Harley is a little girl magnet. I saw exactly one little girl at the horse show and she came up to my horse right away. Before I could introduce her to him, she was right next to him, stroking his nose and his neck, with eyes like saucers and a toothy grin. Harley obliged her and stood like a statue despite the very unusual situation we found ourselves in. I decided they had already met and instead introduced myself. That little horse girl pretty much made my day, because not too much went well yesterday. I just think about her smiling face and my horse's sweet expression and know that he is a wonderful and amazing boy, no matter what. Thanks, fellow horse girl.
Weather wise, the good news is that there was not a heat wave yesterday. The bad news is that it thunder-stormed and rained all day long. My husband and I followed the trailer in a separate vehicle, so needless to say, my heart was in my throat when I heard thunder in the distance and it started to monsoon. My horse and his trailer disappeared from sight when traffic at a toll separated us from the barn owners. I couldn't help feeling a little sick. I would not have been able to forgive myself if something happened to my dear horse, because we tried to trailer to a low-key schooling show. Why didn't I just call up and scratch before we left or turn around and go home? Well, the weather has been really strange around here lately. It reminds me of Florida. The weather forecast says "isolated thunderstorms" almost everyday, even though they do not happen every day, and sometimes it pours for twenty minutes while the sun is shining and then goes away. So I conferred with the barn owners before we left and decided that we might as well just go. Our destination was less than an hour away, so we decided to persevere.
I teach a science curriculum by profession, but a teacher's job also includes instilling certain values in young people. One of the character qualities that I try to encourage is perseverance. I like to think that this quality is rewarded in the face of opposition, unfortunately this is not always the case. And, dually unfortunately for me, was not the case for us yesterday. Ready for the gritty details?
We were separated from the trailer and arrived at the show grounds on our own. The trailer had been well ahead of us, so when we arrived I fully expected my horse to be waiting for me, but he was no where to be seen. I immediately became very nervous. I tried calling, but it took a couple tries to get through. Apparently, we had somehow passed them on route. I did not feel better until I saw the trailer pull up about ten minutes later.
Harley was not totally soaked coming out of the trailer, but the windows had let a fair amount of rain in, leaving his face and sides streaked with water. Thankfully, he is a sensible guy and did not seem too worried about this, although I did see that he barely touched his hay and had a loose manure in the trailer. His pretty calm demeanor coming off the trailer was misleading. Harley was nervous. After checking him over and letting him mosey around and pick at some grass, I handed him to my husband and opened the tack room section of the trailer.
Uh-oh. All of my gear was wet. I forgot about those little windows with grates at the front of the trailer. They were open, which is normally a good thing, but the rain had been beating down with a determination to drench everything I owned and it nearly succeeded. I brushed it off, realizing that my gear was about to get soaked anyway, if I was going to go through with the tests. The only saving grace was that the facility had an indoor, which I had been told was available for warm up. Thank goodness. All I could think about was getting in there. At least I could give my horse the experience of riding somewhere new and maybe get a few positive moments out of a quickly deteriorating experience.
I found out that there was a place for me to change (I normally change in the trailer, but that would have been very unpleasant). I was so, so grateful for that dry bathroom. I took a few moments to compose myself. I gave myself a pep talk.
"We are going to go out there and do our best. The score doesn't matter. We are here so let's make an experience out of it. We can still take something worthwhile away from this."
I left the bathroom in my new, dry, show clothes and headed back outside. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had decided that it wasn't raining quite enough yet. She opened the flood gates and let out a down pour.
My husband and I walked back to the trailer, he with an umbrella and me with a rain coat, to find that my horse had been untacked and he was being asked to go back on the trailer. I saw his nervous expression and raised tail and knew that he was not happy about going in a trailer in a downpour. Of course the intention was to get my tack and my horse out of the rain, which I appreciate, but it just didn't work out. One of many things on a growing list! I was thankful for the efforts on my behalf.
My ride time was fast approaching, so I decided to take my horse and my tack to the indoor, tack up there and get on. The rain was coming down in sheets, so tying him to the trailer and tacking up there was just not possible. It was indoor or bust, so off we went. My husband and a friend, who was a very, very welcomed helper, carried my gear as I led Harley. I swear he stole a look at me that said,
"Woman, you have got to be kidding me."
