Here there be dragons...

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

I miss summer :(

Today is the first day of fall.  I'm blaming that for everything that happened today.  You see, I am a summer child.  I *love* summer.  I was born in the summer.  I love the heat.  I love the sunshine.  I love the long days and the hot nights.  I love everything to do with being in, on or around the water.  My job gets easier, more fun, and I have more time in which to do it.  We get to play XC.  Basically everything about summer is good.  And this summer was amazing.  I had tons of fun showing Athena, who got better every time out, and I had a great group of girls competing and had an awesome time with them.

Of course, the flip side is also true -- I *despise* winter with a passion.   And today was the first day of fall. The bringer of winter.  I should've stayed in bed.

Which I very nearly did.  Hit snooze a few times too many and ended up rolling out of bed at 6:10 -- I meant to leave the house at 6.   Oops.   Then I realized I neglected to fill up the gas the night before.  Detour 1.  And by this point I was so late I decided I needed Timmies too.  Detour 2.

But eventually I made it to the barn, and it turns out I am *very* efficient at show-morning prep.  Mostly based off the fact that I have always hated mornings and therefore sleeping till the very last second has been a great motivator.  So I was, in fact, ready to go less than 10 min after the planned time.  And Athena loaded like a saint!  Best yet.   Hesitated slightly and then just strolled on.  Sweet.

So we were off.  And passed through some random time-warp that got us there in record time.  I had an hour before I had to get on for dressage, so I left Athena with Chelsea (who has, after today, been totally promoted to Supergroom.  She was *awesome*.) and went to get my package and walk xc.  Completely forgetting my passport *sigh*  Can you tell it's been a while?  But they gave it to me anyways with my promise to deliver said passport later.

Head out to XC.  Now the night before a friend had texted me the course, so I was a little concerned.  I texted my coach who returned with the short-hand virtual course walk that made me feel a little better.  And as I started to walk it, I wondered what my concern had been.  Fences one and two were super inviting.  Three would require a bit of a ride, but it was really small -- she could easily trot it if we had to.  So no problem.  4-5 would be a *very* challenging bending line for her; until I realized we could angle 4 slightly and jump them on a straight line which she could do reasonably well.  6 was a random house.  Np.  Then the map showed cross the treeline, turn left, and jump the half-coffin.  So I crossed the tree-line, turned left, and found nothing...  Backtracked and walked straight farther -- found an Intermediate ski jump that ran the other way and figured I was misplaced.   Now at the treeline there were two options to go "straight".   It looked like the one on the right connected back at the bottom of the hill.   So, walking backwards and figuring this was the only option left, I decided to take the connecting path and see if the jump was in there.

Short story - it wasn't.  You can skip a few paragraphs now if you want to know about the *riding* portion of today's activities.   Still with me?  So I pretty quickly ascertained that this was *not* the correct route, but it looked like it'd reconnect back at the top of the hill so I followed it.   It didn't.  So I turned around and went back...   And here things get a little fuzzy...   Somewhere, lost in the woods, I made a very wrong turn. Not sure exactly how, but I was clearly not making it back to the xc course.  And I was turned around enough I didn't even know which way the course WAS.  :(   And pretty soon it was very clear I wasn't even on the property!  By this point I'd turned around so many times it seemed turning back would just get me more lost and I stumbled upon a wider, groomed and signed path.  Clearly for snowmobilers and not likely part of the xc course -- but I had hopes it'd go somewhere civilized so I followed it for a while.  By this point I realize I have less than 20 min till I had planned to get on and absolutely NO idea where I was or how to get out.  Less than fun, let me tell you.  And I'm on foot.  And I didn't have my cell phone with me.  And Sasha had no brilliant ideas, but thought this was a really great game :)   So I followed the nicely signed big path for a while and could see a clearing.  Doing most of this at a jog now in an effort to save time. My little brain equated clearing with "xc field" -- or at very least "open field" which'd mean farm of some sort and therefore people.   Yeah.  First day of fall, remember?  The open field was a hydro line path.  Oh dear.   I definitely hadn't crossed a hydro line before so now I knew for a fact I was going the wrong way -- BUT had no idea how to get back where I started, so figured I'd continue.  And then my nice big path disappeared.  Seriously.  But there was a little path that went straight up the hill to a place that looked like it had a good view.   Ok, climb hill and look around.   Straight down the hill a little ways away, I could see a silo.  No idea how far it *actually* would be from there -- distance is deceptive at that point.  But I'd much rather be lost on a road with buildings and, conceivably people, then in the woods wandering aimlessly.

