Horse Showing 101

With several lessons and one foray into the horse show world under our belt, it was time to go to the Maryland State Fair Thoroughbred Horse Show. Because of parking issues, Banker, my friend Gwen and I drove down to Timonium on Tuesday night for the Wednesday horse show. The barns and showing arena are tucked away behind the main fair, so even though all the rides and games were in full swing when we arrived, we unpacked and got settled in quickly and easily.
Wednesday morning dawned beautifully as we arrived at the quite fairgrounds to find Banker braided and ready for breakfast. Once he was done eating, I tacked him up and headed into the ring to school a bit before the show started. As we got to the ring, Bev and Valerie arrived just in time to watch as Banker picked up the trot and soon relaxed into a nice rhythm. We cantered a bit, then trotted to a jump. I was not quite sure what to expect, but he put his eye on it and just popped right over it. We cantered off, turned the corner and went down to the first jump in the line, and he jumped in beautifully. He just kept cantering and jumped his first oxer! We finished up with a few more fences before letting him take a break and relax.
Our first class was the Jump Start Hunter Under Saddle, which was not a big class, so we were able to find a spot on the rail and not have to worry about other horses. I was most concerned about our canter transitions, and rode my plan which was to hear the command, take a deep breath, think outside leg, inside rein, and ask. By taking my time, Banker hit the correct lead each time and settled into an easy rhythm. We were 2nd in the class!
Next up, the cross rails class, 6 jumps around the outside. My plan was to ride deep into the corners and get straight to the first fence in the line, then just support him. The turn to the first fence was by the gate and I had to press him past it, as he always wants to slow down and chat with the spectators. Once we got over that fence, he just clocked around, even getting a flying change. We finished off with a nice circle and I left the ring ecstatic! Minutes later it was announced, “In first place, D’Sauvage”!! No time for celebrations, I had to focus and go back for the second trip. I learned during this trip that coming home towards the gate I need to sit back and hold a bit as he wants to get to that gate again. He understood what I asked and adjusted beautifully and put down a lovely trip. We won that class, too! I am proud to say he was champion of the Jump Start Hunter.

Champion!

Next up was the 2’ hunter, and Bev and I thought it would be good experience for him to jump a course with boxes and gates. He hacked well, but the class was big and had several more seasoned horses in it. Our first trip contained several baby mistakes. For instance, he wasn’t paying attention to the first jump by the grandstand and kind of tripped over it. My goal for this trip was to give him a positive experience, so I turned him out of the line and regrouped. Once he relaxed, we picked up the canter and finished the course confidently. As we jumped our second course, the light bulb went on and he seemed to understand the new questions being asked when jumping 8 fences with turns in between.  He settled in the lines and made very nice turns and was 6th place in that class. I was so proud of him!! Oh, and his auto changes kicked in during these classes. I would think about asking for a change, look down and realize he already changed. He’s so smart!

After a rest, we caught up with our lead-line jockey at the barn, and got him all saddled up for the class.  George was boosted up and he gave Banker a big pat as we headed to the ring.  Banker seems to know when little George is up there as he seems to take care with each step.  After a few passes around the ring, George was awarded first place – he got a ribbon and one of the softest teddy bears I have ever held!  Well done, boys!

George's bear

Here is a video of our day where you can see Banker’s great attitude about horse shows.

I do need to mention that on the way home I had a tire blow out on the trailer. We had to drive on the busted tire in order to get off a dangerous road and find a parking lot to hang out in until Justine came to our rescue. During this whole process, Banker was cool as a cucumber. It was during our wait I discovered that he is a dunker. I offered him a bucket of water and he took a mouthful of hay from his hay manger and dunked it right in the bucket! I placed the bucket in the manger during our wait and he just dunked and munched away. Once Justine arrived, we unloaded him and put him into Justine’s trailer and continued our trek home. As I said before, Mr. Steady Eddy!

After another lesson with Troy, we headed off the Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show, the big Chester County show and country fair.  More about that next time!

