Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Heart of Gold

I would like to start by saying, by the grace of God and the kindness of a lot of people, I have completed my FIRST USEA TRAINING LEVEL HORSE TRIALS!!!!!!!! (x infinity)

But...it could have just as easily gone the other way. Hence why I must credit my horse with the success of our first Training together rather than myself. Yes, I gave him a good ride most of the weekend. But one little mistake COULD have ended our weekend if not for his catlike reflexes and big, big heart.

It was a hellacious weekend, weather-wise. We got down on Thursday to a beautiful, balmy 80 degrees. By Intermediate dressage time on Friday, we were close to floating away (okay, maybe that's a BIT of an exaggeration) and cross-country was moved to Saturday. The big boys (Monkee and Lardy) had good dressage tests that day and even though I was exhausted that night, I had no idea how tough Saturday would be.

Going into details of the difficulty of staying organized when you are solely grooming four horses who are doing cross-country/stadium/dressage all on one day PLUS riding your own horse would be a long, boring spiel that I won't subject you to *wink* Let's just say I've learned a lot about grooming for an event rider in the past year and a half and I'm grateful that I've figured out how to balance everything without panicking. Everyone jumped super, ESPECIALLY Lardy in his first Intermediate (he was definitely the star of the weekend).

I think I've talked about how frustrating my dressage warm-up has been in the past with Pop. I always get on too early and end up running out of (his) energy by the time we enter at A. So this time, I had my 20 minutes planned out perfectly. No rush. Except they were running ahead. Yeah, go figure. After a few minutes of tense, stuck trot/canter in the muddy warm-up my number was called. I could have and SHOULD have deferred until my ride time. However, I was frazzled, exhausted, and forgot to even check my watch, so I trotted over hurriedly, praying that by some miracle he would go into the ring instantly through and forward and perfect.


Well, we had a very stuck test. Not as bad as it could have been, he was willing in his transitions and for the most part was doing as I asked. Of course, being frazzled and focusing on getting him to just soften for just a second (please, Poppers, please), I forgot my test. I tried to just smile at the judge and pick back up where I had left off, but my perfectionist side came out in full force and I just wanted to crawl into the tack stall and throw a pity party. I felt SO dumb. I should have run through my test mentally that morning, I should have been more prepared in my warm-up, I should have had the ability to ride through my issues in the short warm-up I'd had, I should have been like EVERYONE else (funny how your mind can exaggerate things when you're upset) and had a perfect dressage test because my horse is experienced and accomplished and surely I'm just not worthy of him.

This side of me RARELY comes out anymore. I've learned that doing the best you can with what you have that day is the best attitude you can have, because otherwise you're ALWAYS setting yourself up for failure. I've learned to not beat myself up, to learn from every mistake, and to always appreciate the effort my horse has made, even if it's not his best. At home, this attitude is always prevalent. But there's something about being in front of a bunch of accomplished riders and horses that just made me lose my confidence in myself and more than anything, I was just pouting.

Looking back, I shouldn't have let nerves take over. I shouldn't have hurried him. I should have requested a few more minutes until my actual ride time and I should have gone into the ring on a positive note. In the end, I did learn from my mistakes, and I hopefully will improve on them next time. I think the dressage is the toughest portion of the horse trial for a lot of eventers, and I am no exception. It gives me a lot to work on at home, a lot to learn, and lots of goals to accomplish. I feel better about it now. My test comments were constructive and I will study them a lot during the next few weeks. And Pop is none the worse for the wear :)

So our stadium time wasn't until 6 p.m. Yeah. By that point I almost didn't want to bother. Boy, am I glad I did. I had SO much fun. He was fabulous. He NEVER touches a fence. I can bury him, I can take a flyer, I can fall all over his neck and he never misses a beat. We had a great round except for one fence in the double, where I softened my hands too much and he got a bit strung out. We headed back to the barn ready to rock and roll the next afternoon.

First of all, disclaimer. I've never done a drop into water in a competition, never mind TWO drops into water, one of which had a bank out and two strides to a house.

Pop was bouncing all over the place as we went into the start box. Countdown began, I set my watch, and off we went. As each fence approached I actually managed to hear Charlie's words from the course walk. Fence 3 had a very downhill landing, and we hit our close spot PERFECTLY. He was dead on to everything. When we reached fence 11a and b, I realized that even though he had been flying, we were about 30 seconds down on time. I know I shouldn't have worried about it, but it was in the back of my mind and I really wanted to try to make time. He picked it up, but we took a few flyers and by the time we reached the second water combination, and he launched in, I wasn't prepared at ALL for the rebalancing we needed before the "out".


By all means, he should have fallen. Or at the very least, run out at the C element two strides away.

But I picked my head up and clucked, and he picked himself up and popped right over the C element and flew to the final fence.

This is why we choose event horses based on their heart more than anything else. Because a split second decision gone wrong can be the end of your weekend. We need our partners to have the heart and the courage to keep going. To save our butts. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this horse will do everything in his power to keep us from getting hurt or getting in trouble. I trust him completely now. And that is worth more to me than any ribbon, any success on the scoreboard. Because of his heart of gold, I can say that I COMPLETED MY FIRST USEA TRAINING LEVEL HORSE TRIAL.

Thanks, Poppers.

See our other show photos here and feel free to let me know your favorite. I'm going to purchase at least one once my tax refund comes in!

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