Superstar to Shitcanoe: The Story of CDCTA Dressage at Morven (Part 2)

Sunday this chestnut superhero went away, and left behind a redheaded canoe full of shit that I vainly attempted to paddle through a 4-1 test in a partially flooded arena. Am I taking this metaphor too far? Probably. Oh well.
Photo by Liz Stout
Despite our success on Saturday, I tried not to have expectations going into Sunday. Of course, this was hard. I shouldn't have worried, though. Pig is good at stomping expectations to death. #foreshadowing

Our class was at 2pm, so we had even more time to burn on Sunday morning. Jan and I putzed around early feeding, grazing and watching rides.
Also watching weather. It kept randomly raining then beaming brilliant sunshine, all of this with a high temperature of 55 degrees. Thanks, spring. You're so predictable.
Pig was much calmer in his stall than he had been the day before, so I felt alright leaving him in there while Lyra and I went on an exploration/run. I hadn't had a chance to check out the historical and architectural parts of Morven Park before, and hoped the run would keep me from thinking too much about my upcoming ride.
More on the things we saw on Lyra's recap.
We got back just in time for me to saddle up and head out for another hour long warm up ride. Again the plan was the ride at the walk for most of the warm up, switching to the trot and canter every once in awhile to test buttons and install collection.
Post lunch Sunday warm up rings somehow always manage to be both empty and chaotic. Also Lyra looks super bored.
Pig started off feeling good. After a long deliberation, I decided to ride in the snaffle again. Our main struggle on Saturday had been maintaining a good connection, and I knew I'd have better luck in the double. However, I didn't want to run the chance of shutting down any lateral suppleness I managed to create when I picked up the curb rein. I'm still not sure the decision was a good one, but I think I would have had the same horse in the ring regardless.
Locked/crossed jaw and tilted head and indicator of the shitstorm to come?
I struggled getting Pig to unlock as much as he had on Saturday. He was a bit sluggish, so I wasn't too worried. However, my half halts were not going all the way through and he kept bracing against my hand.
Love that hind leg. Do not love that dip in his neck, or whatever the hell I am doing with my hands.
I tried adding a bit more forward in the way of trot and canter to resolve some of the stiffness. He seemed better in those gaits. I didn't want to use up his patience, so I didn't do a lot of either. Perhaps I should have done more.
Much more relaxed in the rising trot. Also, is it just me or does he look like an eventer in this photo? He's all lean and murderous-like.
I stuck to my tried and true relaxation getting warm up: 2-3 steps of leg yield to 2-3 steps of half pass, maintaining the same bend. This works really well to get him paying attention to what my legs are telling him, and reminding him that they work in different ways. It also helps me control his shoulder and haunches individually. Unlocking that huge shoulder of his is always key to making him rideable.
Moooove sideways, horse. Goooooood horse.
Honestly, I wasn't displeased with his warm up. He lost the spark of Saturday, but overall felt pretty good. I volunteered to go a few minutes before my time, and headed up to the ring.
Things are looking okay right now... but really they are about to go so downhill.
Almost immediately the wheels fell off. Upon walking into the show arena, Pig's head shot up and I completely lost his focus. I tried desperately to get it back, but didn't quite have it back completely by the time the judge rang the bell.
Our entrance looked good. I'm holding to that.
(Fasten your seatbelts. This is going to be the best we're gonna look the whole test.)
The first three seconds of the test went exceedingly well. Then, he saw the huge puddle of thick mud in the middle of the ring, panicked, and splatted/spooked to halt (5.5). His head went up, his back went rock hard, and the test was over before it even started. No. Seriously. This was the end of it. Right here...
"Hello! I have arrived! I am also sure this ring is surrounded by demons, and I must investigate PRONTO!" -- Pig, probably
My horse who is excellent in the rain is about to lose his goddamn mind over mud. I shouldn't have been so surprised, but somehow I was.

I didn't show you the medium trot yesterday because it was awful. But today, I'm going to show it to you, because it's comedy gold. The judge was generous at this point (5.0) saying we needed "more ground cover and clearer suspension over X."
"I'd like less puddles at X, kthnxbai" -- Pig
Yeah. No big deal here. Just my 19 year old horse who acts like he's literally never seen a puddle before. Let's all just move along.

