Friday was more of a lax day in terms of riding – our class didn’t start until 1:30 and after that, we would be done showing for the week. Show Buddy fed for me in the morning, because apparently I sleep like the dead and didn’t even hear her get up!
I got myself together slowly and after watching Show Buddy’s western Dressage with her mare, I puttered over to the stalls and started to get Annie ready. She seemed really amped for whatever reason and would NOT stand still at the trailer. She wasn’t pulling back or rearing, but she was so focused on where other horses were that she swung herself around, pawed, and carried on. I ended up dosing her with Chill just to see if it could take the edge off. Fun fact – it didn’t.
|So fancy. So Thoroughbred-y!|
In all the months I have owned Annie, I have never seen her like that at the trailer before. My gut tells me this isn’t a “forever” thing, and is only a blip in our progress. The restlessness and anxiety she felt at the show could have been a mixture of several elements – we have never been to an overnight show before and certainly not in the capacity that this show was at. I did have to end up walking away and letting a friend finish tacking her up for me, as I was starting to get impatient with her shenanigans and was a little mortified and embarrassed. Baby horses… so fun.
We did some ground-work before heading back over to the warm up ring and once I got on her, she was fabulous to ride. We did walk, trot and canter all over the arena with some mixture of extensions (more like trotting fast lol) and a ton of transitions. She quickened her trot after we did our canter work, which is normal for her, and was compliant when I brought her back and asked her to be a bit more rhythmic. She felt good, although a bit behind the leg (I sense a theme here…) and her mind was trying very hard to be with me but I could feel it wandering. She stared hard at several things – namely the large wagon filled with people two Clydesdales were pulling around the perimeter of the fair – and just seemed really tense and nervous.
I hopped off since I had quite a ways to wait for my class (I had gotten on well in advance just to be on the safe side) and my friend, N, held Annie while I chatted with a friend’s mom. It turned out we migrated pretty close to the Dressage ring which was holding the freestyles and while talking with Trainer K (who was competing), a small kid came running up with an umbrella. It spooked Annie hard and she whirled around to take a look at it. Annie stared at it and blew a few times before the kid’s mom asked him to put it away and I made a mental note to desensitize her to umbrellas. Just as I was about to move back to the other ring, the bit check lady from Dressage came over and reamed us out for being too close to the ring. I agree, we were too close, but so were several other spectators and competitors. The woman also mentioned that when Annie spooked, she apparently almost knocked over a woman who was standing behind her? I didn’t see anyone there, but the lady very blatantly told me that if my horse is going to spook, she shouldn’t be standing around spectators. Uh… okay then. I felt bad, mostly because we were in the wrong by being too close to the ring so we wandered away to the warm up ring and stood there until it was time to get back on.
Annie seemed to calm down by this point and was quiet as I hopped back up and entered the warm up ring. As the wagon with the Clydesdales passed us, she spooked hard at it (probably the biggest spook I’ve ever ridden on her). I ignored the spook and let her look at it before returning her back to work. She really didn’t feel like herself – she felt really insecure and nervous.
Our class was called and we had to be led to the outside of the ring – we made it a few steps out of the warm up ring before Annie just would not go forward. I didn’t have my whip with me, as I wasn’t allowed to use it in the class, so just asked N to tug us forwards a few steps. Annie complied and entered the ring on her own with another girl and her horse behind us.
|Just keep trotting... just keep trotting...|
As we entered, I realized then that I had never ridden Annie in this ring. It was the Jumper ring and it was HUGE, especially without jumps in it. Annie was trying hard to be good, but I could feel her wigging out – not in a bad way, but she was sucking back hard and really nervous about the grand-stands and spectators. The announcer’s booth spooked her as well.
I did my best to keep her together and for the most part, she was really trying hard to be a good girl. As we marched down the ring, I could feel her starting to get nervous about going to the far end of the arena. I don’t think she realized another horse was in the ring with us, so I decided to cut across the ring and start heading back towards the gate. I didn’t need to fight her to go to the end of the ring and I wanted to show her there was someone else in there with us without being blatantly obvious about it. And when we came towards the announcer’s booth, because she had already spooked at it, I asked her to leg yield away from it and back again. While I realize that asking a horse to leg yield away from something scary might be counter productive, I had read something really interesting quite a few years back about a Dutch rider who had done a similar thing with her horse during a competition and ended up being the only rider to go clear in the stadium jumping. The idea is that before the horse spooks, you ask it to yield away from whatever it is and in turn, are suppling and relaxing the horse vs trying to make it head to whatever is bothering it straight on. As you work the horse, you will start to yield towards the Scary Thing and just carry on with whatever you are doing. I don’t use this method often, but I felt it was helpful in the show ring to keep her mind focused on something else.
|Tense, hence the chomping.|
She did really well and even stood quiet when they asked us to line-up for the final placings. Her back was hollow and rigid, but she still did the thing. So what more could I ask for? We ended up placing first out of two in this class – the other horse was an older horse, but in his first show ever. The young rider did a really good job with him.
