I’ve just returned from a mini- vacation from New York City where, aside from being a tourist, I have come to horse-related “ah-ha!” moment with respect to Corona.
It began last Sunday (July 14th) in Corona and my 3rd show of the season. We had been to the venue the past 2 years and never had any big issues, so I took the opportunity to enter us in our normal Training Level classes, and then also enter us in our first ever First Level class. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to try something new considering that all of our schooling has been going beautifully and the fact that he has been to the venue previously.
He loaded into the trailer like the little champion he is – and for the first time ever he didn’t even hesitate at all. He didn’t need any incentive, he just said, “sure mom!” That, in itself was a winning moment.
It was stinking hot – like the rest of the east coast of the States and Canada, we were in the depths of a heat wave. With the humidex, it was 39 degrees Celsius.
We arrived with plenty of time to spare as CG was riding in two classes before Corona and I even got started. Corona was a gem and stood like a gentleman under the trees and we watched the other riders compete in their classes.
I eventually tacked him up and took him to the warm up ring to prepare for our first test. Things were going well until Roller (now finished his classes) began to call for Corona. There was whinnying back-and-forth and it was getting more and more difficult to keep Corona’s attention on me. I could feel him getting more and more tense and our nice relaxed trots were turning into the runaway freight train variety with plenty of spooks thrown in for good measure. I tried to ride him through it and then tried a different approach. I walked him, I asked him to stretch long and low for me and did a lot of flexion exercises at the walk. This seemed to work wonders and I could feel him begin to come back to me. After about 10 minutes, I asked him to pick up trot again – it was beautiful. I asked for a canter – wonderful. I asked for another trot and asked him to stretch long and low on a 20 meter circle – phenomenal. We were told we were on deck so I brought him closer to the ring and we continued our relaxed walk figures.
When it was our turn to head to the ring, the runaway freight train returned instantly. The footing around the outside of the ring was horrible – despite it not having rained in about 2 weeks, one side was about 5 inches of mud. As we were going around the outside of the ring waiting for the bell to ring, Corona was not a happy horse. There was a monster at A (no idea what) that was going to eat Corona. As we approached the judges booth, I was told they were going to take a quick break because the previous rider had complained about a big rock in the ring at B. Off the stewards went into the ring to dig up this rock. They couldn’t get it. Out came a crow-bar, the rock wouldn’t budge. All of this commotion was doing nothing to help me settle freight-train-horse so I did a big circle that was between the show ring and the warm up area. He began to settle. Then out came the tractor to try and dig up this rock-turned-boulder. The tractor didn’t bother Corona but the clanging of the metal on rock was not of benefit to us. After about 10 minutes, they freed the rock and we were back in business. They didn’t move the rock away, so the judges asked me if I’d like to ride past it. I said yes. Corona didn’t care about the rock, but he definitely still had not forgotten about the monster at A.
The bell rang and we picked up our trot and as we turned into the ring at A, Corona bolted forwards, head up, like a firecracker. I was quite pleased at my ability to keep him straight, and we halted at X. Our test continued and it was the worst test I’ve ever ridden. Corona was mentally checked out for 95% of it, he wouldn’t go near A and we were doing side pass at the canter across the short side anytime we had to go by A. I had one good trot circle where he was relaxed and at the exact moment I thought to myself, “excellent!” the bull in the china shop returned. At one point, a truck with the hay delivery arrived up the lane right beside the ring. This added to the chaos in the ring and I just felt absolutely terrible for Corona because this really was the icing on the cake. We finished our test and as we passed the judge, she said to me, “you both survived – that was well ridden, but…you know”. We scored a 47.5%.
I untacked Corona since we had about an hour and a half before our next two classes. I put a fly sheet on him and we hung out by the ring again. All of a sudden, Corona began kicking out – a wasp (or something) had somehow got under his fly sheet and I’m pretty sure he was stung. I pulled his sheet off but there was no calming him. He continued kicking up at his stifle and no amount of rubbing or soothing was helping. I walked him around as that seemed to help relax him but it was of little help. Nobody could see any welt or anything, but I can’t think of anything else that would cause such a reaction. Since we had to wait for CG to ride her final class, we kept walking and I decided to scratch Corona from our last 2 classes. I felt like a complete failure but given the big picture, I don’t think it would have been a good idea to continue. I’ve been working so hard to keep him relaxed that I didn’t want to jeopardize the progress we had made even further by asking him to go into the ring again when he was so mentally checked out and clearly was uncomfortable.
We had to wait around for the final scores to be posted from CGs last class so by the time we left, Corona was back to his old self. He loaded again without issue and was perfectly relaxed when we got home. I checked again to see if I could see any welts, and there was nothing.
I was talking to my parents afterwards (they are not horse-people in the slightest) and my mom said something to me that gave me this “ah-ha” moment, she said, “I just don’t think Corona likes going to shows”.
This has made me reconsider things. The only reason I show is because it’s (normally) a fun outing and gives me something to work towards. However, this year, 2/3 shows have been absolute disasters. Last year I had 1/3 that were disastrous, same as the previous year. The disastrous label always comes as a result of the exact same issue – Corona freaking out in the ring. Could it be that he just doesn’t enjoy it? I feel like I’ve put in a good effort with him re: shows but maybe we won’t ever get to the point where he will be relaxed. I know I shouldn’t compare us to others, but you get to know other riders/horses on the circuit and I can honestly say that I’ve never noticed any others with this issue. Sure, some people have an off day here and there, but maybe they earn a score of 58% instead of their normal 65% and it’s a one-time thing, and they score lower because their halt isn’t square or they picked up the wrong lead. This isn’t the case with Corona and I.
I realize I’ve mentioned the bad footing, the whinnying from Roller, the rock, the hay truck, as factors that contributed to this, but this sort of thing has happened multiple times before when none of these things were factors. Then there are times where there are things like whinnying, wind, rain, dogs, etc where he is perfectly fine.
I’m contemplating the idea of taking the money I was going to use for shows and putting it towards lessons instead. I think it may be more beneficial to Corona and I than the shows are. Part of me feels like I’m quitting, but the other part of me wonders if I’m making things worse by taking him to these shows and putting him in an environment where he freaks out so badly. Food for thought!