Saturday, June 24, 2017

Stephen Bradley and Linda Zang Lessons

Last week Soonie and I went to our awesome trainer's place and had our second lesson with Stephen Bradley.  I love working with Stephen, his input is so on point, clear, and concise.  He's also perfectly pleasant and patient, as we learned this time out.  Soon had a lot of difficulty with the Liverpool - we had jumped it before, but it wasn't unfolded. 

Impressed with the folded Liverpool back in April
Yeah...Stephen started unfolding the Liverpool and having us trot over it, and Soon promptly checked his brain at the door and came unglued. 

Actual footage of Soon approaching the Liverpool

There was some minor drama with some quick, borderline dirty stops.  Soon actually got me off when he stopped dirty (after he had already jumped it!!), but I just jumped off and landed on my feet, no big deal.  At one point I was having to canter down to it one-handed, driving him forward, with my free hand ready to hit him with the bat at the slightest twitch.  Stephen was incredibly patient and took his time. We got Soonie over it each direction, at different heights, and he got to the point where he rode pretty normally to it.  We did broken lines to/from it and he didn't use that as an excuse to be silly.  The rest of the lesson was great - Bubba was jumping well, soft, and our new approach of soft hand and supporting leg to the jumps to assist with distances is still working beautifully.  I was disappointed to have such a meltdown over the Liverpool, but I'm glad Stephen was there.  He said "it was a discussion that needed to happen, and maybe from time to time you need to have that discussion with him, so that he knows to stay in front of your leg and just go."  Fair enough.

In other news..

This past Thursday we went to a nearby, beautiful private farm for our second lesson with dressage guru, Linda Zang.

Yep that's Linda Zang in the USDF Hall of Fame
Soonie was such a star.  We had ridden with Linda back in October, and it was extremely productive despite some tension.  This time Bubba was much more relaxed thanks to the short trip and very quiet atmosphere.  He was completely quiet and zero drama, and I was happy to see the seasoned veteran come out again.  He warmed up well and was getting to nice places much faster.  Linda was very complimentary, and we started focusing more on getting him to move through his shoulder more.  We warmed up with lots of changes of directions at the trot.  Then we did walking turns on the forehand to get him to step under with the inside hind and move the haunches some more.  We then did a canter transition out of the turn, and did canter leg yields off the wall. 

We got to some lovely places and he was soft, light, and felt much more through.  Linda was very complimentary, and once again I go home with some easy exercises to replicate what she taught me.  Once again, some of the greatest horsemen are great because they know how to keep things simple.  I will never fail to be amazed and how well horses and riders transform and improve with a session with Linda.  I can't wait to ride with her again!

We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat...

Adult Great White shark. Jumps and dressage.  Does 1.15m easily w/changes, schooling 2nd level, hacks out alone or in company. Jumps XC. Loads, trailers, clips like a dream. Athletic and talented.  Talks and does tricks for treats. "Cute." Shark cage not included. Will consider trade for bottle nosed dolphin of like ability.

This isn't cute.

Not cute.

 This happened this morning.  Came out to the barn very early because I needed to ride and then go to the local dressage show and braid a couple of horses.  I arrived and went out to grab Soon and his new turnout buddy, Z, from their field.  After they both walked up to me looking for carrots, I haltered them like I always do and we started walking toward the barn.  

Then I guess Soon decided THAT was a good time to remind Z who was in charge in the field (poor horse judgment), so he came across and ended up hitting me behind my left shoulder blade.  I think he might have panicked when he hit me instead of the other horse, because he clamped down (as scared horses sometimes do) and held on for what was probably only three or four seconds, but felt like forever.  He started to pull backward, but my shoulder was still in his teeth so that didn't feel great at all being dragged to the left.

He let go and immediately regretted his decision.  I was screaming at him as that was extremely painful.  I mean, there's being bitten and then there's "removing a pound of flesh off my bones" and it definitely fell in the latter category...I was in so much pain that I was at one point down on one knee holding on to two horses in the field.  But...after some more cursing at the top of my lungs, we dropped Z off in his stall, Soon and I had a Manners 101 refresher in the round pen, and then we had a pretty good refresher of the Linda Zang lesson.  

