Short version: GOOD BOY!
Long version: show prep was delayed on Saturday due to the failure of our apartment’s central air mid-day Friday. I baked up a storm while the repairman cleaned the compressor to rid it of all its pollen build-up. I finally got to the barn around 3:30 and commenced prep, which was actually fairly straightforward. I’ve got a packing rhythm down now, and for the first time this season felt confident in everything I’d packed and gotten done. My prep ride was not good, and in retrospect should’ve been longer – I never quite got him through and connected, but we were in the outdoor and he was pissed about having to work harder in the deeper footing. I gave him an hour-long bath with both shampoo AND conditioner, and he looked fantastic – I even scrubbed his blaze and Quicksilver’d his hind sock to really bring out the white. He was miserable and furious the whole time, but that’s pretty standard for baths.
Sunday morning we got off just a few minutes late, but it turned out I hadn’t allotted quite enough time for tacking up and getting him ready by myself – as everyone else bolted for the Beginner Novice course walk and I didn’t even have time to snag an Elementary kid. It was probably my fastest and most efficient show tacking up ever, and failed on two counts: his braids and my white breeches, neither of which was really presentable. I’m going to have to start braiding him for lessons to get practice back, and to figure out how to secure the running braid, especially the tail end – it’s been pulling out mid-warmup and looking awful.
Warmup was good, not great. It had some nice moments and was in a good place near the end. We needed a bit more suppleness than we ever got. When we trotted around the ring prior to starting he gave bug-eyes to the judge’s house, but we turned and trotted back the other way and he was already over it. We started our test, made the turn at C, then turned to go across the diagonal – and got rung out.
I was completely baffled, and walked back to the judge. “You’re meant to cross the ring directly at B,” the judge said. I stared at her, and said “I thought it was a diagonal?” and my brain completely melted down, thinking oh God, if I’ve memorized this test completely wrong, and how am I going to ride all my diagonals as direct lines, and she said, “You’re riding B, right?” and I said, “Yes, B. But I really thought it was a diagonal.” The judge paused and said, “Novice B, right?” and I felt a huge wave of relief. “No, Beginner Novice B.”
Now that we were on the same page, I circled off the long side, back down the center line, and started my test over. I’d lost some connection and rhythm, though, and was flustered, and on top of never quite hitting my stride in the warmup meant it was not the best test I’ve ever ridden. It did have some nice moments: I was really pleased with my accuracy, making a point to distinguish circles from corners, nailing my diagonal departures and arrivals, and really letting him shine on those diagonals. The left canter was a dud – flubbed the lead, unusual for us, and then meandered down the long side – but the right canter felt good. The final centerline and halt was good.
After the dressage test we had some downtime, as I untacked him, organized jumping equipment, and put him back on the trailer. I settled arrangements to meet my stand-in coach for the day – Denise from my XC lesson last week, as my times didn’t work out to make the general Flatlands one – and then even had a few minutes to chat with people and relax.
Then we went on the XC course walk and my semblance of calm went up like a puff of smoke. It was a solid Beginner Novice course – Denise said that King Oak in the fall will be comparable or even perhaps a bit easier. It was still a good move-up course but this was a big leap of faith I was taking, transitioning up to BN so quickly. Tris and I have a long, solid partnership, we’ve been working to expose ourselves and get off property and stay focused, but this was still not a decision based entirely on safe, solid, reliable mileage.
I brought my camera, but was too busy suppressing my gag reflex to take pictures, and there are no pictures online that I can find, so a verbal description will have to suffice. First jump was a nice, inviting big log uphill, and then a turn left to a bit of an airy three-log pyramid on a fenceline, with a bit of a downhill on the landing. Curve left over a little barn-like coop, and then land and turn right and a bit of a run across the field to what I think was a maxed-out rolltop. This was the first jump of any size and it was the one that I was most worried about. Land from the rolltop and enter the woods, then go left through a gate and over a tiny little ditch. Continue along a trail through the woods, turn a hard right and go down a bit of a steep, rocky, hill, at the bottom of which a sharp left loop and over an open log fence of some size – basically another log coop with zigzag logs across the front. Come out into the back field for an option: big, almost Novice-sized flat-topped coop or a smaller adjacent one. Curve right uphill for a cute little brush fence, and then downhill again for a solid red coop. Through the woods, curving left, and out of the woods off a small drop with a downhill away back into the field, then a hard right back into the woods, up and out the other side and turn left over two related fences, both hanging logs – I believe four or five strides between. Through a bit of a tree line, and down a steep hill into the water complex, which is gorgeous, but we were only doing a mandatory crossing. Cut left after the water to come up around a hill to the right, for a little red bench, then left over a rock pile topped with a log, then uphill over a cabin for the final fence.
