I AM A USDF SILVER MEDALIST!!
I'm still pretty numb about it all. This was a goal that I've had on the radar for years now but that I really honestly never thought that I would achieve: I can't overstate how low my self-confidence in my dressage abilities was up even until very recently, and getting the silver medal required riding to a standard that until this year I could only speculate about me and Ringo reaching.
(Pa capturing my sexayyyy braids and Ringo's even sexier topline in warm up on Saturday - he's come such an unbelievably long way since we started our dressage journey two years ago)
Growing up, the FEI-level dressage riders in their top hats and shadbellies seemed like a different species of rider altogether from whatever I was capable of doing. Even though this past weekend was my third show at this level at this point, it was surreal to realize that I had actually become one of those riders, that I was the one walking around in a shadbelly (though my top hat has been long retired), and that--and this was the most surreal revelation of all--I actually deserved to be wearing this most ridiculous athletic attire of all time. I've always struggled with self-confidence as a rider, so this was a huge and difficult to process sensation. I'm still processing it this morning, but needless to say I'm completely overwhelmed with relief and happiness.
(I look like I have severe scoliosis, but look how fancy Ray looks!)
So anyway, back to the show. Pa and I drove up to beautiful Newburgh, ME (a suburb of Bangor) for Puckerbrush Farm's annual summer show. Neither of us had ever been to this venue (or even this part of Maine) before, so it was definitely a little nerve-wracking, but we needn't have worried. The facility was a beautiful private farm that boasted rolling fields, a little cross-country course, a massive indoor, and two big outdoor arenas all on a quiet dirt road. The atmosphere was super relaxed and calm--a big plus for Ringo and me--and all the people we met were unbelievably friendly and kind.
(One of favorite pictures of the weekend - so calm and cadenced)
(Struttin' - this was from Saturday; our extended trot was WAY BETTER on Sunday but alas, there is no photographic evidence of it)
I rode the PSG on both Saturday and Sunday, giving myself two chances for that last silver medal score. That turned out to be a most fortuitous move, as I missed qualifying on Sunday by the narrowest of margins--.5%. It was pretty frustrating, as I again had two judges and one of them gave me above 60% and one didn't, but I also was pretty unhappy with my ride and felt like my low score was pretty deserving.
(Changin' - Ringo's tail gives away his enthusiasm, per usual)
I allowed myself to get very mentally absent in the warm up, where the somewhat deep footing (from rain the day before) got me riding really passively, and then I never snapped out of it when it was time to go in the ring. As a result, our test had a lot of silly little errors, and also just wasn't up to the standard of connection and cadence that I was able to get at Mount Holyoke. Since our current level of collection is pretty much just barely acceptable at this level, not bringing our A game is a big deal! So while the score was disappointing because I was soooo close, I was way more frustrated with my bad ride than with the number.
I spent a lot of time on Saturday night going over my test (as I would have the same judge who had given me my higher score as my only judge on Sunday), and picking out specific things that that judge hadn't liked that I could improve--in this case, collected walk, shoulder in/half-pass to the left, and my single changes. I formulated a more decisive warm up plan with Pa, and went to bed feeling determined that I was going to ride like the silver medalist I so dearly wanted to be.
(This isn't a great picture but I like the thrust Ringo's showing)
And wow, what a night and day difference between the two rides. On Sunday I came out as determined and focused as I've ever been. Ringo was a little lazy in the warmup and I worked through it firmly but without getting him wound up, and he felt amazing by the time it was our turn to go. Then, in the ring, I rode every movement to the absolute best of our ability, and really focused on improving our weaknesses from the day before. We did still make a few mistakes--our 4's and 3's both contained errors--but other than that it felt like the best test I'd done at this level yet.
(And I got another 7 on rider! A great feeling)
And it was rewarded as such--64.7%! We did it!!! In two years, Ringo and I went from being sort of sketchy prelim eventers (who were never going to win the dressage even at a small event) to a competent FEI-level dressage partnership. I'm so overwhelmed, thrilled, and thankful. What a horse. What an amazing, incredible horse.
I also obviously couldn't have done this without the unbelievable support of my parents, my trainer, and you readers, who have kept me going even when I've really doubted the path I've been on. So thank you, thank you, thank you.
(We made it!!!)