Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Western Odyssey Part I: Richland Park

Well, we're off! This past Thursday Papa and I loaded up the trailer with everything I could think of needing for the next year, packed in a very sleepy pony, and headed off on our great Western Adventure. We logged 15 hours of solid driving on Thursday to arrive in beautiful Richland, MI at around 4 in the afternoon. As we pulled into the parking area of the horse trials (which is a large and prestigious event, running N-A and Gold Cup CIC** and CIC*** divisions) we were both a little shocked: the whole farm sits on the back half of a soybean field, right in the middle of corn country! It was quite a different look from an average Area I event, to say the least. There, we settled Dually in at the show grounds and I took him out for a nice hack around the gorgeous facility (where Dually was quite mystified by the soy, not sure whether to eat it or trample through it, despite my guidance that neither choice would be acceptable!).

I was really happy with how Dually coped with the trip, drinking loads as soon as we arrived and passing lots of manure both on the trip and in his stall later that evening. Additionally, he looked and acted quite relaxed and ate with gusto. It was quite a relief, given the hot conditions of the trip and his funny trailering behavior from earlier in the spring. I have to think that the ulcergaurd that we put him on helped out... makes me poopoo it a little less, for sure!

The next morning was dressage and Dually and I came out with our game faces on. Besides being a little stiff in the bridle in our opening trotwork, Dually was as accurate and obediant as we've been all year, and I was really pleased with the flow and overall feel of the test. For once, my gut feeling actually matched up with the scoring, and I was delighted to find out that we were in 3rd in a large division after the first phase.

For cross country, we didn't go until 4:30 on what turned out to be the hottest day of the summer in Michigan so far. It was in the low 90's and drenchingly humid... definitely not the best conditions for Big D! I was feeling quite sick before we got on after taking a nap in the sweltering trailer (lesson learned there) but I thought our warmup went pretty well and we went out on course like gangbusters! It was so fun! Dually was absolutely foot- perfect, I was thrilled with my riding, and he galloped around the entire highly technical track on a looped rein. What a blast! We came in 24 seconds over, not bad given the conditions (I didn't push him at all), for 6 penalties, and we able to keep 3rd overnight.

Show jumping day was, alas, one of those rounds that you come out of the ring kicking yourself for. The instant that I was over the last jump, I was wishing that I could just keep cantering around the first again and call out, "Do over!" Too bad it doesn't work like that... Dually actually warmed up quite well, and then got in the ring and got a little bossy, and instead of taking some time at the beginning of the course to fix the problem and get him listening to my half halts, I just kind of half- hearted rode along with what I had, resulting in a pretty ragged round, where he was barging and flat and I was just desperately trying to stay in the middle. I ended becoming a passenger instead of actually riding, which is one of the most frustrating feelings because I know that I know how to do it, I just didn't do it! We only pulled two rails but probably should have had a few more, as there were a few jumps were he shot off long and I had to slip the reins right down to the buckle. We ended up 5th, though the ribbon seemed a little empty after the disappointment of our round.

Besides the slightly bitter ending, I was absolutely delighted with the way the weekend went. Dually was a total star and held up with the show environment and the long trip admirably. Papa was, as always, an amazing groom, and we had a wonderful time together. And, in general, I was very happy with the way that I rode and analyzed the courses, given that I had no coaching or help whatsoever. I definitely would love to return to Richland some day, even if I can't exactly imagine when that would be right now...

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