A Long Time Coming
|Dino models the results of many months of hard, hard, hard work.|
This past weekend, Dino and I competed in our last horse trial for the 2016 season. Considering our struggles this year, I made the decision to enter the Elementary (2'3) division with the goal of completing all three phases with as few jump penalties as possible - clear rounds would be incredible - but mostly I wanted to have a positive, anxiety-free show experience and not make too many poor choices while on course.
A day that started with low expectations ended with our all-time best dressage score EVER of 30.3, and the first double-clear cross country run we've had in over a year.
As we crossed the finish flags, I burst into tears and threw my arms around Dino's neck, thanking him for carrying me over every single jump without question. Dino, true to form, dove down and started stuffing his face with grass.
I was elated, relieved, and so, so thankful for my pony in that moment. I had worked so hard for so long towards that clean run, and we had finally, FINALLY done it. There was a big fat 0 on our score sheet in the XC column.
It was a long time coming.
Interestingly enough, I was not at all happy with how Dino warmed up that day. In both dressage and jumping warm-up, he felt dull and behind the leg. Moments of connection were fleeting, and he was super grouchy about other horses coming within 20 feet of him, and would suck back and pin his ears anytime someone passed by. Even with many assists from Mr. Whippy and Messrs. Pokey 1 and Pokey 2, by the time we went in the ring, I still didn't feel confident that Dino would actually GO FORWARD when I applied my leg.
But, onward we forged, with my mind set on riding the pony under me and not worrying so much about the test in itself.
I was not at all pleased with the test, either! I texted Austen and Emma once back at the trailer, shrugging off a "shit dressage test" and musing that it was a good thing that Dino was going to get a bodywork session in the coming week - he had felt tight all over. While, yes, we had completed all the movements and the free walk and transitions in and out were pretty good, the test was so far from our recent best work it wasn't even funny.
I was SHOCKED to read the score sheet - 30.3, a new personal best for us! We were sitting tied for second place not very far behind a horse who had a LOVELY test. I'd watched it! Could it be that my standards are just that much higher now?
|Yes, I proudly display my best test ever on the fridge!|
|"Hard working, focused pair." YES that is what I like to hear!|
After a long, cold break, it was time to get ready for stadium. Dino was in a grouchy mood, and there was not a lot happening when I put my leg on. Kids on ponies were flying all over the ring and not looking where they were going, Dino was not amused, and I struggled to get him galloping forward at all. While he jumped every warm-up fence like a champ, the canter was weak and I never did get him in front of my leg.
Dino was most displeased when I asked him to get his butt through the in-gate for stadium, and I found myself kicking and trantering towards Fence 1. I didn't really much care at what gait he jumped from, he just had to GO.
Despite picking up the pace a bit as we turned towards the first jump, Dino slammed on the brakes. He is, apparently, still unsure if jumping is optional or not. I spanked him a good one, whipped his naughty butt around, and popped him over. The rest of the course actually went quite well after that, until we came rolling down to the very last fence, positioned to hit the out jump of the five-stride line perfectly, when my "unspookable" pony spooked at some flowers under the last jump and stopped HARD.
Homeboy got another spanking, and jumped the last fence upon re-approach.
At this point, I was a bit frustrated, but knew that if we could still get around XC without any penalty points, we still had a chance of pinning fairly well with only 8 faults accrued in stadium. I was also confident that I had ridden my best, and that for once, the refusals were not my fault!
We had a few minutes to hang around before cross country, so I kept Dino walking on a long rein, and took advantage of the higher-level XC warmup fences to get him really galloping over a crossrail. I didn't want to use up his limited energy, but I did want him GOING. Thankfully, Dino seemed much happier to be out in the open and merrily cruised along without me having to squeeze his guts out every stride.
Team PONY'TUDE left the start box in great form, flying down the airstrip to the first little log on course. Dino was finally, finally feeling good, and it was so easy to bring his balance back and up a few strides before each fence just by lifting my upper body. He ate up the first three log jumps, and as we came to a coop topped with rails, I waffled about the distance. We were cantering towards it well, but I wasn't confident in the long spot I saw. I hesitated, and so did Dino, and we ALMOST stopped, but I was so determined to get over that jump that I kicked him over it from a walk. Success! We easily popped over Fence 4, a small section of split-rail fence, and made our way down the hill to Fence 5, a hanging log that we've had some trouble with in schooling sessions before. I set my eye on the trees beyond the jump, squeezed Dino forward, and he popped right on over.
In typical low-level adult amateur fashion, I screamed, "GOOD BOY! ALRIGHT, BUDDY LET'S GET THIS DONE!" as we galloped up the hill to the next fence, a narrow ramp. We were up and over, easy as pie, then a sweeping left turn to a small hanging log set in the basin of the roller coaster ditch. I opted to walk down the next steep hill since it was covered in slippery-looking dead leaves, with a sharp 90-degree turn at the bottom to get to the next jump. As soon as we were back on flat ground, I pushed Dino back into a strong canter towards the little log in the trees, which he leapt over with great enthusiasm and TOOK OFF up the hill on the backside. More screaming was done on my part, "GOOD BOY! THAT'S MY PONY! ATTA BOY LET'S GET IT!"
Dino was ON FIRE; we finally had our gallop going! The last three fences were total perfection - a coop off of a very sharp turn out of the woods, some upright logs stacked together, and a mini brush box all came up out of stride. We cantered through the flags, and I was yelling and crying and feeling so many things. "GOOD BOY DINO! GOOD BOY! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! WE DID IT!"
A beautiful fourth place ribbon, plus a second lovely ribbon for our sub-35 dressage score rounded out the day. I couldn't have asked for a better way to end the season, and I'm more encouraged than ever that we will keep improving from here.
I have to include a word of thanks to my trainer as well. She's believed in us, pushed us, and gotten me (literally) back on the horse so many times this year. Her patience during my moments of anxiety, my tears and frustration, and my constant mistakes has carried us through the times in this season when I really, really wanted to give up. She's helped Dino and I improve our relationship and mutual trust, and gotten us on the right track again when things were really falling apart. This fantastic end to my eventing season would not have happened without her! Thank you so much!
And as far as Dino's plans for the rest of the fall go, he's going to get a few well-deserved days off, a bodywork session with his favorite wizard, and then it's back to the hunt field for a few more days doing what he loves best before the ground freezes. I promised him no more showing for a while, and I intend to stick to my word!