Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Skipping The WEG Rocked. Here's Why

I will start by saying that three words which should never, ever be strung together in this order are: "Beginner Novice Trakehner." "Beginner Novice," sure. "Trakehner" if you must. "Beginner Novice Trakehner"--are you kidding me?

With all the love and appreciation that I do have for Brian and Penny Ross, who not only organize the Virginia Starter Trials--much more chaotic than a regular horse trials as so many starters don't have a clue--AND allow Old Dominion Pony Club Region to piggyback their event rally onto the starter trials, AND ALSO organized the stabling so that my mare was as far away from her BFF, my daughter's horse, Mickey, as possible, I have to say that putting a trakehner on beginner novice is too much.

{For the Muggles: a Trakehner is a type of cross-country jump consisting of a log hanging over an open, revetted ditch. Trakehners are scary as hell, to horse and human both; they're inherently difficult no matter what their height.}

As posted yesterday, I skipped attending the World Equestrian Games in favor of watching my daughter and my pony clubbers ride like wildfire at the Old Dominion Regional Event Rally this weekend, and I'm glad I did.

Since there was a Starter Horse Trials, and also schooling on Saturday morning, I decided to bring my darling mare Sarah along. Factoring in that we hadn't competed since her rehab from an injury last winter, that I was less than three weeks back in the saddle from knocking myself unconscious, that I was coaching one of my club's riders, and that I was actually also co-hosting the rally, I decided to drop from novice to beginner novice. The Trakehner didn't bother Sarah, who'd jumped it on the Novice Area 2 Championship course the year before. It didn't bother my daughter, who was going Novice, or her teammate Halie, who was riding a combined test. Nor did it overly bother our darling neophyte, Kiri, because I told the rest of the team that if they gave Kiri the idea that Trakehners weren't your usual and customary beginner novice fence I would personally cause them injury.

It was Kiri and her horse Spencer's first riding rally and first event and the third different venue they'd ever schooled cross-country. They schooled brilliantly except for Kiri falling off at the Trakehner. She hopped right back on, pummeled Spencer authoritatively, and jumped it. They were delighted and delightful during the schooling, because they were so willing despite their inexperience, and because Kiri's smile could light small cities most of the time. Spencer accidentally fell off the down bank and said, "Oh, COOL! That's what you want!" and went down it happily every time afterward. He was brave at the water. He barely flicked at ear at anything and he strutted off the course licking his lips, ears forward.

My daughter, meanwhile, put to rest the demons of a difficult week (our old dog died, among other crap). Over one fence Mickey bounced her so loose that I thought her air vest would deploy; she landed on his neck, stirrupless, and disappeared behind a small hill. She reappeared with her butt in the saddle, her feet in the stirrups, her contact reestablished and all her attention focused on her next fence. Her teammates went wild.

As an aside, my friend Michelle also got jumped loose schooling, and her air vest DID deploy. Her young mare Ava took off like a shot, ran loose, and, according to two unrelated eyewitnesses, jumped a parked motorcycle on the way back to the barn. I'm so sorry not to have been the third eyewitness.

So that was Saturday. Then the rally started, with jogs, equipment checks, helmet checks, and formals. Then we walked the courses. Sunday morning my first job was coaching Halie. I'm not much of a coach, more there for moral support, though I did explain to Halie just how and when she was supposed to enter the dressage ring, as it was her first time. I failed to tell her how to exit--as a result, she left not only the dressage arena but also the ring around it, and made her pony Chip climb a small mountain on his way back to me. She put in a lovely test, forward and accurate and happy, and then she went down and coolly cantered her way around the green showjumping course that all the other competitors in her division were nervously trotting. Halie's got her eye on cross country for next time, and I'm thrilled.

When Kiri went into dressage, Spencer ogled at the letter A. "Oh, crap," I said, recognizing a hole in our preparation, "he's never been in a dressage arena before." Caroline McClung, who was coaching my daughter and Kiri, said drily, "Well, that might have been nice to know." But it was a good test--solid, no mistakes.

I couldn't help but be mounted for showjumping when I went to watch my daughter's dressage test--the times were too close--but I did manage to watch her while preventing my horse from ever seeing hers, or hers from seeing mine. (At one point I asked a complete stranger, "Excuse me, could you please pet my horse for a moment? I need her to not notice this bay gelding walking by." The complete stranger obliged.) My daughter has been working very hard to improve her dressage and on Saturday it paid off, with by far their best test ever, which put them in first place in their division, which is not where you typically find us Bradleys after the dressage.

Then I went down and asked when they were going to raise the jumps to BN, only to be told that they were set, which was awesome, and then Sarah and I jumped them and it was REAL RIDING, as opposed to my old technique of point-and-run.

Then Kiri showjumped. On the drive home she said that the course was the best riding she'd ever done, and I wholeheartedly agree. Spencer might have been a little nervous about the grandstand and the bright fences and the atmosphere, but Kiri had courage enough for them both. Then we rode together to cross country. Showjumping had been running behind and they were taking cross-country riders as they got them. We didn't need much warmup. "I'll go first," Kiri said.

I watched her first fences from the startbox--fluid, strong. Then Sarah and I set out. At one point I caught another glimpse of Kiri and Spencer, still cantering so that was good. Sarah found the jumps easy-peasy. I concentrated on balancing her without taking too big a tug--she's gotten so much more responsive that I have to be careful not to pull too much--and it was lovely, lovely, especially when I got to the Beginner Novice Trakehner and Kiri wasn't lying underneat it.

They had one stop, at that wretched Trakehner, but only one. On the second try she got him over. We laughed ourselves silly at the finish line.

Later in the afternoon my daughter romped clear over the novice course. She won her division; Halie and Kiri both got ribbons in theirs. In the rally they were first in horse management and second overall. Our stable manager, Caroline, won the region's stable management award and my daughter's horse got best-conditioned.

The ribbons were lovely, but they weren't the point. The point was all that joy. On the way home I commented to my daughter that this plus her placing at Pony Club Championships insured that she was already qualified for next year's championships.  "Hmm," Kiri said. "So if I want to ride at championships, I have to get another qualifying result--like, say, this fall at River Glen?"

Yes ma'am. You bet.