Blood, Sweat, and Tears: A Fair Hill Story, Part 1

The last of our intrepid team with our hard-won satin, incoming storm in the background! 
Blood & Sweat

This past weekend, Dino and I made the trek down to the July Fair Hill Starter Trials to make our very first appearance at this venue as competitors. While I've acted as spectator and groom at Fair Hill many, many times, I'd never competed there. But this year, it was time.

As Emma so rightly put it, Fair Hill's Intro course is the biggest, baddest Intro course in all the land. It is, essentially, a BN course with all of the questions and elements one might see at that level, just with jumps that are 4" smaller. With the incredible upward progress Dino and I have been having this season, I became more and more sure that Fair Hill was going to be the right choice for our "big" mid-season event - and a true test of our mettle. It turned out to be a day full of ups and downs and unexpected events, ultimately ending in success for our entire crew of brave eventers.

But first, the blood. 

I arrived at the barn in the pre-dawn blackness that is 4am only to be greeted by my very worried-looking friend and barn owner, still in her PJ's and telling me that my pony had kicked Chance's mom, Kim, IN THE FACE and there was "blood everywhere".

Cue panic and nausea.

I ran down to the barnyard to find that Dino had only accidentally clocked Kim in the eye with his head as she had bent down to feed him, but the impact had split a pretty deep cut over her eyelid that definitely needed stitches. She was shuttled home to her dad, who took her to the ER to get the cut taken care of, and I was left with two hours to kill before I had to leave for the show, since my ride time was a good 3 hours after Kim's. So, I unloaded all of Kim's stuff from my truck, turned her horse out, braided Dino, and took my time getting ready to leave. At about 6:30am, I saw I had a missed call from Kim. I called her back, and she informed me that she was all stitched up, feeling good, and had called the show office to have her ride times moved later in the day. Kim was going to Fair Hill come hell or high water!

So I re-loaded all her stuff in record time and wrapped her horse and we were off!

Part the Second: The Sweat

We arrived at Fair Hill in good time, and got Kim and Chance ready for their dressage test while waiting for the rest of our posse; Michele and Emma and their local friends, to arrive. Due to some rather inappropriate responses on behalf of a dressage judge and grievous management errors, Kim was eliminated from her Novice test before she even had a chance to start, made it very clear to the event secretary that telling a person that there would be accommodations made for them and then not fulfilling that promise was totally unacceptable, and then was placed in the BN division and allowed to complete the entire HT. It was dramatic. But if we can convince Kim to start her own blog, I'll let her tell that tale of woe.

Big and Little Blogger Steeds chillin' at the trailer
By the time Kim's situation had gotten sorted, it was time for fellow blogger Michele and I to warm up for dressage. (GUYS Remus is so chill and so cute and I wanted to steal him for my husband to ride! What a cool, laid-back little dude!)

And it was hot.

Any grand plans I had for wearing my show coat in the ring were immediately thrown out the window by the time I was done tacking up and sweat was already dripping into my eyes. No matter, I was wearing my new whites and I looked pretty damn good if I do say so myself, minus the ugly pinny. I really ought to get myself a bridle tag for dressage...

In any case, we got down to the warm-up with about half an hour to get ready for our test. I wanted to give Dino all the time he needed to get working, but it turns out I only really needed about half of what I budgeted. As soon as we got into the ring, my Wonder Pony lit up and went right to work. He felt great - forward and responsive and moving over his back. I gave him a little break and stood around chatting with Emma and Michele since it was so hot and muggy out, and just trotted and cantered him around a little bit right before our test to get him back in work mode. He felt good, and I felt we were ready to put in a good test.

Overall, I was really happy with the test. Dino remained forward and stayed focused and with me throughout every movement, and though he felt a little tense over his topline, he wasn't so locked up that I couldn't influence him at all. The canter departs were a little more rushed and less through than I would have liked, but they were at least prompt, and we didn't make any big errors like cantering in our trot circles. My second canter circle was reeeeally large, but I also felt like we nailed our centerlines and didn't give away a ton of points on the free walk. It was a solid test for us, and I hoped our score would reflect that.

I guess the judge liked what she saw, because we blew our previous best-ever score out of the water with a whopping 26.8! You could have knocked me over with a feather when I got that test back! It even included an 8.5 on our first trot circle - another new personal best for us!

"Nice horse!" YES HE IS!

so many 8's!!!!
 Dressage for us at this point has become more about keeping Dino working correctly throughout the whole test vs. just accomplishing the movements. I'm focusing more on how balanced he is, how much he's bending, keeping him relaxed over his topline and moving powerfully from behind. That increased level of finesse has been showing in our scores, and I can see my own standards have definitely gotten higher in dressage! I left the ring feeling like he was a little too tense, we were both a little too mentally rushed, and it wasn't a test that I was personally blown away by, even though it felt pretty sold. But it got us a 26.8. And honestly, at this point we SHOULD be scoring in the 20's in these BN tests after doing them for 3+ years. Video of our test (ridden in tandem with show buddy Janelle!) below:

We had a nice, long 3+ hour break before I even needed to start thinking about the jumping phases, which was enough time to watch Emma and Charlie's dressage test! That pair put in such a solid effort, and it's easy to see how much Charlie has improved since Emma got him almost a year ago. He's really starting to figure out this whole show horse thing, and it's so cool to see him try and seek out the right answers to all of Emma's requests.

After they finished up and we got our mighty steeds settled with some hay in the trailers, we all headed up to walk the XC course. Let me tell you, it REALLY helped having a big group to walk with when I started getting nervous about some of the bigger fences on course! I'll delve into cross country more in its own separate post, but know now that the course was stout, challenging, and fair. We completed our walk, settled in our plans, and before I knew it it was time for stadium.

