, but I had to. He jumped it like a deer with his head in the air, followed by running off and not listening at all. (Please see photo because … well, it’s hilarious.) At that point I was scared I would fall off when I had to do a whole course!

    They called my number again, and I was shaking with fear as I headed over. That’s very unusual for me. I had planned to take a loooong gallop up to the first fence, a wide oxer. Instead I cut the turn because I just wanted to get it over with. Turned out to be our only rail down! We left up the problematic #2. The rest of the course he was very forward, but listening much better than the warm-up. Only one turn was difficult, with me turning his head one way with his body running the other way. We broke to a trot but galloped the last line in the right number of strides.

    On to cross-country the next day … a cool, crisp morning had me worried about my 9:00 a.m. ride time. He was going to be wild! I had a 30 minute warm-up just letting him gallop around and around over the solid warm-up fences until I thought the edge was off. So off to the start box I went.

    The first two jumps were uphill, and I had nice control. The wheels kind of came off after the third jump, a little house in the shade followed by a sharp right turn that required full control. He pretty much blew that turn by bolting and fighting me and running sideways. I got him back to a collected canter to the base of #4, a brush fence. He landed and saw the downhill grade and just took off. By the time I had control again, I tried to make my next turn, only to realize I couldn’t find my jump. Oops! I had blown right past the opening in the white galloping lanes to get there. (The lanes are already staked for the 2010 World Equestrian Games cross-country course so they can put extra grass seed and fertilizer down; at various points the ropes were removed so we could go across the lanes to our next jumps.)

    The Near Side - Off the Track(s)
    Photo: TeamCEO

    I did an embarrassing circle to look for the opening in the lane, and came into #5A with a nice, controlled pace. This was the most difficult combination on the course—as you can see from the photo, there’s a VERY sharp turn to 5B! And it’s all facing downhill. Unfortunately Zephyr landed and bolted again. I was determined to make 5B happen regardless, per my trainer’s directions, so I cranked almost a 270-degree turn and jumped 5B on a nearly impossible angle … yay, Zephyr!

    The rest of the course he was still pretty strong, so I trotted a few downhill sections to be sure I could make the turns. Finally, three jumps from home, he fell into a lazy, relaxed canter. Better late than never? By then I was so tired I just wanted to finish. My horse was probably TOO fit, and was ready to do the course “for real” at that point! I slid off to get some water and remove my pinny, and the next rider came in right behind me. We’d gotten a ton of time faults for all the trotting we did.

    So it was another semi-heartbreaker of a show, but I’m trying to look on the bright side: this is the largest Novice course we could possibly find all year, and he didn’t hesitate for a moment at any of the jumps! One more show left this year—we’ll see if he can pull it all together with the addition of a running martingale next time. How have your shows gone this year? I love hearing other peoples’ stories about naughty horses … or big successes!

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    1. During my last dressage show my horse, after being nice in warm up, decided he didn’t like the indoor arena and did several crow hops and bucks throughout our test. Needless to say, the judge wasn’t impressed.


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