The half pass right (6.0) was literally the highlight of this test. Enjoy the harmony while you can get it, folks. Shit only gets harder to watch from here.
Such beauty, such grace, such... lack of suppleness in the back. Whatever. There was bend, he was touching my reins, and there was zero drama. I'm counting that as a win for this test.
Once we got to the centerline, I attempted to guide Pig into a 10 meter circle right like the test asks. However, he decided this time could be better spent scouting the hills for goblins. I rather stiffly ask him to to "Please for god's sake stay on task for a few more minutes" (6.5, what? how?). The judge begins to think I might actually be a howler monkey in a suit, suggesting I might be "restricting" the movement.
"I am disinclined to acquiesce to you demands." -- Pig
Somehow we manage to come to a truce through the shoulder in (6.5). The judge makes sure to remind me my horse is tense.
No? Really? Tense? Who knew...
Negotiations break down in the extended trot (4.0) when Pig decides again that we would all be much safer if he could just put his head in the air like a godforsaken periscope. After all, the flooded parts of this ring are making him feel as though he is perhaps part submarine.
It is at this point, I will admit, I begin to completely lose my patience with this behavior. However, I must first point out that this transition got a 5.0. See? It is possible to get more points on a transition than a movement.
Consider this your educational moment of the day. Now, back to the catastrophic drama.
The half pass left had to go right through the biggest mud puddle, and our communication lines suffered a complete breakdown (4.0). You can actually watch below as Pig transitions from moderately disobedient horse to canoe bogged down by feces as he goes through the mucky parts.
I think you can actually hear my teeth grinding together as I mutter "you piece of shit, just trot through the goddamn mud."
This half pass is supposed to transition right into a circle left, but you all saw how that started out yesterday.
I think my favorite part of this is how we start to turn left and he goes "FUCK YOU WE'RE TURNING RIGHT" with his head. Yeah, uh. No. That's not cool, asshole.
In case you were wondering, it didn't finish much better.
I've never gotten a 3 on a circle before. Can't say this one wasn't fully deserved.
This movement cemented in the judge's brain that I'm a seriously rough and abusive rider with the world's worst hands.

I'm going to take a moment here. I know it's not cool to use harsh aids in the ring. I also know it's not a good idea to rise to my horse's mood and pick a ragingly huge fight. However, my nerves have been a bit shot the last month, and Guinness was being bad. This sort of behavior can quickly spiral out of control with him if you don't put a stop to it now. There's a difference between a horse being over-faced and panicked, or spooked, or in pain. This tantrum you're seeing here was none of those things. This was a dominant horse telling me in no uncertain terms that he is not playing this game today. And that is not an acceptable answer.

Could I have ridden better? 100% yes. (Let's start by suggesting I bend my elbows sometimes. Good lord.) Would that have resulted in zero tantrum throwing in this test? Maybe? Probably not.

Moving on, we put this heavy correction behind us and attempted a shoulder in (6.0). From there we had a transition into the extended walk (6.0, "keep hands quiet") that I was very much hoping would help loosen the rock in Pig's back. It did not.
Why hello hollow back. How are you today?
When I picked him back up for the collected walk (6.0, "rider restricted") and pirouettes (5.0/4.0, respectively) he was very much done. The judge dinged me hard for Pig's waggling head, a sure sign he isn't in the contact at all. Of course not being in the contact made our troublesome left lead canter depart spectacularly bad (4.0, "rough aids").

First he attempted his number one evasion, picking up the wrong lead. When I shut that shit down, he thought about rearing. When I shut that shit down, I didn't give him a chance to think about being backwards any more and I just booted him directly into the medium canter (5.0).
"Fuck you" "No FUCK YOU" "No, FUCK YOU!" "Oh, fuck off, just GO!"
It was at this point in the test that I hoped Pig was right and there really were goblins in the hills, and that those goblins had snipers, and that they would just fucking shoot us both.

Unfortunately, I was right. There were no goblins. The torture test continued. Why I did not just retire, I have no idea.
This half pass was nice. (6.0)
On the half pass, the judge commented that I needed to "keep hands quiet". I thought that was kind of rude, given this is one of the few movements where my hands actually are pretty quiet.  Ah well. She was completely right. It did need a lot more engagement.

After all this drama, the flying change was kind of a letdown. My horse felt like a bomb, but didn't try to eject me out of the arena. Honestly impressive (4.0)
On my aids and kind of clean? Jesus, how is this movement one of the tamest in my whole damn test?
He actually came back nicely from the change, allowing me to push for a reasonably nice extended canter (6.0). I hoped some extension would help him move his back some and exorcise some of the demons from the haunted seafaring vessel he was calling a body. It sorta did?
Yeah it's flat as hell, but this is one of the nicer extensions we've done in awhile.
We actually managed to somewhat nail the transitions from that extension, too (6.0). This set us up for what I thought was a decent half pass (5.0, haunches leading).
Looks like the shoulders are ahead until we hit the mud puddle, but obviously I need to practice in front of a mirror more often.
The counter canter to flying change this direction was worse than the other, but garnered a better score (5.0, "rider restricted"). I'm not sure if having the counter canter looped in with the changes is what is making this score so unpredictable, or if judges are just trying to keep me from suicide at this point int the test.
At any rate, this change was late and very inverted.
We had no chance to improve our score on the 20 meter circle showing very collected canter (6.0), and didn't show anything better than the day before. However, there were no tantrums and I did manage to use this time to get my horse further into the bridle and my seat further into the saddle. I'm calling that a success.

