Today, I took Neuf down to the Virginia Horse Festival. We were to be a demo rider for Sonya Crampton, who has North Slope Stables in Bluemont, VA. I have ridden with Sonya before and saw she had an opening for demo riders for her 3 sessions titled “How to Prepare to Give You and Your Horse Your Best Shot at Success in the Show Ring”, so I decided to do be wild & crazy and take Neufenstein!
Now, I have been to these Expos and Festivals before and they are a bit like a three ring circus. In this case, 5 rings. I was pretty sure Neuf would be ok, so long as I managed how I introduced him and was careful with how much pressure I put on him. Which for Neuf means a lot of hand walking him to see all the things. Let him really look, put his head as high as it goes to study all the scary things, and when he breathes and relaxes, give him pets.
The first scary thing was a white, miniature
dragon horse. It was about the size of Winston, my ancient lab. This teeny creature was loose in one of the arenas so we just walked around. The amount of concern he had over this creature was amusing. Finally, he was able to sniff the small horse, I pet it, and he breathed.
Paso Finos were next. Those horses don’t move their legs like any other horse he’d seen, and that was VERY CONCERNING.
Flags in the distance, loud speakers in all the rings, food trucks, hundreds of strollers and small children and crowds. And he held it together.
Then I tacked up and got on, and we walked. A lot, then a draft horse was over near the barn pulling a cart. But, then the paso finos came into the ring with us and THAT was more concerning than the draft with the cart, I mean, what if he started having to take tiny little steps?
Then it was time to move into the pavilion for our first session. Covered, arena, bleachers, more kids, more strollers, things blowing in the wind. And the jump trailer with jumps being set up. It was back to walking for a few minutes.
Once the lesson started he was a bit up, but all the walking had paid off. The lesson was striding in lines, working on adjust-ability, and we did a so-so job. We did not always get the strides we were supposed to, but my biggest concern was whether I could ride him when he is worried. The answer was yes. I was super proud of Neuf. He was really brave and listened to me when he was worried.
We finished, and had an hour until the next session, so a quick rinse for him, a walk in the wind to dry off and I let him hang out in his stall for a few minutes.
The next session was in an outdoor, and they were setting up a cones driving course in the parking lot at one end of the arena. There were lots of little driving horses, minis, a pair, halflingers, and they were at the end of the arena.
I was feeling a touch worried about this. The first time Romeo saw a cart, I had been leading him, he got away and bolted. Taking a while to catch him. It made an impression on me.
But Neuf is not Romeo. He might remind me of Romeo in many, many ways, but he is definitely less reactive. So, when they started bringing multiple miniatures with carts, the white one from earlier was attached to a cart, I sat chilly. I let Neuf look, but pointed out that none of the other horses were horribly concerned, and it was ok.
The second session was good, we did more bending lines, tighter turns and angled approaches. More of the things you’d want in a jump off. Neuf was good, but since we were doing whole courses, there were some long waits for his turn, and he isn’t used to 2 lessons a day he was getting tired. We were going around the course a second time, the jumps were raised up, and as we approached a roll top on a bending line, we were looking straight at yet another horse and cart. It might have been the pair driving. But, I don’t think he really saw the fence until we were on it, and he’d been slowing down looking at that cart, and he just stopped, more of a rolling stall of the engine. It was slow motion, not a naughty stop, but we went around, and fixed the approach. Sonya had the other horses go wait at the end between the drivers and me, which helped, but he was starting to really get behind my leg. I got him forward, we got through the rest of the course well, and I decided that he was done. We just watched the last couple of courses and exercises and I had a teeny bit of regret that I’d said we were done, but he had been so good, all day, and we weren’t going to get anything positive out of continuing.
Sonya was great and explained that with a young horse, knowing when to stop is important and that you have to know your horse.
These sort of demos are very much for the audience, but Sonya does a great job with the exercises and teaching. I have slipped back into my low-right hand again to turn. I’ll have to work on that. But, I’m very satisfied with how I feel taking Neuf places now, and this was definitely a test for us.
Neuf travels well, he drinks well on the road, he is listening to me when I reassure him, I am able to reassure him, instead of letting him get me nervous. And, he’s just a cool dude.