This past month, Cole tried to put on his big boy pants and went to his first ever dressage show. It was his first trip off the farm since his surgery and he had to brave it alone since Riley, his moral support, had to stay home with a stone bruise. It was not the outstanding dressage debut that I would've loved, but when I entered Cole in the show, I knew it wouldn't be. I did, however, know it would be a great learning experience and a venue where Cole could be as good or bad as he wanted to be with no high stakes involved. It seems as though other people also chose the show for that reason, because despite being very tense in his tests, Cole got 2nd place in Intro B and 3rd place in the eventing percentage class for doing Beginner Novice A. I'm especially proud of Cole because he'd only been working for a short while and cantering again post-layup for about a week or two before the show. The best part is that the basic parts are there and it can only get better with more experience off the farm and more progressive training. I think he'll start jumping again soon so that we can get back on track to a beginner novice event sometime this spring/summer season.
It was nice and cold (and snowy) for Cole's first show.
Cole trying to behave.
More importantly than Cole's first dressage show (although don't get me wrong, it was a big deal for him!) was an enormous milestone for me this past weekend: I braved my first out-of-state show since losing Will almost a year ago. Approaching the trip, I had all sorts of doubts and fears. It's one thing to experience the sudden and tragic death of a horse, it's another to do it far away from the comfort of home. In Lexington, I regularly work with fantastic vets, I have close access to two top-notch equine hospitals if my regular vets are unavailable, and in the worst case scenario, I trust the Lexington Disease and Diagnostic Lab to perform a necropsy. If something happens while traveling away from home, I have to put all of my trust into unfamiliar people and institutions and hope for the best. And while the timing was right to go to Southern Pines HT, I couldn't ignore that I'm still approaching the one year anniversary of losing Will and that the show was located relatively close to the Ark in North Carolina where he died.
Thankfully despite all of the bad memories and dreadful fears, the weekend was a huge success. Riley once again stepped up and impressed me with what a wonderful horse he is. Two weeks before the show, he had unfortunately turned up lame with a stone bruise. He more or less had those two weeks off, so when we left for North Carolina, he was sound again, but hadn't had a good dressage or jump school for some time. My goal, then, was to simply complete the show with a healthy, sound horse at the end of the weekend. If we bombed one or more of the phases, I was willing to attribute it to not having schooled enough before the show.
As it turned out, we didn't have the best dressage and we pulled a rail in SJ, but I would by no means say we bombed any part of the show. Riley put in a solid dressage test considering the circumstances. In show jumping we had a great round, but I kind of pushed him to the #2 fence and he pulled the rail. Otherwise I felt like our jump lessons have been paying off and was very happy with the round.
When it came time for cross country, I was extra stressed out about making it through safe and making it over the ditch. The water was also a bit difficult (but fair) for training, with a drop in to a bank out, 2 strides to a log stack. And as always (and once again considering the time off during the last two weeks before the show), I was concerned about Riley making the time since he usually struggles with that. The best part of XC was feeling all of my fears melt away as we galloped out of the start box and over the first fence. Riley easily breezed over everything and showed me a gear I've never seen before during the first half of the course- so much so that we cantered around the last 4 fences. The big fences felt easy, the more technical questions felt easy, and he even jumped the ditch in the half coffin without batting an eye. Once upon a time, cross country with Riley was very stressful because I didn't know where, when, or if he would stop. Now it's just plain fun and he makes it feel easy. Will left some very big shoes to fill, but Riley has proven that he's up to the job while Cole's busy growing up.
Passing up the huge milestone of my first out of state show in almost a year was a daunting task, but I'm so happy I had Riley with me to help and to once again give me courage when I needed it. The best part about having him back at home is just how often (and sometimes how loudly, like this weekend) he tells me that I have too low of expectations for him. Riley might not have the raw talent of other horses, but he more than easily makes up for it with his huge heart and how hard he tries. He may be hindered by medical issues, but he constantly impresses me with how much he can still do in spite of them.
Once again, I feel so lucky to have two wonderful horses. The past month has made me super excited for the coming show season and what it will hold for all of us, hopefully including more milestones like Cole's first events and Riley's first T3D. Will did a great job teaching me to enjoy my horses for who they are and to not measure success in ribbons. Knowing this, I think this show season will be a very, very successful one.