This is a bottle of bubbly that one of my student's, Angie, gave me on my last birthday (that's right, there's a bottle of gin and a cocktail shaker next to it; it's been a long week). Upon receiving it I declared I would save it until Forrest and I compete at our first show and after this past weekend, you can see it's still firmly in place.
Just from working with Forrest at home I know he is a hypersensitive sort of chap and while he has been steadily improving, I figured I'd take him to a local schooling show--a combined test, actually--just to let him hang out and gauge his reaction to the friendly, casual, environment just twenty minutes away.
Our local show venue, FENCE, is a far cry from the brand-spanking-new behemoth, The Tryon International Equestrian Center, further up the road. But it could not be a better, more comfortable place, for nervous greenbeans. Wildly optimistic, I took tack in case Forrest should happen to be relaxed (safe) enough to ride in the warm-up after thoroughly longeing.
My other half, Paul, came along for the adventure as we pulled into a row of empty show stalls and Forrest, surprisingly, unloaded quite calmly, looking around with polite interest, until he caught sight of the show rings, about a thousand yards away:
FENCE wisely created a secluded longeing area right by this quiet barn, far from the madding crowd, so as Forrest threw in a few caprioles and trotted a foot off the ground he was too far away to spook anyone during their test, which was one of my biggest concerns. With his neck popping skyward in a permanent 'up periscope' position after disconnecting the side reins, I abandoned the idea of even considering riding and stripped his tack, sponged him off, put on his halter and stud chain to lead him about the grounds:
For the first hour and a half, to be honest, I could barely contain him. Yes, that is a bandage I'm sporting from him flinging his head during one meltdown and a halter buckle impaling my forearm. I could see the pulse beating in his neck and he was, quite literally, shaking like a leaf from head to toe. I had thought about an injection of Ace, but I wanted to get a sober 'baseline' behavior from my boy. He was absolutely convinced he was going to be loaded in the starting gates and each time the announcer, albeit in a soft, feminine, voice, came over the loudspeaker, he leapt his length sideways. Forrest simply couldn't understand why the other horses weren't jigging and dancing as well and I truly believe that all those steady-eddies trotting round the dressage arena and thoroughly ignoring him had a lot to do with him beginning to calm down. I was both delighted and relieved when he finally felt relaxed enough to drop his head to graze.
There was one moment when he spied a blingy Friesian from the shade behind the warm up arena and I thought he'd panic again, but he managed to remain relatively nonplussed.
All in all, we spent 3 hours at the show ground and I have to say that, had we stayed all day, I do believe I actually could have tacked up and rode a bit around the warm-up area. It was a glorious day and only in the 70s so I think the soon-to-arrive heat and humidity will definitely be helpful in the weeks ahead!
Until then, it's very clear to me that Forrest needs a ton of these field trips to realize that his new career is far less nerve-racking and frightening. So on the schedule are trips to friend's farms, open shows, and if all that goes well, then we can look for a schooling show to enter.
But until then, the Cliquot remains firmly corked...