Well, what a weekend I had with Oh So! After an early wake-up call, I arrived at MCTA after a two hour drive. I haven’t been to this event for a few years and I’d only ever done prelim with Sam there. It’s at Shawan Downs, which is a lovely race course in Cockeysville, Md. Dressage was on grass, so I put some small studs in. The footing at the facility was a bit wetter then I’d expected, but the dressage warmup was decent. They had four rings and only two were in use, so we were allowed to ride in the empty rings. That was a real help. I worked my way in and around the arenas and got both of us comfortable with the footing and slopes. He warmed up really well and was totally relaxed. I kept that momentum going and went right in to my ring. It was an average test for me, but for him to be calm and relaxed and trying the whole time was amazing. He felt rideable and now I just need to work on some fine tuning. I felt like I could have ridden a little more shoulder-in like on the long sides and of course, gone for a bigger canter and trot lengthening. I think I was just getting used to riding on the uneven terrain again and as a result I rode less accurate then I’m capable. Oh well, horse doesn’t know the difference as my dressage trainer says!
We ended up second after dressage with a 24.6! I barely break 35 with him usually, so that was quite a shock. We had quite a few 7’s and 8’s and even some 9’s. He got a 9 on his gaits (I think because he was so relaxed and free with his shoulders) and 8’s on the other collectives. We got 6’s on his free walk to medium walk because he didn’t stretch as well as he could have and his trot got a bit tense from F to the canter transition at K. I know people who know me should say I should take that 24 and be thrilled, and I am, but the dressage judge was a former four-star eventer, which I think is why we scored so low. She can appreciate TB’s and event horses in general which I think is great. If we’d had a pure dressage judge, I think our score would have been a bit higher, but still good. Of course, I’m an over-analyzer, but that was the first thing that came to my mind when I saw who our judge was. I felt like this test was similar to our test at Loudon last weekend where we scored a 39 with a pure dressage judge. She really dinged us for his poll being too low. That’s something I’m still trying to figure out. He gets low towards the end of the warmup usually and I have trouble getting him back up.
Show jumping was also on grass and it had a slight slope. It was quite chewed up in spots, but they shifted some of the jumps to help the take-offs and landings. He was a bit tense in the warmup and as a result, not as fluid as I would have liked. We had a real lightbulb moment in my jump lesson this week. I figured out I need to exaggerate how I move my shoulders over the fence to get him to land on the correct lead. It helps correct my ducking to think of really bringing my inside shoulder back over the fence. Of course, my problem is when I get to the competition, I resort back to my old habits. My legs just start to feel like jelly in the show jumping! I didn’t duck horrible during our round. I was more worried about keeping a good pace up. He knocked one rail in the one-stride combination of verticals. He just jumps in too big sometimes and doesn’t have enough room to get out. He did the oxer to vertical one-stride well and I lost the pace a bit over the last line which was slightly uphill. It was supposed to be a six-stride, but I added one instead of landing and moving up for the six. So overall it was not our most polished round, but a good try for the first grass course of the season.
The cross-country course was nice and forward. The first six fences were just gallop fences with long stretches in between. I think it really got me in a good rhythm and I met each one on a decent stride. It also helped him fuss less and all I had to do was sit up a bit and he backed himself off each jump. There was a three-stride line which we show-jumped because it was a bit short. Fence 9 was a skinny table, turning left to a log into water and then back into a second water and out over a log. It was similar to last week, so I made sure to keep the impulsion into the second water so we could get out with enough power. After the water, we galloped up a big hill and over a log to log bending line surrounded by trees. There was also a half-coffin and a drop. The second to last fence was a weird table in the fenceline. It was airy underneath and you had to angle it right to left so you wouldn’t jump and then jump over another fenceline. I thought it was in a terrible place. I checked my time a few fences before that one and realized I needed to keep moving. I think that distracted me enough to forget to ride that good line. I got on track a few strides before it, but he was confused and added a stride before it. He hit it with his forearms, but made it over. It was definitely a good use of the “fifth leg”. I let him have his head and neck and sat up on landing and we came out unscathed. I’m sure we have the fence judge a heart attack. I think he was just confused and thought he was supposed to jump the table, then the fenceline in front of him. He didn’t see the out to the left soon enough.
So in the end, we ended up winning! He’s only ever won a beginner novice division before so this was a big deal. The division had 25 people in it, which was also impressive. I thought we’d be middle-of-the-pack, especially with the rail. It wasn’t our best performance, but we won! I never thought in a million years that we’d get a 24 in dressage, so that was a nice reward for all the work I’ve been doing all winter. He’s finally truly relaxed and rideable in the ring.
Now we have two weeks until Lexington. I’m giving him a couple of days off and upping his grain and alfalfa because he’s lost a bit of weight.