Photo of dressage

Entering at A

As I sat down to write this recap of my first trip to GAIG/USDF Regional Championships I thought about how I could include everything that happened, make it funny, interesting, and not just a diary entry into my fears overcome; so, here’s a shot. I hope you like it!

Friday. It’s typically a day of relaxation and looking forward to the weekend. Mine was not. I was keyed up. You see it was the Friday of regional championships. Finally. It seemed like forever would have to come before the day actually arrived, but like most things lately, the month of preparation after getting our last qualifying scores flew by in almost an instant.

I knew that I had a ton of things to do and little time to do them so my nerves were already on full tilt boogie! Once I arrived at the barn, things kicked into high gear and it was time to travel to Lamplight Equestrian Center. Just typing that seems like there should be trumpets or some sort of announcement playing in the background. It has been touted as “the place” to show in the area from just about everyone I’ve met in my two year tenure. It’s where the “best of the area” show and then some. I was just thankful that I’d taken a little field trip there one weekend to check it out and was prepared to keep it for finals as a special destination. And, here we were ready to embark on that special trip to that special place because… Carter and I qualified for regional championships! What, wait, what?!? Yes! We did! Excitement, shock and awe, reality is that we qualified and were soon to ride with the best of the best in the region. OK before I go on to the dreams of winning Olympic Gold —  back to packing the trailer, tack, tack trunk, clothes, food, hay, and the kitchen sink and after the official “both horses are on the trailer, poop” we were off.

We arrived a bit after my trainer and the horses and the grounds were electric. There’s no better word to describe the feeling but electric. Charged. Energy balled up into acres of land, loudspeakers, 500 horses, and accompanying riders, grooms, parents, friends, trainers, and spectators. WOW! Of course, I tried to internalize all of this energy but instead I must have just passed it right off to Carter who, wouldn’t you know it, displayed the most terrific bout of show diarrhea I’ve ever seen. Holy cow! Of course, right?! He started freaking me out when he wouldn’t stop circling in his stall after he’d poop. I had no idea how to help him.  Dadadada! Trainer Laura to the rescue! Show-approved diarrheal that she just happened to grab on the scurried way out of the barn administered and all calmed to a norm. Thank goodness! I can breathe my first of many sighs of relief that weekend.

Sue and Carter Enjoying the Ride Photo: Chuck Swan / Swan Studios LLC

Sue and Carter Enjoying the Ride
Photo: Chuck Swan / Swan Studios LLC

We weren’t able to school until after the day’s tests were complete so we had a lot of downtime. Oh right. Schooling Carter took on a different meaning this weekend, too. Because for the entire show season Laura would school him before I did each and every show weekend. This helped him relax and get into the right frame as I was (notice WAS) still learning how to pull him all together in our practice sessions.

However, rules are that only the rider can mount the horse once on show grounds. Perfect. So, I’m tense, I mean really tense with all the commotion and goings on – which means that Carter will also be tense because I’m tense and he feels everything I feel and then some. Great. Ok… inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, breathe and try to relax. We’ve practice collection. We’ve practiced no whip, no spurs. We will be great! We deserve to be here!

We didn’t mess around with the practice arenas. After all, they were abandoned by the time we were able to school and that certainly wasn’t going to be the same case tomorrow or Sunday when we had to use them. We decided to go where the money is and practice in our show rings. At Lamplight, there are three arenas in “the bowl”. The arenas are recessed about four feet into the ground with veranda viewing areas above. It’s really pretty cool. Unless you’re a horse and are going into the dungeon of doom for the first time ever down a sandy slope carrying your riding to an obvious pit of despair.  But, we made it. Slowly and cautiously, I surveyed the surroundings for offending obstacles. The loud-speakers just at horse-ear level are the only things (aside from the motion of people walking, horses spooking in the lane, and flowers, trees, leaves, anything moving overhead) that really had me on high-alert. I knew, just knew they might cause an issue if the nice Australian-accented announcer decided that he needed to provide some sort of information right as we were passing by it. Call it foreshadowing for now.

Off to our first arena where we’ll show on Saturday. First thing I noticed were two judges boxes. Next, flowers in letters, in front of the judges boxes. Third, the incline on the long end of the arena that housed a few objects of doom – a wheel barrel and two ramps. OK. Environment scanned and we were off. Thankfully, another rider had someone sitting in the judges box so Carter was able to see that it wasn’t going to eat him and that we’ve seen these before. He checked out the flowers and decided that he wanted a sample. Thank goodness they weren’t real and they were very ‘planted’ in whatever substance they were in… but they were immobile. We practiced going forward… I felt like we were a little stuck and had a little less impulsion than we needed to get around. We practiced in the championship ring, too. He seemed to like that arena better. No scary wheel barrels. Ah… good. We practiced and I was pleased that we didn’t encounter a spook the entire time on Friday. Sigh of relief.

