This year, the LOL show was a 3-day affair. In the past, it’s been a 2-day riding show, and then Monday was a breed show. This year, riding classes were added on Monday (as a separate show), to offer additional GAIG/USDF Region 1 qualifying opportunities for those needing one more score. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this may have been the most fun I have ever had at a horse show, and I witnessed countless acts of good sportsmanship and teamwork throughout. I love the NCDCTA members that have become my friends–some are “horse show” friends, and others are also outside friends–but at the shows it really does feel more like a family.
I arrived early on Friday once again, both to perform the requisite “acclimation” for my horse–and to get a good parking spot. Despite only living 20 minutes away, I wanted to camp onsite this weekend, and with our barn assignment I knew that if I got there early I could park directly across from my stall. My show buddy Karen got there minutes later, and we were unpacked and sitting in front of our stalls quickly. Despite Friday’s heat (and a decided lack of hurricane–WHEW!), I wanted to school early. I had never ridden Bravo in the Raleigh Hunt Complex coliseum before, and had no idea how that would go. I hand walked him around, and then came back to the barn to tack up. I thought it prudent to lunge before getting on.
And this is where the magic started. There is a new “lunging area” at the Hunt Complex. I use this term loosely. The facility has had one round of major updates/upgrades, with more (I assume) in the works. Since all competitions need to have a designated lunging area, there is some sort of hopefully temporary situation set up in a remote corner of the show grounds. To access this “lunging area”, you have to pass all the barns, the building that is currently housing all kinds of raw materials and equipment (another future barn?), pass the new rings, and cross a lot of gravel strewn with large rocks. Your reward for this trek is a round pen, partially dented, not quite set up in a perfect circle, on a slope, filled with screenings (and more than the occasional large rock) as footing which has not been placed on top of a true base, but rather just on top of the unprepared ground. It is an understatement to call it unsafe. I grabbed my phone and called the show office. Within TEN minutes, I got a call back from the show office–the manager, Olga Wagner, had driven out to inspect the area and agreed it was not appropriate. The plan was to set up a corner of the (very large) main warm-up ring with a barricade to separate it from the riding horses. They asked when I would like this to be set up. I replied–“uh, I’m already tacked up”. Done. Olga, the grounds crew, and a couple volunteers had it set up in minutes, and I was safely in the coliseum with my all-the-bucks-out partner with a huge smile on my face. You just cannot beat that service, and I applaud the management (both Olga and Martie Healy, show secretary) for their prompt and courteous attention to their competitors.
Over the next few hours, the barns filled and familiar friendly faces were seen all over the grounds. I chided our whipper-snapper young rider bloggers for their collective lack of the gift of gab, assuring them that people really are interested in what they have to say (well, at least, I am). In total, there were 10 of us friends stabling together, and seriously the party never stopped. Traditionally we do a “pot luck” dinner the first night–this time cheese/crackers and salads were the summer fare. We eat and drink as the horses are braided, tack is cleaned, and last minute preparations are made. Then after a shower, it was the long 10 paces across the driveway to camp in my trailer. In a previous post, I discussed my “cowboy camper”. With the milder temperatures this weekend, and a parking spot in the shade, I only ran the dehumidifier a few hours each day and didn’t actually need the air conditioning. In fact on Saturday and Sunday nights I had to crawl into a sleeping bag–brrr!
I decided to use this show to try something new before the championships as well–only doing one class per day for Sunday, and again on Monday. Saturday I had 2 scheduled rides–the first of the NCDCTA First level Championships test (First/2), and my Michael Jackson musical freestyle. I’ll cut to the chase. My first ride was not my best. Bravo was one part shark, one part dolphin, one part sunfish during my warm-up. He was so good Friday night, with NO behavior issues, that I erred too little on warm-up time. I went in with him just a bit on the muscle, and paid for it. His tempo was a bit quick throughout, and he bucked in my first canter lengthening. On the second canter lengthening, I decided to be more conservative and not risk more submission issues, especially since it was the right lead canter (where he’s most prone to bronc-ing). The result was a lackluster 64+%. Not bad, but definitely not great in a championship class. I ended up 5th, but did learn some valuable things (therefore, at this point in my journal you know that I didn’t lose, I failed to win!). First, better to overestimate how much warm-up is needed and just walk around or something rather than wish you had more time. Lesson: You can’t win the test if you don’t win the warm-up. Second, my first canter lengthening received a point higher score from both judges than the more conservative second lengthening without the bucking. Lesson: Go for it–better to actually perform the movement with a mistake, than not really perform the movement. I won’t lie to you, I was pretty dejected. Because my second test, the freestyle, was a full SEVEN hours later, I made sure I was better prepared. I asked Anne Aloi if she could give me just 10 minutes of her time before the freestyle to offer sage words of wisdom. She offered 3 key issues I needed to address: 1) I was mistaking faster for forward–her advice was to concentrate on slower tempo with longer strides; 2) Bravo was “spitting out the bit”, i.e., dropping the contact–she offered lots of advice on this throughout the weekend, but the gist was to push out his neck; and 3) Bravo was not really bending around my leg (duh!), but because he’s small, he “gets away with it”. I took this quick primer to heart for the remainder of the weekend.
