Williamston wrap-up day 2: Bravo and I rock the house, and failing to win is not the same as losing

One of the benefits of camping at the showgrounds?  Feeding in your pajamas.  When I still practiced equine medicine in Virginia, I lived on a farm-ette with my horse.  I really miss all that husbandry-type stuff–feeding, picking the stall, night checks–so camping just a few steps from the barns gave me a little taste of that again.

But, no rest for the weary, because my freestyle was set to run at 10:56.  I actually got some butterflies listening to my music on my iPod.  The music is still really fresh, having just been completed about a week before the show, then entirely lost when my editing program crashed, and then a new (and actually, much improved) re-edited verson created the Wednesday night before the show.  I’m not one to get terribly nervous before a test, but I couldn’t remember exactly where all the music changes happened and I began to get a little freaked out.  Once upset, I’m difficult to talk off the ledge, so I went for a quick walk with my headphones, concentrated on the music for 15 solid minutes, and put on my game face.  Whew!

Back to the covered arena for a brief warm up.  Surely Bravo would be compliant given he’d been ridden on the grounds now Friday and Saturday.  Nope, he was not going to cut me any breaks today.  I got some bluffing, some true hopping around, and the dreaded if-you-make-me-turn-right-I’ll-rear dance.  I’m sure the other competitors wonder what the heck I’m doing when they hear me start loudly growling–but it works (along with the pony club kicking and my dressage whip, of course!).  The stewart asked if I’d like to go early, but I politely tersely (OK, not my best moment) declined.  Clearly my “Zen moment” hadn’t totally worked, in part to the lack of help from Bravo in the warm-up, and I entered the ring with more tension (mine, not his) than is ideal for me to have a good test.

Then we met the fan.  Really? Despite not paying ANY attention to the coliseum on Saturday, a new fan, not unlike the other multitude of fans around the ring, had been placed in the breeze way behind the judge.  For a few seconds I wasn’t even sure I’d get in the ring.  I’m sure I looked the picture of calm, but at this point my anxiety was going to reach melt down level in a hurry.  I don’t even remember really getting into the ring, but once inside, Bravo was back to himself and I began to breathe again.  The pony never did quite become settled with the fan, but never spooked or got upset–he just did his giraffe impression several times along the way.

The bell rang, I took my position, and signaled for the start of the music.  Hmm…it was quite a bit LOUDER than during the sound check.  In fact, each beat echoed 2 or 3 times and bounced along the rafters.  I could see a big ol’ bulgy eye when we made the left turn to head down the center line, but otherwise Bravo handled it fine.  Until I tried to stop.  Oops, no brakes!

The good news?  We hit all the musical transitions in the right places, remembered and accurately performed the choreography, and stayed in time to the music and in the ring with no disobedience or spooking.  The bad news?  There was some “water-skiing” and other unfortunate hand-riding due to a complete absence of response to anything resembling a half-halt.  But, overall, I was pleased–once we’re both more comfortable with the music it’ll be easier to ride the technical parts more correctly.  I’m pretty sure the overall impression was entertaining (the goal with my MFS is to make it really fun and original–if I hear one more freestyle to Pirates of the Caribbean or the Gipsy Kings I may put out my eyes!), and judging from the spectator response (although who are we kidding, 90% of them were friends) we delivered!  My last minute decision to pay the $10 qualifying fee worked out, as we received a 67.911%.  While we once again were bridesmaids to Karen and the Golden Pony, I am now only 1 score away from being qualified for this fall’s finals in THREE classes!

With the unrelenting heat, there were dozens of scratches.  Fortunately, this enabled me to move my Training 4 test (needed for All Breeds) earlier by 30 minutes.  With all I endured this weekend, Training level should be a breeze, right?  Well, yes, if I actually had showed up to ride the whole test.

Here’s how it went.  Enter working trot at A, X halt salute.  So far, so good.  Proceed working trot, track right at C…hmm…he’s really behind my leg…MXK one loop…wow…I really have to kick him just to trot…pass A and canter right lead…could we be going any slower?  I wonder if he’s just totally spent?  Do his feet hurt?…E 20 meter circle…I really should tap him with the whip…he might buck…man, my legs are getting tired…I really should tap him with the whip…he might buck…when will I grow a set and tap him with the whip?…this is ridiculous…

Thwap.  Tail swish (that’s IT?).  Free walk, trot work the other way, canter work, stretchy circle, final centerline–all nicely forward into a soft, receiving hand.  All 8s except the halt, which was crooked (for a 5, ouch!).  My final score was a quite respectable 69.231% for a 3rd place, but imagine the score if I had actually ridden the WHOLE test, and not just the second half!  I lamented as much to Anne Aloi, who checked in on me when she arrived home to see how my day went.  She asked if I had learned something from that test.  Sure–I need to not fear potentially messing up one movement and fix problems sooner to get the better overall test.  “If you learned something, then you didn’t lose, you just failed to win.”

That pretty much sums up my whole weekend at Summertime Blues in Williamston.  I didn’t bring home any blue ribbons, but I learned a lot, so I certainly didn’t lose.

–Robyn

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