I'm just glad I didn't leave the barn angry with him.  Still had a good ride (of course he was very sorry and very perfect in the round pen as well), he was still sweet, and there's still a lot of love and appreciation for an otherwise good morning at the barn.  So, while I joked with friends that I had to murder him, or that I was selling my Land Shark, that's not the case.  He's not going anywhere.  But he has earned himself some new nicknames, AND he's lost his stall guard privileges.  He and Z won't be making faces at each other in the barn anymore.  

Won't lie...after I got home from the horse show, I was hoping there'd be some kind of mark.  I had bitched to my friends about it all morning, and I'd feel dumb if there was nothing showing for it.  But I did NOT expect the carnage above.  I ran out to my truck after it happened to check in the mirror to see if I was bleeding - it felt bad enough to break skin, but I didn't see anything showing through the shirt.  Most of the red is just blood blistering, there are a few bloody scratches in there, but I'm happy it wasn't worse because that would have meant an ER visit.  I don't screw with animal bites.

But it hurts like a bitch, so I'm chilling on the couch with some ice and ibuprofen and cider and writing blog posts.  Whee. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Upperville Photos

All photos by Equine Event Photos.

He's just reminding me he has hops if one day I ever find the balls to do 1.20m

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Upperville 2017 Recap!

 About a month ago, I had this crazy idea in my head to go to an AA rated horse show with a horse who had never shown off the property before.

And we just did it.

And he was perfect.  PERFECT.

"Who, me?"

Imma do the sappy thing here when I say I cannot thank this little horse and his enormous heart enough.  He went into the oldest and one of the most prestigious horse shows in the country, took it completely in stride, and put in two clear jumping rounds.  He was foot perfect all weekend.  And the fact that he was relaxed, happy, and seemed to be enjoying all the attention was all the reward I could ever ask for.

I went out to Upperville on Saturday and set up stalls, so that when we rolled into the show on Sunday afternoon, the horses could step right off the trailer and get settled.  We shipped out there with three Thoroughbreds total - Soon, plus a former hunter and a former eventer, who were both venturing into rated jumperland for the first time.  Soonie stepped off the truck and settled into his tent stall right away.  No fuss, no drama, absolutely zero shits given.  The other boys settled pretty quickly too.  We schooled on the flat in the warm up rings on Sunday afternoon, and then went out into the gorgeous hacking field immediately afterward to cool the horses out, and enjoy the unbeatable Virginia hunt country view.

Soon was a star the whole time.  A little tense the first time in the warm ups on Sunday, and in the show ring hacking on Monday morning, but by the time it came time to show, he was looking and acting like he'd shown at big rated shows all his life.

"Seriously this is old news already so stop it..."

We were lucky in that both days (Monday and Tuesday) we showed in the first class, and then were done for the day.  So both morning were busy, but productive: we got to the show grounds around 0630 (Kim had already fed, watered, and picked stalls), got on around 0700 and hacked in the show ring, then hopped over a couple of jumps in the warm up while it was still deserted.  We returned to show at 0900 and then were done for the day.  I'm glad we jumped earlier in the morning, versus waiting until just before the class.  It's nice to see that the warm up rings at rated shows are still like Game of Thrones.

King's Landing??

Both the Monday and Tuesday jump rounds were good by any standards, and downright excellent by "third time off the farm green bean" standards.  Bubba went in the ring quiet, and jumped around like a hunter.  It was a single round jumper course, and I already knew we wouldn't make time without doing stupid shit, so my only goal was to go in and have a quiet, hunter-like round and get some valuable experience.  Pace, balance, and softness was most important to me with a horse still that green to the jumper ring, speed was of no interest to me.

Soonie jumped like a champ.  I could have opened him up more, but that's something we'll work on in future lessons for upcoming shows.  I made sure to keep my entire arm soft, to give with the hand and close my leg on the approach and let him find the base on his own.  This worked beautifully, especially since he was slightly backed-off already with the show environment, and needed some extra support from my leg.  He still went around very quiet and soft, and I couldn't have been happier with him.  I had a few minor decision making issues, but nothing major and I think it was a great first rated outing for both of us.  I was thrilled to bits with him at the end of each round.  So proud of him, coming into that horse show and handling it like such a professional.  My mind is a little blown.

While I wait for the official photos to come in, enjoy some cell phone pics and the ShowNet videos!

Waiting on horse show photos like...

Saturday, May 27, 2017

I'll carry you home...

I try to keep this blog strictly horse-related, so please forgive the vicious departure from our normal programming.  I just don't have another vehicle to use to get this all out there.  So here it is.

