Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

To upgrade or not to upgrade?

Ummmm yeah, so my pony stepped it up this weekend.  Mostly.

First -- shall we review our last run at Grandview?  *shudder*  Right -- that was the one where we were tied for second after dressage and ended second last.  Yeah.  Stadium was the kind of round people watch with their eyes covered and XC was horrifically sticky and we entirely missed the B element of the AB combo when she grabbed the bit and charged over A.  It was *pouring* rain, she was sliding and losing her balance, and by the end she didn't even want to jump a tiny entry-type log.   It was exactly the type of run you never want a green horse to experience.

So.  We went home, did some homework, ran a couple other shows, qualified for champs.  Ok, better.  The goal for champs was decent dressage and to jump clear and *well*.  Her *best* dressage will put her middle of the pack if the top OPT horses are there -- her movement just isn't flashy enough to match some of them.  So first wasn't necessarily a reasonable goal, but I wanted decent dressage and good jumping; the idea being if she was confident and ridable over a champ level PT course, she's potentially ready to upgrade.

Alright - time to go back to Grandview.  I'd been horribly sick on Thurs and moderately sick on Fri *sigh*  Fortunately, thanks to Rebecca taking over chores and my awesome students switching lesson times, I both got to sleep in AND go home early.  Helped a lot.  So when the alarm went off at 3:30, I was actually ok to go.  Well - along w/ my Advil cold meds *g*   My awesome friend Jen came with me to groom for the whole weekend -- despite the combo threat of early morning and horrific weather.  And it was pretty horrific.  Ridiculous amounts of rain (no hyperbole here -- CP24 informed me it was a record amount of rain for that date.  Sheesh).  But it's Grandview -- it *always* rains at Grandview.  Well, except when it snows.  And it pretty much always rains when I compete (did you *see* Lane's End?  Perfectly sunny day, then when I tacked up to jump one cloud rolled in and rained exactly as long as I was jumping.  Classic.)  So the combination pretty much guaranteed I'd end up wet.

Anyways - got in and ready for dressage.  The warm-up ring was a swamp.  Thanks to their awesome sandy footing even in 3" of water it's not slippery, but it was deep and Athena was definitely *not* happy being bogged down.  She was also super-stiff and sticky.  I didn't know if that was due to cold and wet or just her being her...   So when she was as good as it was going to get, we went in the ring.  The footing there was excellent - not sloppy at all.  But she was still super sticky.  I had *no* forward :(  None.  Couldn't get or maintain a canter for anything.  It wasn't our *worst* test ever.  Thankfully.  It'd be hard to top that test at Will O Wind earlier this year *g*  And I'd rather not try!  BUT it was arguably a close second.  By about half way through the test I knew our weekend had been reduced to a schooling exercise *sigh*   And for a seriously competitive A-type personality that's a disappointing start.  Booo.

So given the weather, we located her stall (YEAH for having a stall!) which I was super-happy to discover was in the arena.  Sweet.  Took care of Athena and got her stall all set up and then left her in Jen's care (who gamely went and hauled her giant water buckets all the way from the trailer) while I went to walk XC.    Course looked good.  Not actually as big as I thought it might be (although my eye might be a little warped these days), but reasonably technical for the level.  The bending line that ate us was early in the course again.  The bank was an up-one stride-down which'd be fun.  There was both an open ditch and a trakhener.  And lots of up and down the hills and strategically located jumps.  

Had lots of time to relax and chill before xc.  Moved some more stuff down to her stall.  Tacked her up early because I suspected we might need an extra warm-up to overcome the stickiness of dressage.  Turns out I was wrong.  She was sticky for about three strides till she realized her handy studs would stop her from sliding on the grass and then she switched gears.  Forward and energized and yet ridable.  Jumped a few fences like a pro and then just stopped and hung out.  Watched a few other riders running their courses.  Chatted with some friends warming up.  All the usual things :)  One away we did a second mini-warmup and then we were good to go.

