This past weekend was my big event of the year! The two day long American Driving Society sanctioned Horse Driving Trial (HDT) put on at a farm just over 1/2 hour from my home!
I hope you’ve got some coffee in hand, and have a while! This is a book! Sit, stay a while, and read about this great experience!
I’ve been looking forward to this show for months. I think I entered it 3 months ago, and since then I have been training the horses, refinishing carts, and preparing, preparing, preparing.
This show offered up a ton of firsts for me and the horses. It was my first ADS event, my first 2 day show I’ve ever done, the first time the horses were stalled away for 2 nights, Luke’s first HDT…. I could go on and on. Spoiler alert- there are no first place ribbons in this story. However, it did provide an amazing experience, valuable lessons learned, and has highs and lows from experiences so bad I almost thought about withdrawing, to elated highs!
Friday morning rolled around bright and early and at the barn, I loaded carts, packed up the horse trailer and the cart trailer, bathed and braided the horses, and early in the afternoon we were headed down to the show.
The place was packed by then! With 38 entries, it was definitely a busy weekend!!! At the show after the horses were settled into their stalls, I went out and walked the Dressage arena, the cones course (three times), and 4km of the marathon. Yes, I was just too tired to finish walking the last 1.5km.
Saturday morning couldn’t come soon enough. I was so ready to get out there and go compete! Somehow, I got “lucky” enough to be the first horse to go – 8am sharp into Dressage with Chewbacca. At first, I was a little like “oh no! FIRST!”, but then as the morning drew closer, I thought that kicking off the show was kind of cool. In retrospect, I did enjoy showing first enough that I may actually request it in the future.
Needless to say, with excitement brewing, I did not get very much sleep Friday night. Sometime around 3:30 Saturday morning I was awake, and with no way to possibly fall back asleep, I headed to the show barn and started prepping Chewbacca, cleaning stalls, finishing his braids, and getting ready for that 8am debut.
Surely all the prep time I put into these horses – for every phase – would pay off, right? I was hoping for several things to happen at the show…. I did not want to get eliminated for starters. I also did not want to get exhausted. I was also hoping to see improvement with Chewbacca from his last dressage test last year, to this one. And with Luke, I was hoping to just have a good Dressaage test like we’ve been practicing at home.
Well, the horses had other intentions. I don’t know if being stalled threw them for a loop, or what happened, but neither one was… shall we say… on even decent behaviour Saturday morning.
When I took Chewie away to prep, Luke just about had a meltdown back in his stall, worrying about his buddy. Chewbacca, once he was hitched, was nervous, and did “his thing” in warmup. “His thing” is to throw his head up, flatten his ears, hollow his back, and get stiff through the shoulders – almost feeling like he might like to rear. In other words- he takes on the persona of his barrel racing days, when he used to have to speed out of a starting box and brace against a tie down. When he’s nervous, that’s what he does – leans into that invisible tie down for moral support.
I actually had to have a header hold him for the morning safety check! Chewbacca *never* needs to be held for a WHOA!!! That’s like his favorite gait!!!!
By the time we finished warm up and 8am rolled around, I am sorry to say, he was not acting any better. None the less, we trotted down centerline – well…. maybe not quite down CENTER line, but close enough. Our halt at X was more like a halt and sidestep thirty feet. We did manage a salute and off we went.
Then, at that point, it suddenly dawned on Chewie that there were no barrels in sight. He relaxed quite a bit, although he was still a little displeased with the whole morning adventure so far. He did a nice quiet dressage test, and basically the biggest remark from the judge (as I had anticipated) was actually a lack of impulsion once again. He got a little counterbent here and there, but mostly we lost points for impulsion. We received the second-to-lowest dressage score of the day.
But! At least the test did make for some pretty pictures!!! We got a “9” on turnout presentation, so at least we looked good while doing lousy !!!!! 🙂
(P.S. Click on any pictures to make them bigger)
Immediately after that was cones. By this point, Chewie was pretty focused and his kinks had been worked out. He started onto cones like a gem, and made a great (albeit SLOW) trip around the cones. With 19 gates (well, 21 if you count start and finish), I was happy not to get lost! Woot woot! The only problems we had in cones, other than speed, was all driver error. We knocked 4 balls, and I think we went 10 seconds too slow. I tried a couple tight turns with him, some went well, one in particular went a lot nicer in my head than it did in actuality. But really, no complaints on the cones. Several people got lost on course and were eliminated, and only 2 out of all 38 competitors ran clean. Almost everyone knocked between 2 and 4 balls. So we were basically on the low end of average around cones. It was a good job, and I was fine with it.