Dignified Transfer at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware
Memorial Day 2017 is upon us.  This generally a well-celebrated long weekend for most Americans, who will spend it (rightfully so) out on the lake, barbecuing, grilling burgers and hot dogs, and celebrating the unofficial start of summer.  Some remember what Memorial Day means.  Some say a prayer, some go out of their way to be overly serious about it, to the point of ruining everyone else's fun.  Don't be that guy.  Don't ruin everyone else's fun.  I'm not trying to be that guy.  But it is not a fun weekend for me, especially this year.

I don't "do" death.  It's an incredibly emotional topic that for some reason seems to wreak more havoc on me than the average person.  Just know that, it'll make everything easier to understand.  I'm chuckling at myself as I write that, so you know.

In 2015, I served six months at the Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, where I processed the personal effects of our fallen service members and returned them to their families.  My daily business was death.  I hated to be bored, but in that don't want to be busy.  Because every day you were busy, a family was going through the worst days of their lives.  In some cases, after studying the service member's personal effects, letters, etc...I knew them more intimately than their immediate family.  It was the job.  And at the end of it, I broke down in my room and cried uncontrollably.   But when it was all said and done...I'd leap at the chance to do it again.  It was the single-most important thing I've ever done in my Air Force career.  Even after I left to return to my home station, I carried those individuals with me.  I couldn't bury them.  I couldn't let them go.  I saw their names, their faces, their hand written letters, the photos of their families, the suicide letters, the blood-stained gear that shipped in from theater...I carried that with me for a year or more.

In May 2016, I attended an immersion courtesy of our United States Air Force Honor Guard, where a select number of National Capital Region personnel got to experience the daily "behind the scenes" of the USAFHG's operation at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC).  Part of the immersion was to witness a full honors funeral.  The gentleman they buried was retired, had lived a full life and we all paid our respects from a distance.  But I wasn't there for him that day.  I was burying the dozens of individuals I had been carrying with me for so long.

I was also burying Captain Jonathan "JJ" Golden, a classmate of mine at Officer Training School, who had died in the 2 October 2015 C-130J crash in Afghanistan.  He is buried in Texas.  Three of his fellow TORQE 62 crew members were buried in Arlington.  But following that caisson that day in May, through a mile or more of hallowed Arlington ground, seeing the full Honor Guard and Ceremonial Band procession, listening to Taps play...this was for JJ. It was for all the men I got to know after their untimely death during my service at Dover.  I saluted and held that salute, motionless, while tears streamed down my face.  And just when I felt I had the composure back, the bagpiper played and I wept again.

That was one year ago. This year should have been easier, but it wasn't.  In June 2016, I learned that an Air Force colleague of mine, a close hockey buddy from our time in Omaha, Nebraska, had committed suicide.  His hockey and military friends have all struggled to come to grips with it.  We hurt, deeply.  We're still hurting. My involvement in the Army/Navy hockey game back in December was because I wanted to honor his memory.  And when the United States Army Chief of Staff (highest ranking member of the Army) gave me MVP, I looked up and thanked my buddy Pete.  At the end of the game, I wrangled a photographer, because the only thing I really wanted out of all this was a photograph of my goal mask on National Hockey League center ice, with Pete's number on the backplate.  Everything else was a gift from Pete himself.

....All that is backstory to today.  I have been dreading this Memorial Day.  I want people to go outside and party, and enjoy it.  Live.  Have fun.  But me...can't say I was celebrating much of anything.  I was going to let it pass by, just taking the time to sleep in and spend extra time at the barn.  But yesterday afternoon I found myself buying flowers....lots of flowers...and making plans to visit Arlington first thing in the morning.  I needed to.

I rolled into Ft Myer and through the north gate to the Cemetery at exactly 0800 this morning.  I was completely alone as I walked through Arlington, and I paused to take a photo.  Coming in via the base is so much more preferable to me than the crowded visitor's center, which is crawling with tourists.  As I walked through the quiet north side by myself, the only noises were the gentle breeze and the birds chirping - it felt like a cemetery, and not a travel destination.  I prefer it that way.  I've always loved Arlington; something about it has always spoken to me, and I've been drawn to its peaceful, beautiful landscape for many years.  But my time at Dover, and now having had lost friends, has changed it for me.  Made it even more important.  Reverent. Real.