She had the game down.  Went right from stride one, picked up the first fence and attacked it.  But not the grab the bit and bolt strategy that failed so horribly earlier this year.  This was balanced and ridable -- but forward and committed.  Pony's come a *long* way.  Woohoo!  Got through the first four like we'd discussed the course map ahead of time *g*  Beautiful rhythm and jumping everything on stride.  Lovely.  Then we had our oh-so-tricky bending line.  Which I could *not* handle screwing up again.  *sigh*  Fortunately I didn't have to -- she did it like a pro.  Kept her rhythm and balance and got the correct number of strides.   Was pretty excited about that -- suspect the "good pony!" could probably have been heard back at the start box *g*   The rest of the course continued pretty much the same.  I did ask her to trot on one curve where the footing is slick and you angle across it -- didn't want to risk her sliding.  Unfortunately that ended up costing us significant time faults and several place *sigh*   But I do think it was the right choice for her.  The only issue we had was at one very vertical box that she misjudged and actually hit -- was pretty scary.  I really don't know exactly what she did, but yikes!  Managed to land together though on the other side of the flags and she was still sound and eager so let it go and moved on.   She did the on-off bank and the open ditch like they weren't even there.  The only thing she looked at was actually the *smallest* jump on course -- a little roll-top.  She started telling me about ten strides out that she wasn't sure about it though and I was not about to get a stop at a tiny fence near the end of the course so we had a pretty serious discussion and she hopped over it.  Trakheners she's not sure about -- but she also doesn't usually notice till she takes off.  So we jumped it -- then magically rose higher and hovered in the air WAY above the gremlins before landing.  Not exactly text-book style, but we were over it.  The last few fences were maxed and she skipped over them easily.  At the end she was feeling muscle tired and sticky -- the last couple jumps were an effort for her -- but cardio was amazing.  Her pulse and respiration dropped pretty instantly and she wasn't overly hot (albeit the low temp and random showers might've had something to do with that).   So yeah - I was pretty thrilled with her.  What a difference from the last time we were here.  Wow.

And that was it for the day.  1:00 and we were done.  Now what?  hahaha well I groomed and wrapped my pony and meandered around organizing things a bit.  Then she was happy napping with her hay, water and new friends so Jen, Sasha and I headed over to the hotel and got ourselves settled.  Came back later that afternoon to feed (she actually ate!!!  Anybody who knows Athena will know why that warrants three exclamation marks.  Or even four! :) and rebraid and figure out what time I'd be riding on Sunday.  Noon.  Civilized.  Very civilized.  Hung out for a while, took Athena for a nice long walk so she could stretch (remember she's on 24/7 turnout at home -- being stuck in a stall isn't her favourite thing in life).  Debated for a while about a blanket for her (decided not -- right choice).  Visited the BBQ, but since it was crowded, I couldn't find any of my friends in the first few minutes, and I had Sasha with me -- we didn't stay.  Walked show-jumping by sunset and once Athena was settled in for the evening we went out for dinner and socializing :)  I tell you - def one of the most relaxed shows I've ever been to.  Lots of time between phases, only one horse, not coaching any students, and no need to get home to take care of the other horses made for a significantly easier day than I'm used to.

Sunday I wanted to be at the barn to feed around 9 - perfect as that's what Athena's used to and she'd have lots of time to digest before needing to ride; it'll also give me lots of time to chill and relax before riding.  I was contemplating taking her for a stretchy hack before jumping but that didn't actually happen.  When we got there (after a surprisingly good continental breakfast) I was greeted by an entirely new horse.  This one is alert and happy and likes people and attention.  She also very much wanted out of her stall.  Ummmm ok.   So she got breakfast (less interested in eating this time) and the braids bobbled and then got to go for a long walk thanks to her new friend Jen.   I went up to check out stadium -- course was riding well and looked good.  Soon enough it was time to ride.  

Once again I gave myself a fairly long warm-up time and didn't need it.  I trotted for a while to allow her to stretch and physically warm-up but the actual jumping she nailed on the first try.  She was also a little tired after yesterday (not really lagging just not super-fresh either) so I didn't want to spend her strength in warm-up.   And then our nice sunny day turned dark.  And we got soaked.  Really soaked.  And *cold*. Brrrrrr.  Both of us were shaking and she was pretty bitter about being out in it, so I stuck her under a tree so we could shelter from the worst of it -- at least until we actually *had* to get going again.   Fortunately the unpleasantness ended before we actually had to go in the show ring.

The course was maxed -- as one would expect at champs :)   But all the related distances were on text-book strides -- and while she doesn't *have* a text-book stride, at least I know how that's supposed to feel *g*.   Trotted into the ring and Athena came to life.  She. Was. Amazing.  Wow.  Forward but balanced and not running.  Scanning and picking up the next fence on her own (hahaha only once where she snagged the wrong one -- but she was willing to be redirected :)   Ridable.  I could bend on the corners and rate her pace.  I got the same number of strides I walked in every line.  And if all this sounds like a "yeah, so what?" you need to re-read the summer's adventures with this horse...  hahaha Princess Zel - for that pony it was a yeah, so what.  But for *this* horse, that's a serious accomplishment.  And she was clear.

Double clear.  On a championship level course.  Sweet.  Soooo.... time to upgrade?  :)   hahaha we shall see...   But regardless, I'm pretty happy with her :)

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