Long and low

Life with Banker is, well, consistent, and in my book, reliability counts for a lot! When asked to share about Banker’s personality, I struggled at first because how do you describe a horse that has done everything you ask without one iota of disrespect? He is Mr. Steady Eddy in the stall, under saddle, over jumps, in the cross ties, on the trailer. I look forward to riding him because I know what I’m going to get when I put my foot in the stirrup. Today, I had one of those days where mounting was a challenge (those days come as you age) and he just stood and waited as I righted myself. When we finish our ride, he sniffs my pockets for treats and takes them gently from my outstretched hand. He does enjoy a roll in his stall after a refreshing wash down!
We’ve had 2 more lessons with Troy Hendricks, and Banker has learned to jump real jumps with gate, boxes and colored flowers. Again, no fuss, no muss, he just goes to the jump. On the flat, he is beginning to lengthen his stride and has even begun to stretch his head down during our warm-up. I really enjoy working with Troy because of the way he instills confidence in his horses and riders, knowing how to ask for just a little bit more without over-facing either one. He is usually teaching when I arrive at the farm, and I try to absorb as much as I can as he transitions to my lesson. In this clip, Troy shares what he like to see in a hunter on the flat.

 

Starting a young hunter can be challenging as they don’t always understand going long and low, but as Troy said, the correct head carriage has to start in the back end. So when we work on the flat, my mantra is leg, leg, leg.  Then more leg, and around the corners, more leg.

Banker continues to do whatever is asked of him, including his second show, TB Day at the Maryland State Fair……more about that soon!

Welcome Week

From what I remember, going to college is a pretty big deal: picking classes, meeting professors and figuring out what to bring. When I went to pick up Banker 10 days ago, Jacqui had packed up his show halter and equipment, put together a bridle and found us a girth to use. I put hind shipping boots on him, loaded him up and off we went. Traveling through Elkton, he whinnied a few times, as he did as we drove up the MAHR driveway. I took it as a sign that he was ready for an adventure!

When we arrived at Whysper Wynd farm, Justine Howell, the barn owner and manager, met us with a big smile, anxious to meet our boy. Justine is a 3rd generation Thoroughbred racing professional and breeder, and has oodles of experience with retraining OTTBs. As we were off-loading, she told me a bit about his breeding and racing history (By D’Wildcat out of Tres Chaud; 44 starts). Since Banker is a well-seasoned traveler, he settled in nicely to his new stall and his turnout field.

settling in

The next day, I tacked him up and lead him into the ring where Justine and her 3 daughters were riding. He wasn’t quite sure what the little white thing was carrying one of the girls around, and was a bit surprised when it started to canter, but I climbed on and walked off, letting him watch Fancy cantering around the ring. As with any kid in a new class, he looked around and was easily distracted, but did everything I asked. When we were ready to canter, the other riders gave us the rail and he gave me a bit of a speedy canter, which settled into a nice rhythm after a few strides.

Thursday brought our first field trip to Troy Hendrick’s Kimber-View Farm. Troy is a seasoned professional hunter trainer who I have been lessoning with for several years. He grew up riding, showing and hunting thoroughbreds, and is excited to be part of Team D’Sauvage. Over the years, I have learned to set measurable, achievable goals, and on this day, my goal was to get Banker there, get on him, get off him and get him home in one piece. Anything more than that would be icing on the cake.

As we entered Troy’s huge ring, several of his students were hacking and jumping, but Banker didn’t bat an eye at the horses working. I told Troy that Banker had been jumping little items, but didn’t quite know what to do with his feet over poles. We started trotting and the first thing Troy noticed was that Banker was not tracking up behind, so he told me to encourage him to “cover ground”. I put my leg on and was able to get him to open up a hair. As we trotted around, Troy put one pole down, we trotted that, then Troy added a second pole, and as we trotted through, Banker seemed to open his stride more and relax. When Troy added a 3rd pole, Banker trotted through like a seasoned pro. During this time, Banker had a ‘giraffe’ look, carrying his head high, so Troy said to put a martingale on and to make sure I adjust it so that he would hit it.

Banker's high head carriage.

Banker’s high head carriage.

Our last exercise was to trot the poles, continue trotting to the end of the ring, pick up the canter, continue cantering around the ring, then back to the trot to the poles. We had no trouble with this exercise going to the right, but Banker did not understand the left lead aids and it took a few tries to get the left lead. Troy had me keep him straight and use more inside leg. He saw that banker would take the lead for 1 stride then switch to the right lead. I finally got the timing right, using a strong left leg at the girth, giving with my hands and really squeezing to keep the lead. When I came back to the walk, Troy said that when he picks up that lead, keep going and ‘have a party’ cantering around to get Banker more comfortable on that lead. We ended our first lesson with a successful canter transition after the poles.

