I rode in a clinic with Bent Jensen August 13-14th and it was terrific. Bent gave me some really simple advice that completely transformed Audi's canter. I had been struggling with the coordination of the downward transition from canter to walk. The walk to canter was pretty much there but that downward was still sticky. Bent said to just think of turning Audi to the inside just as I ask for the transition to walk. It was incredible! By thinking turn I was able to get Audi to be much softer and collected in the downward transition. Towards the end of our lesson on Sunday we were starting to work towards the 'idea' of canter pirouettes. It was a very cool feeling. I do declare that the big horse can collect!
We made wonderful progress following the clinic but in early September I felt like I wasn't riding the same horse, it was a pretty sudden transition from fabulous to bad. Audi just wasn't a happy camper and I think that the combination of traveling and training caused ulcers. After consulting with my friend and vet Dr. Charles Arensberg we decided to start treatment with GastroGard and within 1 week I had a different horse. Audi unfortunately has one of those sensitive and nervous personalities that's going to be susceptible to ulcers so it's up to me to manage him...but thank goodness for GastroGard! I continued treatment for a month and by the end of September we were back on track and gearing up for the CBLM's in New Jersey. I was happy that I took a risk by mailing my entry even when in early September it seemed questionable that we would even go, as it turns out it was money well spent.
I rode with Bent Jensen again October 8-9th which went great. Bent confirmed what I was feeling, that Audi needed to go more forward in the canter and trot work. I had to override the tempo at times to make him more honest and in-front of the leg, but once he was there it was "yes, ma'am" all the way. We worked on the leg-yielding, collected and lengthening work, and over all quality of the gaits. It's such a process with horses, you always have to adjust and re-evaluate. Since I had been pushing for more collection and then ran into the problem with the ulcers, I think that I got into a little bit of a no-mans land with my riding. Bent gave me the guidance and support that I needed, which was to go for it more and really ride the horse forward, then I could come back to the collected work. The two days were immensely valuable. I am really lucky that Bent comes to my area so often and look forward to having the opportunity to work with him as much as possible next year.
With my mom in tow as my helper, we left for the New Jersey Horse Park on Thursday, October 13th. I think that this was the first show in about three years that my mom attended with me. She gets so nervous watching me compete that she just avoids it and now with Audi, the youngster, she really gets nervous. To top it all off, our drive to the horse park was a solid 7 hours and as we were going north on I-95, just 20 minutes from our destination, the ENTIRE tire from a tractor trailer truck going south came off it's axle and jumped across five lanes of traffic and into our lane full blast, just barely missing my windshield. Thankfully the tire had enough momentum that it went over the jersey barrier into the trees. It was as if time stood still for those few seconds, I honestly thought we were going to get nailed by the thing. I've seen crazy stuff happen while traveling but this incident goes to the top of the list. Needless to say, this was not the best way to start a horse show for my mom who already struggles with her nerves. She got a well-deserved glass of wine (or two) that night!
This was the biggest show that Audi had ever been to and I was bit apprehensive about how he would handle it. I felt as though I had done a good job building his confidence on every trip he had ever taken, clinics, horse shows, lessons, etc, but this would be a lot of horses and much more chaos than he had ever experienced. In short, he handled it extremely well. Our warm up Thursday night was ok. Audi was pretty hot, which was to be expected. We had an early First Level 2 warm up class in the indoor Friday morning. I lunged him and did a very light warm up outside the rings. Our test had a few bobbles, but overall nice, and we got a 69.459% for third place. I felt really confident after that test that we were on the right track. Unfortunately, when I got on for my afternoon First Level Championship test Audi didn't feel as loose and relaxed as I expected him to be. He was drained, mentally and physically. I was disappointed in how the test went because I knew we were capable of doing so much better. I also felt like I didn't prepare Audi very well for that test and was annoyed with myself for that. We got a combined score of 64.865% from the two judges for 13th place. I had a good chat with Scott Hassler, my coach for the weekend, at the end of the day Friday. He reminded me that hindsight is always twenty-twenty and we discussed a plan for how to approach Saturday.
It was chilly and windy Saturday so I lunged Audi just enough so that he was obedient but still full of himself. He certainly didn't look any worse for the ware! I did another light lunge before getting on for my Training Level Championship test scheduled for 4:30pm. My goal was to get a good warm-up in before my test. I bit the bullet and went into the main warm-up, which to me is like feeding yourself to the wolves; it's insane in there! Audi handled it beautifully. I had to ride my pants off but I had moments in that warm-up that felt like a million bucks. It was so exciting to get good quality work from Audi in an environment like that. We had a good test and scored 69.643% for 11th place, just out of the ribbons. Heather Mason won the class with a 73.571%...needless to say, the class was very competitive. What made it all even more special was having such a wonderful support team there to cheer me on: Scott Hassler, Kathy Adams, Ashley Perkins and my mom. Talk about my most favorite people all in one place!
I took advantage of having Trilogy Saddles on site at the show that weekend, they were the very generous lead sponsor of the CBLM's, and scheduled an appointment with Debbie Witty to have my saddle fitted before heading home Sunday morning. Debbie made a few changes that I felt instantly when sitting in the saddle. I now had more support under my right seat-bone, which was the side I struggled with on Audi. This was the first time that I worked with Debbie and I was blown away by her skills and knowledge, she is incredible. Just a week later, I'm already feeling a difference in my training from the saddle.
The weekend was one big step forward for Audi and me. It's been an amazing journey with the big fella and I'm excited to push on with him and very much look forward to the competition season next year.