The Witches Ride

Back in February when I had created the show calendar that listed every show within a three hour radius that would be a good fit for some green eventing horses, one show stood out as the must do event! Coyote Springs was hosting a Halloween derby the day before Halloween. I couldn’t have been more excited. Dressage Queen was mildly interested because it was only another show to her. She just doesn’t share my excitement over Halloween, Christmas is more her thing. As our show season progressed, we discovered a few closer venues with decent events that just weren’t well advertised. A month before Coyote Springs, after I sent my entry fees, everyone was suddenly hosting a Halloween show, clinic, or event many much nearer to us. It’s a testament to what a good friend DQ is, that she not only indulged my insanity about Halloween that she still opted to travel to Seguin knowing there was a show in Waco the same day!

As mentioned in a previous post, for the first time DQ and I would be traveling to Seguin separately. She was bringing a pony club buddy from the “good ole days” to show with us. I’m still thinking of the perfect name to fit her, but for the purposes of this post, she’ll be Pony Club. That left my truck feeling a little empty for a three hour drive, so I scared up a few new friends that truly only live for Halloween, enough to fill up the whole cab, and the GHLHF Ride or Die (Die in the case of my passengers) crew hit the road.

The drive down was beautiful. DQ and I timed our trip so that she was arriving just as I had finished setting up stalls and parking the trailer. The Coyote Springs Derby is mostly a show for the local barns in the area. Usually South Austin is the farthest anyone travels from to show there. DQ and I are the only ones that arrive the night before the event, but having the whole cross country course for a leisurely hack alone is worth it! The struggle for me is deciding which horse to take. Usually DQ only has one horse for herself, and Pony Club had only brought one horse. I didn’t want to keep us away from dinner longer so I could ride both horses.

It’s funny how when you ride cross disciplines like me, that something considered normal at one event, may be absolutely taboo at another. I realized that I was thinking like a pony club rider. My roots, my early equestrian education would so not be considered pony club approved. DQ must be rubbing off on me. Anyway you may not see a bunch of eventers ponying horses around an event, but it’s perfectly common in the western/rodeo world, and there was no reason my spotted dragons couldn’t do it for a hack. So I hopped up on Odessa, because she neck reins. I just never got around to teaching Comanche that and off we went to check out the cross country. Pony Club was like, “You’re ponying Comanche? That’s brave.” I get it because I often speak of Comanche as a wild speed crazed demon. He is speed crazed, but I wouldn’t say wild. I have more faith in him than a lot of horses I’ve ridden. It really wasn’t brave either. I knew I really didn’t even need to hold his lead, because he wasn’t going to let Odessa get out of his sight.

Spending the night at Coyote Springs versus a hotel, was an experience. I love camping out in my new trailer, love the bed in it. However I learned how the venue got it’s name. Also, it had been so hot for the weeks prior to this event, I never dreamed I wouldn’t need AC. Not only did I not need AC, I wrapped myself up in a cocoon of blankets and comforter it was so cold. Then around two in the morning, Barb’s (property owner) dogs went off followed by the sounds of stall gates banging, and thundering hooves away from the barn. I listened from the safety of my cocoon trying to decide if it really was worth venturing out to investigate.

Even though Slim was sleeping off his beer in a chair between our trailers, I knew he was utterly worthless. He’s a lightweight, I don’t even think he finished one beer. Pretty sure I helped him. That little voice in my head said “If you don’t investigate you’ll be very sorry come morning. If you do, you won’t find anything.” The discomfort of investigating is like an insurance policy that nothing bad will be there, so out I go, in my T-shirt and underwear, because I didn’t want to waste time dressing for what would be a non-event. Thankfully everyone was still tucked safely in their stalls, because I’m not sure what I would have done about an emergency with no more clothing than I had on.