I carried four bouquets of flowers.  One was for a friend's father, who is buried in the Columbarium.  The other three were for the members of TORQE 62:  Captain Jordan Pierson, Staff Sergeant Ryan Hammond, and Senior Airman Quinn Johnson-Harris.  My classmate JJ's crew.  These men were with him when he died.  And while I couldn't say goodbye to JJ directly, I hoped maybe they'd pass a message along for me.

After winding my way down through ANC, and helping some folks find their loved one's gravesite, I finally was able to look for JJ's crew in Section 60.  I found Jordan's gravesite first.  He was the other pilot on the plane that day; I know he and JJ fought together to save lives that night.  I didn't know Jordan.  I won't even sit here and pretend that I was even close with JJ; he and I were classmates years ago, worked together a little bit during OTS, and were probably Facebook friends for a little while afterward.  That's it.  But I knew him, and he knew me, and when you hear a familiar name involved with a deadly crash, the feeling is indescribable.

I gently placed the other three bouquets on the ground and placed one at the side of Jordan's headstone.  Someone had left flowers and a bottle.  I knelt in front of his grave, carefully reading the inscription on the headstone and just was silent for a bit.  I didn't know what to say.  It took a second for me to feel comfortable saying anything to a complete stranger.

I said I was sorry.  I paused, pulled a coin out of my pocket, and as I reached up to place it on top of the headstone, I asked Jordan to say hi to JJ for me.  And that's when I couldn't hold it back any longer.  It didn't matter that I didn't know any of these crew members.  It didn't matter that I didn't even know JJ that well.  I knelt there in full service dress uniform, clinging to Jordan's headstone for dear life, and wept.

You're not supposed to know people in plane crashes.  Your friends aren't supposed to commit suicide.  You're not supposed to read suicide notes from deployed fathers telling their wife and children back home that they're better off without him.  You don't know who wrote those rules or when; you just know it's not supposed to happen that way.  

I allowed myself to remain there, crying, for some time, still holding on to Jordan's headstone.  It was probably only a minute or two, but it felt like forever.  After I regained my composure, I stood, squared up, and slowly saluted him.  I moved slowly down the row to SSgt Hammond's gravesite and repeated the same procedure for him and SrA Johnson-Harris, not rushing anything.  I knelt, read each headstone, carefully placed each set of flowers and a coin, said a few words, and saluted.  I think I even cracked a joke before I left.  By the end, I felt like I had made some new acquaintances, and while I was sad to have to leave, I don't think this will be the last time I see them.  They give me three good reasons to visit more often...four, really.

I left Section 60 and made my way to the Columbarium to place flowers for my friend's dad.  This was special to me as well, because I initially assisted her in getting him inurned at Arlington.  I wasn't able to attend his ceremony last summer, but I was happy to get the chance to stop by and say hello today.  I placed a coin on his niche and the flowers at the base of the column.

I was done.  I had placed all my flowers, left all my coins.  Paid my respects to everyone I came to see.  There was this mixed feeling of never wanting to leave, and the need to get ahead of the pending rain.  I took my time as I walked back toward the north gate, and as I passed by Section 60 once again, I made sure to look back down the row at the TORQE 62 crew and give them another nod.  I'll see you boys again.

As I made my way back up, I had several experiences that renewed my faith in people; a faith I've lost being in the D.C. area, with its constant hustle and dog-eat-dog mentality.  But Arlington isn't that place.  People are good within its walls.  People have a grip on reality, perspective, and decency.  One older gentleman pulled up beside me in his sedan and offered me a lift to wherever I was going.  I graciously thanked him and declined, as I needed the time to walk and think.  As I neared the Tomb of the Unknowns, I stopped to see the changing of the guard from the side of the complex.  I stood behind the crowd at parade rest, trying not to be noticed and just observe.  I've seen the ceremony many times, but it never gets old.

Photo from a previous visit to Arlington

Once the ceremony concluded, several people turned and quietly thanked me and offered a handshake.  I was not there for recognition, but I will never complain about people being gracious.  There were hundreds of Patriot Guard Riders there today.  I love these people and all they do.  Most are veterans.  All have a deep appreciation for those who have served, especially those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.  It made me happy to see them, to shake their hands, to hear them say "thank you," and for me to thank them in return.  I enjoyed striking up conversations with them.  We smiled and laughed.  It made my heart happy. 

