This show came with a preface. For years I've been struggling with trying to get Royal to relax. That horse can hold tension like nobody's business, and for longer than most horses. And lots of times when I try to get him to soften and relax, it almost becomes about him holding the tension out a principle. He's gotten way better over the years with some chiropractic help, but still has that tendency. So we were playing OnLine on Thursday and I was watching him go around like he always does and finally it hit me: maybe it's in his neck.
I mean, it makes sense. A horse has to take the contact with their nose, neck, and feet. Royal has no problem keeping a steady feel of the bit with his mouth, and being an extrovert, has no problem moving his feet. But he will contort his neck into all sorts of weird positions, and has a lot of problem really stretching when he's tense. So as I watched him go around with his underneck stiff as usual, I decided to help him change it. I used what Karen Rohlf calls the moving massage, just lightly touching my fingers to his neck and waiting for him to stretch. And he did, and it seemed to help. I'll write more about it later, but hopefully it's the start of something good.
I had to get up ridiculously early to get to the show on time, since I was supposed to ride at 8:07, which meant I had to leave my house at 5:00. Ugh. It was dark enough when I left that I worried about having enough light to hook up the trailer. Luckily there was just enough to hook everything up easily. But Royal decided the best place to be that morning was at the far northeast corner of the big field and I had to walk all the way to get him. And then we ran into road construction on the way there. And I got lost. Twice. Including driving down someone's private driveway... while they were standing right there. Awkward. But we finally made it to what is probably the most expensive stable I've ever set foot on, save for the Schweiss Stables. Seriously, it costs more to board then than all four places I've had Royal at, combined. So I felt a little out of my league. That, and I only had a half an hour to get all the mud off Royal and warm up before my ride time. I also got chastised for doing my pre-ride flight checks in the parking lot instead of in the area down the hill. So I barely had any time to warm up in the super fancy indoor arena (with fans and heaters and fabulous footing and one side covered in mirrors) before our Intro B ride.
It was pretty casual. I was the second person to ride that day and the first doing Intro B, so I knew that the tracks in the arena would tell the truth. The judge was pretty casual, and told me just to start when I was ready, and after a few circles around the "A" marker, we went in.
It seemed okay. Royal held the contact pretty steady, stretched in the free walk like a piece of elastic, and our circles were the right size and shape. I felt like it was a good test, but given our history with what I think is a good test, and how our scores don't reflect that, I wasn't holding out a lot of hope. Plus, my mother arrived... right after we finished. Sigh.
So we hung out for a bit, talked with the head trainer of the barn about the place. Apparently it's only been open a year, but they're going pretty well. We couldn't go in the boarders' barn but the rest of the facility was fancy enough to give us an idea. I wanted to see if the show was running on time, so we stopped by the office, where I saw my score.
65.313%. First place.
I couldn't believe it. All I could was "there must be some mistake" but no. There wasn't. We'd won. I was in shock. We even got an 8 on our free walk! I took a ribbon off the wall and went back to the trailer to show Royal. Look, it matches! But of course he was unimpressed and went back to his hay. All in all, he was pretty calm. He still thought every horse in sight was his new friend, but overall seemed pretty calm. I gave him lots of cookies, we watched some tests and then it was time to warm up for our second test, Training 1. The indoor was pretty much deserted, so I used that time to ride around like I owned the super fancy place. Royal was still doing pretty well with the contact, although I was having trouble getting him to stretch at the trot without combing the reins. Too much to look at, I suppose. So I figured that was going to be a weak point in our test.
The test went well enough. Our stretchy circle was a joke, and he was a bit quick in the downward transitions, but we still had good circle and an awesome free walk. So after waiting around a bit, we got our score: 61.042% and third place. Out of three. But we were only about half a percentage point behind the second place pair, so I was pretty happy.
And these are seriously fancy ribbons.
We made it home, and Royal immediately rolled in the dirt. But I still couldn't believe we won something, for the first time ever. And not in a "everyone's a winner!" way. In a real way. And immediately I started thinking of why it didn't count. It was a schooling show, there were only 5 or 6 other pairs in my class, it wasn't a horse trail or the judge was too lenient. Basically almost trying to convince myself that I didn't really win. I've heard this referred to as "Jerkbrain", usually referring to depression or anxiety disorders. The badly wired part of your brain basically sabotages your happiness by convincing you it didn't happen or you didn't deserve it. And for the most part with me, it succeeds, because I don't do things that are quantifiable. Maybe I cooked a chicken quesadilla that was actually edible and tasty, but I know people who can make watermelon taste amazing, so it's not really that good. Or maybe I crocheted that weird pattern hat, but other people make beautiful blankets in half that time, so it's not really that big a deal. Jerkbrain is kind of a jerk. So usually I can't counter Jerkbrain. But this time I can. So it was a schooling show, but we still rode some good tests, among our best ever. We had a better ride than everyone else in our first class. So what if it wasn't a horse trail? I still would be happy if we'd won a jumper class at Carriage House or any other show. And so what if the judge was lenient? She still gave me higher numbers than anyone else. So, I've had to manually shut out the Jerkbrain and actually be proud of Royal and myself. We deserve all the cookies and Chipotle burritos. Because we rock and nothing can take that away from us.