Saturday. My ride was at 3:38pm. It was 4:30am. I was wide awake and ready to go. My trainer was riding at 8am something so packed show clothes, show cooler, chairs, tack, extra boots, extra clothes, kitchen sink number two and we headed to the show. (Aside. I just realized I use “we” as often as I use I… “we” in the human instance means my ever-helpful, ever-ready-to-go, always-there-when-I- need-him, husband, Greg. He is a saint for being trudged to every show carrying “stuff” like a mule. I owe him so much). When we arrived the electricity that was there Friday had somewhat subdued, but the energy level was still spiked. Thankfully, my trainer rode early. Unfortunately, my trainer rode early. Ha! That meant that we had nearly an eternity before I rode. And, yes, it felt like it. Carter thought he was on an eating vacation. This is how the time after my trainer’s ride went. Diarrhea gone. Thank goodness! Walked Carter. Walked Carter again. I had some friends coming to see us on Saturday. It was great to have them arrive with enough time to spend time with them before I had to get seriously into my “show place” and mentally prepare for the pit of despair.

To the arena we go!

To the arena we go!

The funny thing about visitors during this show. I barely remember who was there, when. I know there were plenty of people who stopped by, who stayed to watch, who said nice things to me when we were finished. Sad thing is that I must have been in a mild state of shock nearly the entire weekend that I don’t remember clearly who was there and who wasn’t. Goodness. Check myself into therapy… I need to learn to let go of that stress! Thank you to everyone who was there for us. I appreciate your support even though it may have seemed like I wasn’t there.

OK. Time to ride. Time to practice. Almost show time. Carter was willing in the practice arena. We were doing great and making the best of the craziness that is the practice arena. Horses going this way and that and riders who think they own the world making their entrance and annoyance known. What is it with some riders who think their horsepoopy doesn’t stink? Seriously, common courtesy for other riders in the arena is really appreciated. I give you your space, you give me mine. Right. Not so much for some of these riders with me that day. How rude! I digress.

Things were going fine… until something possessed my mind and I decided to try a little trick to move him forward a bit. I flicked my wrist which was connected to my whip, which made contact with his hind and before I knew it – RODEO time! He flew into the air with the greatest of ease trying to get what he interpreted as something from another world hell-bent on attacking his rear-end. Buck, Buck, kick kick and I found myself without a left stirrup, with my helmet tipped to the side, and holding on for dear life. “I will not fall off! I will not fall off! Sit in the middle! Calm down Carter. Shhh. Calm down” AH, SIGH of RELIEF. He did. I was still alive, mounted, and able to get my left stirrup back, adjust my helmet. Breathe and look around like when you trip over something in public – “did anyone see that?” Apparently my husband, my friends, and observers did not. Really!?! My trainer did. Thank you!

Spook #1 down. Calm. Center. Focus. Hands, stop shaking please! We proceeded. I heard the practice ring steward say #554 Moore, you have seven minutes. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? Seven minutes to recover from that!? OMG OMG Breathe! And I hear my trainer “you need to canter him again” UGH… ok. Breathe. Back relaxed…cue seat, cue leg and we’re off in a very collected canter. Here comes another rider. Oh crap, her whip is extended out toward us. Oh crap, she’s not moving over…

Spook #2! Are you kidding me! Now, apparently they were calling me over the loud speaker but I was having an out of body experience and I was no longer connected to my body. My trainer was yelling at me…we have to go and I remember saying “No, I’m not ready yet” To my dismay… there was not more time to be ready. We had to go. No time to dismount. We had to do. So, we made our way with what seemed a police escort up the horse trail to the arenas. And. Wouldn’t you know it… just as we passed that one long side of the arena we’re showing in that had the ramps barricaded off… the barricade blew over. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!

Spook #3! At this point I’m not sure if I was even coherent. I just knew I had to get into the arena and get around for five minutes showing our stuff so that we could practice for tomorrow’s big day. Nearly missing my ride time, we met the ring steward who decided that I was to be scorned for being so late and all I said was “I’m sorry, we had a few issues down below”. We entered the bowl, turned left toward arena #3 and, remember my foreshadow, yep, that’s right Mr. Australian accent announcer guy decided that right now, this moment it was time for an announcement… and WHAM!

Breathe!

Breathe!