The rides of the Patriot Guard Riders

I thought of my friend, Pete, as I walked out.  The rest of the walk out was just appreciating Arlington, its beauty, and the sacrifice of so many who are laid to rest there.  I love this place more deeply than any other, for reasons more personal than words can express.  This Memorial Day weekend, go out and live.  Laugh.  Have fun.  Party.  It is not a funeral - we have too many of those.  But as you celebrate, please remember what the long weekend is really for.  It's for those who didn't come home.  For those that I carried with me, and continue to carry with me.  Think of their families, and say a prayer.  And then go on living your life.

Honor the Fallen...

Jonathan "JJ" Golden, 2 Nov 1981 - 2 Oct 2015

As strong as you were, tender you go
I'm watching you breathing for the last time
A song for your heart, but when it is quiet
I know what it means and I'll carry you home
I'll carry you home...
(James Blunt, Carry You Home)

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Legends Series: Joe Fargis

Treating this like a proper blog and pretending people actually read it by giving it a very distinguished can throw up in your mouth a little if you want to, it's totally okay.

I used to live/work in the Middleburg, Virginia area many years ago.  I used to ride for a living.  Every day I used to drive by Stoneleigh Farm, the home of the legendary Joe Fargis.  But I never rode with him.  Never really took advantage of living in that area and all the horse knowledge that exists there.  So when I got orders to return to the D.C. area in 2014, I screamed with excitement because NOW I was going to get to ride with all these people.  I didn't know how, or when, or how to even schedule a lesson with some of these legends...but g'dammit, I was going to do it.

Fast forward three years.  I finally got my opportunity.  The farm owner and I traveled out to Upperville on Wednesday to take a lesson with Joe Fargis.  She had worked with him a couple times in the past, and was able to get a hold of him to schedule some dates for this summer.  I was thrilled at the chance! We packed up the horses in the super swanky new farm trailer (box stallllllls) and headed out to VA.  My boots were polished, my tack clean, I was ready to listen and learn...

We got there, I gawked at the beautiful indoor, we got the boys tacked up and down to the ring.  Soon was pretty okay about it, I openly admit I was internally freaking out, so he was feeding off that a little bit.


My most embarrassing moment was when I didn't halt and talk to Joe Fargis about my horse...I kept trotting around him while giving him the rundown on who we are...oops.  He politely informed me to to just stop and have a conversation, and I was mildly mortified, but had to keep going.  We were tense warming up, but that was mostly me.  Joe (like everyone else lately) wanted me to soften my hands.  We worked on slowing the tempo at the trot, being as soft as possible through the hand (even holding the crop loosely at the base of the handle to soften my grip), and relaxing.  The flat warm up was not our best, but thankfully that went relatively quickly and we got on to the jumping.  Thankfully, that's where we both seem to relax and settle in to our usual groove!

We started trotting back and forth over 1, which was a low vertical with 9' poles on either side.  Once we were all soft and quiet, we proceeded to trot over the second fence.  We pieced the course together 2-3 fences at a time before doing the full course.  Soon was very responsive - our new approach of me giving with the hand and just closing the leg to the jump is clicking great with him, as he's finding the base of the jump on his own versus me pulling to the quiet spot or having to dictate the distance.

The course was lots of turns in a relatively small space, I really had to keep the leg on to keep the energy, while making sure he stayed together and quiet enough for the short turns.  I was loving how light he was and how he was reacting to what Joe was having me do.  The first little course was lovely, the second course over the 3' height was slightly rougher, but we came around to the last few fences and repeated 5 & 6 on their own, and he rode beautifully to both of them, and we called it a day.

Nothing Joe said was complicated.  All the great horsemen have an incredible knack for sticking to the simplest concepts; the things that everyone else wants to make tricky, or over complicate, or add an extra 50 steps to.  He focused on softening my hand, staying on a straight line to/from the fence, and closing my leg to support the horse to the fence, and ride away "with purpose" on the landing side of the fence.  Simple.  And the results were absolutely lovely.  Yes, I clearly have something to focus on and improve right now, and it's nice to know that everyone is giving me consistent feedback and complimentary exercises to help me improve. 

