Well, it’s better late than never… Here is Nautica’s Scenic Flight III recap!
Nautica completed his third big USEF/USDF horse show weekend of 2021 a few weeks ago and I’m not exaggerating when I say that this was our best show yet! We completed our last trip for Training Level at the Scenic Flight III on July 24th and 25th.
We started our weekend trip with yet another first for Nautica since having made the switch from saddle seat to dressage: hauling with a buddy. Ever since Nautica’s trailer accident and subsequent injury, Nautica has had some anxiety about hauling. Over the course of several trips, experiments with earplugs, fly masks, and USEF legal pharmaceutical help, we’ve found that he has become much better at hauling quietly long distances. He still would come off the trader bit wide-eyed and sweaty, but his trips are now devoid of pawing, nostril-flaring, and screaming.
This trip, we were to try hauling Nautica with another horse for the first time since his saddle seat days. It was a bit nerve-wracking as I didn’t want to potentionally undo any progress made, nor did I want to cause any distress to Nautica’s hauling buddy, but it was also a great opportunity to see if another horse could provide a calming influence on Nautica while also being logistically logical. The level-headed paint mare, Luna, had been a pasture-mate and friend of Nautica’s and proved to be the perfect horse for him to haul with. The trip was a success! Nautica stepped off the trailer calmly, without sweat marks, and immediately settled into his stall at the show grounds without any fuss. He felt confident; I felt confident.
I was much calmer already and Nautica’s pre-show practice ride was shockingly good. Nautica offered a good, full-backed stretch throughout the walk and trot work right off the back and had plenty of reach while also retaining a bit of bounce in his gaits. The canters were civilized and almost comfortable to sit… He felt awesome!
Following the theme of our previous shows, I was to ride with both judges on Saturday. My ride times were both set after 1 PM and it was nice to have a long morning to hand-walk Nautica and braid him at my leisure. I knew my Training Level tests in my sleep at this point and I was strangely not nervous. Nautica picked up on my laid-back attitude and we vibed happily around the show grounds on our walk.
Our first ride was with Judge Speck-Kern. Judging from previous riders’ scores, she seemed very fair. My plan was to focus on softness and bend in my first test with her. Nautica has a tendency to take too much in the contact and brace through his body when we get to thinking too “forward first”. Once he braces his long fulcrum of a neck, I have nothing to work with for the remainder of the test. It is best for us to err on the side of caution and ride a bit under-tempo and consistent in the contact until the notes come back. It worked in our favor! Judge Speck-Kern was a fan; 64% and our highest Training Level score to date! The comments were congruent with our choice for softness over gaits.
Our second judge of the day, Downer, preferred a more forward, tracking gait per her notes. 60%-even. Phew. At least I had something to work with for Sunday. We would push a bit more for the gaits, let the poll come up, and sacrifice the softness as much as I dared. It’s definitely a balancing act with Nautica.
I’d say Saturday was pretty awesome from a rideability standpoint. I really don’t know how to describe it besides the fact that Nautica finally felt like a true dressage horse for the first time at an away show (a true dressage horse rather than an ex-saddle seat saddlebred pretending to play a dressage horse on TV, that is!) He truly rode like the same Nautica I get at home. He was focused, quiet, and soft, both laterally and longitudinally. I felt like the idea of pushing for more gait quality on Sunday might not be such a daunting task after all!
Sunday’s rides were in the AM–good thing because it was HOT. Nautica’s first ride was with Judge Speck-Kern. Apparently, I got Nautica a bit too loosey-goosey going into this test and he got comments on being a bit too low for T-Level. While Nautica feels most comfortable over his back being a bit low in the frame (go figure for a saddlebred, right?) it doesn’t really work in our favor in the show ring–we are looking towards First Level, after all; poll up! Our score took a point hit with a 63%. Still, not bad at all. The comments were kind but wanted to see a higher balance. I’ll figure out that sweet spot one day.
For our last ride of the weekend, we rode again for Judge Downer. I worked on opening up Nautica’s frame and pushing more for the gaits. We improved Saturday’s score by a point. A 61%–Not bad! I’ll take it with a more critical judge for gait quality. Downer’s scores and comments showed that we had improved from Saturday.
I came to this show with the goal of finding out what each judge wanted and succeeded–Nautica and I improved with each trip to the ring! I also came to redeem myself from my March rides and less-than-stellar scores. It’s safe to say that this horse show was a huge success for that goal.
While dressage is a subjective sport, I love the fact that I do get to read my judges’ notes and learn from my tests, often before riding with that judge again. With the exception of very few people, dressage judges truly are our biggest fans and they want to see riders succeed, despite how critical some tests may seem. For a less-than-conventional team like Nautica and me, it’s essential to learn my judges and keep notes on who will give us a chance while also challenging us to do better. I’m excited to continue to learn from each and every judge that Nautica and I meet on the centerline.
At this show, Nautica completed his USDF horse performance certificate for Training Level as well as his ASHA sport horse year-end awards eligibility. This, along with Nautica’s USDF All-Breeds eligibility and my USDF rider certificate for T-Level complete all of my goals for Nautica’s Training Level career. On to First Level!