“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill
I apologize for the fact that it has taken me so long to write a recap of this one. The show itself was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and my feelings about it are following the same trend. First though, the logistics of the day!
3:00AM – Wake up
3:30AM – Leave House
5:00AM – Leave Barn
7:15AM – Arrive at Kent
9:00AM – Friend’s Dressage Ride Time (and the reason we were up before dawn)
11:20AM – My Dressage Ride Time
2:00PM – My SJ Time
2:30PM – My XC Time
3:00PM – Done showing, horses back on trailer
4:15PM – Ribbons released
6:30PM – Arrive back at Barn
7:30PM – Arrive Home
So in short, LONG DAY!
We actually braided for this show, and I was very impressed with how well May’s braids stayed in, especially considering how unamused she was by them.
After convincing her to get on the trailer in the dark, which she was convinced she would never fit in, we were on our way! The morning started out damn and cool, but the forecast promised better weather once we got to the show. For the next three hours, we just hung out. I got to watch my friend ride Dressage and some of the Training level riders jump their SJ. May got to eat lots of hay, which she appreciated.
Then, it was time to get ready for Dressage! May stood like a superstar, and I got to wear my new show coat and stock tie! (pre-tied, because ex-hunter-princesses don’t know how to tie a stock tie) I also actually busted out my Dressage saddle and a brand new white pad. Overall, we looked pretty legit.
May was great wandering away from the trailer… but then our friend started screaming. May’s response was to scream back and prance up and down the hill by the stadium ring. My response? Sit like a ton of bricks. Fighting with her face was just going to get her more agitated and convince her that this whole thing was a bad idea. So I just sat there and made her go up hill when she wanted to jig.
The result? She stood quietly next to the stadium ring after about 10 minutes. I also got to meet Amelia Pitts from Dark Jewel Designs Browbands (check out her awesome stuff here). May is definitely getting one of these once I am less poor!
Dressage warmup was a bit tough, as there were probably ~20 horses at any given time also trying to warm up. The hill and slick grass were also a challenge, but May handled the atmosphere well. Our timing got pushed back a bit, so she stood longer than I had planned. Unfortunately, that meant we did lose a bit of focus.
I managed to get it back as we trotted over to the ring we would be showing in from the warmup ring… I then waiting 3 minutes for the girl in front of me to finish her salute. So there went that round of attention-getting. After she exited the arena, we did another quick warmup, and May felt really good and on my aids. She wasn’t looking at the busy warm up ring, or the judges cars, or the road right through the trees next to the ring.
Overall, the test was really good. Given the slick grass and slight hill, I couldn’t open up her step as much as I wanted to, so our scores suffered a bit. She slipped at the canter, which left her tense through the end of the test, which showed up in our walk. Overall, I was very happy, and we scored a 34, putting us in 2nd place! (For the record, I stopped trotting too soon at the end of the test, so walked a few steps to try and get as close as I could to x without looking obvious)
We then had about 3 hours before stadium. So May went back in the trailer, and we all ate and hung out for a while. My friend went before me in stadium and had a great, clear round! I, however, was starting to think too much. I started to feel pretty nauseous, but I tried to convince myself that it was the hotdog and heat and not the high jumps stuffed very close together in the stadium ring.
See, when I was younger, I had a very bad habit of “blacking out” during my jumping rounds. I didn’t pass out, but I would hold my breath and wouldn’t be able to remember anything about my courses after I rode them. I was starting to feel like that. Maybe it was the fatigue from the early morning wake up and sitting around for a long time or the pressure of being at our first recognized event around all these people I didn’t know on a horse that stands out quite a bit, but I was really too far into my own head. This is me too far in my own head, and my fiance being supportive. We are not nearly as judgy as we look in this picture…
We got May ready (she looked fantastic with curly hair), and we headed down to the warmup ring. Also with 20 horses in it. It was chaos. They were running 25 – 30 minutes behind schedule, so there were horses there waiting for their rounds and horses that thought they were riding soon but were really really early.
We warmed up on the flat, and we jumped some jumps. She moved up to the jumps when I asked, and took the long spots when I asked, but she wasn’t really hunting the jumps like she usually does. She wasn’t taking me and letting me sit and regulate the rhythm. As a result, I was having to create the rhythm, keep the energy moving forward, hold her balance together, try to find distances, and avoid other horses. It was a good warmup, but she just didn’t feel like she was into it.
Then we had to go stand. At the in gate. Even writing this now, I feel that blackout kind of felling washing over me again. Not good. May got fidgety, but not in an excited way. I could tell she was feeding off of me a bit.
Finally, it was our turn to go in. First, the below is how it went:
The photographer got a full series of pictures at fence 3. They were not pretty, and the photos are public. Oh well.
We trotted into the arena in a bold, confident way. And then May saw all the people standing on the hill above us, and she didn’t take a look at the combination I had us trot through. She got tense and I, like a nervous genius, took my leg off. We got over the first to fences fine, and I started to feel like myself in the tack again. Then, we just missed to the third jump. Everyone was missing it all day, so I knew it would likely be an issue. May dropped behind my leg, and I jumped up her neck. It was ugly and unfair to my horse, and I felt her confidence drop. Of course, the next jump was a big square oxer off a short approach. I got nervous and chased her.
