Coconino Horse Trials – Part I

After Camp and House Hunting, we spent 2 weeks attending the Coconino Horse Trials. My husband had really been wanting to do a long format and Coconino offered a BN 3 day event during their second week. I took Levi and entered the Intro divisions in an attempt to settle my nerves. It’s going to take a few posts to cover everything that happened there. Today I’ll cover everything leading up to the beginning of the first HT.

We flew back from House Hunting on Monday evening and left for Coconino on Tuesday. We had originally planned to leave really early Tuesday morning to avoid the worst of the heat while trailering, but our flights ended up getting delayed and we didn’t get to sleep until 3am. We got up early for that bedtime, but between sleeping, getting gas, and packing, we ended up not getting on the road until 11:30. It was a long drive (8 hours) but we didn’t hit any traffic and kept the trailer moving for airflow except for a brief stop for gas.

We overnighted the horses at a training facility in Barstow, CA which was an 8 hour drive. They were super nice and gave us a big turnout for the boys to share. They unloaded and immediately set to rolling. Rolling > drinking or eating for those two.

We got dinner and a hotel in town for the night and were back at the horse hotel bright and early the next morning to pick up the ponies and get on our way. The second day was a shorter drive (just over 6 hours) and we got to the fairgrounds around 2:30 to unload the ponies and get them settled. We had awesome stall assignments. Although it looks sort of weird – like cages for horses – this barn was perfect for our two. In addition to being breezy, they could see each other and other horses at all times. They’re both quite attached to each other and neither of them are used to being in a stall so they’re often not very happy at shows. Coconino stalls were perfect and our horses were the most relaxed I’ve ever seen them at a show. I really wish more show stalls were like this.

On Thursday, my husband worked from the hotel for most of the day. I went over to the fairgrounds in the morning to feed the ponies and then returned to the hotel to work a bit as well. I also did a bit of shopping for snacks and drinks for the week. We returned to the fairgrounds in the evening to check in at the office and take the ponies for a ride around. I hadn’t realized in advance that the horse trials were held on the racetrack. That’s gotta be a bit of a mind blower for ex-racehorses. Levi was surprisingly weirded out about the track rails at first so I was glad we had the opportunity to examine them.

The actual Horse Trials were only Saturday and Sunday, so on Friday they were offering schooling rounds and a pre-comp division. The pre-comp was billed as intro level with coaching encouraged. Given all the issues I’ve been having with Levi, I signed up for the pre-comp to see if he’d be weird about cross-country in the trees. It turns out I needn’t have worried about that at all, but he did lose his damned mind over stadium.

In what remains one of the most baffling schedules I have ever seen, they ran the pre-comp in this order: Stadium, XC, Dressage. Stadium and XC weren’t even back to back, there were like 90 minutes between the two jumping phases. It’s not even like they didn’t have the dressage judge there earlier because my husband did a schooling dressage test at the same time as my stadium round. I don’t know what horse wants to do dressage after XC, but it’s not mine. Honestly, this whole day was a bit of a clusterf*ck organizationally. They were running behind everywhere and without enough volunteers to organize things or enough people who even knew what was supposed to be happening. Everyone was doing the best that they could, but it was frustrating.

The stadium arena was set up by the grandstand. The arena is also used for rodeo events and it lined with cattle chutes. While Levi excels in being an *sshole about many things, he’s never really been a spooky horse.


We warmed up nicely for stadium. I was my usual nervous self, but not to the extent of getting off the horse and quitting, just worked up. Levi couldn’t have cared less. Then we entered the arena and he lost his freaking mind. He was a bit hesitant walking in, but I figured that was just the leaving the gate syndrome. Then we made the turn towards the first jump and he started shaking. I pushed him on as he tried to weave back and forth to bolt. He was too distracted with trying to get away to notice the first jump and slammed to a stop. We circled back around and he decided he just could not go that way and proceeded to rear and spin. We did that once again and got eliminated. The ring steward told us do a lap around the ring to try to get him settled, but he was freaked out: snorting and jumping sideways at every single inch of the arena. I could feel him shaking violently beneath me. While I will be the first person to call this horse a d*ck, I have never seen him like this before. He was truly terrified of that arena. That’s not to say I excuse that sort of behavior – because I don’t – but he was out of his mind. I don’t know for sure, but I do wonder if the cattle chutes reminded him of being in the holding pens and run through chutes like that himself.

Although I was officially eliminated from the pre-comp division, they were running practice rounds for all the heights, so I signed up for another round to try again after my husband’s practice dressage test. For dressage, they hadn’t divided up the times across the long and short courts and the poor judge was driving back and forth between the two arenas. They started late and there was no steward at either arena to tell anyone what was going on. My husband ended up going almost 30 minutes late.

They lost his test so no idea how well this scored. Probably not well from watching the video.

