Saugerties is quite an experience.
The grand prix ring (about half the size of the space they used for the two rings we were in)
Just getting ready was quite an experience. Theo had to be clipped, new shoes, booster shots, lots of paperwork, lots of lessons, and lots of me trying to not become an overly aggressive alien because of some abstract goal. Theo does not tolerate overly aggressive aliens. At all.
"Go pound sand, alien."
We had some bad rides where I got overly aggressive and my beloved mount told me where I could stick my dressage whip. But despite turning myself into mental pretzels, we got everything done. We got the trailer loaded. We got the paperwork straightened out. We survived the four hour drive with poor Theo all alone in the trailer.
Theo at the rest area: "Large fry and a chocolate shake, please."
We arrived at THE biggest dressage show in the area. It doesn't get any bigger than this in my region. They had an international barn! Ten rings! 800 horses! At least a hundred golf carts plus bikes plus mopeds. And the bridge to get to the rings. We felt like very small fish, and not just because my horse is only 16h tall. But hey, we made it. Goal accomplished.
At least the stalls weren't edible
We did ring familiarization and I was pleased with how Theo coped. The ring we were in was put in the space they use for Grand Prix jumping. It was big enough for two large rings with enough room between for a gazebo covered in flowers to be far enough away to not upset the horses. And to fit in some warm up space for the on deck rider.
This is me in the on deck space before my first ride. To give you an idea of the scale of this space.
My horse is so tiny
Competition rings are off to the right. The space was ridiculous. Only four horses in there at a time, max. More often two or three. Tents on the embankments on two sides, bleachers on the third side, a road leading to the international barn off in the back corner, letting him see the warmup area for those horses. It was a lot. A lot a lot. A lot for me and a lot for him. Just figuring out our assigned warm up was a thing. Championship riders had their own warmup and the red dot on our number let everyone know we were there for a championship. YIKES.
So morning of my tests. Trainer A insisted I dress the part.
Note the coffee I'm nursing
She's lucky she's a good trainer. I hate these bun thingies. You won't see me wearing one again until next regionals. Ugh. I also wore my black coat with silver buttons for the occasion. We certainly looked the part!
Maybe he's born with it, maybe it's Maybelline
But did we ride the part? I'll let the audience decide. Considering how overwhelming the whole thing was, I was pleased with how we coped. We had to hold each other's hands a lot through this trip. Sometimes I was losing it, sometimes Theo was losing it. Fortunately, we were taking turns and propped each other up when necessary. Our first test was our very first crack at First 3, a test that we were not ready to ride in competition, to be bluntly honest. I had Trainer A read to help me with my stage fright.
Blew the leg yield when Theo misread my half halt as a transition, then got confused, but otherwise we looked like we knew what we were doing. He was very distracted, poking his nose out to look around through a lot of the trot work and I was too distracted to really fix it, but settled well in his canter work. 57%. I will damn well take it. I was proud of him for putting his pony butt in that ring at all, much less laying down a trip right at the top of his current abilities. Trainer A was thrilled because I sat down, sat back, and rode my horse despite my stage fright. We left beaming.
Test two, our championship test. Coming in after a judging break, so the only horse in that entire huge space. Theo was on edge. Then he noticed the steward stealing part of the ring. Wondering why he entered pretty much at the walk? Because the steward completely freaked him out. He went down centerline with his nose tipped to the side so he could watch that crazy steward moving his ring around. Not something we had considered as a new thing for him to deal with. And a horse was having a flail in the international warm up. He spotted it cantering left and started to spook. He actually spooked in both canter circles, but we covered it so it just looks like misshappen circles.
Another 57%. Go figure. But we weren't last, we didn't embarrass ourselves, and he didn't bronc. Mission accomplished! I was riding defensively and the judes were expecting a lot more from a championship ride, but hey, no one gasped. Theo went in and laid down his trip. At the start of the season, he wouldn't have gone in that ring at all. Now? He didn't spin, bronc, or bolt the entire trip. We just need a bit more practice so we can show off what we can actually do when in an intimidating arena.
But I guess that confirms he's done with Training level. We got the same score at First 3, so no point in hanging out at Training anymore, right?
We brought him home the next day as papi has rage issues if he's in a stall too long and we were done learning for this trip. He was happy to be home.
As for me? I'm incredibly proud of what we did this season. Mr. Jumps out of Rings and Broncs went to the biggest show in the region and marched around in the big ring. He had to go under a bridge just to get in there (with people on it!). Even with me getting stage fright, he marched. And when he was afraid, he took my word for it that he was going to be okay and marched. He went down centerline, took a breath, and did his job. I'll be honest, I'm disappointed in my championship ride score. Of course I am, we were averaging 63% for the season with a definite trend up. Our last test at that level was a 65%. I was shooting for mid-60's, not mid-50's, but the reality of the matter was that the atmosphere was a lot. A lot a lot. I wasn't the only rider on a championship qualified horse that had a less than stellar ride. It happens. But no one gasped in fear. Progress!
So the 2016 season ends. We achieved our goal. We went down centerline at Saugerties in the regional championship. We are done with Training level. Next year will be his season at First and instead of focusing on survival, I think we're ready to focus on being a bit competitive. Because mi papi is a sexy, sexy beast that seems to have decided that being a show pony works for him. So long as he gets his fun days as well.
Galloping and jumping time!