On Monday, Java tried to launch me in spectacular fashion with a hideous series of dolphin bucks in front of an audience. Five days later, he was an excellent citizen in his first horse show ever. Horses are so weird.
I entered a schooling show at our farm pretty close to the deadline. I’ve been saying I’ll show him this year, and this was the last schooling event on the property before fall, so it was now or never. $30 and a written apology on my entry in advance of whatever shenanigans he decided to pull, we were set.
I spent the week working on bending and relaxing into a frame, and on Monday he was Not. Having. It. Kicking out, bucking, being a general beast. My friend Joanne gave us a few tips – keep my hands lower, try riding spirals and figures – which I put to use on Tuesday. Surprise! It worked. When I relax, focus, and ride him forward, he goes really well. Wednesday was another awesome ride, and we concluded with a little solo walk on a part of the perimeter. (A big step for the cowardly grey horse, but that’s another story for another day.)
Friday was bath day, and holy shit goddamn can this horse get filthy. An hour, a bottle of purple shampoo, and three tail washings later, and he was somewhat presentable. Java has even decided he’ll start to tolerate me misting him in the face. He can be taught! I trimmed his mane, fetlocks, and bridle path, too, since he was looking slightly feral.
One problem was rearing its head, though. Weather. It was supposed to rain like hell, and I was trying to decide if it would be better to let him stay out overnight and not lay down, or keep him in/not muddy, but risk him laying in pee. That’s his signature move. I kept him in, because I didn’t want him to have a shitty night in the rain, but alas. He definitely didn’t care and laid in pee anyway. Horses are great.
Lucky for me, I had a bottle of alcohol/purple shampoo from our friend Sean, which I’m convinced is liquid magic. I saturated everything that wasn’t perfectly grey or white, rubbed it with a towel, brushed it out, and like freaking witchcraft, the horse was perfectly clean again. The tail, though, couldn’t be helped and had to have another wash. Four washes in 12 hours has to be a record.
It’s weird showing on your home farm, especially after not showing for years. I was dressed and ready more than an hour before my test, USDF Intro A. Maybe Java needed to acclimate to the “show feel?” I took him to graze and he gave 0% of a fuck about any of it. Maybe I needed to polish my boots? Nah, they were clean. So I got on and meandered out to warm up.
As soon as I started working him on bending and relaxing down into the walk, I knew I got the good version of the horse. He was picking up all of my calls and not sending me straight to voicemail (aka bucking). We did some walk serpentines, trot spirals and eights, and ran through our test once. Around that time, my family arrived to watch their favorite child. (Java is their favorite child, as my father often reminds me, because he doesn’t have to pay for anything.)
At this point, Java was thinking that horse shows are the best thing he’s ever heard of. He’d only done a brief warm up before getting to hang out with my family, who pretty much lavished him with scratches and attention. He didn’t even think about not standing still. We watched a few of my friends ride, and then popped in for our turn.
I cannot say enough about how wonderful this experience was. The judge let us decide when we were ready to go in, and only rang the bell when I said we were good to go. Java came in nice and straight, transitioned down beautifully, and listened really well to my requests to stay steady the whole time. Sure, he was a little looky, wasn’t particularly round, and I may have clucked very loud in front of the judge (who knew that was a no-no?), but we completed the test and did not embarrass ourselves.
At the end, the judge gave us a bunch of feedback. She said Java was very rhythmic, which is the foundation. We just need to work on relaxing and maintain contact. Her suggestion was that I actually ride with more contact, as a younger, greener horse benefits from that elastic guidance more so than the “soft” contact I was giving him. I’m always afraid I’m in his face, so it was nice to hear that’s not the case here.
We walked away with a 62% and 4th out of 5. I’m so proud of how mature and sensible he was, and honestly am so excited to get back into a show ring it’s kind of ridiculous. Dressage? Really? I like that now? I guess when you’re sitting on a unicorn, it’s hard not to like.