DAY 38. Hot diggety! And I’m not just describing the weather. It was a successful weekend for Nayborly Farms at the Lincoln Creek Pony Club Benefit Horse Trials. On Saturday Kelsy and Kevin had positive rounds in all three phases to win at Training level. Sunday, Patti rode my pony Pippin to a victory in Novice. And Solar was super solid in his first real jumping show to earn fifth place in the Hopeful division out of about 15 horses and riders.
The video shows the highlights of the dressage test. Even so, you can see that Solar isn’t confirmed in carrying a steady contact in the bridle yet. It’s still a constant communication between us to establish a connection. At times he goes above the bit and behind it, or he opens his mouth or twists his head off to the side. These evasive maneuvers will subside as he develops balance and learns that a steady connection is actually the most comfortable way of going.
In fairness to him, I haven’t focused much on developing steady connection through the bridle at this stage in training. Solar had many other things to work out before connection, such as carrying a forward rhythm, confidence, fitness, basic bending, lateral aids, and engaging mentally in his work. Plus, he had a bad habit of leaning into the bit–a form of noncommunication. As such, I’ve intentionally avoided giving him any unnecessary contact to lean against to break that conditioning.
What I liked about his dressage test was that again, he strode confidently around the arena without spooking. He was not distracted by the show environment. He also made good efforts in his canter departs. We’ve been working on getting the correct lead in the canter but not really 20 meter circles. He was successful in the test with his left depart, but sucked back behind the bit as he tried to negotiate the balance needed for a circle. On the right, his difficult side, he picked up the cross-canter (one lead behind, the other in front), and then did a modified flying change onto his right lead. Solar’s score was 40 with consistent scores of 6 (“satisfactory”) on most movements.
During stadium jumping we focused on rhythm and confidence. The course had brightly painted jumps, some with fake flowers underneath and/or filler boxes, and it was set apart from the warmup area by flapping flag fencing. By my calculations this would be a challenge for a green horse like Solar.
Thankfully, we’d spent the day before the show practicing jumping “scary” things–tarps, blankets, buckets, or anything unusual we could find around the barn. Turns out this really helped, and I was overly cautious during the ride. Solar was steady and committed to every jump! He didn’t bat an eye. Something to be said about ex-racehorses is that they’ve seen a fair number of manmade things; I’m sure some of the exposure he got from racing also helped him in this environment.
I was pleased with Solar’s round; especially as this was his first “real” jumping round with a series of fences of consistent height in a row. He felt like an old pro out there in terms of his comfort level.
Comments from the video:
- 0:49: Before the round started I took Solar around the ring as much as I could without crossing the start line. Once the judge rings the bell you have a limited amount of time to get to your first fence, but take full advantage of that time on a young horse to orient them to the unusual environment.
- 1:10: Solar was alert and on task lining up to the first fence. He even offered to canter. This self-driven desire to go forward is new for Solar, and a sign that we’re on the right track in our training.
- 1:24: The first three fences were set up in such a way as to encourage riders to practice riding straight to the middle of the jumps. This was a great exercise for Solar as straightness is important for developing quality jump technique.
- 1:47: You can’t quite see from this angle, but fence #4 had a white filler box underneath it. I was concerned that Solar might try to duck his head down to look at it since he has never jumped a fence like this. I intentionally used my reins to block him from dropping his head while lightly tapping his shoulder with the jump crop as an assurance to carry on. You can see that I sort of overrode this fence; he was very honest about it and didn’t make any attempts whatsoever to try to stop or avoid the fence.
- 2:04: We got too close to the base of this fence, most likely because the approach was on a turn off the rail. Because Solar was flat in his balance and didn’t get adequate time to focus on this effort, his hindlegs trailed slightly over the top of the pole bringing it down and getting 4 penalty points. I’m not too concerned by this error considering his lack of jump miles. It’s a reflection of his lack of training and development right now and can be improved with quality practice.
- 2:15: This fence had a bright purple box underneath it, so again I was intentional about keeping Solar’s head up. At home Solar has a tendency to drop his head (and therefore his neck and shoulder) when he wants to assess scary things, which doesn’t put him in a good position to jump. Again though, Solar was committed and honest over the fence!