I was thrilled because not only did we meet our attainable goal, we accomplished so much more. Banker then got Saturday off so that he could, as Bev says, “read the manual”. He’s going to be a great college student!

Jumping lessons…….

Along with our flat work, Banker also needed to learn how to jump. Although willing, this took a little bit more effort.

We started walking and trotting over ground poles and our little solid green box. The main focus was to keep going between the standards without scattering rails. When we got to the flower box, Banker decided maybe it was easier to go around, but he figured it out.

In our second session, we progressed to half an x, Banker could not figure out how to leave the ground and get all four feet to the other side. He would clear the tiny jump in front and plow through it behind–or plow through it in front so the hind didn’t have to worry. After a bit of this he did get to the other side without knocking them down, but also without actually taking off and jumping.

At this point, I decided to put him on a lunge line next time so he could try to figure out his feet without worrying about me. This lesson also doubled as a lunge lesson- I don’t think he had lunged before- if he had, it was some time ago. He finally figured out how to jump.

After this session, I planned to ride him in Sally Shirley’s TERF clinic at the rescue- but after falling off my own horse pretty hard that morning -duh- Sally schooled him for me. At the trot he still was a bit clumsy. We found that if he cantered to a rail, he could figure out how to actually jump to the other side. Fourth jump lesson was a charm!

When we got to session #5, this week, he was better about trotting over fences instead of through them. I didn’t do much warm up because I wanted him fresh. We started cantering over tiny half x’s, with me really focused on keeping my leg on and letting him do the math. Several times he broke to a trot, a couple of times he had to put an extra leg in, but he had a few really nice canter fences and went down the line in a very balanced manner.

Again, we will let him study the textbook and put it together…..but from here, Banker will move to our friend Lynne’s barn for the next two months. Lynne is an experienced hunter rider, and has access to some really great trainers in the show world.  When we first put this team together, we found that the big name trainers that we knew all were away showing at rated shows almost every weekend.  Banker was not going to be ready for that- and the first weekend in October is the Capitol Challenge Horse Show in Washington, another conflict- so Lynne offered to take him on and continue his education by taking lessons with top hunter folks. Stay tuned!

And finally, because every kid who goes to college needs a bit of fun before moving away from home, we took Banker down to the river to play……

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bankerriver

Cross this one off my bucket list~thanks D’Sauvage!

After Pimlico we let the superstar have a few days off- he was happy to get his braids out and go back out with his buddies–Banker found the biggest dirt patch to roll in as soon as we turned him out. Because we only have a little more than two months to our next appearance at Pimlico, though, we needed to keep moving on with his quest to become a show hunter. We did start him over little fences- more on that in another post- but we really wanted to concentrate on his canter work- the transition from walk to canter and back to walk, and –gulp– lead changes!

The first horse we ever owned was an OTTB-Gamboling, a gorgeous son of the great Nashua- a failed racehorse who was purchased from a dealer’s yard right off the truck from Belmont. By the time we bought him, he had been trained to 4th level in dressage and shown as an open jumper. We had a lot to learn to ride a horse schooled to this level, but his lead changes were always automatic. Over the years as an eventer on later mounts, I never really worried about changes- we would always shift to land on the correct lead, or just keep the horse in balance on whatever lead we happened to be on. When I started breaking babies for the track, we wouldn’t worry about changes so much-typically by the time you galloped down the lane and hit the turn, they would be tired and ready to swap, and pretty much all you had to do was chirp and tug on the rein- same with coming off the turn. I do remember a big mare that was sent to us bc she wouldn’t swap, so I went to the indoor and worked cantering around over a ground rail and yanking her head around until she would swap- it wasn’t pretty but when she went back to the trainer, she was fine. So- asking for and getting a smooth hunter change was a bit of a mystery to me-and became an item on my bucket list.

My old friend and trainer Sally Ike told me years ago if the horse was balanced, all you had to do was sit up and ask. Yeah right. I would sit up and ask and get nothing, and then become a contortionist, still get nothing, and give up, with both me and the horse a sweaty mess. Hunter changes became one of those mysterious things I decided not to worry about, but it was always at the back of my mind.

