Day 0 – Lead-up & Warm-up
I was a mess. Anyone who interacted with me in the run-up to the show can attest to this. I managed the standard activities of daily living. However, if the slightest thing went wrong, I was immediately reduced to a quivering heap. The nerves pretty much started Sunday before the show and ran through to the following Sunday.
I left after lunch on Wednesday. The show started on Friday. On Thursday, the day before the show, the plan was to get all six horses into the ring and then to give baths. With three riders, we each rode twice.
I started with Trump. Bravery is not the lack of fear. Bravery is having your eyes on stalks and still working as requested. We where all thrilled with the baby horse for pulling his socks up acting like a grownup. The inner border of the arena had signs all around advertising the show. Trump spooked to a greater or lesser extent each time we went by one. I kept him trotting until he decided this was more work than it was worth. He never completely got over it but he did straighten up and wonder how he got on the trotting train. ASBs work hard, but they don’t work long.
For the second shift, I rode Alvin. Trump is immensely fun to ride, but I’m always on edge until I get on and we get moving. Not so with Alvin. As I tacked up, I was able to relax. This will be great, I says, I’m riding the old veteran. Which apparently Alvin heard. Old veteran?! I’ll give you old veteran. He then went out and behaved worse than the youngster. He spooked this way and that in the warm-up ring. He flew around in the arena. In the first direction, I was able to get a jump on the canter and organize the excess energy. In the second direction, Alvin said FTS and simply ran off. This is his third? fourth? time at this show.
To preserve the hoof, saddlebreds don’t get full baths often. Therefore, they were unpleased to be getting baths on this day. They were doubleunplus unpleased to be getting them with cold water. I pled ignorance. At home, I use a ton of water. Our two get hosed off so much in the summer that our water bill goes up. However, it’s probably been decades since I’ve given a full-on, soapy bath to a horse. Back when I was showing, I had a mostly-plain bay showing in jumpers. Low detergent requirement. So, I ended up holding rather than bathing. Still, it is hard to remain dry when horses and hoses are going every which way.
When I drove up, I had been surprised at how few horses there were. At most shows, riders have one or more horses. At this one, each horse had one or more riders. Therefore, what felt like a big show had what felt like far too few horses.
Day 1 – Just Another Horse Show
Back in 1998, I did an article on the first Rolex**** [“Ladies and Gentlemen, Please Sit Still …” Horse Show July/Aug ’98]. Most folks oohed and aahed about how special it was to be hosting the first regularly scheduled four-star in North America. I agreed. Multiple-Olympic rider Bruce Davidson did not. He said it wasn’t special. That was the point. The reason for standards is so that each show performs as expected in terms of facilities, footing, courses, etc.
I think I understand what he means.
I was, as you might have noticed, looking forward to this show. I knew I would be okay once I got in the ring but was a basketcase while waiting. At some point on the first day, I realized that nothing was different. Here was a warm-up area. There was a ring. I knew what to do in A to get to B. You do what you always do. You prepare as you always prepare. You go in the ring and ride as you always ride. Whatever pageantry surrounds the arena, whoever is watching your ride, doesn’t change what you do. The bigger the stage, the less exciting your routine should be. Experiment with new tack, new techniques, and green horses at local, schooling shows. Part of being ready for a big show is to know your part as thoroughly as possible.
Ride the big ones like the little ones. Ride the little ones like the big ones. I was told this is reference to jumps. It holds true for horse shows as well.
When the class counts came out, I learned that the Adult Walk-Trot division had seven entries. Ten would go through to the final. Rational thinking would suggest that I could have relaxed at that point. I wasn’t going to be involved in the cut-offs and qualifiers that the rest of the Stepping Stone riders had to undergo. I assumed nothing. Partly out of superstition but mostly because this was riding. As soon as you assume, some horse will take it upon himself to prove you wrong, see warm-up sessions above.
On the down side, I had a class in every session. The WTC adults and kids had two classes in the morning session. The WT kids had two classes in the evening session. My division of WT adults was the only one that went morning and evening. I posited that a split class was required for scheduling reasons and they felt that the adults could handle the extra stress. In return, it was suggested that perhaps TPTB felt the adults didn’t have the stamina for two classes in a row. Since the idea of three straight days of stress might do me in, I tried, with moderate success, to look at it as the chance to ride in five horse shows. (Sunday was one session.)
Adult WT Pleasure – 2nd
My only clear memory of the first class is trotting down the chute and hearing my instructor say, “Bust up in there.” We stormed into the ring. I know that I diamonded the hell out of the class but I don’t really remember doing it. I know that the class felt long enough for everyone to get a good look by the judges but not so long that we were flagging.
Afterward I gave my instructor an enormous hug of gratitude. Whatever else happened that weekend, I had ridden in a National Academy show.
Adult WT Equitation – 4th
My directives for the next class where to tighten up and sit still. No surprise there. So I did. Or at least I thought I did. I was not happy with fourth. It wasn’t just sinking in the placings, which is never fun. It was that I had no idea why I sank. My progress throughout the year seemed erratic. Some classes I would ride my ass off and win. Other classes, I would ride what I thought was exactly the same way and get a pat on the head. It wasn’t the losing – okay it was partly the losing – it was the not knowing.
While the plan was to improve as the weekend went along, it would be hard to go from middle of the pack to toppling the woman who had won both my classes. My best hope was to reclaim the second spot I got in my initial class. I was playing for Reserve.
As with Hunter Equitation, Academy Equitation has its own highly mannered style. I wasn’t intimidated by what I saw, but I had to admit that they were doing something I couldn’t. It was a distilled version of the things that had been troubling me all year: bring everything up, be still, be quiet.
Since I had the joy and delight of double sessions, I had double sessions of hair and make-up as well. First thing in the morning for my first class. Touch-ups in the evening for my second. I brought along the special shampoo that I use to get gunk out of my hair after swimming or going on fire calls. Even with that, plowing through two layers of hairspray that night still felt like driving a pitchfork through a pile of straw.
Tomorrow: Day 2 & part of Day 3.