Next up after my primer–the musical freestyle. I was actually amazed by the size of the class (7 entries–is MFS getting more popular?), even with my MFS friend Karen and her “golden pony” absent. We were second to last in the order of go. Without a doubt, this was the most fun I’d had riding it. I found myself singing along to the words as we bopped around the ring. Even with the electric atmosphere of spectators, the “wolf howl” from the NC State football game next door, and the booming music; Bravo didn’t display any anxiety. I even whooped it up and went one-handed for the “Yee Haw” I was so overcome with fun! All my show barn buddies were in attendance, and did they ever cheer when it was over! The best part was again, Bravo was not one bit put off. (In truth, he probably likes all that attention, since he’s pretty sure the world revolves around him!) I also wore my grey dressage jacket with my bargain, but fancy, grey pad–judge Debbie Rodriguez noted “Sharp Turnout” on my test, so I think I will use it in that test at the finals (and use my almost traditional short pin-striped black coat for the other classes). I am “Thriller-ed” to say I won the class with a 68+%!!
I continued replaying the tape of Anne’s words the next day for my one (and only) scheduled class-First level Test 3, part 2 of the First level championship. The test was lovely, if I do say so myself. He felt like he was reaching for the contact, there was no resistance, and it all just flowed. I won the class with a 67+%, to move up to Reserve Champion for the weekend. While I didn’t have a second test planned, I DID have to return to the coliseum for photos and Bravo’s first VICTORY GALLOP! He had one little croup-high “yippee” moment, but he basically just cantered behind the other horse wondering what all the hubbub was about–finally a horse for whom the victory gallop isn’t fraught with peril!
(Let me tell you a little bit about my history with victory gallops. Not too many years ago, there wasn’t so much emphasis on safety during these ceremonies. All 6 or 8 or however many people received placings would be announced and you’d stand in a row in a futile effort to keep your horse still without getting kicked by the horse next to you, and then it was pretty much assumed you’d all run around with your long streamers flying and “Celebration” playing over the PA, while the crowd in attendance clapped and hollered. Lately, there is no line-up, it seems the gallop part is quite optional, and usually it’s just the top placings in attendance. This is fine, and probably more reasonable for our poor horses. BUT, back in the day, my super “steady eddy” James (aka Kryptonite) placed in his fair share of championships. Unfortunately, his first ever “victory gallop”, as a 4 year old, BLEW HIS EVER-LOVIN’ MIND and it never returned in that type of situation. When I sold him 4 years later he was still not comfortable in most coliseums at all, even though prior he had not cared a bit. My next horse, Graham (aka S’More Art) was afraid of his own shadow, so ceremonies of any kind were not well received, and I always did them unmounted. For all Bravo’s antics in the warm-ups at most shows, his lack of interest in a good old fashioned victory gallop is refreshing!)
Monday was a much smaller show. A good half or more of the weekend-proper’s contestants went home, and a good many super cute young stock (I love babies!) arrived for the breed show. Of our row of 10, 3 remained to duke it out one more day: me, Karen and Mo, and Lisa Graf and Tiara. Additionally, there were many scratches, as I would guess some competitors were tired from the weekend and threw in the towel (and I’ll admit to thinking I was crazy for still being there myself). I found myself alone in my First level Test 4 class, which I had entered just to keep that test fresh since it is the GAIG/USDF Regional finals test in 2 months. Bravo was stellar in the warm-up. Absolutely no misbehavior was even considered, which meant he was pretty pooped. I did a normal warm-up, however, to make sure he was sharp to the aids and supple. The first bit of trot work was a little labored, and I actually went to my stick–having learned that lesson in Williamston. He immediately heeded that warning, and listened to my leg the rest of the test. We did have an unfortunate break in the right lead canter circle (poor pony was sooo tired!), but the rest of the test felt good. We won the class (easy to do when you’re the only one, right) with a personal best at any test in First level of 73.412% That is cause for celebration. When you factor in the 5 for the break in gait, and the 4 and 5 I got on my sucky trot lengthenings (ie, absent), you can pretty much infer that the test was full of 7s and 8s. Best of all, I got an 8 for rider, with a comment about Bravo coming nicely into my hands–since my main focus has been my hands and the connection for the past weeks, this was the best part of my whole weekend.
We’ve all heard the saying “It takes a village”–this weekend proved just how helpful our little dressage village really has become. The management was quick to help about an appropriate lunge area. Anne was quick to help when I asked for advice. I lent a pair of reins to Keni Kerin when hers broke moments before her warm-up. We all read tests for each other as needed. Anne and I both helped Lisa Graf when her mare was being more-than-characteristically sparky, as she discussed in her blog post earlier. Whoever arrives first feeds all the horses. We pick each other’s stalls. We hose each other’s horses so our dress whites don’t get trashed. We come and cheer even when we aren’t showing.
I love my GMO and I love my show buddies–you know who you are–you make it all the more fun!