So much tongue-action over the weekend!
Back at the trailer, Annie kept wigging out. I could barely get the saddle off because she just kept swinging her haunches all over the place. At one point, I was kind of sandwiched between her shoulder and the trailer. I gave her a smack and she didn’t even react to it – just kept staring off into space and whirling her head around to try and find a horse buddy. I will admit; I did lose my cool with her. N told me to go get changed, so I did and I am glad she was there to bring me back down to Earth a little bit. You guys, it was really frustrating. While I got changed, I left her tied for a little while to see if she would end up just giving up and standing, but I also didn’t want to tie her too long and have her damage Show Buddy’s trailer. So in the end, I relented and untied her when she was acting quiet and brought her back to her stall sans blankets and braids.
Aside from the anxiety and nervousness on Annie’s part, I was pretty happy that she didn’t completely lose her cool. I have a feeling the trailer and stall stuff will all come in due time, especially as she gets into the rhythm about what showing is all about. As Show Buddy said, five days is a LONG time to be stalled in an unfamiliar place that has tons of outside stimuli.
|After my class, an older lady came up and complimented how|
beautiful Annie is. I smiled and thanked her.
Overall, for a first “big” overnight (make that multiple overnights, lol) show, I was really happy. Yes, the stall stuff and trailer stuff was annoying and frustrating, but the horse was RIDEABLE. I didn’t have to lunge her or ride her down for any of her classes. She did everything I asked in the saddle (maybe with a bit of flair on some occasions) and didn’t toss me. So I count the whole thing as a win. Default ribbons aside, I really think we earned them.
So while I am still sad I couldn’t bring Spud, I am happy that I ended up bringing Annie and “doing the thing”. I didn’t ride her on the Saturday or Sunday, but did some groundwork and round-penning with an umbrella. Hilariously enough, Annie was spooked by the umbrella, but not to the degree she was earlier. It also didn’t take her long to be calm, quiet, and submissive during our groundwork exercises. I will have to remember to do some purposeful groundwork prior to getting her tacked up. She rolled in the arena as well, which was nice to see although I did notice she had dropped some weight (*sigh* Thoroughbreds…). She had been eating well the entire week, but on Sunday I noticed she did not finish her Saturday night’s grain. I tried to get her to eat the left-overs, but she had no interest. I figured that a lot of this extra stress was due to the fact both horsey neighbors on either side of her had left to go home and do classes. I brought her down some extra hay during lunch time to see if I could get her to keep eating to keep her mind off of being alone (well, not really alone… there were other horses across from her and up the aisleway beside her), but she wouldn’t touch it. Boyfriend and I brought her out and hand-grazed her for a bit before returning her to her stall and she nibbled at the hay a bit, but not much.
|This was on Sunday, before we loaded up to leave.|
I am a big fan of just letting them figure shit out, so I
just stood far enough away to monitor her.
After Show Buddy was done her Reining classes, we packed up the horses and got ready to leave. I walked Annie back to the trailer and tied her – she was quieter than she had been at the trailer, but was still refusing to stand still. Even when Show Buddy brought her two horses up, Annie still pawed and carried on. She seemed relieved when we loaded her up in the trailer tho, and was more than happy to get off of Show Buddy’s rig and into ours to head the final leg home.
Has anyone else had similar issues at horse shows with their horses being tied? Does your horse's anxiety get worse as the show goes on, or better? Does your horse have anxiety in the stalls? Did you find repetition helped that horse?
I'm sure the process of repetition will be our best friend in this case - it was a lot to ask of a horse that was just broke to ride not even 10 months ago. And for all of that, she did really, really well. Lots of things to keep improving on (as always), but she is teaching me more and more about taking risks (within reason, obv) and not getting too offended by the baby stuff.