Here there be dragons...

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

You know what's fun? Winning.

So to fully appreciate today's adventures you have to understand what led up to it...

I wasn't intending to run this HT -- I was supposed to do the earlier Woodwinds and screwed up my entries so didn't get to go (remember that stupid moment?  Yeah, it was fun).  This one was scheduled for the girls, but for some reason or another neither ended up going and I figured that since I'd already planned to go coach, I may as well go ride instead and sent in my entries at the last second.

On Thursday I find out they've switched it from a two day show to a one day show.  Meaning now instead of showing on Saturday I'll be showing on Sunday.  Meaning now I need to find staff for Sunday, see if my groom (yeah Brena!!!) can come Sun instead of Sat, and move all my Sunday lessons to Saturday.  Tons o fun let me tell you.   Most of my lessons managed to switch and HUGE thanks to Rebecca who took care of the barn for me :)   Thankfully the awesome Brena was able to come Sunday instead.  So ok, we can still go.

Friday I have a lesson.  Stadium.  Remember Lane's End?   Yeah - not so good.  And we really hadn't recovered.  Why?  Well let's see...  Monday she had off as the day after the show.  Tues was long/low hacking (always our first day back exercise).  Wednesday I was away all day at Equus and then puppy class.  Thursday was simply insane and I didn't ride at all.   So now it's Friday.  My horse hasn't jumped stadium since our last disaster.  And hasn't even been ridden in two days.  And I'm supposed to have a lesson.

Suffice to say it was ugly.  Really ugly.  Coach, rider AND horse were all expressing language not usually heard in polite company.  For instance -- our warm-up exercise.  3' vert with a placing pole 9' in front.  As simple as it gets.  We tried jumping it and bolting on landing.  We bolted before the fence and went right through it.  We managed to put a stride between the pole and the fence.   We took off BEFORE the pole and cleared it and the fence together.  Nice to know my horse can jump a 12' spread over a 3' jump, but definitely not what we were aiming for.  We came in off-balance, downhill, and sideways.  We knocked it down about 8 times -- a horse who almost never pulls rails.  And if she got it right, I'd get it wrong.  We were so *not* working as a team and both of us were being horrifically useless.  I'm pretty sure my coach was ready to fire us.  In a little over an hour of jumping, I think we got two fences that were boarder-line acceptable.  Nowhere near good.  But had to lower the bar a whole lot *sigh*.  One of those what-the-f-do-you-think-you're-doing-going-out-in-public type rides...  But the thing is, it was SO bad it was actually comical.  So in a laugh or cry moment, I decided to laugh.  I figure it's the next-best-thing to falling off in the warm-up ring (I used to win whenever I did that.  Hate that it's now boarder-line illegal *g*).

So needless to say I jumped her again on Saturday and it was *significantly* better.  Phew.  Not that it could've been much worse *g*  But she was balanced and listening and we were able to jump around in a civilized fashion.  So we did that once or twice and went for a walk hack instead.  Why mess around when it's going well?

Sunday am my alarm went off after a grand total of two hours sleep.  Not intentional - I swear.  I'm too old for this!  Got to the barn, fed, prepped, etc.  And when it came time, Athena loaded like an absolute star.  I was somewhat shocked and pretty happy :)   Away we went, getting to the show with just enough time (early start so I didn't leave much "bad loading" buffer -- sometimes you get lucky).  In dressage warm-up she was quite sticky, but we had time and I was able to work her through it.  We got bumped up a time slot as somebody had a conflict (and really, would five more minutes *really* change anything?)  so she was first in.  Had to laugh when I recognized the judge -- it was the same one who was there for our disastrous dead-last effort at Will O Wind.  hahaha I figured it could only go up from there.  She was a little tense when we first went out to the ring, but by the time we got around she'd gone from tense to high -- and a rideable/workable high.  Sweet.  The test went well.  Still not flashy really, but definitely our best test yet.  More forward than she has been -- less sticky.  Reasonable rhythm and bend and accuracy.  I was pretty happy with it.