I trip over Slim and crawl back into the neck of my trailer, when the thundering hooves started up again. At this point I knew the thundering hooves were a group of horses in the pasture of the farm that adjoins Coyote Springs. Apparently speed trials in the middle of the night is a thing for them. But, then the coyotes started up. We get alot of coyote activity around my farm, so they typically don’t bother me, but it literally sounded like hundreds of them. I can’t even imagine how large of a pack it would take to make that noise or what had them so excited. I tried to get a little more sleep, but gave it up for a lost cause.

I love showing both of my horses, and as said love them both for different reasons. When I’m at a show by myself with them both, it doesn’t really give me much time for anything but them. While DQ and Pony Club had time to socialize, drink coffee, leisurely prepare horses, I’m a flurry of activity from the time I get up until the afternoon break. Even at the break, I still have to pay very close attention to how the show is progressing to make sure I don’t miss a ride window. So, I guzzle my coffee while I’m packing hoses, feed, hay, and tack between the trailer and the stalls. My one large coffee will be the only thing I consume until afternoon break. Also, I have four times the amount of tack that DQ and PC have. They’re both using all purpose saddles. While DQ seems just fine with hers, I’ve never liked an all purpose saddle. It feels like they don’t serve any purpose particularly well. Not deep enough for good dressage, and I feel like I’m fighting the saddle over fences.

I pause in my flurry to say we must have at least one picture of the matching T-shirts before we (mainly me) gets so busy we forget. We all look fabulous as the 3 Witch Crew. So I lug two dressage saddles, half pads, saddle pads, and bridles up to my stalls. Both of my horses have to be tacked up before the show starts. Comanche rides after Odessa in a fairly small class, so I may only have twenty minutes to warm him up after her ride. Unlike breed shows, competitors can’t request a tack change at an event. The show does not pause for individual competitors. Odessa warms up nicely, she’s a little snorty, and has decided to be extra today. This is not a condition (being extra) I’ve ever been able to duplicate at home, but when we arrive at a show, the slightest shift in weight can cause her to pop (and I mean pop in every sense of the word) up into a collected canter. This also means if I don’t have perfect contact, or bobble at any time we will be in the wrong gait, no room for error.

We make our round of the arena, say Happy Halloween to the judge, and then after the whistle blows begin our line to A and the start of our dressage score. Halfway to A in full sight of the judge Odessa feels now would be a good time for a buck. Luckily you have 45 seconds after the whistle to enter at A, and thankfully we hadn’t passed A. We pull a tight turn and begin again. With a start like that, I didn’t expect much, but by the time we hit X, Odessa felt like riding a fluffly marshmallow around the arena. I could have liked more extension in her trot, but she executed transitions flawlessly, on point. Her canter was collected, springy, and she maintained rhythm completely from my seat, no weight at all in the reins. She nailed her leads. It was the nicest dressage ride she’s ever given me. There was no time to bask in the moment, I needed to get back to the stalls, unbridle/bridle horses and hop onto Comanche.

Comanche is a totally different dressage ride. He’s big, suspended, and is a struggle to cue from my seat. While we’ve been making progress at home, at this show, with so little warm-up time I didn’t have much hope for him. He didn’t really have time to settle into work, but he gave me an accurate test. We rode every movement, no bobbles, although we were lacking his usual suspension, and he rushed the canter. If he had ridden in Odessa’s time slot, with a longer warm-up time, I feel like we would have been on fire, but on this day we were simply adequate. Sadly, the judges scores and comments didn’t quite reflect the rides I felt. But as DQ’s mom pointed out, this was one person’s interpretation of one moment in time, another person may have a completely different view. I know these were some of our best at show performances, and I’m super proud of both my spotted dragons. Also, I was the only competitor that opted to ride my tests in my Halloween costume, so maybe the judge felt like I wasn’t really taking the test that seriously! The highlight of the show, was coming off the best dressage test of Odessa’s life to get a Halloween colored ribbon for our Halloween costume.