So there's a scrawny little path leading straight down the hill (and these are not small hills!) which Sasha and I mostly slid down...  And a road!  Woohoo!   A dead-end road -- but I had hopes it would lead to another one.  Preferably the one Glen Oro is on!  Oh - and I have 10 mins till I'm supposed to be on my horse.   I see a driveway - sweet!  Nope, it's a construction pit.  Oh dear.  Keep walking and in the distance there's a nicely manicured lawn.  Look and house appears to be absolutely deserted.  But look closer and there's a guy chopping wood by a barn at the back.  I think that's the most happy I've been to see anybody in a very long time.  So I interrupted his work as politely as I could and explained the situation and how lost I was and asked if he could point me in the right direction.  As soon as I mentioned the horse show it was very clear he knew exactly where I was supposed to be, but... "that's the next concession over.  If you give me 10 mins to finish this, I can run you over."

Now there's a life choice for you.  How many times do you get told growing up never to get in a car with a stranger?  But, otoh, I approached him.  And I had *no* idea where I was.  So really, if he were a bad guy - I'd already walked right into his home base.  And if not, then he could really help.  hahaha so I accepted the ride with great thanks.   As we pulled out the driveway, we met his wife (or that's the impression I got anyways) pulling in so he stopped to tell her where we were going, and she offered to take me instead which I thought was super cool of her, but Sasha was with me and def wouldn't've fit in her little car...  But OMG we were SO far away.  That road connected to Horseshoe Valley Rd, which *then* connected to the street GO is on.  It would've taken me a solid hour, probably longer, to walk that.  As it is -- I was pushing it really tight for dressage by this point, but I still thought I might make it.  Profuse thanks to awesome farmer dude and book it back to the trailer where supergroom Chelsea, completely unaware of my drama but very aware of the time, already had Athena tacked up for me.  Just had to get dressed and go.  Trotted our way to warm-up and got tack check and then exhaled.  hahaha we made it.  And even had time to warm up.  And Athena was being *amazing*.

Went in the ring and she continued to be amazing.  Wow.  That test was significantly harder than what she's done this year, although I admit I schooled both the pieces AND the full test at home all week, so she did have some idea what was going on.   She was brilliant.  I wasn't convinced she'd be competitive for training level, but compared to every test she's ever done, this was was awesome.  So I was pretty excited about that.
In dressage

So.  Then it was time to walk XC.  This time I brought a friend!  The first 6 fences seemed still just as nice as the first time around.  And we went to the forest and *still* couldn't find it.  And this time I was getting *really* frustrated about it.  And again, we only had about an hour so not a ton of time to fuss around being lost.  Got smarter this time though - knowing all the *wrong* routes and also knowing where fence 9 was, we went there and worked backwards.  8 I also knew as they were the steps down.  And then I wondered if 7 wasn't really in the woods at all -- pt 7 was in the field beside the woods.  So figured I'd walk back there and see.  And as I did, I discovered it!  Yes in the woods, but not a straight line through the way the map showed...  A swerve and basically a little loop next to the treeline.  So this one was a half-coffin.  Nice little log, one stride downhill to the ditch.  The ditch was def home to at least a few horse-eating monsters -- of the deep and not particularly inviting type -- but my plan was to trot the log so A'd have time to process and I thought we'd be ok.  She looks at ditches, but is pretty sainted about them.  Then back to 8 - two steps down.  She hasn't done that before but we've done a ton of banks so I wasn't terribly concerned about it.  My plan was a super-slow approach, step down off the first and continue.  9 was just a random fence.  10 was a bank into water, but with the water shortage you could actually land on sand for one stride.  Sweet.  11 a small skinny after the water.  12 was a corner - which worried me on the map as GO used to have a *huge* maxed T corner (remember it with Zel) - but this was a tiny and inviting one.  The tree next to it would be more of a challenge :)  Sweet.  Then we have more water, but again can land on solid ground.  The bank up was reasonably substantial, so I gave it a fair amount of respect, and one stride to some logs.  Then a nice run and a little pile of logs in the tree-line.  Bending line to a substantial trakhener.  I figured it'd be ok though (kinda like the one she did at Will O Wind -- the ditch was more dug out, but not as wide) - the only issue really was that the footing was boggy right before it and A *really* dislikes soft footing.  Then a coffin that was about as friendly as coffin's get.  Main issue there is by this point she'd be tired...  And then just one little log fence to the finish.