- 2:30: He got to this fence on a slightly off-stride, but because we had a steady trot rhythm he had time to get his feet organized to clear the fence, even though it wasn’t pretty. If we’d been cantering and hit a bad stride he likely would have knocked the jump.
- 2:37: Because the fence before had been a tad disorganized, I gave Solar a “love tap” with the jump crop to encourage him to focus and commit to the jump. You’ll see he made a very nice effort over this fence and his form was excellent.
- 2:47: Solar took a look at the green wings on the side of the fence, but he remained willing to go forward over the jump regardless. I’m happy to see his improved ability to think quickly and go for it!
This course had some significant questions for a green horse. Namely, the most difficult fences were the ones headed away from the warmup and other horses. These fences stood a full 2 feet tall and included decorations. It’s funny how everything is a matter of perspective… I’ve jumped significantly larger and more complicated fences with other horses, but for an inexperienced horse like Solar even small jumps require a mental game plan. My friends were teasing me for being overly-concerned about having to jump such small fences.
Anyways, we had a very clear plan out there on course. I wanted to be 100% sure that Solar was focused on and honest to every single fence. You’ll see that right from the get go on course I brought him back to a walk. When I felt him “lock on” to the fence and offer to go forward, only then did I let him trot. As mentioned in previous posts, I want to give Solar adequate time to assess the jumps and find his confidence. Taking it slow now will pay off in the future by creating a horse who does not ever refuse fences.
Using walk on his first real cr0ss-country course was also about teaching Solar to stay mentally connected with his rider and to be relaxed. Testament to the success of this approach was the nice quiet canter he carried between jumps. He was not tense, rushing, braced, or spooky. Next time we do cross-country he will remember that it is a controlled, safe experience in which he listens to his rider.
Also on course whenever possible I went out of my way to ride near and between jumps marked for other divisions, so Solar could get maximum exposure. I don’t have access to my own cross-country course, so I’ve got to make every outing count! The more he can see the better.
This course caused problems for other horses and riders in our division. As such, Solar moved up in the final placings thanks to his clear round. The fifth place pink ribbon was a nice bonus to an excellent learning experience!
If you’ve been reading along, then you know that Solar didn’t have any show experience prior to his time with me. So, why did I take Solar to shows? Especially so early in the 100-Day Trainer Challenge?
- Timing. There are limited opportunities to show at affordable local shows. It just happened that the best shows for an inexperienced horse like Solar were scheduled for early in the summer. In an ideal world, I would have had a little more time to polish him up before showing, but regardless these events gave us the opportunity to discover that Solar is safe to handle in a show environment.
- Education. A show is a learning opportunity just like any other ride. In fact, shows present new challenges that other riding scenarios cannot, such as riding in large groups of horses or jumping decorated courses. Often shows reveal holes in your relationship or training, or directions for improvement. They also help answer the question: Are my horse and I mentally on the same page?
- Building Solar’s resume. At the end of the day my job is to prepare Solar for finding a new home. A show record will give potential buyers confidence. A show record is like a resume for your horse: it proves that they have achieved certain training benchmarks and are safe to handle in public. Also, most sporthorse buyers will expect a 7 year old gelding to have been ridden in public.
Remember, you can also follow along on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ChesnaKlimek. Thank you for reading!
** A huge thank you to Lincoln Creek Pony Club for the discounted entry fee and excellent show! LCPC is family friendly and focused on quality instruction. They have an active membership, with members who have competed nationally in dressage, show jumping, games, and polocrosse. Half of their membership holds a national certification, which is an excellent indication of the success of their instruction. The club is open to new members with dues at $25 a quarter. The dues, along with the fundraising shows, pay for the club’s instruction. Members meet weekly for mounted meetings and at least monthly for unmounted meetings in the Rochester/Centralia area. **
** Thank you Patti Mize for filming Solar’s rounds and for your grooming expertise! **
** Thank you Kristy LeClair for your generous contribution. Part covered gas expenses to this show! **