It was a solid course. I’m not sure what I expected, but it got in my head in a pretty good way. I walked from that to the stadium course, which was also solid: fairly straightforward lines, but a couple of full-on BN airy oxers. That did not help the knots in my stomach.
I tacked up and got him ready with the help of one of the barn grooms for the day, and we walked up to the stadium warmup, where we stood quietly in the shade with Tristan’s nose on an XC jump that wasn’t on the course. He was near to falling asleep, and I talked to T. for a few minutes, asking him if he had any particular advice for Tristan for the XC course (“Point him at the jumps. Keep your leg on.”). Then it was time for us to put in a few jumps, and oh, did I ever eat the first few. Leaned, didn’t keep my leg on, stared down the jump like it was going to eat me – a tiny little crossrail, mind. T. got after me, and cleared it up, and we had a couple of nice jumps over an oxer, and then waited again. I was more or less completely numb waiting, and then went into the ring, and saluted the judge, and picked up the canter and…locked on the first jump. WHEW.
I think it was one of the best stadium rounds I’ve ever ridden. It flowed, I got my distances, and I was so determined to get up and over everything that I had plenty of leg. We had a small bobble coming to the second-to-last when we didn’t land with the right lead and we had a stride or two of fight about picking up the correct lead, but we nailed it, and then I was so relieved to be coming toward the last jump that the distance wasn’t great, but we did it.
We walked down to XC, and we had a bit of delay so they could keep the numbers of people on the course down, and then they told us to go. I composed myself a bit, and pushed him forward into a trot. We were a bit lacking in impulsion for the first fence – which Denise had suggested we trot, but we landed and we were away. My nervousness translated nicely into laser focus, and there was nothing in my head but forward, forward, forward, and steering. There were a couple moments when his shoulders drifted, but I got them back immediately. Our direction on the course walk had been to land going away, much like our XC school, and we accomplished that on a few fences. There were a few moments when I trotted him – through the gate and over the ditch (which he jumped BEAUTIFULLY, clean and economic and landed cantering), down a few of the trickier hills, over one jump Denise had suggested we trot as it came after one of those hard downhills and picking up the canter on a tight turn would’ve stretched our balance.
We had a few rough spots; the big red coop going into the woods came right after a dirt road. I had thought that Tris might jump the road, actually, and was urging him forward, but he skittered a bit at it – not a stop or spook, more like a moment of uncertainty that there was new footing underneath his feet – which threw us off our approach, and though I had urged him up and forward again he knocked the jump hard with his front legs. He recovered quickly on the landing, though, and didn’t seem too stung, so we kept going. When we emerged up the hill, we were called off by the jump judge to be overtaken – I didn’t think I’d been going too slowly, but so it goes. Then there was a fall on course, so we were a little while in re-starting. I didn’t give him a great approach to the fence, plus he was tiring, and that first fence was a little awkward. I urged him forward for the second, and he cleared it easily.
We trotted down the hill to the water and he went bug-eyed on the approach, but I kicked and kicked and kept him pointed at it, and eventually we trotted in, went back to a walk briefly in the water, and I praised him to the skies and then picked up the trot again out and the canter again going up the hill. The last few jumps were great, and then – since I had jumped the right-hand side of the last fence – there was a split second when I wrestled control of his shoulders back to stay pointed between the finish flag.
I was really, really proud of him, and could not have asked for a better go of his first full Beginner Novice course. He was pretty tired, just stood to be untacked and sponged off, but his breathing came back down quickly, and after he was sponged a few times my father took him for a bit of a walk around the parking lot. When he came back he was completely cooled off, and I put him on the trailer to hang out and rest in the shade, and made much of him.
The rest of the day was pretty relaxing – I spent some time watching other warmups, with friends, and watching the scores go up. Our dressage score of 37.6 had us tied for seventh place after dressage, but after the jumping phases we moved up to third. I hadn’t expected to finish in the ribbons; I was aiming for finishing on our dressage score. I was pleasantly surprised and quite proud of Tris. The only confusing spot of the day was when I looked at my dressage test – and we’d received a four on our free walk. His free walk is usually his shining gait, and I had thought ours was pretty good that day. Ah well.
Home, where I turned him out in his pasture for a long drink and a roll, rubbed him all over with liniment, and gave him a gram of bute with dinner. Back to work on Tuesday for a flat lesson; our next show is a dressage schooling event on July 8.