Okay, let’s circle back around and talk about Presto’s YEH4 experience, shall we?
The Young Event Horse class took place the Friday before the main horse trial started, so it was a good opportunity to – at the very least – get the babies in the rings and see some stuff. For those of you that aren’t familiar, the structure of YEH is a dressage test and then a derby style sj/xc, 5 stadium fences out in the field and then proceeding directly to 10 cross country jumps.
He didn’t do dressage until the afternoon, so that morning Megan got him out for a quick pre-ride to make sure all his dressage buttons were in working order and to get him loosened up. He was quite good and the ride ended up being fairly short since it was already starting to get hot and humid. He got bathed and braided and BEMER’ed, and then came back out in the early afternoon for his dressage test. They were in one of the big arena’s down at the bottom, which put them very much all by themselves and out of sight of other horses, but he was really good about it. A little tense in his walk (that’s still a bit of a work in progress for him, he showed the walk a bit better in his actual horse trial test on Saturday) and wanted to gawk a couple of times but definitely no real complaints, especially considering the circumstances. He behaved himself quite well and was pretty professional in the ring. The dressage test is scored purely on gaits and rideability, and he got 7.2 for walk, 8.1 for trot, 7.6 for canter, and 8.4 rideability (I was proud of that one).
The comments were basically that he has a lovely natural rhythm, needs to develop more ground cover and range of motion, and my personal favorite “tuned to rider very nicely with confident basics”. All fair feedback, I think. He’s really just now started to discover his hind legs and is beginning to show glimpses of really coming through his whole body and shoulder, but he’s not quite there yet because, ya know, he’s 4 and he’s been in training for all of less than 5 months. You can tell there will definitely be more in there once he gets stronger though, I think. But also, since he’s meant to be a horse for me and not a horse for 5*, I was perfectly happy with the rideability score being his highest mark.
It was a super hot and humid day so Presto was hot and sweaty after his dressage test, but luckily he had a couple hours before the jumping phase. Of course, the forecast also called for storms to roll through right when the 4yo’s were supposed to go, so the organizers moved everything up to try to beat the storms. We got him tacked back up, Megan rode the 400 miles down to warmup (for anyone who has been to Chatt, warmup was way down in the bottom of the XC field across from the HorseMansion), got warmed up and ready to go, aaanddd… the skies opened up before any of the 4yos could actually get out on course. There is literally nowhere down there to take cover whatsoever (except for the people that had trailered in), so all the babies had to make a mad dash the 400 miles back up to the barns, getting completely and thoroughly soaked and hammered with pouring rain in the process. I have to say, they all handled it really well from what I saw… that could have been a massive shitshow.
There was a hold while the rain passed over, which dropped quite a bit a moisture on the ground, before they called everyone back down. Of course, that meant all 10 of them showed up at the same time, and it was taking a good 8ish minutes per horse by the time they did the showjumps, the cross country jumps, and then the judge filled out her scoresheet. The course was very spread out, more than I’ve seen in a YEH class, so the judge was being driven around the course in a golf cart to be able to see all the jumps. Presto was towards the end of the order, so he had to wait. And wait. And wait. And then the sun came out and turned everything very disgustingly swampy. I could see him over there in warmup starting to wilt. It was now his fourth ride of the day, it was hot and humid AF, and the poor baby horse was getting tired.
To add insult to injury, the course was TINY. Like so so tiny for him. All the showjumps were BN height at most, and the XC was all BN except the first two fences that shared the Novice course (but of course being the first two they were not up to full N height, therefore still small). The specs for the second half of the year say that the jumps can be up to 2’11”, and that’s what we were really hoping for (especially at Chatt, which tends to always ride big) but no… they were miniscule, barely at the minimum spec. Maybe because the YEH class there the week before had been total carnage? I dunno. The YEH specs also say “Jumps that allow the horse to display its boldness are encouraged, such as ditches, trakehners, Welden’s walls, etc.”… there was nothing remotely like that. All the XC jumps were very basic and very straightforward. We would have much rather jumped the 5yo track, which followed the Novice course with the Training water and at least had the showjumps closer to 3′. I guess the course was great if you had a 4yo that is just starting out and/or lacking a bit of confidence. Not great if you have a Presto, who is very confident and not at all easily impressed. I was like omg he might just canter right through all these, they’re so tiny and blah.