DQ threw down one of the best dressage tests I’ve ever seen her and Rev perform. Rev was looking better all weekend than I’ve ever seen him. Pony Club was riding, Sunny, a new schooling horse prospect of DQ’s. I think he’s only been in DQ’s barn a month or two, and his previous owner had simply drug him to speed and playday competitions. This was his first time competing where speed wasn’t the goal or even desirable. Sunny was anxious and tense when we arrived the night before, but gave a very nice dressage test. He was an impressive mover, and had moments that might predict future success as a dressage horse.

While DQ and Pony Club were enjoying snacks and hanging out with other riders, I was busily untacking, re-tacking, and putting items back in the trailer that I didn’t need anymore. Experience has taught me that if I don’t stay organized and methodical at these shows, I will run out of time. Finally, I had time for a diet Dr. Pepper, and to meet up with DQ and PC to walk the stadium and cross-country courses. Not everyone from dressage would be competing over fences, so my window of free time was much smaller.

Apparently Odessa felt that an awesome dressage test was all that was required of her, and totally did not have her head in the game when we hit the stadium. She pulled a rail at the first fence, because despite all aids saying we will be going over the fence you are approaching, she acted like the fence just popped out of thin air in front of her. We recovered, she started paying attention, but stumbled on landing at fence 3 and I thought we both may eat dirt. I gave her all the rein, and didn’t recover them before the next fence of the line, so we rode 4 on the buckle. We were put to rights by fence 5 and the rest of our jumps we’re non-events. We bee lined it back to the barn to swap horses.

Comanche and I arrived to watch DQ and Rev ride the best stadium round I’ve seen them do. When Rev hit cross- country though he refused the first fence with haybales. Rev has his very own haybale jump at home, that he regularly sails over. That did not bode well for me, Comanche only had a haybale jump at home for 6 hours before his pasture mates showed up to eat it. For whatever reason, haybales are the only jump he tends to look at sideways. Despite not feeling 100%, Comanche gave me the best stadium round at this venue, he’s ever given me. He pulled fence 7 out of his rear, because he came out of jump 6 too hot for the tight turn, but we were clear. We hit cross country at a good clip, and I was feeling good. Comanche confidently approached the haybales, and I was ready for him to take the long spot, instead he hit the brakes at the base. I let out rein and squeezed, pushing him over from a stop, but we pulled the rail across the bales. He chipped at the coop but we cleared with air to spare, and then the 12in yellow flower box, the one he could gallop over without breaking stride or jumping, spooked him. He’s taken it like a champ before, but today we jumped it like it was 5ft high.

From there I forced Comanche to collect the rest of the course. Logs, walls, all jumps he never once looked at were spooking him. He even jumped at a shadow on the ground in the gallop between jumps. On the way back, there is a hill with coop at the top, generally he charges up and over, but I was fighting him after the way he had reacted to other fences. He freight trained up the hill anyway, and thankfully took the long spot without hesitation. From there he reined it in and the last three obstacles were not horrible. We had lived to ride again. Sunny gave Pony Club a great stadium round. She opted not to do cross-country for his first ever event.

The bright side to all the organization required to show two spotted dragons with tack changes in the same division, is that by the end of the show, I’ve mostly re-packed the trailer. This is when I grab a quick snack an adult beverage, and finally have time to breathe. My horses were happily napping in the trailer, while DQ and PC were still loading up equipment. I went to the show office to retrieve everyone’s placings. Eventing is different from breed shows in that you will only receive a single ribbon for the three phases you ride. Your placing is based on a combination of your dressage, stadium, and cross-country. Since I rarely have a chance to watch other competitors dressage tests/stadium rounds/cross country rounds, I have to guess whether it was my dressage or the pulled rail on cross-country that cost Comanche first place.

Whatever the placings/dressage scores, GHLHF hit the road extremely pleased with the entire show experience. It was tons of fun, and as stress free as any event as a lone competitor with two horses in the same division can be. DQ and PC had great rides and were equally pleased with the performances of their equine. I loaded up the Ride or Die crew. Slim was dying to show off the Halloween ribbon, and frankly he was pretty obnoxious on the ride home….

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