I’ve had the goal of getting my USDF bronze medal for a while now. But candidly, I haven’t done anything about it. Then, one of my dressage instructors, Deysha, mentioned a USDF Recognized show, just a week after my clinic with Julio Mendoza. We had two days to choose from, and our barn would be closed that weekend for a schooling show anyway. Plus, she wanted to bring her mare and compete too. So it seemed the riding gods were telling me to get off my “seat” and go.
We settled on Saturday, and I set out to register. Fortunately it was an online registration, which allowed me to save Charlie’s Coggins certificate for future use. I swallowed hard and hit <send>. Now it was real. There were going to be real judges and rules for my turnout and Charlie’s tack. And I had to memorize the tests. Yikes!
My dressage guru, Sisse, recommended I do two tests: Intro C and Training 1. In reading the rulebook, I found that you’re only allowed to do a maximum of three tests in a day, so committing to two tests seemed like a decent effort — not so wimpy as doing just one. So I started studying and practicing. When I wasn’t riding, I was walking the test either in my head, or in my living room, or in my office at work. They are pretty similar tests, so I tended to muddle them in my mind. It was a big relief when I confirmed that at those levels, I am allowed to have my test read to me. Whew!
Then came the weather forecast: rain. Not maybe, but absolutely for sure, and a lot of it. Damn! Being wet during a ride is miserable. Yuck! And chilly. At 55 degrees, the temperature would stay stable, but it wouldn’t be warm.
We had originally figured on letting the horses hang out on the trailer, but with that forecast, a stall seemed a better choice. But now it was close to the show date, and it wasn’t a sure thing that there would be any stalls left. Deysha took the challenge, and managed to get us stalls on the shed row, right next to each other. At least we would have a safe place to leave them while we went to the show office, and checked out the other riders, and got coffee at the concession stand to keep from freezing.
Then came the schedule. Deysha drew an 8:06am ride time. With the venue an hour away, that meant we had to leave around 5 a.m. to get there in time to check in, settle the horses in their stalls, and get ready for that early test.
My OCD kicked in, and I made a notebook. It was just a three-ring binder, but it was my security blanket — complete with a laser printed copy (ink jet runs if it gets wet) of my entry papers, the day sheet, the rider sheet, Charlie’s Coggins, proof of Charlie’s EHV-1 vaccine, and multiple copies of both my tests and Deysha’s.
Show day came, and we loaded up: people, gear, supplies, and horses. It was pitch black — both because it was still practically the middle of the night, and from the clouds overhead. As we pulled out, it started to rain. An uneventful drive, two cups of coffee, and an hour later, we pulled into Morven Park in Leesburg, Virginia. We quickly found our barn, set up the stalls and unloaded the horses. Then we headed off to the show office. The show secretary was on it; we got checked in and headed back to help Deysha ready for the first test.
As Deysha and Kazoomie entered the ring, the skies opened up, and the rain began to come down in sheets. They both gave it their best, looking elegant and composed in a driving downpour.
It was helpful for me to see the warm up ring, and the performance arenas, and hear the different cues for each ring to start their test, and see how others were handling the conditions. There’s nothing tougher than trying to look composed and elegant in a cold, blowing rain, but they did! Level 1, test 1 went great.
After that first test, we headed back to the stalls to dry off a bit, get some food, and re-group for my two tests. The good news and the bad news for me was that my tests were just 20 minutes apart. With a couple of hours to kill, everyone headed back to the show office to check on scores. I stayed at the barn. When my husband and daughter arrived, they helped me get tacked up, changed, and review the tests once more. I was doing one Intro test, and one Training test, just to see what our baseline was, so I didn’t feel a lot of pressure to get a certain score because at these levels, I didn’t have bronze medal material on the line — yet.
After peeling off my soaked socks, and drying my pruney toes as best I could, I was at least dressed the part. I mounted up and we headed off to the warm up ring. It was rather chaotic, with lots of riders, trainers trying to be heard over the rain from the sidelines, and a ditch of standing water on two sides. I tried to stay in my own little bubble, with limited success. We warmed up fine, but staying warm in the rain was a challenge, especially without using all of Charlie’s energy.
We moved up to arena #4. The judge and scribe were ensconced in a large pick up truck parked at C, and our posted sound was a cowbell. But as I trotted around the outside of the arena, the judge rolled down the truck window to tell me that the sign was actually the truck’s horn. I wasn’t sure how Charlie would react to that, so I tried to get far enough away that a “toot” wouldn’t scare him. We got back around to B before she honked, and Charlie didn’t seem to care. Whew!
An extra nudge from my leg to add some energy, and we headed in at A. Sisse called my test for me, but it was hard to hear over the rain and the activity in the other arenas. I honed in on her voice, and off we went for our Intro test. I knew the test well, but nerves have a way of messing up your memory, so I was grateful for the familiarity of hearing Sisse on the sideline. Her distinctive Danish accent actually made it easier to pick out her voice from all the other activity going on around us.
The test seemed to move in slow motion, which I took as a good thing. I tried to stay in the moment, focusing only on doing the current movement, forgetting about the previous movement, and waiting for Sisse’s call before I began the next one. Then, as if the test happened at warp speed, we were done. I left the arena feeling good about our crisp, clean test, and our round and correctly sized circles. In hindsight, I should have given more of a “look at us” attitude, but that was my nerves getting the better of me. Overall, I felt good about our performance.
No sooner did I get out of the arena, and begin to catch my breath, than it was time to go in again for our second test. No time to collect my thoughts. No time to review the next test. Just go!
The Training level test felt like it went much faster. It’s a slightly shorter test, but without the chance to review it, it felt more garbled and disorganized. Several of my transitions happened in places other than where I wanted them. I left the arena totally uncertain of our second effort.
In the end, I was happy with our tests. There were flaws like not going deeply enough into our corners, and not remembering a half halt before each and every change, and my hands higher than they should be, and my leg/seat not exactly where I wanted them, and my shoulders not back far enough. But overall, we rode a clean test, we made lovely round circles, and we had good energy. It was, in its own way, a victory. Now it was up to the judges.
We got Charlie settled back in his stall, and dried off a bit before heading back to the show office to check our scores. It took a while, but at long last, they posted — a 72% for our Introductory test, and a 65% on our Training test. We even got an 8 for rider position! My crew started to congratulate me, which felt really good.
At nearly the same moment, Julio Mendoza walked into the show office. Now that I was in my riding gear, he recognized me from the clinic a week earlier, and knew that I had ridden. He asked about my scores. I proudly showed him our sheets, and our ribbons. I’m not sure which of us was more excited. It was really nice to have a world-class rider, who had no requirement to notice me, take the time to celebrate with me. It was a great boost of moral support and inspiration.
We finally pulled into our home barn nearly 12 hours after we originally left — exhausted and elated with our efforts for the day. And while I’m not a fan of those super early morning alarms on show day, I’m happy to answer the call for a day like this one.