We returned to the stadium arena after that and Levi just would not. My husband was convinced I just needed to put more leg on and told me to go gallop Levi around the track before doing stadium. I did that. Levi was fine. This was not an issue of lack of forward. This was a lack of ability to not flee in terror. This time Levi knew what was up and wouldn’t even leave the gate side of the arena. We spun, we bolted, we slammed to a top, reared, spun, bolted, slammed to a stop again. My husband was very helpful in telling me to put more leg on.

Thanks. I’ll get on that. Right after I stop almost falling off as my horse does a complete 180 on a dime. In hindsight, I should have just gotten off and dragged him around the arena on foot. Oh well.

Despite being eliminated, I still got to run XC. I had planned on walking the course after my stadium round, but ran out of time with them being so behind and having to do a second round. I looked at the map as we walked down to the startbox and figured I’d just go from number to number and hope for the best. It’s not like I could get more eliminated.

That said, I do not recommend trying this. Especially not at a place you’ve never been before and have no idea where the general tracks even go. Luckily, the first two jumps where tiny and I could see them from the start so we were good to go.

jump #1

We had some *ssholery about standing still, but once we got on the course he was fine.

jump #2

Jump #3 was bigger than the first two, but it was fine. They actually had the flags set up so you could do an option here. The other jump was the BN/Novice jump so obviously I didn’t do that. Interestingly, you could have chosen to go in-between the two jumps and do nothing.

jump #3

Jump #4 was a ditch. I was surprised to see a ditch on an intro course. My husband and I have done multiple rated events at BN that didn’t have a ditch. Who puts a ditch on Intro?Thankfully, Levi doesn’t care about ditches, but this is where not walking the course got me in trouble. I  saw the number and headed towards it, but didn’t realize until too late that I was lined up to slice the ditch. I should have gone around a group of trees to get a straight approach. I didn’t want to stop and circle so we sliced that thing. Then I had to pull him to a stop because I didn’t see #5. The course map had called #5 a corner, but I figured this is intro, there won’t be a real corner; it’ll be some log thing that looks like a corner. Nope, it was a real freaking corner. A full BN sized corner. WTF? We had also sliced the ditch in the wrong direction and we’re lined up for that corner at all.

Being pre-eliminated really came in handy here. I just turned and circled him, picked up a canter and jumped that sucker. My husband didn’t get any pictures of the far half of the course, but I took a picture of the corner after the fact when I saw it on the BN course later. I wish I had a picture of us doing it because I’m still surprised I actually jumped it instead of quitting right then and there. I was doing Intro for a reason – because I’m terrified of large jumps. I was not anticipating a corner. It was probably all for the best I hadn’t walked the course or I’d have been worrying about that corner in advance.

Anyways, we were over the corner and on towards #6 – a little bunker on a downhill approach. The fairgrounds and the cross country course are filled with biking trails and, as we approached #6, I saw that a small crowd of bikers had been stopped by the jump judge because the trail was right behind the jump. In typical Levi fashion, we approached nicely and he launched himself over that tiny bunker. I could hear the gasps and exclamations of “wow” and “omg” as we landed and carried on. There’s nothing like a Levi overjump to impress people.

The 7th obstacle was the water. Levi skidded to a stop and snorted at it. The jump judge asked me to stand aside for another rider to go past. Turns our stopping and circling at #5 had really put us behind. Once they were past, I managed to convince Levi to trot through the damned water although he remained suspicious. But we were through and on to the last jump.

last jump

At this point, my husband had to go back to the hotel to work. I hung out for an hour or so, then tacked up for dressage.Dressage was running pretty behind, there was no ring steward and no one seemed to have any idea what was going on. A few of us gathered together and determined that we did not know what was going on. I decided to ride over to the judge after the next person went. When I got over to her, she told me she didn’t have the list and didn’t know the order of go either. But since I was there I could go next. OK then.

I have zero pictures from this test because I was alone. I also have only vague memories of it because it was weeks ago. It was not a good test. Levi did not want to do dressage, pitched a fit about leaving his new found warm up friends to enter the arena, and then proceeded to act as if he’d never been asked to canter before in his life. To be fair, we hadn’t actually done any canter transitions during warm up, so that was on me. Whatever, I actually could not have cared less. I think this whole being eliminated from the start thing was good for me mentally. I didn’t get mad at him; I didn’t feel like murdering him. We just had a nice walk back to the barns and I put him away for the day.

10 thoughts on “Coconino Horse Trials – Part I

  1. Stacie Seidman

    That sounds like a ridiculously stressful day, yet also, kind of a good learning day? At least on cross country. So odd about the stadium ring freaking him out. Did it smell particularly cow-y?

    1. Olivia Post author

      It didn’t smell cow-y to me, but horses have better senses of smell. Levi has done cattle work before though so I don’t even think the smell of cows should be so upsetting.

  2. Suzy

    Wow what kind of Bizarro World show was this??!!
    The dressage court on a racetrack is nuts!! I wonder what kind of flashbacks Cupid would have being there.

  3. KateRose

    I could see the chutes being scary for him! Poor dude. I thought the same thing as Stacie (the cowy smell) might be the culprit but I think you would have smelled it too!

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