Hard Luck at the Horse Show…

I’ll start out this post by saying someone at the show asked me why I hadn’t shared a blog post in a while. I was beyond flattered to know anyone actually likes my writing enough to wonder why I was on hiatus. The past few weeks have been busy with Easter, visitors, training, and show prep. However, this weekend inspired more than a few ideas that are just waiting for me to transform them into a digital reality. Literally, I’ve been saving post drafts as the muse hits before I forget everything that I want to write about from this weekend.

This weekend was the first show of my 2019 show season. Due to well, life, I don’t have the benefit of showing any single series or organization’s events consistently. My show calendar is a hodge podge of events within a thirty minute radius of Temple, Texas, because I work a full time job that requires some travel, and I’m the mother of a toddler with only so much time and disposable income to (responsibly) dedicate to my childhood dreams of equestrian greatness. Granted those dreams have morphed into something completely different from the aspirations of a starry eyed eight year old.

I had planned and prepped for this event since January. This show would be the first time I had the opportunity to participate in the Central Texas Quarter Horse Association (CAQHA) events. The show bill offered more English classes than the Mid-Tex Quarter Horse Association (MTQHA) events I frequented last year, so a perfect opportunity to give Comanche another shot at competition. His horrendous behavior at a schooling show in late 2017 combined with injuries inflicted by Beau Pony and Battle kept Comanche out of competition in 2018. Odessa was left to do all the heavy lifting last year, but as a pretty solid horse she soldiered on, and I couldn’t have been more proud of her efforts.

As anyone that competes with horses will tell you, more than half of your show success depends on luck and the rest on skill. An old rancher once remarked to me that horses are the only animals that attempt to commit suicide on a daily basis. Horses are extremely creative in their pursuit of the rainbow bridge, and just keeping them sound through training and competition is a miracle in and of itself. Equestrian goals are easily derailed beginning with equine health then accompanied by venue choice, equine menstrual cycles, arena footing, equine temperature preference, shadows, invisible gremlins, planetary alignment. This list goes on and on, but there isn’t a single equestrian that hasn’t experienced a loss due factors far from their control.

Odessa spent the first two months of 2019 side-lined due to a sarcoid removal surgery, and did not get the show prep and training she needed this year. Comanche had been performing wonderfully only to turn into a neurotic hot mess a month prior to the first show. As optimistic as I had been in January, one week before the show, I knew the CAQHA would not be our best performance. Both of my animals needed the show mileage, and even though I knew we would be seriously outclassed I decided that we would all benefit from the experience.

Comanche the velociraptor.

The minute my horses stepped off of the trailer at the expo, I began to regret my decision to bring two horses. As I placed each one in their respective stalls, I knew I was in over my head. Odessa, who is generally a quiet horse providing there is an endless supply of hay, began her attempts to dismantle the stalls striking the walls and metal stall supports with her front hooves. Comanche began pacing, kicking the walls, and trumpeting his displeasure at solitary confinement. We were some of the first horses to arrive, and our aisle sounded like the opening scene from Jurassic Park complete with caged velociraptors.

We outfitted the stalls with water, full hay nets, banked shavings, and left the horses to calm themselves down. Thankfully the expo center staff began broadcasting country favorite hits over the loudspeaker. If it did not calm down the inmates, at least the music drowned out the sounds of their objections, sort of. After our last practice ride at the expo, I knew I needed a margarita before any attempts to ride the savage beasts. I wasn’t entirely sure that Comanche could refrain from his derby aspirations or bronc behavior this weekend.

Odessa banded and ready to go!

I had two goals for this show. First, I refused to allow obnoxious horse behavior to raise my stress levels. I would calmly ride it out and deal with their shenanigans without raising my emotional energy level to match theirs. Second, I have a bad habit of talking to myself and my horses. 90% of the time I’m training by myself and can use the company (yes, I have multiple personalities and they do converse). My goal for this show was to remain as silent as possible during workouts. “WTF was that?”, “OMFG you did not just try that!”, “Keep it up, and you can go back where I saved you from!”, “You like that? Well you can do it a million times until you realize it is a bad idea.”, and “I’m giving you a good deal, take it before I re-negotiate the offer.” is a running commentary that my fellow competitors just don’t need to hear.

So after a little liquid courage, I decided to get the wild ride out of the way. When we returned Comanche had stopped his screaming/screeching and resorted to pacing back and forth in the stall. I saddled him up to lead him around the arenas before attempting to ride. After a few non-eventful rounds of both arenas, it was time to mount up. I had completely forgotten how slippery a clean horse can be because I only bath horses for shows. Bathing is a pointless activity at our farm. Horses get a quick spray with the water hose after workouts and turned back out. They’re going to roll in the dirt the minute I release them anyway. Why waste the shampoo?

As I attempted to mount, the saddle slid around Comanche’s barrel. I re-positioned the saddle, and tightened the girth a hole. Once in the saddle, nothing happened. The fire breathing dragon I anticipated failed to materialize. His alter ego, crazy giraffe, also failed to appear. We worked the arena as calmly as Comanche ever behaves in warm-up at home. Odessa on the other hand had absorbed his energy. Instead of being the solid citizen I expected her to be, she charged around the arena like a raging bull. Go figure.

Waiting for Showmanship.

