I keep running into the same problem with my greenie horses. If you ride the LOWEST level, it means have to ride first! First is usually WAY too early for me. My ride time for our first show was 8:08, and it was a really far drive.
This is painful to even look back on, but I got up at 3:30am to make this happen! I had agreed to swing past a friend's barn to pick up her horse, so that added in some time. Plus it was almost a two hour drive out there. The saving grace? I had set us up for success. As a schooling show catering to young riders and horses, they had a "Greenie Weenie- All Walk Test" and I thought that would be the best way to introduce the dressage arena, and judges booth. This meant that my warm up could be pretty limited before our first test, and then I could come back to finish the warm up before our Intro Test A.
Watching an all-walk test can be about as exciting as watching grass grow, but Bear tries to make it interesting by demonstrating his amazingly dramatic head tossing abilities. He is seriously talented! He can get his foamy mouth dribble on my face, isn't that impressive? I think his nickname of "Giraffe"has been substituted with "Camel".
The warm up arena was right next to the barn and trailers, but to get to the show arena you had to walk away from everyone and through a pasture which, obviously, held some horse eating monsters! It took some coaxing to get Bear all the way there, but once he was there he did alright. We were able to use the test to calmly introduce him to the arena, and develop some relaxation while working on keeping his attention. Perfect start!
Before continuing I want to take a moment to review where Bear is at in his training. He was started under saddle in the winter of 2008, and he was going well under saddle by the end of spring of 2009. He was only three, though, so I really just wanted to get him out to gain exposure and experience before asking anything too physically or mentally challenging. That should have lasted for a year, but instead his trail riding life kept getting extended. January of 2010 he moved to his first boarding facility with the goal of getting his training started, but we had one health problem or injury after another until we switched barns in May. Basically 5 wasted months. Through the spring he was ridden just enough to be sure my (then boyfriend now husband) could ride him. That's to say, walk, stop, turn, and patiently ignore the rest of confusing cues in order to be safe enough to trail ride. I was gone for the summer, and then that fall, we went about the same. I feel like in all of 2010 we had probably 10 good training rides! Mostly he was just ridden on the trails or used as a beginner horse. He moved back to pasture at my parent's house in November 2010 and just finished his pasture vacation in October of 2011. Basically in three year's he's done quite a bit- horse camping, trail riding all over, various riders and such, but never been asked to do much more than walk, trot, canter calmly under saddle- no real considerations to quality of gait, being on the bit, or being fine tuned to respond. Now ALL of that has changed, and he's a little confused by the new rules of the ride.
That said, our goals for this test were to keep him forward while accepting a light and following contact, that was really it. We had prepped for the show with one dressage lesson. Literally he went from a handful of rides to get him back in shape, to one dressage lesson, and an attempt at a show. Taking that into consideration, it was an enormous success.