So for weeks now after contemplating the decision of entering Johnny into the Chagrin Valley Hunter Jumper Classic horse show I decided to enter him in just two of the three limit rider jumping classes. To enter the hack and the equitation would be a waste, since we are still having right canter lead problems, and I wasnt sure how he would handle the who rated horse show atmosphere, so I figured that one trip each direction would be enough for his brain to handle for one day.
First of all, this was Johnny's first "real" show, and first jumping show ever, so last night, my best friend Crystal and I packed up our horses and headed down to the show grounds to school. As usually, Johnny was curious and yet a little nervous when he got off the trailer, whinnying to the 4 tents full of horses and dancing around. We saddled up and started to long walk to the ring, where Johnny encountered his first rated show "hunter thang"...the tack trunks and exquisite barn decorations along the fronts of the tents. There were flowers and mulch, tables, chairs, stones, banners, trunks. I think John's eyes about bugged out of his head. He walked forward as asked, but I could see his inside eyeball eyeing all of the gleaming brass, wondering if it might jump out and get him.
As the rings came into view, my first thought was "ohhhh boyyyy...." the jumps were DECKED with flowers, bright pink and red and yellow, plus brush and stone boxes, gates and bushes. I turned to Crystal and shot her a look that read something like "what was I thinking? there is no WAY Johnny is going to jump this stuff." Mind you, that in years past the decorations for the lower divisions, such as limit rider (Johnny doesnt jump oxers yet...) have been quite conservative and minimal...just a few brush and boxes, nothing that I thought Johnny couldn't handle, but this caught us completely off gaurd. Johnny had never seen anything like this before in his life, let alone jumped it, and I think we were both left pondering the question of his ability to accomplish this.
We got to the ring and started trotting. John felt great! He was lifting his shoulders and stretching down, not hopping at all like he sometimes tends to do when he is nervous or excited. I took my time weaving in and out of the colorful jumps, which he eyes warily, but marched starkly past. We started first over some crossrails with red and yellow flower pots. He jumped in lovely and cantered right down the line. After a few times over those both directions, we headed for the big stuff...the brush boxes and gates!
Would you believe that he never looked once at them? He jumped the line of bright pink flowers without a second glance, sailed over the white gate with pine boughs and bushes, and never batted an eye at the boxes painted like stone and flanked with bright yellow flowers. For the first time in my recollection, I was just picking fences and sailing over them...I was actually having fun without the worry of "will we make it over?" that always seemed to accompany Emmy's rides. As much as I love my first mare, she could be a dirty stopper when she chose not to jump, and I can attribute probably 99% of my total lifetime falls to her dislike of flowers. John on the other hand, is honest. You actually have to cluck to him three strides out, and once he hears the cluck, he's going! We finished up with a nice little coarse and headed home!
Today was not so great, mainly because of me. Johnny warmed up fabulous in the warm up ring, but we got stuck being the first to go in our division and my fears were realized when John entered the ring and trotted down the diaganol. The horse who had been so calm the night before was suddenly nervous and bunchy beneath me. He was alone in the ring for the first time, surrounded by stairing faces, blaring speakers and a second ring of jumpers going off right next to him. I could feel him hesitate all the way down to the first fence, but my big squeeze and a cluck sent him off the ground in (what is for Johnny) stellar form. "We can do this!" I thought, but as we rounded the turn to the pink flowered line he scooted sideways and I felt him hestiate again. As an Emmy reflex, I made the cardinal Johnny mistake...I tipped forward and pulled. John slammed on the brakes at the base of the jump. "If you arn't sure about it, then I'm not sure about it" he seemed to say. I had accidentally given him the Emmy ride, by taking away with the reins and then tipping to avoid catching him in the face, should he leave long, I had taken away his confidence in his ability to clear the fence. We were eliminated.
Back in the schooling ring, my trainer set up a fence. "You caused that" she told me, even thought I already knew. "ALLOW him to go forward...he's not like Emmy, he's not going to run away with you on the backside, just let him do his job." And so I did, another hesitation but we made it over the fence. "More! More!" She told me "Open your hip angle, sit in your seat and just be soft with your elbow." We came again, and suddenly I felt Johnny pick his canter pace up towards the jump. "Dont lean! Just let him find the fence" For the first time in a long time, I just sat still. I didn't try to micro manage to a distance, I didnt tip forward and pull when I didnt see the right strides. I just closed my leg and rode, and the distance came right up. We sailed over the jump in beautiful form and landed in a balanced 3 beat canter on the other side. For the first time ever, I actually felt the jump back him off. I could feel him think and rock back to find his perfect distance. Althought Emmy was more athletic than John will ever be, he is a much better thinker. As much as I adore my first hunter mare, I know that Emmy would have never backed off the fence by herself. She would have charged it, got in deep and leapt into the air like a deer. Her athletic ability was never quite balanced out with a quiet mind, and it was so amazing to feel Johnny respond like everyone always told me Emmy should, but never did.
So, despite our refusal on coarse, we had a fabulous schooling the night before, a great warm up and an even better follow up schooling. And best of all, I learned to stay out of his way, and what the consequences of "the Emmy ride" can be. I can't wait until we can school or show again. We are learning to trust each other :)