Amy mostly watched me do my warm up (so she could see what I normally do) but gave me some instruction when I needed it. As I was on my way to the ring I realized I had no idea what the etiquette was at a rated show. Do I tell the judge my number and what test I'm doing? Say good morning? Say nothing? I asked Amy (which was probably the moment she realized this might be our first recognized show) and she said to just say good morning. Then the judge asked my number and I felt like a noob immediately. But, I saw that AHD cheerleading squad on the rail for me and, confidence restored, headed up the centerline.
Most of the first test went well. On the good side: Overall, it felt smooth. His opening halt was good, not too distracted. His trot work felt connected, especially after the canter work. His canter lengthenings had a good upward transition, but again no real downward transition (mostly because I am a wimp and I was afraid he would break to trot).
On the "needs improvement" side: He came above the bit for the first half a step in both transitions before stepping into his nice canter. I must be riding it differently in the ring, or not setting it up as carefully, so it's just going to take some practice and more show mileage. He also wasn't as straight as he should be at times, and whacked into the fence once. I apparently do not learn from my mistakes until they happen repeatedly, which is not news.
The judges comments: Basically, he wanted to see a little more of everything. More of a difference in the transitions within gaits, more ground cover in the lengthening, more downward stretch in the stretchy trot and free walk. This made sense to me, because while it was smooth, I didn't really push him. He also circled "Position and Seat" on the back of the test. Hmm. Yeah. Point taken. Workin' on it.
Amy's advice: Stay farther away from the little white fence. Tucker gets too claustrophobic when I ride too close to it, and I don't need to, so long as I show a difference between my circles and my corners. Also, she wanted me to "touch him" more in the ring - take some risks, not be afraid to maybe have a bobble or a little mistake, but overall start to work on "riding more" during the test.
First Level Test 2: Saturday Afternoon
In his warm up we worked on me riding him a little more - asking for more of a difference between collection and lengthening, and asking for a little more ground cover in the lengthening. She also told me to collect him in between schooling my lengthenings, especially if he swapped off or got disorganized in one, rather than going from lengthening to working to lengthening again. We finished the warm-up with stretchy trot circles and Amy told me to count to three in my head and he should be stretched out by 3, which I thought was a good way to look at it.
This was my first appearance before Judge McGrumpyPants. The test was at 11:52 so when I rode past her I said good afternoon and she responded with a curt little "It's still morning." Okay then.
The good stuff: We did show more of a difference in the lengthenings and we did show a clearer transition between lengthened canter and working canter. His left-to-right leg yield was flawless (at least in my book). He was overall straighter, because I was concentrating on riding him the way I would if I were schooling. And I thought his stretchy trot circle was great, for him. He almost didn't come back to me in the canter-trot diagonal, and I had to pull on him a little, which wasn't pretty, but at least he didn't break out from underneath me, which has been a problem.
The bad: It turns out I can't walk and chew gum at the same time. I was concentrating SO hard on riding that I missed my letters, twice. I was supposed to walk at C after my second leg yield, and I didn't remember until I was all the way around the corner. I showed roughly three steps of medium walk. And then, I did it again. I was supposed to keep cantering past C and I forgot and trotted at C. Apparently C was for Confused, or Clueless maybe.
The judge's comments: We got a 4 on the medium walk, because I basically forgot to do it, which was right. She made some comments about me using my seat instead of rein aids so that he doesn't stiffen through his topline. Fair enough.
Amy's comments: She thought I rode it well (setting aside my inability to remember what I'm supposed to be doing), and thought this was the start of me beginning to "ride" more in the show ring. She liked the canter and thought he was much straighter this time around. We talked about how to better improve his right-to-left leg yield, and keep his hind end from trailing - square off the turn a little (it's supposed to be half a ten meter circle, so not drastically), and keep my left leg on at the girth the whole time.
First Level Test 2 - Sunday Afternoon
Amy was on another horse during my warm-up because she showed right after me, so I was left to my own devices warming him up. In hindsight, I think I did not warm him up the way I should have and fell back too much into my hunterland comfort zone. Ethan told me after the fact that I did seem like I was leaning forward more in that warm up than I was the day before (let's give him credit for being brave enough to tell me that - risky move for a boyfriend).
Judge McGrumpyPants and I once again did not get off to a good start. The girl who was following me thought she was next and started trotting around the outside of the ring just as I was about to, and I didn't know what to do, and assumed I must be the mistaken one (because that's how I am), but then the warm-up steward ran over and told her trainer I was next, and then the girl was all pissed off and rolled her eyes at me like it was my fault, and her trainer had this little laughing apology back and forth happening with the judge, and I just felt super awkward about life.
So just as I was going past A, she blew her whistle. I figured I'd have enough time to trot (forward) all the way around the ring. For some reason I feel like someone told me at one point that I should walk past the judge's booth so that's what I did, and I said good afternoon, and she said "I already blew my whistle." And I think I said thank you? And then cantered down the rest of the way toward A to enter, which felt disorganized and rushed, and then tried to take a deep breath and not just jump the rail and gallop off into the woods never to be seen or heard from again. [Side bar: Can anyone tell me if I had enough time to trot all the way around? Should I have just gone straight in? What do???]
The opening halt was probably the worst one he's ever done. He didn't want to stop, threw his head in the air and leaned against my hands. I have no explanation for it other than I just didn't have him well balanced enough in my warm up, or the cantering was a mistake, or he wanted to punish me for being the most awkward person alive. The rest of the test felt good to me, but what the heck do I know. The leg yields were better, I liked his canter work, he felt straight, and I thought I was able to show transitions up and down. His stretchy circle and free walk were some of his best efforts yet. And, I remembered the test.
The judge's comments: Well, what she said was "Athletic, energetic horse, will not [angry double underlines] learn to sit down [more angry lines] and flex his hind joints unless rider learns to sit back and use seat effectively [angry lines]. What I heard was, "Nice horse you've got there, too bad you CAN'T RIDE IT." Then I opened the test and read "Rider in 2 point" as the comment on every, single, freaking, stupid, lousy, canter movement. Not going to lie, I could feel tears burning my eyes when I read that. I know I don't sit his canter like a dressage rider and I know I need to learn to sit back more, but... 2 point? Really?
I got back to our stalls and I could not wait to get the horse on the trailer and get the heck out of dodge so I could properly wallow and sulk and berate myself and lament my horrendous lack of skill and effectiveness. Oh it was an ugly solo drive home. I told myself I look like a monkey humping a football. Out loud. Alone. I told myself I had no business at a recognized show and in fact should probably stop riding altogether.
By the time I got back to the barn I was a little less suicidal and told my awesome barn manager Kelly all about it and we laughed, and I started to realize I was being ridiculous. Then I pretty much went home and got in bed to sulk some more (I had given myself a terrible stomach ache by this point). I told myself I could have the rest of the day to feel sorry for myself and then I had to get over it. It is, after all, just a horse show. There are bigger problems in life.
Now that I've had a few days - I realize that this judge was right, and I'm sort of sorry for calling her Judge McGrumpyPants. (Sort of.) I do need to learn to use my seat instead of my reins. He does need to learn to sit down. I am, in fact, actively working on those exact things almost every time I ride, so this is not ground-breaking stuff. I just have to keep working on it, that's all.