Friday, May 6, 2011

Playing Hooky

Dressage 101

By Carolyn Bahr

There comes a time in every working adult amateur’s life when a choice arises, especially when they own a green baby off-the-track thoroughbred.  Do they give their baby his/hers first show experience or do they let their trainer/coach do it?

I live in two worlds: my professional busy post-production television career, and my fun, extracurricular, equestrian pursuits.  With my first OTTB mare, I chose having my trainers lead the way, and not hopping into the irons until my horse had her show experience laid down.

But this time, I picked a different path.  I’m not the same rider I was almost a decade ago, and Junior, certainly isn’t the hot mare I use to own.  He’s a solid guy, talented, somewhat easy going, gelding -- the perfect partner in which to step up and challenge my skills.

Junior Studying Sarah's Words To Live By:  Be Bold, Ride Tough
Following the advice of both my trainer and my good friends, I entered our first show with me as rider.   I christened Junior with a show name, Playing Hooky (‘cause lets face it…. If I ever get to show, it’s ‘cause I skipped out of work!), chose both a level that would be easy for both of us, and venue that would be inviting.

May 1st, The Meadows of Moorpark derby day arrived.  The first challenge was met with success, loading into the trailer, and we were on our way traveling with fellow Eventer, Sarah Wood and her horse Tiberius.  As our coach, Susan Friend LeTourneur of Goldspirit Farm  and eTwister, Marla White, went to get our numbers, we were off to lunge.

Both boys were superstars and very quiet.  Things were looking up for my show nerves.  We left them happily tied to the trailer as we went to walk our derby jump course.  Mine was a combo platter:  Easy Beginner Novice was a combination of Beginner Novice fences mixed in with the Intro BN.  Nothing struck me as scary or undoable, though I was bit squeamish about the solid log jump back into the arena.  Course memorized, it was off to get ready for dressage.

Trek Back To Trailer
Tiberius was up first, and while he was gone, Junior held up well being left at the trailer by himself and only me for companionship.  It wasn’t until twenty minutes in when some other horse let out a bellow, that my quiet, well-behaved, baby decided he didn’t like to be alone.  Good timing, since we were already tacked and almost ready to head for our warmup.  Thank you fellow eTwister, Sherry, for helping me get on my fire-breathing dragon and was quite good-natured about us trotting away and leaving her behind. Warmup was interesting.  He tried very hard and at least settled slightly.  Off we headed to our arena.  Finally, it was show time! Still on the muscle, but trying to be good, as soon as the competitor before us halted and saluted, I was off trotting outside the arena to give Junior a view of what’s to come.  We stopped at the judge’s booth, chatted (to make sure he knew they were people in there and not horse eating monsters) and also passed it both directions.  After wishing us a good ride, the bell rung and I made our way to letter “A”.

Over Fence #1
With some encouragement after a slight balk, I got Junior into the arena and cantered partway down centerline.  Forward is good, right?  Or did he think we were going advance?  In my dreams.  It was an interesting test.  The wind picked up and blew down part of our court as we were trotting directly at it.  There were some more illegal canters and one tiny buck, but we managed a square halt and salute.  With a big smile I patted him and told him he was a good boy.  Definitely not the test I was expecting out my fancy TB, but not horrible for the first time out.  Hey, we stayed in the arena and didn’t get eliminated after all, and he did show moments of relaxations and throughness.  Next time we’ll get ‘em.
Into The Arena

Next up, his favorite phase, jumping.  It use to be mine, but after several mishaps with my previous horse, I‘ve learned I don’t bounce as well as I use too…  I was determined to put my luggage aside and give my boy the ride and confidence/support that he deserved.
Last Fence!
A few rides ahead, we waited outside the field to watch a few rounds.  That’s when I discovered something new about Junior – applause.  Apparently with his failed career on the race track, he hadn’t heard the crowds before, or maybe he did and he had a flashback, either way, I, all of sudden, had a very alert, springy, bouncy boy.  Needless to say, we left the area and waited for my trainer to tell me to head on in.

Our time had arrived.  We galloped into the field, halted and saluted our judge.  She rang the bell and we were off.  A derby consists of both stadium and solid field jumps, and with a deep breath, we kicked on to the first of the colored poles.  I tried to clear my mind of past rides from other shows and concentrated on the here and now.  Five strides, four strides, three strides, I waited to see what Junior would do about his first competition fence.  I kept my leg, I sat up straight, and lo and behold, he cantered right up and jumped it.  Never once taking a “green” look or backing off.  Good boy!  I just had my first smile of many.  Ten jumps total, and he never looked at a thing, just happily cantering and jumping and asking mom, “what’s next?” Even my scary solid fence, he never thought twice about.  After clearing our last fence, I was grinning ear-to-ear, so proud of my boy and myself.  Jumping was fun again!  And boy was it great to hear:  “Double clear for Playing Hooky and Carolyn Bahr.”