tldr: All I’ve ever wanted to do is to ride well. On Sunday, I finally did.
2. Academy WTC Equitation–Adult, 2nd of 10
7. Academy WTC Pleasure–Adult, 3rd of 10
31. Academy WTC Equitation–Adult Championship, 4th of 10
36. Academy WTC Pleasure–Adult Championship, 3rd of 10
63. Academy WTC Pleasure National Finals–Adult 2nd of 10
71. Academy WTC Equitation National Finals–Adult, 2nd of 8
All classes with Dottie, courtesy of Courtney Huguley.
Photos & video by a friend of Stepping Stone Farm. The soundtrack, Dottie by Danny & the Juniors, was paid for.
Life with La Prima
The ballet metaphor [A Change in Attitude] continued through the show. When we went for our first stroll around the property, I took Dottie up to see the ring. She stood in the gate looking about, a dancer understanding her space.
The saddle was her tutu, which had to be adjusted just so. The show bridle was her pointe shoes; the work bridle, her ballet flats. Impatient to get on stage, she was worse in the warm-up ring than I was. In the ring, she demanded my full attention. I could not fuss, nor over-ride, neither could I phone it in. I must be there with a steady arm in second position to provide guidance and support.
Maybe it’s a silly metaphor, but it’s one that worked for us. We had a few bobbles, but we never had a moment when both of us weren’t trying 100%.
Thursday was warm-up rides for riding and driving. Washing tails. Warm-up for the kids who arrived in the evening. Bog standard National Finals T-minus one.
Thursday night, I was a tense mess. My chance of breaking out of my red rut rested entirely on the first class. Historically, the judges at this show have the habit of sitting on their cards. In other words, the placings didn’t change from Friday to Sunday. (More on these statistics below.) My place in the first class would determine my weekend. I was right. Second on Friday, second on Sunday. In the end, I felt different about the reds than I thought I would.
In the first class on Friday, Dottie spooked several times at her shadow on the arena floor. I had the feeling that the lighting was NOT up to La Prima’s standards. The second class went better. They tended to all weekend.
On Friday night, I was over it, the whole Academy experience. What was I doing? Nothing was changing. No matter what I did, I kept coming in second. In the normal course of things, I would move out of Academy and up to suit OR stop this ex-pat life [Nice Horses and Lesson Programs] and figure out a way to jump something. Since neither were an option at the moment, I was stuck in an eternal Academy limbo. I tried to be grateful that at least I had Academy limbo to be stuck in. You can’t – I can’t – force yourself to be grateful, even when you know you should be.
Saturday placing was fourth and third. I had a choice to make. I could struggle along with what I had and probably, possibly place second or third (only three ribbons given). Or I could make a change. In past years (2014, 2015), the change has been sartorial. When I laid out money for custom clothes [New], I announced that I would NOT be changing these.
In three of the last five years, one rider has won all six Adult WTC classes. In the other two years, one rider won four or five out of the six. Of the ten Sunday finals that I watched or rode in, only two have been won by someone other than the winner from Friday. Plus, barn gossip said that the horse who was dominating my division was doing the same in other divisions with other riders. Good on them for having a nice horse. However, it meant that a come-from-behind upset was less unlikely.
It was time to put the pedal down. Hero or zero. I decided that I felt more confident doing this with the work bridle. Dottie was, of course, perfectly fine in her show bridle. That problem was that I was not strong enough to partner her when she was in toe shoes. I would be better if she wore her ballet slippers. It was a risk. It could all have gone wahooni-shaped.
Should I have worn the work bridle from the start? Pointless as the question was, I pondered it. I decided no. All the time learning to finesse the show bride had given me a clear idea of how I wanted to ride with the work bridle. Here’s a over-fences analogy. Let’s say you are comfortable jumping 3′. Then you start jumping 4′. When you drop back down, 3′ feels like a piece of cake. It was like that.
On Sunday morning, I practiced my pattern. It was not our friend: up the long side, trot half circle, halt, canter half circle, finish the line, halt, reverse, trot back. Essentially asking if you could pick up your left canter lead and your left diagonal. These were the two things Dottie and I had trouble with. I had already blown the left canter depart in two classes (8-2-2, thank the stars for 3-judge classes. In the other case, I think they were all looking at their cards.) The left diagonal was a problem unless I made a point of reversing, straightening her out, and getting her onto the new outside rein. This significantly added to the time I took to reverse, which significantly added to the screaming from my spotters to get a move on. By contrast, Sam and I can do a fabulous turn-and-burn.
The Sunday classes both went as well as I hoped they would. I felt more confident in the work bridle. I was less worried about pissing her off and consequently able to stay steadier. My rail work was the best I’ve done in a saddle seat show, particularly the second class. My pattern was accurate and not at the pace of a NASCAR race. I held my halts and got the correct lead/diagonal. As I sat in the final line-up, I looked up at the sign over the ingate, and thought, ‘Okay Nationals, that’s all I got.’ What I got was good enough for National Finals Reserve Champion.
It wasn’t a matter of Whatever I do, I stay in the same place, it was a matter of working my butt off to stay in the same place.
Will I try again next year? Who knows. Clearly, I am unable to predict my own future [Hidden Message].
Thank you for reading,