Dino warmed up like an absolute rockstar. He blasted around the schooling area and jumped the ever-loving snot out of all the warm-up fences. Euro Pony was ON. Once again, I let him stand around and relax a bit before our round since it was so hot, revved the engine a bit right before our turn, and headed into the ring ready to kick ass.

Guys. There is almost nothing cooler than riding your heart horse into the ring at a show and hearing the announcer call out, "And now in the ring, number 122, Allison Stitzinger from Pennsylvania riding her German Riding Pony, Caradino." I heard that and felt a huge grin spread across my face. I was competing the pony I loved most in the world and worked so hard with at an awesome venue and we were here and ready to Do The Thing. It was a very, very cool moment.

Dino heard the whistle and sprung into a great canter, and we headed towards Fence 1. Up and over, no problem. The second fence was off a right roll back and was a long line of two oxers. I had to half-halt all over the place in this course, but Dino was really game and attacking all the fences and jumping GREAT. Another left rollback deposited us at the bending line of 4-5, which Dino jumped handily. A looooong tour around the ring led us to Fence 6, an oxer on the diagonal. (which incidentally didn't even make a blip on my Anxiety Radar.) Fence 7 was off a really funny, long and narrow left rollback that we needed a simple change to get through, but jumped fine, and then we were headed towards 8 and 9, a long line headed towards the in gate.

My buddy.
When we had watched a few riders jump the course earlier, we had seen them all get anywhere from 6 to 8 strides in that last line. It was so long that it was barely a related distance, so I kind of assumed Dino with his average-sized step would put in 7, and didn't really worry about making a decision on a number. The other lines in the course were a similar length and had worked out well for us, so I figured it would be fine.

We jumped in just fine over 8, and it was then that, in hindsight, I should have made a decision to come forward for the 6 or settle for the 7.

I made zero decisions.

Dino was blasting down the line with a huge, open step for the 6, and all too late I realized that I did NOT want to take a flyer to that last jump, and pulled for the 7. Dino had already committed to the longer distance, but Good Boy that he is, jammed in another stride and jumped like a deer over that last oxer, absolutely clobbering it with his hind legs and costing us a rail. Video courtesy of Emma's helmet cam and featuring Charlie's cute head is below:

I was incredibly frustrated with myself that I, Reformed Hunter Princess Extraordinaire, did not bother to look for a distance in that last line and botched the last fence so badly. But, with only 4 penalties added to my awesome dressage score, I held out hope for a good finish! Dino had also jumped SO well in stadium, and overall it was a bold, smooth, confident round. I can say with certainty that the 2'3 stadium courses are getting a little, well, boring for me at this point! And that is a good, good thing.

I had a drink of water, jumped a warm-up XC fence, and headed into the start box feeling like I was about to vomit.

But that, friends, is a tale for tomorrow!



  1. yassssssss!!!!! that dressage score tho!!!!! and seriously, did you look at the final results for this event? there were rails EVERYWHERE in every single split for each division - that stadium course was just plain wonky and the distances didn't really ride right for anybody (charlie included). i loved the forward bold ride tho, Dino looked like he was on fire!

    i had so much fun showing with you tho and nothing could top seeing you and Dino look so freakin happy after each phase!!! can't wait to read about cross country!!!! (also can i have virtual cookies for managing to get mostly-acceptable video of both your's AND janelle's side by side dressage tests?? lol....)

    1. Um you get a whole virtual CAKE for those video skillz! Thank you so much - for the video, for the moral support, everything! Showing with you and Michele and our whole gang was a blast, we definitely need to make this a regular thing! But Fair Hill was a RESOUNDING SUCCESS for everyone!! WOOOO!

    2. yessssss more fair hill adventures!!!!! :D

  2. What a fantastic start! Go team! So proud of the two of you :)

  3. It's so fun to read your recaps this year! You and Dino have really found your groove. I mean, the only bad thing in your stadium was you were too bold?! You've both come a long way.

  4. Alli and Dino rocked the house. Little cruise missile over fences is Dino! I am jealous. Dino has more motivation in one tiny hoof! :) And i saw no nerves (I think we were nervous twins Alli) from Alli. LOL while i kept wanting to vomit in the bushes :) LOL And Dino in dressage is perfection. Such a pretty boy. Great job Alli! And so great to meet you and Dino (AND KIM NEEdS A BLOG STAT! she was a HOOT!)....

    PS there were a lot of rails in stadium as Emma says. Except for the awesomeness that was Charlie. :)

    1. haha so many rails. soooo many. charlie escaped a similar fate by nothing short of black magic (and maybe those long legs....) bc we did *not* make very good work of that course lol.

    2. unfortunately i didn't get to see your course Emma, Remus and I were down the hill waiting for your cc. I knew i couldn't walk the pony too far if i wanted to get back by dark to the trailer LOL SO TIRED (PONY) HA. It was worth it to see it. Unfortunately Alli went right before me in CC which sucked us having our numbers one after the other. So i didn't get to see hers.

  5. EEEEE! I am just so proud of you!

  6. Way to rally and finish out the day with all that early morning stress and drama! You guys are absolutely killing it this season!!

  7. Y'all look so solid! That dressage test is #goals Congratulations on a job well done.

  8. Yes yes yes!!!! You guys went out there and seriously kicked some ass. That dressage test tho 😍 and he looked like he was rocking and rolling on stadium!

  9. Whoop!! So awesome!

  10. Congratulations on rocking that dressage test! You two look fabulous.

  11. Glad Kim was ok and that she was able to compete, and yay for you and dino!

  12. What a crazy way to start the day!!!! You guys are the real deal now Allison! Hooray for an amazing dressage test and great stadium round.


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