One day a gal came to try a recently retired OTTB at the rescue with her South American show jumping trainer. I rode first WTC, and then this guy got on and rode figure eights with perfect changes every time.  Just wow. When Solidify went to Tiffany Catledge for the first RRP Trainer Challenge, she would sit up and ask and get a perfect lead change. Another wow. Amber Longren at the RRP Makeover last year? I didn’t see her teach her horse, but she had lovely changes. Chris McCarron? He had never ridden that grey horse at the Makeover and got perfect changes. Ask and you shall receive. The more I saw this, the more I wanted to be able to do it. I spoke to Steuart about it last year-he told me if a rider had a balanced horse and was just patient in asking for the change, it should work. With all of this in mind, I was determined to do it and do it right.

My own big grey horse has a balanced canter so I started with him. We picked up a canter one way, came across the diagonal, I sat back on my new outside leg, pressed him well behind the girth with that leg, and steadily turned him in the new direction. After a little trial and error and patiently waiting for the response after giving the aids, we actually got a change (with a buck) from left to right-  I was thrilled! We could only get half a change the other way but the left to right got better during the session- Yay!!

I knew Banker would need to do his changes to be a show hunter, so he became my next test subject. At first we worked on the walk to canter transitions. To prepare him, I always do a turn using a shoulder fore to engage him and then ask for the canter as we head the other way- as you can see, he is getting much better with that. He still comes above the bridle during the transition but is lifting nicely into it. Then on to changes. That first day I started on the left lead- his least favorite- crossed the diagonal and asked for the change and presto chango, we got it- What a star!! We did the left to right change twice and quit – again, these TBs go home and read the book and are ready to start the next chapter the next day.

Several days later, with the video camera, we tried again. It was in the 90’s and neither of us really felt like working. His canter wasn’t as engaged and he kept breaking to the trot but I rode him through it and was able to get changes both ways- not every time but almost. When I didn’t get it, I realized I had panicked and thrown my body around instead of asking and waiting for him to respond. Once I forced myself to take a deep breath and ask correctly, he gave me a beautiful change. Now I knew he wanted to be a nice show horse!

Sooo, cross that off my bucket list-of course now I am going to have to try it on any other rescue horse that I think might be balanced enough LOL (poor things……)

 

 

First Show= Success!

The Totally TB Show at Pimlico yesterday was a great day, Not only were there lots of super TBs competing to raise money for aftercare at a beautiful venue, D’Sauvage was a star! In fact, he was probably the only horse with his own paparazzi- our friend Val from Rough Coat Photo came to document the day.

Jacqui and Lynne started the day well before dawn. Lynne braided him with a headlamp while Jacqui worked on his coat. Banker stood on cross ties like he had done it his whole life- or maybe he just wasn’t awake yet. Tina arrived with the trailer and was loaded and out the driveway by 5:30, arriving at Pimlico at 7. Lynne tacked him up and led him over to the infield where he did his best giraffe imitation–but stayed on the ground. Some people will give young horses ace or some over the counter calming supplements first time out (and often more), but I always would rather know what horse might show up and deal with it accordingly……..so Banker came in totally free of additives LOL. Lynne let him jog, and then canter around, to settle and see the sights.

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After about 20 minutes, she hopped off and we worked to dry him off for the in hand. At this point he figured the excitement was over and stood quietly taking it all in- he was starting to be a grown up show horse. We even went over to see our friends in the secretary stand- Banker thought that was very cool….

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The in Hand class was huge. He was polite and stood up well for what seemed like an eternity. He did not get a call, but neither did the super horse Storming Marine- Selina Petronelli’s war horse who wins the models everywhere. Both are average size chestnuts with lovely balance, and with a class this size, it is so much a matter of preference- I was glad I didn’t have to judge.

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Then the fun began- Our dear friend Jennifer Webster recruited her 2 yr old son George to be the jockey in the Leadline under 10 Class. We were a bit worried that he would not want to ride a new horse without mom around, but after one circuit around the ring he told Jennifer she could go out of the ring. George did a wonderful job, especially given the heat and the silks, and his adorable quotient was through the roof. George spent a lot of time patting his new horse, and we were loving it.  The team got a light blue ribbon for their efforts and by this point Banker was acting like he had been doing this forever……..

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There was also an AARP leadline for riders over 60, so we recruited Jacqui to get dressed up and ride. Jacqui spent years showing and hunting, and now rides for pleasure, but she was game. Luckily we used the picnic table for a mounting block. There were quite a few very accomplished riders in the field, as well as some that hadn’t been on horseback for years. I have no idea how the judge pinned this, but Banker and Jacqui got a 6th-maybe to match my silks–all in good fun and for a great cause!

