Everybody had better buckle their seatbelts because this is going to be long!
When I last wrote we had just had a fantastic outing at the Mystic Valley Hunt Club Combined Test. We were then supposed to head up to the Course Brook Farm Combined Test and cross country school there as well, but it was unfortunately cancelled so that did not happen.
We headed to the Sperry View Farm Dressage Show on May 3rd and rode in Training 1 and Training 2 which went well. A few others from my barn came and competed too and my trainer came to coach which was super helpful. We placed 5th in both of our classes, scoring a 60.417% in Training 1 and a 62.857% in Training 2.
Then on May 11th we were off to the first event of the season at King Oak Farm. We never did manage to find a venue that was open for cross country schooling, so we went in cold aside from a little cross country simulation I made at the barn with a fake ditch, some coops, and a homemade brush fence. He jumped all of that fantastically and I was feeling good about things.
Video of us popping around our makeshift cross country course here:
Unfortunately our dressage time was in the afternoon when cross country was already running and Ben became absolutely unglued. We warmed up for 45 minutes and he only got worse and worse. We went in the ring and survived through a pretty awful, tense, distracted dressage test and broke our record for the worst score we ever received in dressage, scoring a 52.6. Miraculously, we were not in last place after dressage, but we were very close. Quite a frustrating development considering how good his dressage has been both at home and off property lately but that is how Ben is. Once he loses his mind, its gone, and you're not going to get it back.
I laughed it off as first event of the season rust and headed to stadium with a positive attitude. He easily jumped double clear.
I was feeling very confident going into cross country. The course was straightforward, stadium was fantastic, and I couldn't have asked for a better cross country warm-up. Unfortunately, as soon as we left the startbox he was back to his old ways of spooking at nothing, flying sideways, and trying to stop. After one stop at Fence 1 I managed to barely stuff him over and head to Fence 2. He felt great and bold on the short trip to the second fence and I thought maybe just getting over the first fence would get him into the swing of things. Again, first event of the season rust.
I thought wrong and he got crooked into Fence 2, I saw a long spot, pushed for it, and jumped ahead and he promptly exited stage right and dumped me. The runout was my fault and the fall was my fault but I think he would have stopped anyway. Needless to say, I was incredibly frustrated. I really thought with the move to the new, busier barn, his recent good behavior, the hacking out in the open fields by himself, etc. that he would get over whatever his distraction issue on cross country is and get back to the old Ben, the one that was point and shoot cross country. No such luck.
I was already entered at Mystic Valley Hunt Club Horse Trials a couple weeks after and I decided that it would be our unofficial determinant of if we were really going to keep doing this awful thing where we go and get eliminated all the time with the few exceptions where he's having a good day and he's perfect. That's the frustrating part of Ben really: he's either really, really bad or really, really good. When he's good, he is a blast to ride, an excellent jumper, pulling me to the fences, and just everything a good event horse should be. However, the majority of the time he is frustrating and upsetting and I have not been able to find a solution to his issue despite trying everything I could think of.
So off we went to MVHC. He was great in dressage, scoring a 37.0 and placing himself in 7th out of 15. We even got a couple 8s on our test.
He was really great in stadium warm-up and was chilling outside the in gate on the buckle for quite a while, as they were running late. About three trips before our ride, however, he realized there were horses running cross country right across the way (at this event they run xc directly after stadium) and he lost his mind a bit. Our stadium round was clear but it was very strong and I had a hard time containing him. Regardless, we moved up to 4th out of 15 after stadium.
Off to cross country we went, where he proceeded to stop at Fence 1, stop dead on the way to Fence 2 for about 20 seconds until I got him going again, stop at Fence 2, and stop at Fence 3. Every single stop was because he was staring at the jump judges near the fences and no matter what I did: talk to him, growl at him, move the bit, kick him, tap him with the crop, I couldn't get him to pay attention to the fence.
Fence 4 and Fence 5 were a bank up, down a ramp, right bending line to a bench. Because there was no jump judge sitting close to this fence and the question was something he had to think about a little bit, he did it absolutely beautifully. Same with Fence 6, which was just a hanging log: no jump judge sitting right next to the fence, no problem.
We galloped into the woods for Fence 7 where a jump judge was sitting right next to the fence and picked up our fourth stop. Elimination. Again.
I was really quite upset about the whole experience for quite a while. It's not like this hasn't happened to us before, but because I unofficially made this event my deciding factor on whether I was going to keep trying to event him or not, it felt a little too final.
The hard part about this issue is that it isn't easily fixable. We've been dealing on and off with variations of his distraction issue for close to two years now. It has just recently escalated to being this unmanageable within the last year or so. If I take him cross country schooling he jumps absolutely everything. He doesn't look at anything, he's straight as an arrow, bold, etc. So how am I supposed to fix a problem that only exists at competitions?
I know there are horses who just don't like cross country. I do not think that Ben is one of those horses. Back when he was green and everything on cross country was new to him, he had to think very hard about what he was doing. Because of this he was quite an easy ride on cross country, and was always very focused on his fences. He consistently ran double clear and had a blast doing it. As he got more and more experience, cross country became no big deal and he began looking for other things out on course to hold his interest.
Typically once he gets over the first few fences he goes pretty well. And once he gets going he absolutely has fun. His ears are pricked the whole way round and he's bold and excited. That is why this is all the more aggravating. If he never jumped cross country well or he was miserable the whole way round, it would be a lot easier to accept that he didn't want to be an event horse. I think he likes cross country, but I can't figure out how to make him do it.
I've considered getting somebody else to ride him for a bit and take him to an event, but I really don't think it's financially feasible right now. My dressage trainer is great, has given me some tips, and does have jumping experience, but I don't currently have any one else to get on him and take him cross country to get a second opinion on what is going on.
So, long story short, we are taking at least the summer off from eventing. We will reevaluate in the fall and see where we are. For now, we are going to be competing in the jumpers. Ben loves the jumpers and he's really quite good at it, having been Grand Champion at the local winter series twice now. I'm certainly not counting him out of eventing forever, but eventing is supposed to be fun, and it is definitely not fun the way things are at this moment in time.
Ben is absolutely my heart horse and will never, ever be sold, so if the jumpers is what he wants to do, we're going to do it. I enjoy the jumpers enough to be perfectly content there for a while.
We actually went to a jumper show yesterday and competed in the Child/Adult Jumpers, which are 1.0m/3'3" and had a blast. The footing in the ring was quite deep and I rode poorly in a couple places and caused one rail each in two of our three classes, but Ben was jumping well and was great. We ended up with a 2nd, a 4th, and a 6th. It's nice to come home with a ribbon (or three!) again.
In a couple of weeks we're headed to a show at Westbrook Hunt Club where we'll be showing in two 1.05m/3'5" classes in addition to a $1500 Classic. There's one good thing about the jumpers, there is prize money involved!
I'm actually more excited than I thought I would be to be playing jumper for a while. It's fun to go and be successful.
So this blog is going to turn into a bit of a Jumper blog instead of an Eventing Blog for a little while, but I definitely still plan on doing dressage shows, combined tests, hunter paces, cross country schools, etc. just for fun as well.
It took me a little longer than it probably should have to make the decision to take a minor eventing break, but I love the sport so much it was very difficult for me to let go. Again, this is certainly not a permanent decision and I feel fairly confident that I'll have my event horse back again at some point, but for right now I think this is the right decision for us.
Thank you to everyone who reads this blog for sticking with us through everything and dealing with my severe writing procrastination.
|Ben doing what he does best|