Unexpectedly, we got asked to participate in a winter Trail Course Fun Series. It is being held at a barn close to where our horses live. Our trainer is friends and shows with the host facility owners. We never would have heard about this event otherwise. She thought it would be a great way for Brad and Cierra to practice becoming a team, in a casual show type setting. He hopes to show Cierra in the 2015 show season in some Ranch classes, including Trail.
Our trainer asked if I didn't think it would be fun to ride Koda in the local trail series as well...ummm...I had no idea. Really, I didn't. I've only ridden in one fun show at horse camp when I was twelve, as if something that long ago even counts. Altho I do remember some of it. I rode a roan Appaloosa mare named Strawberry, and took second in my riding class. I also remember how nervous and worked up I was, as well as the warm support received from my camp counselor & cabin mates. Needless to say the uneasiness of "what if's" and preference to stay within my comfort zone has increased with age. Besides, competing with horses at any level has never been on my bucket list.
As the first trail course date got closer and details were getting hashed out, I got put on the spot. While tacking up, our trainer came over by me to find out if we were indeed going to the trail series. Which by the way was three days away. I tried responding with "ask Brad" and she said she already did. He told her to ask me - lol!! Apparently my hubby had played the "ask the spouse" card first...our trainer is a good egg for putting up with us two. She asked again, if I didn't think it would be fun to ride Koda in the trail competition. I didn't want to be the one to decide everyone's fate, so I responded with "you know the show, you know me, and you know my horse, if you think we can do it, then I am willing to try". You guessed it, we went.
I was so busy those remaining days prior, preparing and hosting our family holiday gathering & house guest, that I didn't have time to even think about riding an organized trail course. It's probably a good thing I didn't roll around in the fear of failure. None of our horses have ever trailered to an unknown barn full of new horses, altho as you know Cierra has been to a couple sanctioned shows. There would be a lot of first's...
We had briefly talked about the trail series on the way home from riding, several times. My hubby kept saying it would be no different then going on a trail ride. Au contraire. Even so, I was pleasantly surprised and found it was a great setting for newbie's, riders & horses alike!
|Nemo in the distance, Brad & Cierra riding forward, me & Koda riding away|
Practice time starts, photo by High Pines
They offered a good long warm-up, and allowed in the saddle course practice (which is not allowed in a real show) before the judged trail course. The warm-up arena filled up closer to starting time, and everyone practiced. About 13 horses entered, with approximately 17 course entries (some horses did the course twice, with different riders). Each obstacle was scored 1-10 on various elements, there were no disqualifications or special tack requirements. Top six scores received a gift bag and there will be high point prizes at the end of the series.
The hosts intend to increase the difficulty of the trail course, as the show goes on monthly into Spring. We all thought this first course was plenty challenging, even the seasoned riders. Altho the course series is just for fun, and it's completely unofficial, some of us talked about how nervous we got, and how funny it was that we even got nervous when it was our turn to ride the course.
The November trail course:
Start: Work Gate, right hand push, close gate
Trot through Serpentine, and through half of L to cone
Back through L
Lope right lead out of L, straight to box
Walk into box, perform a 270 turn to left
Walk out of box and over bridge
Walk to ground pole and side-pass left
Perform a 180 turn, walk to ground pole and side-pass right
Exit at a Walk
A snapshot of how our horses did:
It wasn't a good day for Ms. Cierra. She was very "looky" and never did settle in. Brad rode her first, for almost the entire time. Altho I was worried for him in certain instances, he did a good job working with her excess energy and they completed the course. Our trainer showed Cierra towards the end, and had a similar experience. I think it made Brad feel better to know, it wasn't just him.
Nemo was the usual rockstar and placed twice in the top six. Once on the course with our trainer, who rode him almost the entire time we were there, and once with Brad who gladly hopped on his familiar mount near the end of the show. They each earned a fun different goodie bag. Among other things, Brad's gift bag included this silly monkey...
The monkey's hands have velcro, and my hubby promptly hung him on his truck mirror. It's as uncharacteristic of Brad, as Cierra was at the trail course earlier that day. I hope the monkey hangs around for a while serving as a reminder, that makes him smile when things are less then fun.
Koda and I did good together. We worked through our nerves early on, and practiced obstacles during the warm-up. The worst I got from him was when I first showed him the open service door by the L. He got high headed and snorted sooo loud when a pastured horse came rushing over the hill, the whole arena turned around. Our trainer was shocked, and asked if I needed to lunge him. Nope, he didn't even scoot or prance and quickly got over it. We had a couple struggles a few years back while encountering new horses on the trail. I really didn't know how he would react being in such tight quarters with unknown horses, but Koda has grown up and was so well behaved. I think he enjoyed the experience?
It didn't take long during the warm-up to know I would have trouble with the "Lope right lead out of L, straight to box". I typically lope Koda off from a trot, not from a standstill and never right over a pole. Our trainer gave me a few helpful tips: back as far as you can, walk a few steps, shorten my reins, and ask firmly. By the time I found out what the pattern was (totally my fault) it was hard to get into that L spot to practice. I was able to unsuccessfully try twice.
|Brad & Cierra and me & Koda, between the pink & orange jackets|
Rider's watching the course, photo by High Pines
As the competition started, things temporarily got quiet. Except for Koda. He chomped at his bit methodically, apparently out of boredom. Koda became the unofficial pace keeper, he sounds like a metronome. Everyone was so friendly that by the time I rode the course (think I went 5th?) I was ready. Nothing really mattered anyways, except for trying, as we cheered each other on.
As far as our scored course, it would have been a lot better if Koda hadn't eaten the gate decorations! Whoops!! He nabbed some of the grassy tall stalks, just as I reached to unlatch the gate...little stinker! Oh well, he wasn't the only one. I knew I was instantly doomed, since his first priority was getting the stalk in his mouth. We all had a good laugh as Koda proceeded to multi-task during the entire course, must have looked as ridiculous as it felt.
I got docked 5 points for his eating, some for clipping the box upon entering, and the judge also mentioned she didn't like how close I was to the poles on my side-passes.
|Nemo & our trainer backing in the L|
Judging the course, photo by High Pines
I thought the judge did a great job overall, and really appreciated her sharing her comments and suggestions afterwards. I never did see the scores, but could have. By the way, I didn't even realize it until I rode back to the group and several acknowledged me for getting my lope-off to the box!!
We were at the show for what felt like a long time, 3-4 hours? A fair amount of it was standing, talking with other riders, and watching the course rides. Brad & I did sneak off for a short ride (I got permission) with Koda & Nemo in their nice big open outdoor arena. I would give my eye teeth to have a place like High Pines. Not fancy, but well kept with everything a horse person needs, including being tucked away off the road and surrounded by woods.
I am sooo happy we went, and pleased with how things turned out...life has a beautiful unpredictability about it. To say I am looking forward to the next trail course day in December, would be an understatement. We not only enjoyed our time, met some nice people, but learned some valuable things about ourselves and our horses that need practice.
My Sunday ride on Koda was great, it felt fresh and he moved out much better. I was reminded there is only one way to feel alive and grow, and it's getting out of ones comfort zone. I won much more then any prize would have given me at this first competition, things you can't put in your pocket, but instead hold near to your heart...