He did actually jump over them all, but in a very very very bored and not at all impressive way. He literally just cantered over half-heartedly (funnily enough, the other 4yo that was in Presto’s Novice division on the weekend was also in the YEH class and he felt the same way about the tiny jumps – there’s a pic of him literally taking off and landing at the same time over one of the XC jumps LOL). Being baked in the heat forever and then presented with extremely tiny fences did not exactly inspire an impressive performance from him. Still, he easily cantered over all the jumps and listened to Megan and did exactly what he was asked to do with zero hesitation. He also handled the wet footing with no issue. The round just lacked pizazz for sure. Which, ya know, again, isn’t a bad thing from my perspective. If he’d gone out by that point and jumped it all like a freak I’d be thinking I might die trying to ride this thing.
I really wasn’t sure what the judge would think. To me, I could tell that it was a very bored and uninspired baby horse that had a lot more in the tank, but also it’s my horse so I know him. I also know that some judges try to interpret potential whereas others only judge based off what they’re shown. Still though, while there was nothing electrifying or exciting about his performance, there was nothing wrong with it either. He was definitely one of the bravest, never backing off or hesitating at anything, and when Megan put her leg on he still did go forward every time he was asked. With the jumps being so small she was hesitant to really gallop him at them, given that she’s spent so long trying to get him to not do that, and I think her choice of a BN pace to BN jumps was appropriate and the best thing for the horse.
But, turns out, the judge really preferred the very forward horses that jumped in a bit more of an impressed way. Granted, given that the highest score was 76, she clearly didn’t like any of them all that much. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 10-deep field of east coast YEH horses where only one got a qualifying score, and such a low one at that (75 is the minimum). Presto got a 70, which actually nestled him into a tie for 4th place, if that tells you anything about how low all the scores were overall.
From the scoresheet feedback, her issues with him were 1) his jump technique was inconsistent. Which she’s right, it was. He gets much better as the jumps get bigger and he has to give it some effort, but over 2’6″ he’s real blasé. 2) she didn’t get the impression that he was forward-thinking. The comment was “would need to develop a more forward attitude”. Which kind of made me chuckle, because that horse is actually SUPER forward-thinking, almost too much so at times, but based off of what she saw in those few minutes I can also sort of understand why she said that. He did look blah and bored (and hot and tired) and there was nothing on that course that really let him show off how bold and forward he truly is. I don’t think she got an accurate picture of what the horse is really like and that’s really no one’s fault. I do think the scores overall were quite brutal… I’ve seen an awful lot of YEH classes and championships and IMO there were definitely 4 horses there that deserved a qualifying score and could have gotten one on any other day. To only have one (barely) out of 10 at a big Area 3 show is yikes. I’m not a judge though, so what do I know.
While Presto’s brief YEH career is now over, since that’s the only qualifier we could get to (Area 5 is the worst place to be if you want to do YEH, that’s for sure), I was still really proud of him. That was a very long day for a baby, and he never once said no or got sour or didn’t want to play. He kept going and kept trying even when he was tired and over it. And also, once again, his rideability score was his highest mark in the jumping phase as well, which I was pleased with because priorities. I also come away from the experience with no qualms with the YEH format, aside from the seemingly wide variation of qualifier courses. I’ve seen considerably tougher qualifiers than that, which is what we had prepared the horse for, and to me this one was more like what you’d expect toward the beginning of the year. That would have been a great course for Presto back in April when he was first starting out…. not so much in July when he’s easily running Novice. Granted, there were some horses there that needed the soft course, so I get that’s it’s a hard balance between too much and not enough when it comes to 4 year olds.
I think what I’d really like to see in these qualifiers is some option fences. Like maybe put one more showjump out there at a larger height and give people the option to take that one or a smaller one. No bonus points for doing it, but a chance to show off your horse over something a little bigger if you so desire. And perhaps they can offer a couple of XC options too, for taking bigger or more difficult jumps (maybe some on the 5yo course that would still be within the upper spec limit so that it wouldn’t require more fences or more flagging?). I know they offer an option or two at Championships for just this reason, but since the qualifiers DO vary so much in difficulty, it would be nice for the rider to have the choice to make it a little easier or a little harder depending on the horse. For us I think it would have helped, rather than being relegated to all very straightforward BN-size fences.
With YEH Championships now off the table we’ve changed course and made a different plan for Presto, but we’ll talk more about that on a different day!