Spook #4! Can this really be happening? Should I just scratch and be done with this nonsense? No, I pushed through and tried my best, silently, to calm my normally docile beast. Whose nostrils, I’m certain, were the size of grapefruits by this point… poor Carter.  Poor me! Thankfully, we were able to muster up some sense of decorum and made it into the arena.  Things were going fairly well, I was trying to breathe. Trying to make sure that we were in the test bubble where nothing could penetrate, we were safe doing our thing… it was all good until we rounded C, passed the judges booth with just 45 seconds left of our test and just as we were downward transitioning from canter to trot at C the judge coughed. SERIOUSLY?!?!.

Spook #5. Are you kidding me!? We made it to our stretchy circle but there was no stretching going on… there was no way I was going to get Carter to relax when I was still at about a 50 on a 10-point scale. This was the ride from hell as far as I was concerned. Now, I know there was no display of “hi-ho silver” and I’m grateful for that! But… as far as my experience. I was in dressage rider hell right now. Nerves completely shot. We saluted at X and SIGH OF RELIEF we made it! I gave him the biggest pat of thank you I could muster. Exited the bowl as confidently as possible; to arrive at, none other than the scariest person on the earth, the guy who checks the bits. Carter wanted none of it. None of him. So I dismounted rather less than gracefully, but still with some fashion and we were cleared to leave the arena.

THANK GOODNESS THAT WAS OVER. My adrenaline was the highest I can remember in a long, long time. And not in a good way. My trainer tried to liken it to show jumping… and I said I HOPE not because it was sheer terror and nothing I wanted to experience again. Ever. And then it hit me. I HAVE TO RIDE TOMORROW. IN A CHAMPIONSHIP CLASS. OMG. SERIOUSLY?! After THAT!?

All night I was contemplating scratching. Why not? I just lived through the spookiest ride ever on a horse that rarely spooks at anything. And, I was the instigator! What if he didn’t calm down tomorrow? What if he got worse? What if I’m breaking my horse? What if I get hurt? What are you talking yourself into, I thought. This is the championship. You’ve worked all season for these five minutes. All the practice. All the showing. All the hours in the saddle. You HAVE to show. And so I drifted off to sleep still dreaming about the spooks, jolting myself out of them several times before morning. Oh, did I mention it WAS a full moon. No wonder!

Carter and I before our final.

Carter and I before our final.

Sunday. The BIG day. I ride my championship class today. I deserve to be here. I am a calm and confident rider and my horse is supple and focused. Or something like that. It’s earlier today. It’s 4:15a and my ride is at 8:09a.  We (ever-special hubby and I) arrived at the venue. Muffins in hand. Crisp chill in the air. One thing was missing. Electricity. Wait. It was calm. Horses breathing calmly. Chomping of hay. Serene sounds of the barn. Oh thank you. I don’t have to scratch today. I am where I am supposed to be and this is going to be a GREAT day! I felt it. And as dawn arrived, the excitement of the day built but it was a good excitement; not fearful. Not full of tension. Easy, confident, relief. I could sense a difference in Carter, too. He was relaxed. He looked at me with that soulful eye and gave me a new-found embracing hug as if to say, “Hi Mom! We’ve got this. No more craziness today. I’m a good boy.”

The morning went quickly and it was time to hop on to go to the practice arena. Thank goodness it was quiet in there. No crazy practice arena. All the practice divas had apparently left the day before, or they rode later in the day. No matter. They weren’t around. We did what we needed to do without surprises. We were together. We were calm and confident and focused. OK. I admit, I was a little tense at the beginning of the ride, but it passed pretty quickly when I realized that we were feeling great today and it was going to be a good ride. We were called “on deck” and I had time to dismount and hand-walk him up to the arena.

We did it!!!

We did it!!!

I mounted, after a bit of a festive exchange with the ring steward who remembered me from the day before but took it all in stride. Okay, it was a good day! Carter and I entered the bowl and turned right… it was all good. We did our practice lap by the judges. He handled it like a pro. I saw an “L” judge program member from one of the other venues and immediately felt at ease. “We can do this, we got this, Carter” I gave my boy a pat as the bell rang and we entered at A, halted at X for the first time around in a regional championship class. We did it. We belonged here. We are here. I rode taller and prouder than I think I have all season. I was smiling. I think Carter was smiling. We were in sync.

The craziness of the earlier days seemed to vanish as we rounded the corner for our last time down centerline at A for the season. We had done it! We had just competed in the USDF Region 2 Dressage Championship. I love this sport! We finished 24th out of our class of 31. But, to have made it here! To have qualified. To have lived the experience. It is something I will never forget! And, the cool thing is that I’ve made some friends during the year – and those friends are headed to the first-ever Dressage National Finals! Good luck to my friends! I’m sure you’ll ride well!

Thanks for coming along on this journey with us!

Sue
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