Next up was Luke. Now, Luke is 16 years old. We’ve owned him for 7 years and in all that time, he’s done dozens of shows – all open/pleasure shows. He’s never done an HDT, never done a dressage test, and I’ve never shown him. My husband has been the one doing all the showing with Luke – winning everything everywhere. There is no doubt that Luke is a pleasure champion, and a true show pony.
…. at least, there wasn’t until our trip to the Dressage court began.
Luke was still on fire over his anxiety about the stall issue… at least, I think that’s what it was. All of the shows Luke has done have all been 1 day open shows. The few times we have stalled him at shows, it’s just for a few hours so we can go eat or whatever, without the need to keep an eye on him tied to the trailer. At home the only time he’s stalled is if he needs to be stall rested for any reason, which is pretty much never, so he’s only been stalled a few times. At home his stall manners are flawless.
Well, anyway, once he was hitched, he stood like a champion for the safety check, but I could tell he was nervous… very nervous. And very anxious. We headed out to the warm up field, and the first thing he does is offer to buck. Nuh-uh bad pony! No bucking! He didn’t. However, he was stressed, nervous, and basically out of control. Whinnying to any horse that would listen, Luke ran through my hands and gripped the bit and lost all composure. He pretty much had a meltdown.
We got into the Dressage arena, missing center line through no fault of Luke’s (I need to work on that)…. and he halted well at X. Actually, despite being horribly nervous and tense, Luke did pretty well through his Dressage. He counterbent through more than half the test, eyeballing the barn back in the distance, and whinnied a few times. I’m not sure he ever even flicked an ear my way. The test was rushed and anxious overall. Appropriately, the judge commented that the horse needs to relax more. I wish she could have seen the “real” Luke. She would have been impressed.
However, it is safe to say that Dressage did NOT go the way I envisioned. Luke received low marks, but his score was still better than Chewbacca’s.
Still high as a kite and not wanting to be out on the big field, Luke was not listening at all while we waited for the cones setters to finish prepping the course for us. However, having something else (something fun) to focus on was just the distraction Luke needed. He suddenly got light and happy, and was the normal Luke I always drive. He zipped around the cones course like a racecar, totally on the ball, and it was only due to driver error that we knocked a mere 2 balls.
Luke has a MUCH tighter turn radius than Chewie, so I find him a whole lot easier to drive. I really like the ponies, and I love Hackney’s in particular. I need to get more. Many more. I envision a 4 in hand of Hackneys someday….
Anyway, we made the time on cones, and suffered a mere 6 points of faults due to balls down.
Luke was in 6th of 8 in his division.
Between the poor level of focus on part of the horses, and some concerns I had regarding the marathon, I seriously thought about withdrawing from Sunday’s competitions. I had some major concerns about how cooperative the horses were going to be – and on the 5 1/2 km course that ran along roads, highways, and all over the perimeter of the massive barn and show grounds, there were certain concerns that I was just worried about.
It’s funny, I went into Dressage with no fear, ready to impress – figuring for sure we had done our homework, and it really all fell apart so badly that I really thought there was no way we could get through marathon.
However, my husband — who helped hold horses, take photos, and do recording — was a superstar for the day and offered his words of advice:
“You paid for it. Go do it. Worst case is you just walk the marathon.”
Well, I thought about it and he was right. So what if I had to walk, or just scratch that morning if the horses were still loopy. I did pay for the chance to be there, after all, and it was a training experience either way.
So Sunday morning started anew and I was off to the show barn a little later in the morning, for a fairly late start with Chewbacca. We were 2nd in line to go in the morning. I got the stalls cleaned and not much later, my Gator and I were gearing up. I was still questioning what kind of horse I was going to be driving that morning.
One hitched, I took no chances- having my husband just hold Chewie for the safety check since Saturday’s experience was not ideal. Safety check complete, we were off to warm up — …. and…..
I had my usual Chewie back! Yay! He was calm, relaxed, and happy all through warmup. I knew we were going to have a good drive on the marathon.
The lady at the starting gate of the marathon course counted down and Chewie picked up his trot, and we were off!
