Sundance I & II

On this weekend then name should have been changed to Rain Dance. As the photos show, it was drenched.

Here’s how it unfolded for us. My trainer Andy showed an awesome black Friesian / Warmblood cross named Bob, so after a rest from trailering we took them out for a walk. Conditions were perfect, fields dry, temperatures in the 70s, and bug free. Romeo was crazy tense and worked up. I was just waiting for the big spook or explosion, but it never came. Andy gave him a light workout as did I while she worked Bob. By the time we headed back to the stalls, Romeo began to relax. I thought this was going to be a perfect weekend.

That night I couldn’t sleep as messed up test sequences lingered in my head. By 5am the butterflies we flapping away inside but at least there was a beautiful sunrise to enjoy. After cleaning stalls and feeding the big boys, the sunrise was replaced by a fine mist. No big deal we naively thought.

Warming up in the field at 7:30am the drizzle was bearable. Romeo was still on edge but not as bad as the previous night. Andy worked with me verbally through the headsets until we starting feeling better. During that time he refused a few aids, tried to throw his shoulder, but after 30 minutes we were ready and then the bell rang and down the centerline we went. Romeo was very sensitive but obedient. I tend to focus on the things we did wrong (flying change when I asked for a down transition at X, poor stretchy circle in trot, and tightness in my body), but we did some things right too. Just keeping him in the arena was a goal of mine and he was really going nicely. The biggest surprise was came during our second lengthening…it felt weird…more bouncy than normal. I actually checked to make sure he wasn’t cantoring but no, he was still trotting. I would later find out he did his first trot extensions. And just like that we were halting in from of the judge. We had done it. Our first recognized show together at first level. No blow ups, lots of energy, and a few mistakes.

The rain was really coming down now and my jacket was drenched, so we headed back to the barn. Poor Andy had to go warm up Bob for their ride in a down poor…yuk! In the barn it dawned on me how stressed I had been about the test. I was now relaxed, comfortable except that I was getting cold, to the point of shaking. I put a light blanket on Romeo and headed for the camper.

This was the most pleasant surprise of the entire weekend. Ronda decided we should bring the RV with and when I opened that door and realized she already had the heater turned on I was so thankful. After hanging the wet clothes out to dry, I warmed up with coffee and was again reminded what a great wife I have to support me in these endeavors. On this trip, our grand-daughter joined us too…that’s her in the picture. I guess she wanted purple hair, so Kay decided to paint it in.

Photo credit Kay Geraghty

During this time Andy rode her first test and Bob did great as we knew he would. Later we would find out we won our classes receiving scores in the mid to high sixties. Not bad considering the conditions.

My training 3 test was later that afternoon and the clothes still weren’t dry. So with sogginess in tow, I stepped out of the trailer only to find more rain and wet everywhere. Romeo and I headed to the arena and warmed up on a pool of mud. He felt really different than in the morning. He seemed extremely sensitive but not as wound up. Maybe it was the mud…I couldn’t be sure, but the net for me is while most of the nervous energy was gone, I didn’t feel confident when we rode down the centerline to start the test. That sixth sense turned out to be right too. During the test as soon as I would touch him with my leg to bend, Romeo would break into a cantor. It seemed like we were perpetually one letter ahead of where we needed to be, He picked up the wrong lead, and I didn’t correct it. In short, we were disastrous. I was expecting to be punished by the judge, and indeed on those things we did wrong low scores were handed out. However, what was unexpected is that she also rewarded the things we did well. I tend to forget those, but Romeo has great gaits which makes up for my mistakes some times. The net is we received another 67% and took 2nd in our large class. It seemed like a gift at the time, but after reflection on individual marks, it was fair and emphasized not to freak out when you make a mistake during a test. One bad mark will not kill the entire test unless you let it get to your head.

Andy went on to win her 2nd level class for the 2nd time that day in these miserable conditions. Bob wasn’t convinced to stay on her aids as he should, but like Romeo, I suspect a lot of it had to do with conditions. Our first day was now in the books and it was better than I could have hoped for.

When we got back to the camper, Ronda had cooked a great meal of pork chops, potatoes, and fruit. What a perfect way to end the day. There were probably 7 people in the camper laughing about the day, dreaming of tomorrow, and in general relishing the sport we love so much.

Day 2 started out much like day 1. The sunrise was beautiful, but as it warmed fog from all the previous day’s precipitation made for an English landscape moment. Once the fog lifted, we were confronted with reality….the day would be hot and arenas were still a muddy mess. Andy had both of her rides in the morning, so there was no chance for her of escaping the poor conditions. Nevertheless she prevailed again and this time with higher scores than yesterday. Bob was very uphill and looked fantastic. Martha beamed all afternoon watching the horse she bred doing so well.

Warmup for my first test went great. When we arrived at the arena, there were no other horses and only a few people in the bleachers. Based on Romeo’s nervous energy from yesterday, I thought that would be a problem, but he was just relaxed and quick off my aids. I think that helped me loosen up too. This first level test we road well. He lengthened both times. I made a few mistakes such as losing my stirrup which caused us to break in the cantor, and mis-timed some transitions but we sat the trot well and did a solid job in just about all facets. Our final score was ~71%…the first time in my life to have broken then 70% barrier.

As we left the arena, I could just sense Romeo was having fun. Our last test was in less than an hour at the same place, the Romeo just grazed around while I took in some water and wiped the sweat from my head. It was really getting hot.

Warmup this time was effortless as he enjoyed playing around in field; however, when the bell range, I could sense he was ready to be done. We rode the training level test just fine not really making any mistakes, but his energy was off in the cantor. We had some good moments though and ended up with a 73% score. Believe it or not, that would only take 2nd place as the show’s overall high score came in our same class with a 74%…a ride that was lovely and deserving.

So a great weekend all around. It was fun to be surrounded by friends and family, not have anyone injured, and come away with confirmation that we are making good progress.
The final judge’s comments will serve as a direction for next steps. On the good side, we heard “elegant/talented horse” and “nice partnership”, but we also consistently heard “needs more energy”, ”work to keep the horse more uphill in cantor”, “lengthen even more”, “keep heels down and elbows quiet”, “work to improve lateral suppleness”, and “needs more thrust in trot lengthenings”. So work hard we will. It’s nice to know what the possibilities are with this horse and to have confidence that he will be good at shows.

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