What a great end to the season! We survived (primary mission objective), we didn't make fools ourselves (close second), and we even ended up doing well - bonus!!!
I was lucky to not ride until almost 2pm, so I was able to get up, feed, bathe, and pack the trailer and still have time to go out to breakfast with my mother, who had been in town but had to leave that morning. If only every horse show could be this laid back! I came back, braided, and then we were off.
(Prowler looking too cute for words as I was tacking him up)
I checked in and managed to find Heidi and apologize for my flakiness, which she was very gracious about. Unfortunately, however, she was riding right before I was, and so wouldn't be able to help me. Instead, she offered to have her mother, who is also a trainer and judge, warm me up for me. I was a little nervous as I'd never met her mother, but I really wanted some help just in case everything crashed and burned in warmup, so I agreed.
Well, everything did NOT crash and burn in warmup. In fact, except for a small almost-rearing episode on the way down to the collecting ring and a moment about half way through where I asked for medium canter and Ringo went explosively running away with me down the long side (probably the first time I've ever actually used the curb rein on my double bridle in earnest!), he was PERFECT. After I'd been trotting a while and was just transitioning into my sitting work, Heidi's mother Pam introduced herself to me (I'd been too nervous to initiate conversation) and asked if I needed any help. I said that I would love help and she smiled and said, "Well, I've been watching you since the beginning and so far I don't have much to tell you because it all looks very good." Needless to say I blushed a little bit, and was very very pleased! Pam helped me with a few things like the angle of my half pass and my medium trot (which actually felt good!! WHAT?!) and in general was very complimentary of Ringo. Yay!
Before I felt totally ready, it was my turn to head in. The one thing I didn't really like about the venue was that we warmed up in a very secluded, non-atmospheric outdoor arena, and then had to walk down a hill a short distance into a very spooky, highly atmospheric indoor to do our test. Not ideal for looky ponies like Ringo. Sure enough, our first tour of the arena was riddled with spooking and snorting. I was really happy, then, when I was able to buckle down, keep riding, and for the most part bring his attention back to me. The test wasn't our most relaxed, for sure, but there were no major spook-related blow ups either.
In general I was really pleased. We got good marks on all the things I knew we could do well: medium canter (7s, judge's comment: 'brave!'), flying changes (7s), shoulder-in (7s), half-pass (one 7, the other a 6 because I messed up the angle), medium and extended walk (7s). We also were correctly marked down in the places I was thinking wouldn't go so well and didn't, mainly the turn on the haunches (5, 'stuck') and the halt and reinback (5, 'stiff and braced'). The good marks fortunately covered not only those but also the one big bobble of the test, which was a break in our first medium trot that resulted in a 4. Whoops.
I also got two 7s and a 6 on rider, which is good, though definite incentive for improvement. The collective marks were very encouraging, commenting specifically on my good riding, and touched on some of the general homework that I know is an issue: getting him slower and more cadenced at the trot and canter, and getting him more relaxed and not braced against the hand. In other words, it was exactly what I was hoping for: a positive experience that simultaneously pointed the way towards what we should work on this winter. Hooray!
The icing on the cake, of course, was that we won (in our giant class of 2) and, more importantly, walked away with a pretty darn respectable score! 64.2% is the highest score Ringo has ever gotten at 3rd level, even when he was ridden by a famous professional rider back in his pre-eventing youth. It is a full 5% higher than the best of Ringo's and my attempts at 3rd level back in May of 2010, and makes me feel good about the progress we've made since then, injury and all.
Ringo will now get a few more weeks of medium level work (and hopefully a lesson or two) before getting most of December off on vacation while I go home for the holidays. I've already starting looking at the 2012 season and can honestly say that I'm the most excited I've been about a new season of showing in a long, long time. Here's to sound and happy ponies along the way!