Eli has four stages of excitement when at a horse show:
Psychotic moose (do not point at a fence)
Deluded camel (point at a fence, but expect mixed results involving lack of steering)
Excitable show jumper (jump anything & everything with joie de vivre)
Disgruntled donkey (jump, but expect some rails)
The sweet spot, obviously, is the excitable show jumper phase. It takes a certain amount of time to get to and lasts only so long. Usually it does last long enough for two, maybe three classes.
Did I mention at some point a mini-show at my barn? And did I say I’d ride in it? Haha, oh well, that didn’t quite happen. My psychotic moose made an early appearance and by the time we got solidly into the deluded camel phase, the jumper classes were over (there wound up being only three instead of five, anyway).
You see, a show environment is a show environment even if it’s at home base. I failed to account for this, even though this is something I pretty much already knew. I usually give myself plenty of time at a show off property for Eli to acclimate. But this was at home, so I didn’t get on until right before the classes started, and honestly my trainer and I were on the same page. Neither of us thought he would be quite so unmanageably reactive at home. My failure resulted in not one, but I think at least 5 airs above ground, and in no way intentional on my part, obviously. Eli truly was genuinely startled, and I know what was setting him off (clapping/applause/people in groups generally), so I tried to stay calm and keep him moving, mostly walking but some trot and canter work up in the fields a little ways away from all the commotion. We did not show.
However, I kept Eli in or near the environment and rode him until he was content to park it like a school horse (kinda) in between the rings. Another learning experience in the books! He, of course, threw in one last leap out of his skin at the sound of applause after I had dismounted and was walking him back to the barn. I think part of his bewilderment stemmed from him being at home and all this show stuff going on, like it kind of blew his mind (a mind susceptible to being scrambled as it is that I have worked very hard to unscramble so I will not be shoving anything down his throat).
I’ll be trying ear poms soon. And, I know, nothing can compare to mileage. Eli will get there as long as I keep giving him opportunities and positive experiences. I jumped him the following day and all the show set-up was still up, just no people. He didn’t bat an eye. Jumps=good. People=bad. Can’t say I disagree with my horse on that one.
Serendipitously, I read a wonderful post after the show that made me feel like I handled the situation appropriately: Behavior, Personality, and Anxiety, appearing on AnnaBlakeBlog.