I haven’t been to a show outside of North Carolina since high school. And I haven’t competed at a recognized event besides the Carolina Horse Park or FENCE in just as long (let’s just put the number at well over a decade). The Virginia Horse Center had always intimidated me- mostly because my friends had bigged up how horrible the drive was, how scary the coliseum, and how gnarly the hill was on XC. All these things, plus the 4 hour drive to get there, left me less than enthused about making the trip.
Now in hindsight, I won’t say they were wrong (the drive definitely requires attention, even on the easier approach), but I’m so glad I went.
I got there mid-afternoon on Friday, and after settling Jack in discovered that they were allowing people to school in the coliseum, which was where our dressage was to be. So I took Jack for a hand walk inside, then did our normal lonnnnnng walk warm up before running through a 20 minute flat school. Despite the scary noises- people walking above, doors opening and closing, the buzz of the electric lights- Jack took it all in beautifully given that this was his first time encountering such a place.
Saturday we did our pre-ride around 10am, and I kept the actual work part very short so as to save him for later. Even still, when I got back on 30 minutes before our test, he felt a little sluggish. I don’t normally carry my whip for the actual test, but I kept it on me and spent a lot of time working to get him to unlock his back and stay in front of my leg. A few transitions and I headed into the coliseum.
As expected, Jack got a little tense being alone in there with the scary hoomans now sitting at the table. I tried to let him get a good look at the judges up close, but it wasn’t long before the bell rang for us to begin. Because there was space and to try to get his back unlocked again, I quickly threw in a canter circle and headed down centerline.
The tension approaching the judges was obvious and less than desirable, but I’m pretty proud of the test we put in despite that.
I thought the judge was fair, and she definitely picked up on our weaker right lead canter. Her overall comments are spot on- it is a risk right now with Jack to ask for more, and we’re slowly developing more relaxation in the ring so that I can try for a bigger trot without tension marring his gaits and suppleness. I was able to try for it in a few places in our test, like the circles and the trot diagonal, but it’s not consistent throughout the test.
Overall this was a huge learning moment for us, and to say I am proud of how Jack handled it would be a vast understatement- I am thrilled with him despite the scary judges for how mature he was in that environment. We ended up with a 26 which put us in 2nd out of 18, and well placed to tackle the big cross country!