Last Saturday, Liam returned to the show ring after 3 years away. I wasn’t sure what to expect. He was a good competitor, he seemed to understand that when we entered the ring it was time to perform. But would he remember after three years away? He’d hardly been off the farm in that time! And, to make things even more interesting, it would be his first time showing at second level!
I got to the barn not long after dawn, braided his mane, and loaded him in the trailer. We drove almost an hour up to Silverwood Farm in Camp Lake, Wi. We did the USEF/USDF Recognized show there because I wanted my scores to count towards my bronze medal if we did well enough.
He travelled like an old pro (which he is…), unloaded and took in the scene with confidence. He had only a short time in his stall to start on his breakfast hay before it was time to tack up and get riding!
He warmed up well considering the circumstances. He felt a little stiff getting started, but that’s pretty normal for a 17 year old ottb that missed his turn out time that day. After a few laps around the big warm up ring, he loosened up and started to feel fresh and ready to go. I did a few transitions and when I was confident all my buttons were working, I let him walk, hoping to save enough energy for the second test.
The first test was First Level Test 1, and worked perfectly as a warm up. The test itself is pretty easy for Liam now, but we still needed one more score at first for the bronze medal. As we entered at A, I was relieved we had this easier test first.
Liam was tense and forward. He didn’t do anything wrong, but he felt very eager and strong in my hands. I rode a conservative test, feeling that if I let him move out too much he may not come back. Midway through he started to feel more relaxed, and the final canter lengthening at the end of the test I actually sent him forward, which he did and he came back nicely afterwards. As we completed the test, I felt pretty good. The score came back about as expected, no major errors but we lost some points for tension, ending up at 62.586%, giving us the final First Level score needed for the bronze!
We took a short break, then began again. This warm up started better, he felt looser and more relaxed right away. But then I began to sense a problem. He had no energy left! I cut the warm up short, letting walk on a long rein until it was our turn. Then, we were entering at A for our first attempt at Second Level Test 1!
He was more relaxed and not as strong in the bridle. His halt was effortless, he trotted off and made a smooth turn. We made the turn onto the diagonal to begin a medium trot, and nothing happened. I tightened my leg and encouraged him forward and he gave me a few good steps, but then broke into a canter. Darn! I brought him back to the trot and reorganized as we made our way through the short end of the arena. We felt good as we headed onto the long side to begin our shoulder-in.
The shoulder-in felt good, he turned across the center of the ring smoothly, and did another shoulder-in in the other direction, which also felt good. (And both ended up being good for 7’s!) Then we did an obedient halt and rein back, proceeded by our next mistake, where he got a few trot steps in the medium walk. The free walk was ok but not as ground covering as it could have been. The walk to canter transition was beautiful and effortless (and also good for a 7!), and then came our nemesis, the counter canter serpentine. Liam finds flying changes much more sensible than counter canter and it’s been a real challenge convincing him otherwise!
Fortunately, his tired state worked for us here and he held his lead through the serpentine, and even listened as we rounded the turn into the simple change (where he also finds it more convenient to do a flying change than the tedious canter-walk-canter transition), and we picked up 6.5 on both movements!
We did a 10m circle well enough, and he dug deep and found a little bit extra for the medium canter, then we were back onto a counter canter serpentine on the other lead. This one is the harder one, and I think I over-thought it in my attempt to hold the counter canter, so I ended up swinging wide on the second loop. We finished the movement smoothly and without incident but it was not accurate steering on my part, but it ended up still good for a 6! It was followed by another clean simple change (7!) and another 10m circle (7!), and a final medium canter where I’m pretty sure he gave me every last ounce of effort he had left (6.5!). We rounded the final turn to cross the diagonal one last time in a medium trot and there was just nothing there. I tried to get something, and he gave me a few steps before falling into a canter (so we got a 4 on that one, as well as a 5 for the transitions, I guess since we did show one). We reorganized ourselves and headed down the centerline for our final halt, which he performed beautifully (and thankfully I’m sure!), getting us our final 7 for the test.
So our first attempt was nearly all 6.5’s and 7’s, with a few 4’s and 5’s thrown in where we made mistakes! I was thrilled!!! Our final score was 60.857%, and got us our third score towards the bronze medal! Liam got LOTS of cookies after that, and the next two days off to lounge in his field with his girlfriends.