She was a good girl and jumped it. We then came around to the combination, and she just sucked back. I tried to kick her through the line, but her balance had already fallen forward and we got 2 and an eighth strides (calling it a quarter or a half a stride would be too generous). By this point, May’s confidence was pretty shot (as was my own). My turn was bad to jump 6, and she decided she didn’t want to jump it. I don’t blame her, by this point, I didn’t really want to jump it either.
We circled back, and I was determined to ride forward. And I did. By the last 3 jumps, May was back to being May. She jumped great down the long diagonal like, and did well around the last turn to the bright vertical. She even balance up enough to correct the cross canter landing off of jump 10. We trotted boldly out of the arena.
For those who are curious, we kept the right lead from 6 to 7 for two reasons: 1. Forward and rhythm were the most important things I needed at that moment, and breaking to the trot accomplished neither of these. 2. May has a habit of throwing her right shoulder through me as an evasion. It is much more difficult for her to do that in a counter canter. It got her off my right leg for the turn to the diagonal line and helped keep her from falling in before the last jump.
I will be honest here. I felt pretty defeated walking out of stadium. Before showing up at Kent, I had felt like our stadium is where we had made the most progress in the last month. May was learning to balance herself differently, and I was figuring out how to help her with that balance. So to have it all come crashing down at fence 3 (pretty much literally) was very disappointing. I have a really good horse, and I got that distinct, crushing feeling that I was ruining her. I think all riders (and especially Adult Amateurs) have this feeling at one point or another and having it at a show was not conducive to success on XC.
I pulled off my coat while listening to my trainer tell me that the refusal was due to her loss of confidence after fences 3, 4, 5a, and 5b. As a true AA, all I heard was, “the stop was all your fault for riding so badly and you’re ruining your horse.”
We swapped out my nubblet spurs for larger ones (but still soft touch ones because the princess doesn’t like getting jabbed), and I traded in my jacket for my XC vest. My friend was back at the trailer after a good XC round on her horse. She said it was really fun and not too difficult. All I heard was “the course is really easy, and if you mess up, you’re going to be screwing up your horse even more.”
Here’s the thing: this course had a (very small) down back, an up bank, related distances, an unflagged water crossing and a half ditch. The water has not gone well for us this year, and we haven’t done ditches/banks since the one time we schooled them last year. This, along with our less than confident SJ round, was not making me feel like we were set up for success. The course was long, and I knew my corgi would tire out.
To put it bluntly, I was near tears. My trainer (at about 7 months pregnant) waddled up to me and asked if I was good. I shook my head and had trouble speaking. I told her about my concerns with the terrain questions and the length of the course. She told me that she can’t school me anymore. The only way to get the experience I need at this point is to go out and do it. She coached me on how to get May’s head in the game as they counted me down and off we went.
The first jump was a blue house off of a turn. My trainer got a shot of it with her camera, but I apologize for the poor quality.
Then we had a short gallop to a VERY steep hill. The hill had to be walked down, and May took her sweet time walking it. At the bottom of the hill was a few trot steps and the world’s smallest downbank. We cleared it without an issue then had a long canter stretch to the third jump. I realized that, with the time lost on the ditch, we kind of needed to boogie a bit. I let May pick up the pace, and just set her up a few strides before the third jump.
The rest of the course went similarly. Set her up, jump the jump, make her go forward.
The fourth and fifth jumps were a related distance of a narrow(er) log to a stone wall. May was a bit impressed by the log:
The sixth jump was a red roll top that we shared with Novice. We had no issues with it and made the turn toward the up bank at a trot. May locked onto the blue log behind it and took me over the ditch and the log. We were going at a really good click as we approached jump 9, a hanging log with some brush over it that was about 5 strides from a stone wall. We jumped 9 and she fell through my left leg. I steered back to 10 and we took it at a bit of an angle, but it was clear.
Jump 11 was a gray house before the woods.
Then a few strides to a hedge jump (something we’ve never done), then a few more strides to a log-type jump. (Jump descriptions at BN are super boring) She sucked back at 11, so I rode her super forward to 12, giving up a good distance for a closer one because I didn’t trust her not to fall behind me leg if I used my hand at all.
Jump 13 came up ok, but my mind was already on jump 14: the ditch. There were no less than 4 people sitting along the ditch jump.
I trotted around the corner to make sure we were straight, but I didn’t need to worry. May saw the groundline and locked right onto the jump. She even locked on to the raised log after it.
May did stop at the water, so I will have to devote some time to puddles in the near future. The last jump was a very plain, slightly raised log, that we barely even paused at. Overall, we came in 9 seconds under time with a clear round. I was so happy with her and so proud of myself for going through with it.
At the end of the day, my friend and I exchanged the world’s most awkward congratulatory hug, and May and I finished in 7th out of 10. Without the penalties in Stadium, we would have been 2nd, which would have been really cool.
As I reflected on the day with my fiance, I brought up how guilty I feel about the amount of time and money I spend on this sport when I get so upset about it, and I questioned why I do it. He reminded me of two things: 1. I love this sport. That includes my horse, the challenges, my friends, horse shows, late night rides, early rides, galloping, XC, and even Dressage. 2. My first lesson with May was a year ago, and she tried to run out of the arena with me.
So what does it all mean? It means that on Sunday we have our next BN horse trial (and the last for a while) at Burgundy Hollow! (And then I am spending Memorial Day in bed).
~ Special shout out to Matt, Sarah, Ashley and Cole for the pictures/video/support/psychotherapy/awkward hugs ~