The BIG weekend is finally behind us. The butterflies have left my stomach and started their migration south for the winter. The nervous twitch in my neck is gone and I can finally sleep through the night. Ike is safely tucked in his own stall after spending the day grazing in his paddock and visiting with his buddies. I can only imagine the stories he shared with them about his stay in Lexington, Virginia.
It is hard to summarize a weekend like this. There are so many stories and moments that I want to remember. You only ever have one first time at a show like the USDF Regional Finals. When we return (hopefully) next year, we will be wiser and stronger. There will be no worrying about how to navigate the check-in process or how to get around the show grounds. We will be smarter about packing for Ike and for us. Hopefully Ike will no longer feel the need to spook and shy during our tests since he will have been-there-done-that.
So instead of droning on and on about things that only I want to remember, I will share what I think are the high points of the weekend.
The camaraderie with my friends: I was fortunate enough to have two fellow competitors from my local dressage chapter at the show with me. We all have young horses who are all showing Training Level. Each of them has their “young horse issues” that they are working through, so we commiserate and cheer for each other. This show would not have been nearly as much fun without them there to share the experience. Each of our equine boys came home with exactly one pink ribbon. (Ike got his in his Training Level Test 2 test despite his spook in the middle of his trot circle.)
The doggie costume contest: So while this was a very horse centric weekend, the dogs did have the chance to have their moment in the spotlight. The Virginia Dressage Association always holds a doggie costume contest in conjunction with the fall show to raise money for a local animal rescue group. It is always a popular Saturday night activity, and this year there were over 40 dogs vying for one of the 6 placings. My friends and I entered our canines as a group…Emma the leggy cocktail waitress, Meg the cosmopolitan, and Tim the dirty martini. And our dogs pulled off what their equine companions could not…Champion status and a chance to stand in the middle of the coliseum with the crowd cheering.
The best support team: There is no way that I could not acknowledge the greatest support team a girl and her pony could ever want. My husband is always there to drive Ike and I to whatever show we enter. He will wipe my boots, keep peppermints in his pockets, and babysit my naughty horse when Ike decides that he needs to rear to look out the window waaaay up on the side of the barn. He is a saint and I love and appreciate him more than words can say. Ms. C was there to coach me for my finals ride. Without her Ike and I would never have made it to the finals. She will scour my score sheets and help to decipher the judge’s illegible comments. She will continue to help us strive to improve and we will do our best to be the best pupils so that next year we can earn that victory lap. And I must give a big shout out to my friends who were able to come and watch our finals ride and all those who sent good luck and good karma our way. I also need to thank two of my youngest supporters for their special gifs. My good luck pipe cleaner bracelet from Peter made me smile all weekend. And, below is a photo of Angelina and I and the inspirational gift she gave me when I returned home. It is humbling to feel so loved and supported.
Riding down centerline for your first finals ride ever: Wow! How nerve-wracking was warmup for my finals ride. Trying to be perfect is hard work! I tried my best to breathe regularly, relax my shoulders, and smile. Ike tried his best to do the same until the green tractor of doom decided to come groom the warmup arena we were using. He decided that we needed to leave NOW and find a better place to work. Ike left in such a hurry that he left Ms. C to face the tractor on her own. We then moved to the warmup arena designated for our finals class. It was lunch break, so things were quiet. Hand walking was allowed around the arena, so I dismounted and Ms. C and I walked Ike around the indoor for one last look. Then came the dilemma that I had to get back on my big pony…enter the nice gentleman who offered to give me a leg up…and then watch Alison thwack him in the face with her whip. I apologized profusely for my gaff. That will be the last time he tries to be nice to a stranger…Time flew by and soon the class started. I watched the first rider head down centerline for her final salute, and then it was our turn. The squirrel nailed his entry and we were off. The ride was going well in my estimation until we rounded the short end and fell out of our left lead canter. Got it back within a stride, but I knew that would be a costly mistake. We did our final salute, thanked the judges, and left the arena. Dare I say I felt tears of relief well up in my eyes? We did it – good or bad – we did it. In this day and age of instant information, it wasn’t long before we had our score: 64.5% (62.4% from the judge at C, 66.6% from the judge at E). 18th of 38 competitors. Not bad considering our bobble.
The judge at C’s comment at the end of my score sheet was that “horse has greater talent than was shown.” So there it is. My homework for the winter. Ike is going to continue to mature and get stronger. Alison is going to hone her skills and finally execute an effective half halt and learn to relax. Together we are going to refine that raw talent and show the world what we can do. Can’t wait to see what is in store in the year to come!