Here Comes the Sun!

Two posts in under a week–look at me go! It is mid-to-late June and I am just now writing about my May horse show. I’m not exactly blogger goals but that’s alright. We’re all here to talk about Nautica, right?

After a rough showing experience at the Scenic Flight I/II in March, my confidence toward dressage wasn’t exactly stellar. Regardless, Nautica and I had things to do and goals to accomplish, so we revisited some training holes and had our asses kicked by our instructor for two months before loading up for the Solo Flight I in Pell City, Alabama. This show was at a slightly lower-key location than March’s Scenic Flight and was to be a one-judge-one-ring operation. In addition to those benefits, Nautica had dropped his “spring sillies” as the Alabama summer temperatures crept up from the 50s (°F) to the 80s. He was in a much more dressage-y frame of mind and even hauled quietly down to Pell City. I was newly and appropriately medicated this time around, much to Nautica’s relief. Things were looking up.

I was not prepared for the heat. No one was. Alabama gets about two and a half weeks of a nice, dry, breezy spring before the opressive heat and humidity rolls in all at once like Stephen King’s The Mist. This show week just happened to be that exact transition date.

Our practice ride on Friday evening went very well. Following our typical long, bending walk warmup, we popped off a few transitions and some short pieces of our tests. Nautica felt great. At the advice of our coach, we ended our ride. Why drill it?

Sorry guys, it’s a cute picture!

Shows, for us, are approached with much lighter and easier expectations of the horse. It goes back to the whole concept of schooling a level or two higher than you show. Nautica is schooling all of First Level and many of the movements from Second (though definitely not in a Second Level balance yet.) This makes showing Training Level that much easier on him when he’s already likely to be distracted or tense from being away from home. We also like to make shows an enjoyable experience so that the horse enjoys his job and the idea of going to new places. No one ever fixes an issue on show day, so we let more difficult concepts slide and focus on just our current level’s basics and our test patterns. Lots of praise and treats are involved.

Friday evening, Nautica took me on lots of walks around the property’s cross country course to snort at jumps. I can tell he’s getting more comfortable and braver being off-property because he gets more and more demanding for me to let him out to walk around and hand graze.

(new fear unlocked: artificial logs)

Saturday morning came and despite the fact that coats were waived for the entire show, I braved the sticky mid-80s to wear my new Pikeur Diana-esque soft shell show coat. I looked so fancy sweating my ass off out there. Nautica was feeling a bit stiff when bending in his ribcage to the right–no doubt a product of his trailer ride the day prior–but I felt it was more of a “feel” issue than a visual issue. Not a problem. We still got our leads and we had adequate bend for Training Level. Nautica was a bit tense but definitely rideable this time around. We went into the ring and put down a conservative but mistake-free test, possibly a bit under-tempo, all for the sake of compromise; harmony over impultion. Well, over frantic impulsion, anyway.

59%–not great by any means but not far off the mark. This judge was hard on gait quality but very fair. He was, however, obsessed with horses fully tracking up. That’s still a bit difficult for Nautica in an environment where he’s likely to tense and lose his back but a doable goal nonetheless. Okay, our next test would be more forward.

We’ve got this turnout thing down pat. Classy AF.

Ride two of the day, sans coat, more forward, and unfortunately slightly above of the contact in moments. 60%. Getting better. I was slowly figuring this judge out.

I ended the day dehydrated and very sunburnt. Nautica fared better; he’s more built for warm weather than me. We had a long walk and graze and the barn crew celebrated with Mexican food. It was a good day for everyone.

I’ll take it!

Sunday was even hotter and sunnier than Saturday. My ride times were around 10 AM and 3 PM. Ugh. Bring back winter!

The vampires go to a horse show…

Our morning ride was our best ride yet at this show. Nautica was equal parts supple and forward. The right-bend issue was still there but we were adequate for our level. It was truly a pleasant and mistake-free test. The score was… still a 60-even. Darn. Not complaining, but this was definitely the superior test to Saturday’s. It was subtle, but the improved tempo and harmony were noticeable when comparing videos of my rides. Oh well–at least I’m reaching my marks this go around.

💯🔥🕶

3 PM came and it was time for Nautica’s final test. I was running on fumes and sheer willpower. I was fading, melting despite having eaten a decent lunch and sufficiently hydrating throughout the day. My show nerves were no longer as I had already received two scores that would work toward my goals. Obviously, I still wanted to do well for my USDF score median’s sake, but there was no sense in stressing (also, life made better by chemistry. So, there’s that.)

Our last test was not my favorite. Nautica was forward but we had definitely lost the harmony we had achieved in our earlier test. He even went back on his bullshit of launching into the canter transitions. It was uncalled for and out of place when compared to the rest of the test. I think the heat finally got to him and he was feeling a bit sassy, or, as sassy as a cinnamon roll can get. I expected another high-50.

Oddly enough, and as is often the case for me in dressage, the judge and I had differing opinions on what makes up a “good” test. Nautica raised his earlier scores by one point: 61%. Ironically, we had achieved the impultion that the judge was looking for. In Nautica’s defense, the hind legs did come more forward in his “skittery” canter transition.

Good boy!

All in all, it was a good show and a huge improvement over March’s show. 10/10, I would ride under that judge again. Oh also, I almost died. Upon packing the trailer and hitching the truck, on my way back to the stables to retrieve Nautica to load, I officially bit the dust, literally.

It came out of nowhere. One moment I’m walking clear as day a day and the next moment, I’m being slapped awake, my clothes taken partially off, and being waterboarded by my friends. Apparently, I got a touch of heat exhaustion. Someone called the EMTs and I died a bit inside, only from embarrassment. I sent them away. Oddly enough, it was still not as embarrassing as my behavior at the Scenic Flight earlier that spring.

In the words of the great dressage instructor and philosopher, K. L. Arnold, “It’s not a real party until someone ends up naked and passed out in the front yard.”

Teamwork makes the dream work. Or at least, it makes us not die in the heat.
Always having more fun than I should… How can I not smile on this horse?

Anyway, this was supposed to be my last recognized show needed for my USDF Training Level rider certificate (Which I earned! Woohoo!) as well as Nautica’s qualification for his All-Breed American Saddlebred declaration for USDF Training Level. But! I also recently found out that I am within one more show and score of qualifying for two more of my goals: an award for saddlebred sport horses from ASHA and Nautica’s USDF T-Level horse certificate. So now, Nautica and I are signed up for the Scenic Flight III in July, back at the scary Tri-State arena. Will we redeem ourselves? (Oh, I really hope so…) Then, it’s on to working toward First Level in the fall!

Stay tuned!

He’s the best.

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