Feeling slightly better prepared, we rocketed down our line of 3 changes giving off this explosive "thing" to start...
Well that was terrible.
We then proceeded to make a muddle of the middle of the line, wiggle around a whole lot, and leap out of the whole endeavor with a bang (2.0). I thought the score was actually pretty harsh here, given that we did in fact do three flying changes. Ah well, I do agree it was "bad".
This is honestly how I expected this line to ride all weekend. No big loss.
Gratefully, we pulled ourselves together down the centerline and collapsed into the final halt (5.0, "haunches right").
This is legitimately some of the best canter from the whole test.
I love how you can see Pig and I both calling each other names in that final halt. I walked out of the ring, and the ring steward greeted me with a "Gosh, I'm so sorry. I do have to check his bit, though."

I looked her right in the face and said, "Ah well, I guess today he just wanted to do his best impression of a shitcanoe." She burst out laughing, and so did I. It's about all you can do in such a situation.

When she was done with us, I turned right back into the warm up ring. There was no way I was ending the day with Pig thinking he could continue to be so belligerent, stiff, and unrideable. We schooled transitions and lateral movements until his back unlocked, then a couple working pirouettes. In 5 minutes he was soft in the mouth again, and had transitioned from a stiff wannabe canoe to a bendy pretzel horse again.
This shitcanoe and a half would like to be done now, kthnx.
I told Jan I expected the test to score in the 40s, so was "pleasantly" surprised to find it was a 50%. I laughed at the judge giving us a very well deserved 4.0 for submission.
Click for details.
When I read her comments, I became very glad I'd had the 60% ride the day before. She wrote (not wrongly, as she's only seen this test) "Criteria for level not established enough for horse to successfully and with ease demonstrate required movements." I think that would have crushed me, did I not already know the horse actually is capable. As it was, I am able to brush this off as a terrible test where my horse and I were both at our literal worst. Many things to think about, but not the end of the world.
Zero "fox" Given. Accurate shirt is accurate.
I settled in the rest of the afternoon, as Jan's ride was one of the last of the day. We ended up having to wait until the very end of the show to pick up her ribbon. That meant I got to hear my name announced over the loudspeaker as the winner of the Thoroughbred Incentive Program high point award for 4th level with Saturday's 60%!
Say whaaaaat!
I love the TIP program, and am so glad this show offered high point through 4th level. The ribbons are so beautiful (and matched my vest perfectly!).
I also got a cup and this terrible photo of myself! 
Finally we were on the road and back home. Pig traveled home much easier than he had traveled to the show, not trying to fall down once. I suppose his brief time spent as a canoe helped him find his sea legs.
Though he did sit on the butt bar with his tail hanging out for the whole trip, sigh.
Back home, I'm still amazed with our Saturday performance. This horse, despite his difficulties and age, is one of the most amazing animals. I cannot believe he's garnered me a score at 4th level. What's more, I know he had even better performances in him. I just hope I'm able to coax them out.
Here's to more adventures!


  1. Pig doesn't do anything halfway. Meltdowns included. I'm so glad he gave you the good test first!

  2. Definition of shitcanoe: See "Pig on May 7, 2017, at 3:30pm"

  3. This post made me giggle and feel like there's some hope since they all seem to have bad days sometimes :)

  4. So I wonder if we had carbon copies of the same judge lol. I got all those same comments of "rider restricting" and whatnot. Or. Maybe it means that if I'm getting the same comments as a 4th level rider that basically makes ME a 4th level rider? That's how it works, right?? Also we should start a club for the elite among us who can score 4s and below on mere circles. #talented

  5. I really feel like Pig has a lock for "best/most expressive meltdowns" for the blogosphere this year. C looks downright raesonable next to him.

  6. I'm so sorry. I've had that ride, and I feel your pain. I did laugh at moments in this write up, though, because I could see and feel so acutely what you were describing and the absurdity of it all!

  7. Naughty Pig! This was a hilarious read, though I'm sorry it was such a dreadful test.

  8. I admire so much about this post. Way to stick with it even though Pig didn't come to play on Sunday. But at least Saturday was great!

  9. Good for you for giving him the ride he needed in those moments! Obviously you know that I feel your pain regarding the "horse no want to play" problem. Also the fights that go "Fuck you." No, fuck YOU!" I laughed at. All too familiar.

  10. I laughed so hard through this, so well written. I like to think all of us have had that moment in competition where you know this just isn't going to be pretty. Congrats on that silver medal score!

  11. I admire your guts. Sometimes it just sucks and you have to ride it out. I'm with you that sometimes you have to make a point even if it's in a test.

  12. wow that was something. I admire your ability not to get off in the middle of the ring and leave him there :) Glad Sat was much better and congrats on your ribbon. Wow....I am still amazed he can have moments of brilliance followed by moments of FU FU FU FU...LOL great job!!

  13. Oh my word... when you're riding an angry shitcanoe, you just have to laugh! Hopefully Pig's gotten all of this nonsense out of his system and you guys will be able to have a great test at your next outing!

  14. Tests like that are the worst, but there is nothing to do but laugh. Horses are the best at making sure we don't get too big for our breeches.

    At least he put in a good test for you Saturday!

  15. Only direction you can go from here is up. So what's next?


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