Soon felt great, he was jumping well and was totally quiet and focused on his job once we got down to work.  He was also very tolerant of trotting 3' verticals - can't remember ever asking him to do that!  But he took it all in stride and performed beautifully.  Afterward, Joe encouraged us to take the horses for a hack up to the jump field (we didn't ride out there due to the rain the day before), because "that's where we'll be next time."  There's a NEXT TIME!!  We happily obliged - Joe seems to be pretty big on taking the horses out and relaxing after a workout.  We hacked down the drive, around the beautiful pond and up the long hill to the wide open jump field.  The most beautiful jump field!

All in all, this was a dream day.  An absolute dream day.  I rode with a longtime idol of mine, a real legend in the show jumping world.  A man whose riding I have admired since I was a kid.  And the best part: we're just getting started training with him!  The prospect of getting to work with him multiple times between now and whenever we leave makes me smile.  Like an idiot.

Also, after three years, I finally got to take Soon out to the Upperville area and ride in the beautiful fields I used to call home.  I have been dreaming of that simple gesture for such a long time.  And yes, we'll be back in two weeks for the Upperville Colt and Horse Show, just down the street from Joe's.  And after that, we'll go back to throwing any available days off and money at riding with people like Stephen, Joe, and Linda until our big clinic with George Morris in the fall.

I may have waited a little too long to take advantage, but I'm so grateful to still have the chance over the next year to keep riding with all these amazing people.  And have the most incredible, generous horse to do it with. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Stephen Bradley Clinic

The Wednesday between the two horse shows was our first lesson with Stephen Bradley.  I've heard a lot of great things about Stephen, the trainer I'm currently working with has ridden with him for years, and his reputation is well-known.  Also:  he is the nicest human being on earth.  Fact.

I lack the energy to go into all the details, but it was a busy jump lesson, very productive, and he loves Soon.  He also said I rode well.  Which, coming from an Olympian, is always nice to hear.  We worked mainly on what Katie had been correcting me on the last few jump lessons:  closing the leg and keeping my hand soft.  I need to keep Soon coming forward from behind to the jumps and allow my hand/arm to remain soft to allow him to find the base of the jump on his own. 

We jumped through a pole/jump combo placed in the corner, as well worked on jumping fences on the angle (both verticals and the oxer).  There was a two-stride to two one-strides (four fences total) in a line down the centerline of the arena, which Soon stopped in the middle of the first two times through.  I told Stephen his one real problem is that he doesn't look down a line.  He either gets physically too low in front and doesn't see it properly, or when he does see it, he can't figure it out.  We've always build up gymnastics and line so he's never presented with a full one cold; that's good, but now that he's more beyond that and we're looking to start really showing, he has to be able to have the confidence in himself  to look down that line and know where to put his feet.

Stephen put everything down to about 2' (it was all up around 3' at first) and plainly told me to "stuff him over it."  So stuff him I did - in the backseat with one hand on the reins and one hand with the crop behind my leg down the entire line.  After that first time through, which wasn't pretty, but it was effective, he got it and we were able to put the line back up.  He jumped it beautifully the rest of the session in each direction, even jumped the big oxer in the middle of the combo on a somewhat steep angle as I took it across the diagonal during another part of the lesson. He felt great.

It was a very hot day, so we cut the lesson short by nearly 30 minutes after we got to a good stopping point.  Stephen was lovely to work with, his instruction completely on point and corrections clear and easily understood.  It was fun.  I already signed up to ride with him again in June and July, so I'm excited to work with him somewhat regularly moving forward. 


I've decided 2017 is our year.  We're riding with George Morris.  Stephen Bradley.  Linda Zang.  We're doing all the clinics.  I'm riding high off a very inspirational spring.  Maybe a little too high... because somewhere in the last three weeks I decided it'd be a great idea to enter Upperville.


Long story short, I don't know for sure that we'll be in the area this time next year to contest the most historic horse show in the United States.  I've been to Upperville as a groom and spectator, but never competed there.  I grew up looking at the photos and the results in The Chronicle every year and dreamed of showing there one day.  I figured this summer I would get Soonie out showing in the area, and build up some experience to do Upperville in 2018.  But since I can no longer guarantee we'll be here a year from now...this year is the year.  We're doing it.

To be fair, I did wait until I took Soon to his first "real" horse show - you know, the kind where you have to get on a trailer, stay over at the show grounds, deal with crowds and thousands of children on ponies and banners and vendor tents and all the horse show atmosphere crap.  If he completely wigged out, I wouldn't send in the Upperville entry.  If he handled it and was relaxed, I'd go ahead and enter the two tiniest jumper classes on the Upperville prize list.  I'm happy to report that's exactly what happened.  We're entered in Upperville and will absolutely be that combo that is "just happy to be there."

