Phew! I've reached the end of the first week of my senior year of college. Weird? Indeed. I'm really not sure what to make of it.
Meanwhile, I've had a lot to think about after Twin Rivers last weekend with Kiki. We had a good outing (actually a really fun one!) but left the weekend with more questions and things to ponder than answers. Let me explain (beware, buckle up for a long post ahead):
The dressage phase, which of course was the one I was dreading the most of the whole show (ironic from the girl who now rides pure dressage as well? Why yes, yes it is), did not get off to a good start. We got down to the warmup just in time for the whole area to get completely overriden by two massive water trucks and multiple drag tractors that proceeded to whizz around the ENTIRE time I was riding. I usually like finding one corner of the warmup and sticking there, but the constant movement of the trucks meant that I had to keep shuffling around to different parts of the space.
I have to say, Kiki was unbelievably well-behaved. She never batted an eye even when the tractors hauled by so close and fast that we literally got peppered with kicked up dirt. After having a similar situation almost send Ringo off the rails at Woodside just one week previously, I was very thankful to be sitting on the less spooky of my two horses this time around! Dayna helped us out and in general the warmup went really well, and Kiki was actually working better than I'd been expecting her to. I headed off to the ring feeling tentatively confident.
And then... tensionexplosiontimes!! Ok, I exaggerate a little. There was no rearing or bolting (both things that have happened to me at Twin in the past... Thanks, Ringo), and we didn't get a 50. But man, other than that, it did not feel good. She was so unsteady in the bridle I felt like she was going to fall over because she was head tossing so crazily. She was racing, unbalanced, and tight. We went about Mach 10 the entire way and pretty much the only positive take away was that it was over quickly.
I left the arena and immediately started crying. D'oh! I really didn't want Dayna to see me cry... at the first horse show she coached me at!! I cry a lot at horse shows and almost always I'm not actually hysterical or all that upset; in fact, most of my brain thinks to itself, "who is this crazy lady whose body I've suddenly been forced to inhabit and why is she crying???" But it doesn't look good.
Fortunately Dayna didn't mind and, after I went back to the barn and threw myself a brief but intense pity party, I felt better about it too. I load myself up with a lot of pressure, especially on the flat, and lose sight of the progress we actually have been making. For example, the warmup was really good; better than I ever could have dreamed of back in August when I could barely get her to canter without trying to kill me. As Dayna said, we're just going to get her more and more and more through in those moments when she's relaxed, so that when she goes into the ring and gets a little tense I can still ride her. It's all a process, and there's no need to get so upset about missteps along the way.
The lower levels show jumped on Saturday, which I actually preferred because I was distinctly more nervous about the show jumping and so was glad to get it out of the way first so I could just enjoy cross country on Sunday. Warmup started out really well and then I started to get a little nervous and picky, which caused her to get diving and chipping. Fortunately Dayna was there and put us back on the rails, so that I was actually feeling pretty good, besides being mildly nervous, when it was my turn to go in.
Dayna told me right as I entered, 'Remember, this is just another lesson with just you and me. Don't think of it any other way.' And I actually did! Coming up to the first jump, I said to myself, 'This is going to be good, because I'm going to MAKE it good.'
Kiki puffed up nicely in the ring and jumped boldly but not wildly, kept a good forward rhythm, and didn't charge a single fence. We did have one rail midway through the course on the out of the left hand bending line where I starting picking with my left rein, but other than that I was really really pleased. It felt like one of our best rounds so far. Yay Kiki!
Even more than Kiki's performance, though, I was really impressed with Dayna's coaching. She handled the warmup masterfully and then said exactly what I needed to hear going into the ring. I couldn't ask for more.
At last, after three long hot days at the show, it was time for the fun part: cross country!! Huntington and the Jim Wofford clinic have been the only times I've been cross country in the past fourteen months, and while Kiki was very obedient both times neither left me with a particularly warm fuzzy feeling inside. So I didn't really know what to expect this time around, though I was definitely feeling bolstered by my good show jumping round from Saturday.
(Kiki getting pumped before cross country)
Kiki felt great in the flat warmup, and even Dayna and her student Kaitie mentioned how fancy she is when she gets her head screwed on straight. When we went to jump she got pretty aggressive and then I got picking to try to control her, but Dayna once again stepped in and saved it. By the time it was my turn, I feeling pretty confident about what we had to tackle.
(Kaitie also took these sweet pictures of us in warmup - thank you!!)
(Don't pick, Erickso, or you end up a lot closer to the jump than you want to be!!)
And man, it was so much fun!!! Besides eating it spectacularly at the first jump (legit one of the worst cross country fences I've ever had... ever) we got better and better until, at the end, it felt almost like I was riding Dually again, where she was cruising along smoothly and we could canter right up to the jumps with my hands low and neutral. She cruised through the water, jumped super boldly through the coffin, and was perfect at the up bank. In fact, she was pretty much perfect every where.
The only bummer was that, despite wearing my watch, I totally lost track of time and realized as I was approaching the last fence that I was 30 seconds under the Speed Fault time. Whoops!! By that point it was too late so I cantered through the finish flags with 8 speed penalties. I couldn't get too mad about it though because the round was so smooth and lovely. Plus, Speed Fault time is determined based on Training level speed, so all it meant was that we went a comfortable Training-Level pace. I'm ok with that. It was the most fun I'd had on course in a long time and gave me a real adrenaline rush. Good girl Piggy!!!!
The Stuff to Ponder
So clearly, the jumping has improved leaps and bounds. After my ride on Sunday I asked Dayna what I should enter for Galway, and she agreed that the Training jumping phases would probably be well within our abilities. The dressage, however, is a slower story, and Dayna was worried about the increased pressure I would put on myself at the next level up (smart lady).
There is also the problem that, now that school has started, I have considerably less time and mental energy to devote to show preparation, so any improvements we have going forward will be slower than they were in the last three weeks. It's not realistic to hope for miracles between here and Galway when I'll probably only be able to ride 5ish days a week and might only get two lessons (three if I'm lucky).
At the moment, as disappointing as it is, I'm leaning towards bagging Galway altogether. It's such a ridiculous luxury to get to compete while I'm in school at all, and taking three, probably four days off from school to compete in a Novice horse trial seems a bit much. Plus, I could use that same weekend to take Ringo to a dressage show that's only an hour away and keep chipping away at those Bronze Medal scores (!!). We'll see. But I definitely have a lot to think about over the next few days...
(PS - it was freezing on Cross Country morning! I could barely make myself take my jacket off to get on)