Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Lot More Than Eighteen Hours Later...

Apparently not sleeping the night before a big event and then running around like a maniac the day after the big event makes you too sleepy to post on your blog.

Who knew?

The day started with my horse being an asshat over the trailer, and ended in much the same fashion. We gave up playing tough guy with Zydeco over the trailer in the morning, and instead I spent thirty minutes tickling his nose with a carrot before he would get on the trailer. Thankfully we had planned in advance for this type of contingency. I lept with glee away from the trailer, called my coach to let her know we made it on the trailer, and made my way to Tim Horton's with my trusty sidekick, Mal. There I ordered a decaf coffee and a BLT because I feel strongly that any big day should start out with lots and lots of bacon.

Zydeco backed daintily out of the trailer and I had no concerns over handling him this year as A) my confidence in handling him has grown and B) he was not acting at all like a crazed maniac.

We went to the warmup ring and I did my best not to have a panic attack over the fact that I would be competing in an equitation class. Equitation class is essentially a test in riding while looking as though you are putting no effort into it. I guess you can't really know about riding unless you've done a lot of it, but it takes quite a bit to perform any task on 1200 pounds of forward impulsion without flailing your arms and legs about.

I also had to canter in a ring with other horses, which I was very scared about. Zydo loves to follow other horses, and does not like to leave a pack once he has found one. In equitation you are riding about the ring taking care not to collide head on with other riders, trying your best to do your own thing. At one point I was not able to turn him away from another rider and he was going with his nose practically on that horses's butt. This is poor manners and I had to work very hard to not let him go with the other horse when she turned away from us. We kept it together, though, and managed to canter our circles and long sides quite well.

We also had to do a run of sitting trot, which I find very hard to do on Zydo. I have actually not practiced this at all as I have pretty much given up. Zydo's trot is quite large and bouncy and to not rise with each step is tricky. However, they called to see a sitting trot and I did my best.

Apparently, my best was the best in the ring and we walked out with a first place ribbon. I thanked the girl very much for handing me my ribbon and prepared to give my acceptance speech while everyone left the ring. Apparently first level dressage shows are quite unlike the Emmys in that respect. But I teared up and scratched my beautiful boy and thanked him and told him he was wonderful and I left with a glowing smile on my face.

It was then back to the warmup ring to try and get Zydeco together for our first test. We were doing training level test one and three this year. These tests included the element of canter and Zydeco has done his best for me. When I first got him I could not canter him for the life of me. He would bear down on the reins, tear them out of my hands, and take off at (what felt like) full speed every time. This year we have done magnificent canter work. I've found my seat (IN the saddle! Who would have thought!) and I've been so, so proud of both myself and my horse.

The first circle of the test was very wonky and it was not circular at all. We then changed diagonals and Zydeco started sneezing which removed the reins from my grips before our first canter. We managed to sort of pull it together, but he was not in contact with the bit which was the entire point of the excercise. My reader (The girl who was telling me which moves to perform at which points in the ring) then called out for us to canter, and Zydeco listened to her instead of me. I managed to pull him back to trot, but this upset him and when I asked him to canter at the proper point in time, he bucked on me.

I stayed on but was mortified as the buck happened directly in front of the judges and there is no way they missed it. I was shaken up at this point because Zydeco doesn't buck. Our next canter circle was not circular and he tried to get away from me, but I perservered. When the reader called out to turn right at A and trot down centre line, I have never been so relieved in my life.

We did not place in our second ride. And I have to say that after our marvelous success last year that I had no idea I was capable of getting, this was a bit of a hit.

My goals for the show changed drastically with that buck. Initially I was aiming to get a ribbon in each class, in any place. Suddenly I was aiming to stay with the horse and not land on my face in the show ring. I managed to keep a smile on my face and I laughed and waved at the judges. My posse left the side of the ring without waiting for me and I laughed and said "You can still clap when my horse bucks. It's not the end of the world". I did receieve some sympathetic smiles and I kept myself together even though I wanted to cry.

