I had not ridden at all since my short bareback jaunt on Thursday afternoon, and barring the impact of slogging all the way across this fair country to get to the unbelievably beautiful facilities at Centenary College in New Jersey, had really gone out of my way to lay low and conserve energy. Thus, I felt like I had a pretty good chance to be able to forget about feeling crappy at least for the 15 or so minutes that would be required of me to compete. I actually headed into the competition on Sunday morning very excited and confident in my abilities to do well.
I drew an absolutely wonderful horse named Maestro that I was really pleased with. The only problem with him that I could foresee was that I was going to be his 6th rider of the weekend and 3rd rider of the day, meaning that tiredness could definitely be an issue. But, I have overcome this problem in the past and had no nerves about being able to do so now. When the time came, I headed up to the warmup and got on, feeling coolly ready.
But then... the wheels came off. I picked up the trot, and it was like I could literally feel whatever strength I had within me draining out through the bottoms of my boots onto the arena floor. Within 30 seconds I was sweating profusely and completely winded. I had never felt anything like this. Whatever sickness I've had was clearly still with me and clearly still dishing out an evil punishment. The upside was that my horse was a real pleasure. If he had been naughty, I have no idea what I would have done, as I was essentially just trying to hang on and generally steer in the correct direction. I had absolutely no strength for anything more finessed or complicated.
The test itself was a special kind of agony. Throughout the entire opening trotwork, I was panting and breathing so laboredly that my father could hear me from the sidelines. I was in a total fog and felt on the verge of passing out at all times, and had to coach myself through every movement with the promise of the walk ahead. Needless to say, it wasn't the most brilliant trot tour I've ever performed!! I briefly recovered during the walk but then quickly fell apart again in the canter. I just literally had nothing in me to dig down to; I was completely bottomed out.
The last movement of canter was a shallow loop of counter canter. I got to the corner of the arena and absolutely could not remember what I was supposed to do; I was so close to fainting that my mind was utterly blank. Finally I remembered at the absolute last second, but by that time I had not prepared my horse properly and he swapped out. It was a heartbreaking moment, because I knew that, however not brilliant my test had been up to that point, it had still been error free and could possibly still scrape into the top 4 or 5. Now, with a major error, my chances for a top ribbon were firmly closed. I finished out the one remaining movement of the test and left the arena feeling very, very disappointed.
Here's my test:
(I also have a few photos but they are on my dad's camera so I'm waiting for him to send them to me)
In the end, I finished with a 67% and 7th place. In the grand scheme of things this was still a huge accomplishment and I knew I should be thrilled, but couldn't help feeling a bit low about how much better I knew I could have done if I had actually been riding at my best. It was, physically, one of the most difficult tests I've ever ridden, and it was just a huge shame that it also happened to line up with a competition that I've not only literally spent years hoping and qualifying for but also that I will never get to have another try at. This was my very last intercollegiate equestrian competition EVER, after four years of hunt seat, western, polo, and dressage. It was, then, a bittersweet moment at best.
So, my moment of IDA glory may have eluded me, but in the long run it's hard to complain. I've had such a wonderful three years on the Stanford Dressage Team and have become an infinitely better rider and competitor because of my time there. I am so blessed to have horses of my own to ride and compete, meaning that the road is far from over. There is nothing else to do except continue moving forward. Onward!