Saturday was reserved for the Western classes, so Odessa was up first. We began with halter and showmanship. It cannot be stressed enough how much I hate non-riding classes or how bad I am at them. I used to be decent at showmanship and once placed 2nd out of a 40 horse class at my state 4-H show, but sadly those days are long gone. Today, I was so happy with how Odessa was behaving, I completely blanked on the pattern halfway through, and blew the class, C’est la vie!

Showmanship was followed by western pleasure, not Odessa’s strong suit. Now this is where I rant just a little. Before I get into my rant though, I preface this with the following: I completely understand that Western Pleasure is about a certain “look and movement.” I also realize as a judge that you will pick horses for that look and movement. You may even forgive small technical errors on their part, because the overall picture is so nice. I understand in larger classes a judge will pick their early favorites and begin to ignore horses they plan to place lower or not at all in the class.

Western Pleasure, trying to keep her slow and low.

But… when two horses pass directly in front of the judge and one breaks gait, not once but twice while the judge is watching because the rider is busy tweaking the horse’s movement, and the judge turns their back quickly so that the horse he/she had planned to pin high in the class can still earn a top spot with plausible deniability, it is slightly disheartening. I’ve been the beneficiary of this type of behavior several times, so I don’t fault the judge, and I completely understand that my horse did not place in a large pleasure class that is a struggle for her. It’s just a frustrating element of showing horses. Everything is subjective. I’ve been doing this since I was five years old. I understand the game, but sometimes I wish it were a little more objective, but then that’s what pattern classes are for, end of rant.

Wish the judge would look at her now…relaxed, loose rein, decent headset, good cadence.

So moving onto horsemanship, we did passably well considering the competition and number of entries. Odessa placed sixth out of twelve. Discipline rail was the highlight of the show for us. In a class where performance of the required command vs beautiful movement is judged, Odessa earned a third out of fourteen. I would like to think it was the side pass that earned us the spot, as many of the other horses were not as compliant in the movement. After ten hours of competition, Odessa let me know how she felt about being a show horse just as we were entering the trail class. She earned another sixth place out of twelve. I know she was capable of a higher placing, but she wasn’t in the mood, and frankly, I couldn’t blame her. I was ready to end the day as well and had already changed out of chaps into blue jeans.

We’ve been in the arena almost continuosly since 9:00 am, it’s 6:30 pm we’re waiting for trail. We’re both over it!

I really was very proud of my girl. In a world of pedigreed horses worth more than ten times what I paid for my grade rescue appaloosa, a world where almost every other competitor was riding a professionally trained animal and being coached by their trainer at the show, the fact that we placed as high as we did was beyond amazing. Despite my disappointment at my showmanship performance (it was all my fault), it was a great way to spend a birthday. The sheer number of complements we received on our show turnout was enough to make the day a total win.

After Odessa was tucked in for the night, Comanche was up. He gave me a great workout after the show on Saturday, and then I spent the next hour braiding his mane. I had him in the wash stall at 5:30 am on Sunday morning, because I wanted that blanket on his butt sparkling. I finished pulling up braids and the tail braid by 7:30 am, and had just enough time to throw on some make-up and show clothes before it was time for Showmanship to begin. I’ve done better mane braids, but not working with an appaloosa mane, and his tail, well I know it was one of my best tail braids despite being slightly crooked at the top because my horse was busy pacing while I finished it.

So we were next to last, fifth in a class of six, in Showmanship. You can only do so much when you are struggling to keep your horse from freaking out, and Comanche was more than a little overwhelmed. He just needs more show experience. In Hunter Under Saddle (a class of fifteen!) Comanche gave me a great ride. Stock horse shows typically require different movement than a sport horse show. I’ve been training Comanche as a sport horse, so his head carriage and animated movement were not going to be as impressive as paints and quarter horses in the class. He did occasionally try to charge through the bit, but much less than usual. He was responsive to my half-halt and collection commands, and we had several nice passes in front of the judge maintaining a steady rhythm.

Comanche even leg yielded nicely to the rail after passing slower horses in the HUS. I was happy that we managed to earn a seventh place even though I felt we should have been slightly higher, but this is another one of those subjective classes. Sometimes you’re the judge’s cup of tea and sometimes not. Equitation was a disaster. Comanche is not good at downshifting or halting (we’re still working aggressively on this), and we placed last because he was pulling like a freight train.

Even though we were signed up for two additional classes after equitation, I was exhausted, and mom guilt was starting to kick in. I could see Offspring in the stands climbing the railing while Darling Husband was scrolling through his phone, and started to feel guilty about spending an entire weekend on this nonsense. It was time to spend some time with my family. I decided to call it a day. We scratched the last two classes and packed it all up. Comanche’s brain was pretty fried at this point, and I felt like we had accomplished all of our goals for a first show.

The CAQHA show was definitely a stretch for us. It was a great show, but many of the competitors were a few levels above us in experience and training. Many of the horses had competed at National and Worlds in their respective breed shows, and a few had been World/National champions in previous years. There was no shame in the performances my grade rescues put in. I would rather place last on a horse that I trained myself than place first on a made horse. This show reinforced that for me. I was happy with our performance, but at the same time, I know that I really need to focus more if I want them to make a better showing next time. They and I have the ability, but I need to put in the work. Deep down I know I slacked a little in my training regimen with these two, so after a few days off, we’ll be hitting it hard again!

Even though Odessa has placed higher, that third place is one of my favorite ribbons considering the number of entries and level of competition! One of our ribbons is MIA, but that happens when you pack in a rush!

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