November was an incredibly eventful month with Mickey. He came in from living in the field and this immediately affected his mentality and his body. He quickly became quite unfocused, tense and explosive – which meant I’ve been trying to work with a wild horse all month. This meant the competitions I went to didn’t exactly go as planned – but there were plenty of learnings to be had!
The first competing we had at Bluegate Hall Farm on November 7th. As we were waiting to enter the arena he was trembling with fear. He went into the arena rearing and bucking and afraid of even taking a step forward. To be fair it was a windy, rainy day, the arena was covered in puddles, the big trees next to his shook like there was no tomorrow and the arena was smaller which Mickey’s not used to. I thought I would have to retire before even starting the test but somehow I managed to get him forward – and I just about got him around the test (with a score that’s not even worth mentioning). The second test on the same day was in another arena which he was more familiar with so he did calm down somewhat but his tension resulted in three mistakes which cost us dearly as our percentage dropped to 65% – not the 67% we needed. It was not quite the outing we’d expected but one that hopefully helped him to get used to extreme weather conditions even a tiny bit. Also, I realised he’s too big of a horse to do small arena tests with and because of his young age and sensitivity, I may need to accept the fact that he’s not a horse that can handle all kinds of weather conditions – at least not yet.
The second competition we did was in an indoor he hadn’t been in before. He settled in the warm up after the initial tension but as we went into the competition ring he was in full panic mode. He was terrified of the boards, the wind shaking the mirrors, his own reflection on the judges box and the audience seating. Needless to say the whole test was a mess – he reared going down the centre line, he refused to go into one of the corner’s at all and he took off three times. He was totally running on adrenaline and his flight instinct kicked in in overdrive which meant I was invisible to him. The only positive was I managed to stay one! Eventually I retired from the test and just rode around the arena to try to get him to breath and calm down. We went in again for our second test and this time managed to get him around the whole test but as he was still high on adrenaline, the further the test went, the more panicky he got again. The test was full of mistakes and tension so it was a really rough ride (which even the judge mentioned saying “Did not look like an easy ride!”. So there was no sign of 67% on that day. Luckily my trainers were there as well to calm me down and said he’s just young and inexperienced, and I just need to go out more and more to get over situations like this. He is a hot, sensitive, drama queen – so we just need to train the drama reactions out and make the hot & sensitive nature more manageable – all work in progress!
After this test we had a well timed session with horsemanship expert Richard Maxwell again – and we spent about four hours desensitising Mickey to all kinds of noises and weirdness around him in the round pen. It was incredible to watch as by the end Richard had managed to get Mickey to stop and think rather then panic and run when he was faced with a new threat. Obviously there is still a long way to go to get him to be like this all the time but I’ve started to do this kind of horsemanship work 2-3 times a week to make more progress. I also plan to do it for 20-30 minutes before loading him up in the lorry to take him to competitions to remind him of this stop and think response right before taking him a high energy show situation.
We had our final try to get that last qualifying point on November 28th – and I’d only entered one test to focus him fully for that. He felt great in the warm up despite being quite hot and explosive and I felt like he was listening better than last time. As we entered the arena to do our test, he tensed up a little bit but I managed to contain it. We did have a few eventful moments with a trot circle full of spooks, one spin away from the judge’s box and bucking canter circle – but all the moments in between were superb. This time he was definitely more controllable in between his naughty moments – but they were still really expensive mistakes to have. We ended up on a score of 66% – just 3 points short of getting 67%! However I didn’t feel disappointed as I did feel like we had made a massive leap since our previous outing where we had to retire from a test. And… we ended up having our first victory with that score! And boy did that feel good! After 3.5 years of training this wild child we finally got our first red ribbon – and there were 12 contestants too so it wasn’t an easy win (or an easy ride with his ballerina moments!). I also loved the judge’s comment after this test which summarised him so perfectly: “Super horse – kept us on the edge of our seats!” It was a fantastic end to the season and definitely one of the highlights I’ve had with him so far. I was smiling ear to ear for days and celebrated in the evening with some champagne.
I can not wait to start working towards the summer regionals now. The qualifying competitions have already started as of December 1st – but my plan is to get him more settled, focused and stronger first. Then the plan is to do an intense burst of competing March through to June when the weather calms down a bit and he can start living out again. This sound calm down the wild horse and bring out more of the dressage pro. It will help our competition scores a lot!
This is what Mickey thinks about wrapping up the 2015 competition season… “Finally I can get more rest!”