I got off at that point to have a pop and to regroup. My father walked Zydeco while I sat and debriefed with my mother and my coach. My father returned with the horse and informed us that he had peed for about five consecutive minutes behind a trailer. That explained most of the problem: Zydeco gets quite antsy when he has to pee and he will not do so while under saddle. To me, this explained the entire bucking episode, the reason he was disobedient in the ring, the reason our test had fallen apart.

I then got to watch a couple of my competitors go. And the competition was steep. These girls had their horses together, their movements were purposeful, and their figures we accurate.

I had to choose now: Do I want to fuss with the horse and start a battle over the placement of his nose in front of all these people, risking a blow up? Or do I want to go in and focus more on the accuracy and flow of his movements and hope to get points on that alone? Each disobedience would be worth a minus two. If we could do the test in a nice, flowing rhythm with no disobedience (bucking), we might still place.

Another thought was crossing my mind: Do I want to leave the only show we would be at that year feeling like I felt after the second ride? Do I want to leave feeling embarrased that my horse had bucked and having not ridden a single accurate move?

No. I wanted to leave having had a good ride on my horse, having put forth attractive riding mixed with impulsion and precision.

So that's what I did.

We moved through our second test with nary a disobedience. We performed our transitions at the letters, our circles were quite circular, we were going forward at a nice pace.

And Zydeco's nose was not perpendicular to the ground.

This choice cost us our third ride of the day. We did not place in either of the training level tests.

My coach talked at length with me after each test. She told me I was being ribbon-greedy and that I was being presumptuous that we might get a ribbon this year. Last year my goal was to go to a show and get on the horse. Even riding the test was a bonus after I worked up the nerve to hop on.

This year I thought that I had perhaps come far enough to get ribbons again, and the fact of the matter is that the other riders had their horses together and on the bit.

I was scolded for the choice I made in the second test. If I wanted to have a nice, simple ride on my horse, I could have done that at home. We were there, at a show, for me to work on the skills I've worked at all summer and instead I tried to focus on something else, hoping it would be good enough. I suppose that I have to chalk this up to a learning experience. Now, I can slap myself on the head and say "duh!". But at the time I felt very confident in my decision and I can't very well spend time regretting it now. I don't even regret it, really. I was very scared of another buck, very scared that I might fall off in front of all those people. So I did what made the most sense at the time.

We also talked about how far I have come: There is no way I could have cantered in a show last year. No possible way. I was not secure enough in my seat, I couldn't control the horse at that high speed. Hell, last year I couldn't walk my horse after he got off the trailer and I almost burst into tears when my mother suggested I get on him.

And I have come far. I am so proud of me for working at this all summer, I am so proud of Zydeco for sticking with me and of the trust we've built in each other. I love my horse and I could say it a thousand times over. I LOVE MY HORSE. He has put up with so much in my learning, he has been through so much this year with his injury and his White Line disease. Four months ago we didn't know if he would be with us to go to this show at all. My ability to handle him, to work with him and not be scared astounds me to this day. Two years ago I had trouble going into a stall with him lest he jump and scare me. Look at us now!

But I'm not going to lie: I'm a little bit sad that we didn't even place.

We put on quite a spectacle while loading him into the trailer to get home. Fifty minutes of standing in the blazing sun with a carrot held up to his nose and eventually we tossed the carrot across the field. I may have uttered several obscenities and at one point a nice crowd gathered to watch the festivities as I begged my horse to step onto the trailer.

And then, for some reason, he decided that the trailer would, in fact, be an ok place to exist and we all made our weary way home.

I've had a day to reflect now and I have to say that I feel confident in the decisions I made at the show. I'm ok with the fact that I chose to have a pleasant ride and not fight for his nose in the show ring. I'm ecstatic that the judges thought my riding was the best in the first class; I was terrified to go in to that and I came out on top.

So that was our show season. Highs, lows, ups, down, and even a buck!

We may not have a plethora of ribbons to put on display but later on that night I rubbed my beautiful boy down with lotion and applied treatment to his feet and his still-injured ankle, and I wished him sweet dreams before I kissed his velvet-y soft nose and headed to bed for the night.

And despite the fact that I was very, very sad on the long drive home, I can say now that I am happy with our performance and that I love my boy more than ever.

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