Chewbacca ROCKED !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It was the single most best drive I do believe I’ve ever had with him. There were 4 obstacles on course, and the very first one had heavy construction machinery actively working right next to it. Chewie ignored that, and trooped right on. Not much longer, we were making our way out of a well-run obstacle 2, then into 3 (which we had to walk -it was TIGHT! no WAY I was going to try to trot that with a zero turning radius), and finally into the big 4th obstacle- the bowling alley. I wasn’t sure if Chewie would go past the giant bowling ball and through the bowling pins, but he never faltered. He trotted on like he loved every second of it.
I couldn’t believe it when my navigator looked at her stopwatch and said “We’re good”.
What do you mean we’re good? Good on time? I asked. What’s our time?
– We’re right in the middle between minimum and maximum time allowed.
Wait?! WHAT?!! We WALKED in several places, including an entire obstacle, and yet here we were with 1 1/2 Km left to go and Chewie was still making the time?! He was barely even sweating at that point, and this is the horse I say is slow and I know we’ll be at least 4 minutes over time.
Chewbacca powered around the final turn of the racetrack on the marathon course and headed to the finish line ultimately coming in 12 seconds UNDER maximum time allowed. WOOOOOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!
The ideal pace for a marathon horse is 12km/hr (about 7 miles per hour). The way I figure, since we did some walking, Chewbacca actually managed about 13KPH to make up the time when he was trotting. His heartrate was within normal tolerance at the vet check, and he barely broke a sweat. I do believe that horse could have gone another 5 1/2 KM.
As it was, we were done for the day, and my still-in-last-place-but-a-champion-none-the-less, got a hosing, molasses cookies, and a huge hug. I was THRILLED!!!!!!
I am so glad that the work I’ve put into him with conditioning on trails paid off, with the help of my training partner that’s been riding along with me for the last 2 months – helping him to get conditioned with 2 people. I had the BEST time of my life out there running the marathon, and it totally overshadowed ANY doubts I had from the day before, or poor performances.
Here are some pictures:
Still on a huge high from an awesome run with Chewbacca, I had a little under 2 hours before it was time to go with Luke. Luke was still a bit stressed about Chewie being out of sight, so I attempted to take a “precaution” with Luke. I pulled him out of the stall and spent the next 1 1/2 hours having him “help” me around the show grounds. He stayed with me outside while I cleaned tack, prepped his cart, watched other horses go on the marathon, and had a snack. I never let him go back into the barn.
We hitched up and he was quiet and steady while being held at the safety check. Once we were cleared to compete, Luke walked off calm and quiet, focused and ready. Back to the Luke that I know and love.
Don’t know what got up their shorts on Saturday, but whatever the problem was – it was totally gone Sunday.
I let my navigator know — “Luke is ready for this. He’s fast, so hold on!”
And not long afterwards, we were off on the marathon, blasting our way through fields, down dirt paths, through the obstacles, around the racetrack, and over hill and dale. I let my navigator know that I had recently clocked Luke trotting at 30KPH on my GPS I use when training. 30KPH is about 18 miles an hour – and that was a TROTTING SPEED! Granted he didn’t maintain it for long, but there is NO QUESTION that Luke can haul when out on trails. You literally feel like you are flying when he moves like that, and it’s a lot of fun!
So, I knew my Gator and I were going to have to keep a careful eye on time, and make sure Luke didn’t do the course in half the time allowed! You get penalty points for coming in too early, just as you do for coming in too late. Somewhere around just past the first obstacle, we were about 4 minutes ahead of the large pony time schedule. So, we had to do quite a bit of walking. By the time we got out of obstacle #4, with only 1 1/2km left to go, we were 5 minutes ahead — of the horse times! We were about 7 minutes ahead of the large pony time window. Yikes. So, we pretty much walked the last kilometer, and only trotted just enough down the final stretch of the racetrack to fall within the times allowed.
Looks like all that 2 person conditioning really did pay off! Luke was AMAZING! And I was truly blown away with how both horses performed. Out of the 3 phases, really only 1 was poorly performed, which gives me plenty of things to work on to improve.
Ultimately, it was a GREAT outing. I am definitely officially ADDICTED to doing this – what a high!!! And I very very much can’t wait to do it again. I would love to continue to compete with both Luke and Chewbacca and hopefully someday really get a hackney pony pair.
Pictures of Luke on marathon:
AND — you KNOW I was wearing my helmet cam – so yes….. here are the videos!!!!!
Thanks for reading along!!!!
I hate to say it will probably be a full year before I get to do this again. I’m a far cry from a “serious” competitor, but I do look forward to the next chance to get out again!!!!