Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ruby's New England Debut Competition

On Saturday (May 9th) Ruby was entered in her first horse trial in New England. This was her first event since I bought her and since her name had been changed from “BeBe”. Alison (my trainer) had suggested that it might be a good idea to have her ride Ruby in few sanctioned events over the Spring & Summer (perhaps also the Fall) to give her some mileage and confidence so that she’ll be ready once I’m ready to take over. In the meantime, the plan is for me to try some schooling events with her at a lower division. This will allow me to get my feet wet with competing, build some confidence at an easy level, and get to know Ruby without a huge amount of pressure.

So, with all this in mind, I entered Ruby in the King Oak Spring Horse Trials on May 9th. King Oak is kind of a rough event for us logistically because it is in South Western Massachusetts, over two hours away. Because of this and because our first ride times started in the morning and because we had to leave enough time to walk the stadium and cross-country courses, we had to leave the barn no later than 5 AM. Which also meant that I had to be at the barn no later than 4:30 AM -- I got up at 3 AM that morning, I think I’m still knackered from that, days later. That was pretty brutal. Anyway, after the looooong drive to the event location we arrived to miserable cold rain. Yuck. It really was not a very nice day, but what are you going to do? So we walked the stadium jumping course and I felt a sense of relief that I was not going to be riding. The course was pretty tight and twisty and didn’t seem too simple, even at this lower level. Then the rain picked up and we walked the cross-country course. We were all soaked, drowned rats and yet, I couldn’t help but get a little excited as I walked the course and went over everything, obstacle by obstacle. Where I had been feeling happy not to be riding while viewing the stadium course, walking the cross-country made me really wish that I was going to be riding that day. I felt that old thrill of adrenalin at the thought of galloping over hill & dale and jumping over stuff. I just love the cross-country phase.

Very soon it was time to start getting ready for dressage. Ruby was the first ride of our group, so we put her together in rain that kept starting and stopping. I walked down to the dressage area with Alison on her and stood by while she warmed up. This was my first opportunity to really start checking out all the variety of horses at the event, and boy were there some gorgeous ones. Huge fancy warmbloods, big rangy athletic thoroughbreds, a few fancy-looking horses of color (like Ruby), all the way down to various ponies of different types. It was a lot of fun to just goggle at all wonderful horses doing their warming up for dressage -- I just love this part about horse shows and events, and since I was not competing I could relax and look around all the more. I thought Ruby looked pretty good in comparison to most. Nice and round and on the bit. Not at all bothered by the tight warm-up area, by all the horses (some of whom were misbehaving), or by being in a strange place, nothing seemed to really phase her much. I saw one girl on a chestnut thoroughbred type that was having a terrible time. Horse spinning, refusing to go forward, the girl seemed to be having a lot of trouble handling her and seemed to perhaps be somewhat over-horsed. You usually see one or two of these at a show or event warm-ups and it’s one of those, “there but for the grace of God … “ (TG that’s not me) moments. Anyway, I thought Ruby was going very nicely and very soon it was time for her dressage test.

The trot bits I thought looked very, very good. Ruby remained very round and on the bit, bending nicely. Good impulsion through her back and hind-end. Her canter work was rougher, she still needs work here, and she even broke a little bit early on one of the long sides. But still, over all, considering how green she is, I thought it was a nice, steady test. I think it also probably gave Alison a sense of what she needs to work on with Ruby in training. The dressage judge apparently thought less of the test than I did as the score was less than stellar. Still, Alison’s comments after the ride were that she feels that Ruby is very obedient and willing, so it’s really a very good starting point for a green horse.

On our way up the hill after the dressage test I ran into Kelly, one of my riding trainers from this Winter while Alison was down in Aiken. It was really great to see her, so I stopped and chatted and caught up with her for a short while. She was there competing one of her school horses as her greenie baby who had originally been entered had ended up with a last minute injury. Anyway, I didn’t have much time to stand around as I was responsible for grooming and helping out, so I had to run back to the trailer.

After too short of a break, it was time to get Ruby ready for the Stadium Jumping phase. Finally, the rain had stopped and the sun had even came out (of course by then I forgot all about the sunblock). What had started out miserable had actually turned into a beautiful day. Anyway, the stadium warm-up was a bit nuts! Very small, too many horse vying for the three warm-up fences, everyone going every which way. I sure was glad that I didn’t have to navigate it! Ruby remained pretty un-phased by it all and I’m sure Alison has seen it all at this stage, so their warm-up remained relatively uneventful. The Stadium rounds started for our division and I got to watch some of the rounds while waiting for Ruby’s turn. Wow, not one horse that I watched got around clear. The course was pretty tight and most of these were big thoroughbreds who wanted to fly around, it just wasn’t the ideal layout for them, so there were stops and rails and horses running around with their heads in the air, it just was not very pretty. Then it was Ruby’s turn. Well, she just went around so neatly and handily, the first horse to go clean in the division! I do think her “type” of horse had an advantage on this one though, in a jumping field those thoroughbreds would probably have been more in their element. Anyway, it was announced later that there were only three clears rounds in our division (and Ruby was one of them!) Her wonderful jumping round made up for the less than wonderful dressage score and she moved up in ranking quite a few places as a result. It was also on her start of her stadium round that I got to hear her new name announced for the first time, “Ruby Slippers”. It gave me a little bit of a thrill.

A bit later it was time to start getting Ruby ready for the Cross-Country phase. During this warm-up (in a much bigger area than the Stadium warm-up had been, thankfully). Ruby seemed to be getting a little excited about the jumping and made a few big leaps over the test fences and seemed to be a little bit rushy with excitement. Very soon she was off on her cross-country round. The course was big, it started in a field and then went up a hill and through the woods, so I was only able to see the first two jumps and the last jump from where I stood. But what I saw of her round looked very good. She was not spooky at all (some of the horses had been spooking at the fence judges), she seemed to want to jump everything and seemed extremely happy overall to be out and on the course. Horses seem to either love cross-country, or hate it. The ones who hate it usually feel anxiety about being alone out there and may never get over it. The ones who love it are usually happy and brave and in their element. I would say that Ruby seems to fall into the “loves it” category. Probably all of that foxhunting in her previous life helped her attitude some. In any case, Alison came in and said that Ruby had another clear round and that she had gone very, very well. There were some moments where she would break to a trot while Alison balanced her, but this doesn’t count against you, well, unless you manage to incur time faults along the way.

All-in-all, I have to say that I was very pleased with Ruby with her first New England HT. When it was all said and done, she placed fourth in her division! I think Alison was pretty happy with her too. Most importantly, she was happy and enthusiastic and confident during it all, exactly the experience we wanted for her. In addition to the competing bits, she was very good about trailering, hanging out in the trailer during the day, walking around with me while I hand-grazed her beside the competition areas (so that I could watch some of it). Not too spooky or fussy. Just a wonderful horse to deal with all day.

It was an exhausting day though. Up around 3 AM, at the barn by 4:30 AM. We got back to the barn after it all and then of course had to care for the horses and muck out the trailer. When I finally left the barn a terrible storm was starting (we were lucky not to be driving the horse trailer through it), lightning directly overhead, sheets of torrential rain so heavy and bad that I actually decided to get off the highway, I was that freaked out. I finally made it home at around 8:30 PM. A long, long exhausting day. But a very productive and satisfying one too. In some ways it got me a little excited for competing myself, in others, it was a nice way to be a part of the event without that stress and pressure. Overall I was very happy with the outcome for Ruby!

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