Topper at Willow Draw

North Texas Whip put on one of their fun shows at Willow Draw.
I loved the set up. It was a 'swap' drive. We didn't swap horses, but
for the first half of the day half of us volunteered for timing, resetting, and
managing the starts at the obstacle course, cones and cross country.
Then we had lunch and swapped and those volunteering got to drive, and
those who had driven manned the show.
You'd have thought my morning of resetting for the obstacles would have
given me an advantage, but no. Those I watched made it look much easier
than it was to drive it.
Still, Topper was a trooper, and stood at the trailer in the shade of a tree all
morning, but had no issue then being hooked after lunch and going on our way.
And we all were pleased that our standing work at home translated and
he hitched and stood better than he ever had when off property in the past. No trying to
walk off when I got in the cart, although Cinde heading was a big help.

For maybe 10 seconds of warm up I thought about my position. Glad Bart got a picture of it. Topper was aware and a little worried about other carts and noises, but compared to last year at this show, we had no unplanned cantering in warm up.

When I was relaxed he was comfortable. We've got a wider bit and a wider browband. Going forward I don't think a bit change is going to solve much, I think it's
more my hands and how I learn habits to prepare so I don't pull too much when I want him to re-balance or slow his trot or make a quick turn. Those were the
things that got us in trouble at this show.

A year ago we had to go around this on the entrance (even though we had worked it in the past). This year I let him walk in and adjust to the darkness and he went right over.

I was feeling confident enough to trot the pole bending part.

I was pleased with how close we were able to stay. It was the rollback on the last one that caught us up and back to the walk with too much hand that made him unhappy. So much to think about. I should have gone to my whip to push him around. I'm fighting in my mind with don't use the whip on the outside, but pointing his nose and engaging can still get a popped shoulder or using both reins then gets a cranked in pony who's being forced to turn and not asked.

Everyone else made this look easy. I've done it before with Simon and almost pulled the spin thing over. The test is to go to the cones, grab the rope on the spin thing, then circle it and go back through the cones. You can see Topper's lovely cross over while being bent in the correct direction. But again, I think if I'd have held his outside
with the whip he'd have had a better understanding of what I was asking. At least once he was past the spin thing he stopped being worried about it because he couldn't see it.

He walked right past the black longhorn cutout that I was worried about. At this point I was letting him walk instead of going for time with trotting to give him a breather from all the thinking he was doing.

This obstacle consisted of two barrels, take a letter off this one, and go to the next one and put the letter in the mail box. He was a little worried about the barrels, but again, once he couldn't see it I could maneuver so the cart was right beside it. Standing is such a lovely trait in a driving pony. Everyone said all the ground driving practice would pay off in spades, and they were right.

Here you have to drive straight in, halt, and then back out. A lovely halt, then a squeeze on the reins and soften while saying 'Topper back'. Just like we were back home backing in to park the cart. I'd say his best obstacle. But maybe I do need to bang his tail again. When he sinks behind it's definitely hitting the ground.

A little nerve wracking driving in front of Ken. He's been my main connection to driving for the past 25 years.

Fancy pony trotting over the loud board. We've never had trouble going over it when it was on our way out of the ring.

He looks like a Morgan to me here. You can see the bit is a little big for his mouth, but his face gets wide quickly and when he has a bit that fits his mouth it pinches his cheeks and rubs off the hair. Someone recommended trying bit guards to take up the space on each side of his mouth. They'd need to be pretty small though to not squeeze his cheeks.

On to cones. I think I did way too much half halting to feel 'in control'. I didn't see our times, but we were rather slow and he did quite a bit of curling to try and avoid my hands.

My fault for not planning the correct line to the next set of cones. And again, no use of the outside whip. At least my outside hand is in front of my inside hand.

A straight line, so I did think to encourage a little.

Coming up on the cones and already starting to half halt for the turn after. I should ride a cones course with someone, so I can feel what a faster course feels like. I work cones so much for dressage that a working trot feels right and that doesn't cut it in cones for time.

I'm pleased I'm already looking for my next set, and he's moving on, but if I'm remembering correctly after we went through this gate he picked up a canter. It's not allowed, so then I had to bring him back, which he thought was silly of me.

So here's me half halting to get that working trot I'm comfortable with. Then in the next picture...

How he reacts to my strong half halts, so then I have to give the reins to try and get him to get his nose back out. At home, a verbal 'easy' usually works to get a nice half halt out of him. Away from home I might over use it, because we rarely get the same response.

Giving him a bad approach to the serpentine (should have gone this side of 19), but I was at least half halting with the outside rein like I learned at the clinic to create the bend to the left coming up.

He went into the serpentine from the side, instead of head on, but once we got around A he felt like he knew what we were doing and kept us quite close to the inside cones.

Serpentines are easier than zig zags since there are no outside cones. We didn't have to exit or enter straight on.

Any chance to be kind and give him rein I'd leave him to it. I think here we both noticed the horse driving out on the cross country track. I have to say going cross country was the most fun part of the day (until I was driving him, I wasn't so sure. I needed to feel the pony I had to know if he wanted to play).

I only walked the course to 16 that morning and glanced at where the last ones were since it was a similar course to Sunrise Ridge and there was the offer of a golf cart ride back. So, here's me coming off 16 and looking for 17. Those tight elbows are me trying to decide if we were going to come down to a walk since I obviously wasn't looking in the right place and couldn't find it. I did spot it shortly after this, because we didn't overshoot it and had a smooth turn to it. Oh, and hey, my hair is kind of long (now I know why someone commented on whether they thought my mane or his mane looked better).

A bit of a tight circle to the next set of cones, so again, him getting shorter than is fair. As Ken would say, practice at home and it'll get better. Our last two weeks of driving were spent trying different bits and settings (with the broken mouth bit he was mostly hollow and braced with a bulging under neck and crossed jaw trying to run through any bit pressure). With this mullen mouth he gives to the bit, and if my hands are more tactful, I can get a longer length of neck like in some of the other pictures.

Coming off of cones I'm finally relaxed, so were both relaxed and happy. The last section was a tour around the cross country course
going through numbered gates and grabbing flags to hand in at the end. He was very suspicious of the cross country jumps laying on
their sides, but had no problem driving between the jumps on the course, even though many had bags of cedar chips waiting to be dumped.
He asked to canter a couple of times, but just because the hill would have been easier at a canter and one nice straightaway looked
inviting, but only offered and came right back. One sideways shy at the trot almost at the end as we passed a culvert made
me pleased I was braced and wishing for sides on my raised seat. He was tired at the end, but again, much more confident about being out
in country than the year before. Every once in a while I have to remind myself I haven't been doing this for 20 years, as many
of the people out this weekend said about themselves. I was just happy to get to drive my pony around that gorgeous place
and get to talk with all the friendly horse people there.