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At this point we had a break before the big class- the Novice Hunter Walk Trot- so we hosed him off, gave him a drink, and brought him back to his stall in the Stakes barn. He appreciated the break…….

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About 45 minutes later, it was show time. Banker came back to the infield and was a pro. He wasn’t quite as round and free as he could be at home, but he was steady and consistent and went beautifully.

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Jennifer was the standout in the class, winning with her Campside. We were tickled when Banker and Lynne pinned 4th–What a surprise!!

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It was a big day for Team D’Sauvage, and an inkling of great things to come. We will be excited to return to Pimlico for the Challenge. For now, a few days off, lots of treats, and planning the next steps……..

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Video recap here:

Banker at his first show- Totally TB at Pimlico

 

 

 

Hi Ho Pimlico- D’Sauvage makes his debut at the Totally TB Show tomorrow!

Since the Totally TB Show at Pimlico is such a cool show, and Banker came to us by way of our fledgling MD Aftercare efforts, we decided to make that Banker’s show ring debut. It is quite the venue, and may be unsettling but we are betting he will be a cool cookie- so far he has been totally accepting of everything. One thing that almost always sets an OTTB off is when they hear the PA system at their first horse show- they channel back to their racing days- and to hear it at the track might be a trigger, but we are going to go for it, because we want to be part of the day and you have to start somewhere! We decided to enter him in the in hand, leadline (junior and senior), and the walk trot hunter class.

 

Although we know you can’t get that show ring shine in a week, our farm manager Jacqui has started bringing Banker in and working on his coat. He was clipped late in the spring, which makes his coat a bit coarse, so she and our right hand man Owen have been rubbing on him and vacuuming him. Banker could care less about the vacuum, and ponies down to the barn alongside the Kubota RTV for his beauty treatments. His coat won’t be show ring ready by the weekend, but that’s OK, we have made a start.

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This past Wednesday, our friend Lynne Pennypacker came to ride Banker for the first time. Lynne has years of experience training and showing hunters, and will take Banker for the last two months of the challenge to put a polish on him with the help of some well known trainers in our area. Lynne is an OTTB fan, and is a great size for Banker- because looks do count in the show ring!

 

She started by working him on the line- and we were all giggles, because Banker knew this stuff. Someone must have worked with him in the past, maybe for the sales, maybe for a yearling show- but he knew to stand over himself and drop his head and hold his pose. What an amazing boy! I was a judge’s steward at last year’s show- I remember Terry West showing her big horse in hand last year, and how she got him to pose while she stood back and bent down, just like Lynne was doing. Terry definitely knows her way around a show ring, and won the class. This is all new to me, so I am glad to have a hunter person like Lynne taking him on for the final two months!

 

Lynne then hopped on him. It took a little while for Lynne to ride him the way I had been riding him, in order to get that nice long sweepy hunter frame. Banker had “gotten it” with me, but here was someone new, with a different feel, so he wasn’t quite sure at first. I ride with a lot of leg, and my legs are longer than Lynne’s- I think that was the biggest challenge. Initally he was a bit stuffy and looked uneven behind to me. We were working on soft hands, more leg, and less seat. We videotaped the beginning and middle but by the end I got involved so much from the ground that I forgot to video. In the end, though, he got more in front of her leg and trotted around in a soft lovely frame-take my word for it- so we quit.

Getting ready for his debut in the show ring~ 

Lynne came back today to ride once more and to help get him spiffy for tomorrow. Jacqui said he went very well for her now that they knew each other a bit more- hooray- so we are excited for tomorrow.

 

Our good friend and mentor Sally Cousins says that you lose 25% of your training when you go to a competition, so we may not get that nice sweepy hunter frame, but if we have that quiet uneventful day we are planning for, it will be a success for us all! From here, we will return to MAHR and work on the flat work to include changes, and jumping, and look for some more shows to give him the miles he needs……

 

PS: We hope you can come to the show tomorrow- admission is free! Stop by our booth or our horse (LOL) and say hello. He will be that handsome chestnut, we will be wearing our blue and red Team Midatlantic-MD Tee shirts~ Go RRP and Go OTTBs!