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August 7, 2011

Conquering Morven, Day 1 & 2

Photo by Susan J. Stickle.

Well, this is not quite the weekend I had planned, but we're making it work.

First, Landon returned to Hunterland much sooner than expected—a stall opened up with a new trainer who places a much higher premium on flatwork than the last, so his owner needed to move fast. I'm disappointed, of course, but happy he's in good hands.

Then on Monday I moved a lawn sprinkler (in a feeble attempt to keep our grass from turning totally brown) a little too close to Ella's window, and she jumped when I turned it on and banged her little nosey. She has a teensy cut right at the corner of her mouth, and while it's already healed, I couldn't work her all week and didn't think that was the best preparation for a weekend at Grand Prix. So she was out, too.

Fortunately, I haven't given show management a reason to hate me (yet), and Shannon was INCREDIBLY kind about letting me play musical horses at the last second. I brought Odin as planned, and I decided to get Fender out as a non-compete. I wanted to make sure Fender remembered how to horse show, but I knew my friend Pati Pierucci was going to be there, and she'd generously offered to be eyes on the ground for me, something I haven't had for Mr. Stinky since May.

Turns out it was a good call, because the first thing Fender did when I got on on Friday was threaten to stand straight up in the air like he'd never been to a horse show in his life. Clearly a refresher course in How-To-Not-Be-A-Chump-Off-The-Property was in order. About two minutes on the longe line was enough to put his brain back in, and he worked SUPER.

Pati was really helpful. I struggle with where to put Fender's big, beautiful, LONG Donnerhall neck; I can put it pretty much anywhere, but I'm not sure where it should live for maximum support of his back. Should it be up, to give his hind legs a place to go under the body, or down, because he's not that strong? Pati said up, so up it went, and he was quite happy there. She had me make more corrections of his straightness (or, rather, lack thereof) with my leg instead of my hand. Even though I should be thinking shoulders in front of hind legs, when I fix with my leg I get the added benefit of increasing activity and push.

He's still just in that doofy 5-year-old place, and I know, and I'm cool with it. But it was great to get confirmation of all the things I've been working on, and he made perfectly respectable half-pass and VERY good changes yesterday, Saturday, where he remembered he was trained from Minute 1. Hoorah. He was being particularly marvelous, and Pati, who was teaching into a headset, said to me, "Have you noticed everyone's looking at you?" And it was true—the whole group of spectators around the warm-up was watching Fender. Neat!

I had no idea how Odin would be at a show—as I've ridden him about seven times, this is as close to catch-riding as I've ever come. Turns out I had nothing to worry about. As soon as he saw the trailer, he put his game face on, and Odin's game face is a big, focused smile. He practically self-loaded into my head-to-head, marched into his stall, rolled in the fresh shavings, and said, "What's next? Let's go!"

He schooled marvelously on Friday, hacked around the place like an old lesson horse, warmed up on Saturday, and banged out a perfectly lovely third level, test 2. We had one non-starter in a flying change where communication just totally fell apart—and into trot, whoops—but everything else was quite civilized, including 8s on shoulder-in, extended walk and our final halt.

That last halt 8 I'm really proud of, because I rode his first trot-halt transitions on Thursday, identified them as a weakness, worked on them for about 20 seconds on Friday, and nailed them Saturday. This is SUCH a charming horse! To top it off, he WON the massive class on 66 percent. Not bad for ride No. 8!

He's here with me to get rolling on getting sold as a dressage horse, and I've had lots of interest, so hopefully we can get him to a new home soon. I really hope that home is with one of my students—he's just a gem!

Speaking of my students, both Virginia and Kristin rode terrific tests. Virginia's Roadie had more Thoroughbred than warmblood in his tests, probably due in no small part to the (much appreciated!) 20 degree temperature difference we're experiencing. Annoying as some of his silliness was, I doubt Virginia's complaining. I LOVE her newfound confidence in telling him to stop being a monkey, and she was rewarded in her second test with a qualifying score for the Regional championships, her second and final one. Yay!

Kristin, too, got the score she needed for her Regionals entry, and she got the added bonus of a blue ribbon in a BIG class. I'm so happy for her, and I was especially happy for her to get that ribbon in front of her husband, who bred her horse. It's a family affair!

This show is home to a wonderful Pas de Deux and freestyle evening, and sure enough, after weeks of no rain, the dark clouds moved in just as things are getting set for the evening. The event is usually quite well attended, and this year was no exception, but I was amazed at how many people stuck it out, even as it started really pouring buckets. The riders persevered, the lightning stayed away, and I think a good time was had by all. I do think that the event might benefit from some kind of headset rental with commentary, particularly for the non-dressage people who show up. It's a terrific evening, and brings new blood to the sport.

There's more rain in the forecast for today, which again, we can't complain about, given the crispy state of our grass, but if it could just stay away long enough for all of us to get our last tests in...

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