So at this point I was pretty excited -- I really like technical courses and as a schooling upgrade it'd be prefect because it had some of everything but nothing too massive or scary.  Woohoo!  Went to check stadium quickly and it was open to walk, so did that.  It was maxed.  Seriously maxed.  And any fence that would be a "gimmie" in a normal course had some sort of optical illusion to it for all sorts of fun and games.  And the footing was slick.  Striding was text-book perfect and nothing complicated in the turns.  It was just size and appearance.

At this point I would've liked to have been warming up already, so booked it back to the pony -- who Chelsea already had tacked up (didn't I say she was awesome!) and trotted back to warmup.  She warmed up *beautifully*.  I was thrilled.  Jumping positively and in front of my leg and just feeling good.
Stadium w/u

And then it started to rain.  Is anybody surprised by this?   And we went in the ring.   She was really backed off the first fence which surprised me a little as it was very inviting (or so I thought - I later discovered there were a lot of stops there) but she jumped it well.  Fences 2-3 rode really well (in the right number of strides!) but she was feeling a little hesitant off the ground.  Not looking at things, but just not flowing well.  Fence four -- even watching it on video I'm not exactly sure what happened.  I do know that I got more air time than is legal without a pilot's license.  It looks like she changed her mind and put her front feet down for an extra mini-stride and then took off again straight up.  Got my balance back and 5 rode really well.  I thought she'd look at it as she was *very* backed off a similar fence earlier this year and hasn't seen anything like it since.  But she flew over it -- prob the best fence of the day.  6 though we came in too flat and she got deep and cat-leaped it.  Cleared it -- evidently this height isn't a challenge for her either.  In fact when it went well, she felt WAY better over the bigger fences.  The issue is, when it *didn't* go well...  And I very nearly landed without her on that one.  Again, serious air time -- but this time we didn't land as well.  *sigh*  At least I knew *why* that one was bad.  7 was a triple-bar of decent size that she flew over beautifully.  We weren't as balanced on the turn to 8 as I would've liked, but we managed it.  However, that flowed through in that we missed the turn to 9.  *sigh*  I did manage to get her there and she *started* to take off...  And then her hind legs slid :(   Boo on that.   We demolished the fence - right through it.  Pause to rebuild and then try again.

And she did it the second time.  Serious hesitation though, I could feel she'd had enough of this game.  And the rational side of my brain said "retire."  *sigh*  I have to learn to listen to the rational side of my brain.  It doesn't appear often in competition, but it's almost always right.  Sadly the competitive side of my brain which said "there's only one line left" won out and we approached the last combination.  She propped and spun out and I landed on my feet next to her, still holding the reins.  *sigh*   I don't blame her being scared and unconfident after the way the course was going -- and that line had some tricks to it.  Perfect distances but optical illusions with the poles.  That dirty bastard Hindsight is kicking me for not stopping when the thought entered my brain.  Because really, if any portion of the rider isn't convinced they should keep going, why would the horse?  That's the first round since I was a kid where things got worse as we went.  I'm pretty disappointed in myself for that :(

So I did remount of course and we jumped a few fences in the warm-up area again.  She was still super hesitant and sticky *sigh*  I didn't even try the oxer that she'd been so brave over earlier.   Jumped a few low ones where she felt good and called it a day.   They *did* say we could still go xc (the attrition rate in stadium was rather atrocious so I guess they were letting people school if they wanted to) but I felt that would not be a positive experience and was certainly not about to make the same mistake twice.   The rational brain may not have won out in the three strides I had to make a decision in stadium, but it certainly did in the time between stad and xc!
I wish this weren't fuzzy - she flew over it!
On the plus side -- I was super proud of and impressed by miss Chelsea!  Who took complete care of my pony all day and did an amazing job of it -- as well as doubling as puppy sitter and videographer!   And, tbh, it was a great social day.  I got to chat with a bunch of friends I don't see very often and some of the other riders that I know but rarely have time to talk to.  That part was actually a lot of fun.  Was parked next to a friend riding after me in competition -- I miss that part of competing; the last few years I've always been out on my own -- which is awesome, but I hadn't realized how much of  a difference it makes.  On both sides of the cheering on when things are going well and commiseration when things don't go as well as planned.  Not to mention the always fun gallows humour about the course :)  And just having somebody to walk the course with and bounce ideas off of.  Social outtings are always good :)

So now I know our homework for the winter.  Fix what I broke and improve it to the unbreakable point!  No problem :)  For all today was brutal, I was still so proud of my little mare and how very far she's come.  And next year no fall shows.


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