BUT - the goal for the day was reasonable show jumping.  Happy with dressage just wasn't going to cut it.  So leaving the pony with Brena, Sasha and I headed out to walk our courses.  Stadium was busy so we did XC first.  The first couple fences were very upright -- not the best to get a good flow going...  But other than that the course seemed really easy.  There was nothing on it that I thought would concern her.   Course map was a little tricky to read -- I met several people wandering around looking for fence # whatever.  Having been there before I had a pretty good idea where the course would go, but I admit I prob wouldn't've found all of them relying on the map alone.  The best map I ever saw I *think* was Will O Wind one year (although I could be wrong on that) that used an aerial photo of the farm and drew the map on top.  Brilliant. Anyways - fences were all found and there was nothing on it that I felt would challenge her at all.  It's a sad day when XC is boring but you can't upgrade due to incompetency in show jumping.

So as I wander back I discover stadium is open for course walk.  Set at T level, but that's ok.  Close enough :)  And the course looked comparatively quite easy.  There was one line on a downhill that I figured would get a significant number, but the striding was textbook on all the distances and no particularly challenging turns.  The only turn of interest was to the last fence -- could go inside or out of fence five.  My thought was that I'd rather do the inside turn but clearly I really doubted the likelihood of that happening as I walked the outside line.

Had about 15min left to chill before tacking up for stadium.  All good.  Get ready, tack checked, and start warming up.  First fence...  She stopped.  Really???  For all the disasters we've had, I don't think this mare has *ever* actually stopped at a stadium fence (water/ditches/banks all a different matter :).  Huh.  Ok, re-present and she tries to stop and then momentum pushed her through (not the most balanced mare on the planet remember).  Really???  So I'm frantically wondering if there's something wrong?  Is she sore?  Is there a *reason* for this?  But she's sound.  100%.  And moving well other than neglecting to pick her feet up.  So we go for a third try -- and she clears it by about 3'.  And then the light went on.  It was a cross-rail.  Like every other show there was an x, a vert, and an oxer to w/u over.  But *this* x was still set intermediate style -- the cups were almost on the top hole.   And it occurred to me that I don't think I've ever jumped her over a big X before -- I suspect she was catching only the edge of it in her vision and thinking I was asking her to jump 5'+ out of a trot.  No wonder she stopped!  The middle was still baby-sized, but I honestly don't think she understood that.  So we switched to jumping the vert and the oxer and suddenly I had my mare back.  She was a little sticky and a little hesitant at first, but clearly much more comfortable and the more we jumped the better she got.

And then the gate person was searching for somebody to go first.  I was supposed to be third, but first wasn't there yet and second had only *just* shown up (this being the same one from dressage who had another horse running and some time conflicts).   So I volunteered Athena and I, took one more jump and in we went.  And had by FAR our best round ever.  We did pull a rail -- the second of the downhill line (gee, there's a surprise) which I was a little annoyed with myself over since I *knew* it was a trappy line.  But sobeit.  Far more important though was that we made the inside turn!   Yes that's right, we landed off a downhill fence balanced enough to make the inside turn and clear the next jump.   Sweet.  I was pretty stoked about that.   She also rode the combination with a little more confidence than she usually does.  And only really looked at one fence (had really funky standards).

So yeah, I was pretty happy after that.  Goal accomplished.  And all that was left was xc.  With nothing scary on it.  Sure - why not :)  Went out of order for that one too -- all sorts of missing people.  But we were ready -- with only an hour between phases we just untacked, bathed, and tacked her back up again so it's not as though we needed a long warm-up :)   This was definitely her most confident run yet -- she left the start box and was an absolute superstar till we crossed the finish line.  And it really doesn't matter how challenging or not you feel the course is, it's still an adrenaline rush and when you finish clear, you're still beaming ear to ear.  So. Much. Fun!  Had a few really good gallops and this course was no-stress for her; she's finally getting fit enough that it was an easy run even with the hills.  Sweet.

After we finished taking care of Athena, I went to check the scores.  Dressage had been decent and we'd only had one rail and some time faults (oops - pilot error :).  So worth a look.  And I see first after dressage and stadium -- xc not yet posted.  Woohoo!!!  Followed instantly by Frig!  Only two points between first and second and I know I was off by more than that in time faults *sigh*.  So then while I was still thrilled with my pony, I was pretty thoroughly annoyed with myself for not paying more attention on xc.  But still worth sticking around.  And then when they posted all three phases I discovered second place had some issues out on xc and were no longer in the running.  Meaning even with the time faults we were still in first.  Woohoo!  I *know* at this level it's all about introducing the horses and giving them a confident ride.  And you should be happy any time you accomplish that.  But I'll tell ya -- it's a lot easier to be happy bringing home the red :)

And now, off to champs :)


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