Monday, July 11, 2011

Mission Accomplished

As I said to my husband last night while I had a glass of wine and elevated my aching feet, it's not that often in life that we set out on a difficult, long-term project and have it end as an undeniable success. Life tends to get in the way, and particularly with horses, things can go so very wrong so quickly. All it takes is a turn of an ankle to bring the project to a premature end. In the case of Fiona, we didn't even know if she had the mind for the game. As far as projects go, this one was a very long shot.

It took eleven months, but I can officially call Fiona an eventer. She completed her first horse trial yesterday, finishing on her dressage score in Beginner Novice. I think I will be giddy for days. I know I was grinning like a damn fool when we came off cross country and all I could think was 'we did it'. Getting a ribbon was a nice added bonus.

Dressage continues to be our problem phase, which is ironic after a winter of her being a dressage superstar and a jumping disaster. Warm up was chaotic, and the dressage rings were right across from the trailers. When I went across the diagnols, she could see her friends standing around the trailer. Our first canter depart was an airs above the ground movement. However, it was still better than the two phase, with a calmer rhythm and she recovered from her athletic depart to a decent canter. It was a 42.9, which is not competitive, but from the comments I think the judge liked her. The comment I'm taking to heart was 'just be patient'. The judge has a good point. Her first horse trial, the goal was just to complete. I didn't account for the atmosphere.

I haven't been to a sanctioned event since Mystic in May of 2010, so it's easy to forget what a different feel it is. And Mystic is smaller and quieter than UNH. There were horses and golf carts and pedestrians everywhere. I didn't realize until the first golf cart zipped by that the princess had probably never seen one before. Three dressage rings were running, with a decent audience watching everything. It must have been overwhelming to her.

It was a long walk down a road to get to stadium, and she had to do the walk all by herself. Then she had to go by the vendors and the audience around stadium. It was downright chaotic for her and she was sweating before we got to stadium warm up.

She was a trooper. She warmed up well, bravely made the walk back to the stadium area, and spent a good bit of time staring at the audience that was sitting alongside the ring. The course was sweeping and friendly with only one tight turn. One panel was a brightly colored sunset that a lot of horses didn't like, but she went over with a little tap on the shoulder. She was more distracted by all of the activity outside of the ring than the fences, but she put her game face on and jumped around like a real competitor. The announcer had some fun with her show name, which made me laugh on course and probably helped our performance.

I was a nervous wreck for cross country, I'll admit it. I'm almost as green cross country as she is, so I was walking the course with wide eyes. Size wasn't the problem, Fiona can jump the moon. It was more the variety of things to jump and managing hills and turns. And remembering which way to turn, since the different courses intersected and had different paths. The ditch was a fake one, with logs on the ground and sawdust piled in it (called the Devil's Sandbox, which cracked me up), and there was no bank, but we did have a water crossing. Those were minor. The 'talking' fence was the UNH fence.

It's funny that there was a 'talking' fence, but people were definitely talking about it. Number three, the UNH fence, was a rather shiny piece of wood with UNH written on it in blue. Behind it was piled up hay, and there were round hay bales on either side with clear plastic on them. It was a pretty substantial fence, shared by Beginner Novice and Novice. The Training horses had to go right by it, and the word was that even they were having some spooking problems. I rode that fence like world peace depended on Fiona getting over it. I popped her on the shoulder (probably the second time I've ever used a crop with intent with her), kicked, and growled 'get over it!'. She took two stutter steps than surged forward and over the fence. Minor detail the Devil's Sandbox was about six strides afterward, and I was supposed to trot that. We never did make it back to trot, but she sure didn't bat an eyelash at it.

Actually, she didn't bat an eyelash at anything after the UNH fence. She dragged me around the course, jumping everything I pointed her at with great gusto. I was careful on the turns (probably too careful), which ate up time. When we got to the water, we were supposed to have close to two minutes left. I checked my watch and I had just one minute left. I put the pedal to the floor for the end of the course and managed to cross the finish flags with a couple seconds to spare. Then I spent about a hundred yards trying to get my mare to stop. She swaggered all the way back to the trailers, acting like she owned the world.

Once she was untacked, cooled out, and cleaned up? She fell asleep on the trailer. It was a long day for the green bean.

Tomorrow I send in my entry for Valinor. I wonder if I'll be done grinning by the time that show rolls around.

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