First Horse Show
I made the last second decision to take Bubba to a local overnight show at the show grounds 20 minutes down the street.  We could have easily hauled in to school on Saturday, gone home, and hauled back in on Sunday, but I wanted him to experience "sleep over camp," and see how he reacted.  After easing him into it all afternoon, and a somewhat jumpy first warm up experience, he settled into the show atmosphere well, jumped around the show fences (Saturday warm up) like a superstar, and seemed to almost enjoy the nonstop attention back at the barn.  He went out on Sunday morning like he'd showed all his life - his two baby jumper classes looked like poised hunter rounds, he napped next to the ring, he had no issues with the covered ring (which he had yet to be ridden in), or the fact that he didn't get a proper warm up due to the schooling ring footing being trashed from three days of rain.  He was relaxed and happy to perform.  By that second day, it was clear he understood what the game was, and he seemed to be having fun with it.

Happy kid!

Second Horse Show
Since the first show didn't have "proper" jumper fences (only rails), I wanted to see how Soonie would do at another venue that had a proper, more impressive set of jumps to look at.  So, the following weekend we hauled up to Loch Moy for their hunter/jumper show.  We arrived Saturday afternoon, and despite a minor foul-up with the stabling (where Soon had to stand on the trailer and eat hay for a bit, which I was happy to see he did without protest!), it was a smooth afternoon.  I got him settled in the barn and unpacked, then we went down to school.

The face of someone with no sleep and zero desire to play.
Like the week prior, he was "up," but very obedient and listened to me the whole time.  I took my time with the flatwork, and got him to the point he'd relax and stretch all around the warm up ring at the walk and trot.  He jumped around the jumper ring and all the show fences without having to look at any.  I just pointed to them and he jumped them right out of stride, no issues whatsoever.  While most of them had been put down to 2'3" and 2'6", there was still a one-stride set at 3'3", and the oxer fives steps away at probably 3' as well.  I rolled back on the oxer and he jumped it beautifully; I came all the way back around to the in-and-out, knowing he might be sticky to a random combination like that.  I could have put it down and stuffed him over it once, but I wanted to see if he had learned anything from the Stephen Bradley experience (next post), and could figure this out at this very do-able height on his own.

He got a little behind me, but he went right over the one-stride with no issue.  He figured it out and the second time was lovely through the whole line.  The experiment was to see if he could go in the ring and jump an interesting set of fences (planks, gates, flowers, combos, etc) without needing anything explained to him.  I also wanted to see if the height would catch him by surprise.  None of it did.  He was relaxed, focused, and happy to do his job.  It answered all my questions for Upperville, and at that point I was perfectly happy NOT to show the following day.  I almost loaded him up and came home on Saturday night, having just done the schooling.  I probably should have just gone for that, but I had already paid for the stall, for the hotel...I figured stay and school again in the morning.  Maybe show.  Maybe not.

Sleeping...I think he got the hang of the show life.
After the worst night of sleep ever (I think I got about 45 minutes worth between my bronchitis and the bed next to the busy elevator shaft...), I got to the show early and decided we'd just school around the show crowds for science, and call it a day.  He had already jumped the show fences the day before.  He didn't need to prove that to me again, and we certainly didn't need to wait around for 6 hours for our classes to run.  It was all I had the energy for, anyway.

He was a little "up" again in the morning, but settled well and was very rideable.  We did a nice little dressage school while the mass of hunters and children flew by in the adjacent rings.  Once he was done flatting, I wanted him to just chill ringside for awhile and take more of the show scene in.  Once he was consistently falling asleep in the middle of the four rings, I decided he got the memo and we were good to do.  We packed up and came home, and I called the weekend a success.

He ate and drank well at both horse shows, seemed to settle very well in the new environments, and was a complete gentleman each time out.  He has this holiday weekend off from traveling.  We'll hack around, maybe haul out for a quick lesson, but otherwise we're relaxing this weekend and getting geared up for our three days at Upperville.  I'm excited.  We're not going there to ribbon, we're just going to say that we showed at Upperville and had a good time.  I just want a calm, happy horse.  That will be my prize for being there.  I can't wait to make this memory with him.