I apologized to him silently. I fully admit that my horse has better sense than me, but I was persevering.
I. was. persevering.
I was not going to give up just yet. And I was careful to thank everyone who was helping me and profusely. I understood that they were just as drenched and just as miserable as I was. I kept that in my mind all the time.
We made it to the barn, only to find that the indoor was unavailable for warm up. What?! I was given a reason, but looking outside and seeing what the weather was doing, I just could not believe it. Of all the days to close an indoor arena. I felt a little shattered, but decided that I had no choice but to invite myself into the barn aisle.
"Please, just let me stand here and tack up my horse."
I was close to begging and that's when the cute little girl starting fawning over Harley who stood like a rock, despite the pouring rain, the unfamiliar barn full of new smells and new horses, and his owner's desperation. He just stood there and he looked cute. Cuteness does come in handy. I think this was why we were allowed to hang around for a few minutes. I am pretty sure that it is not typical to tack up anywhere but at your own trailer at a horse show, but like I said, there was a monsoon outside. I believe this qualified as an unusual situation.
I accepted the fact that we would have to warm up in the pouring rain (the thunder had stopped). I accepted the fact that we were going to get totally drenched, including my leather tack. I accepted the fact that we were not going to get a good score today. And then I decided to scratch the Second Level test. That test was very challenging for us under the best of conditions. Yesterday, it just would have been foolish.
Remember my warm up plan? Completely went out the window. Our warm up area was very small at maybe a third the size of a standard dressage arena, on wet grass, with standing water, and uneven terrain. I had to be very conservative. We did trot and canter, but I asked Harley to keep everything very small and controlled. This is the complete opposite of how Harley likes to start out a ride. His back simply never warmed up fully. Some cantering and a few transitions helped, but there was no way to let him stretch safely, in my opinion. He was listening, my sweet boy, but he was very tense. He tried for me and that is all I can ask of him. I love my horse.
I took a deep breath and we entered the show arena. You can see in the pictures that there is a lake near "C" and standing water throughout most of the ring. This was no one's fault and could not be helped. You would think that since I was riding the sensible quarter horse, I would have had the advantage under these conditions, but that was not the case at all. I watched a couple other riders ride their tests (I only saw about five riders brave the weather yesterday), and their horses marched through the puddles without much trouble. I was pretty surprised, actually.
"Okay, maybe this isn't going to be that bad. If they can do it, we can do it, too."
Wrong. Very wrong was I.
First Level Test 3 was a train wreck. Just about the worst test I have ever ridden in competition. The only one that was worse was the Training Level ride on Blue, when I was first starting out, but that was for completely different reasons. I didn't choke during the test. I stayed present for the entire monstrous thing. I smiled and shook my head a few times, but I kept it going. I am the queen of keeping a test going. No reader. Just me and Harley and a burning determination to ride the pattern even if it barely looked like a dressage test. At some point it became an exercise in getting it done, going through those puddles, and trying to ride a few nice strides here and there. We broke gait about half a dozen times. Harley absolutely refused to canter through the lake at "C". He also had no stretch over his back so no stretchy trot, which was also supposed to happen in the lake. Relaxation is one of the first elements on the training scale and we just didn't have it. I cannot rebalance my horse when he is tense and tight. Half-halts were a distant memory. To his credit, he did not hop around, buck, spook, or do anything dangerous and we did manage one shallow counter canter loop on the left lead, when leaving the dreaded "Lake C". What he did do, was raise his neck, drop his back, and lift his legs as high as he could to avoid the puddles. He rushed around the arena and no amount of clever aiding or soothing on my part was going to convince him otherwise. How the other non-quarter horses sauntered through those puddles without coming off the aids or losing frame is beyond me. They still looked very nice, even in the pouring rain. I guess they were just much better than us. I could see that and I chose to ride anyway.
So my biggest disappointment, is that the judge didn't recognize our perseverance or the horrendous riding conditions. I smiled at her as we headed down the centerline and turned left at "C" to begin our test. We started off with a string of sixes, and during the test, I thought for a moment that maybe we were going to pull it off, but then Harley let me know that this was not our day. During the second leg yield off my right leg, which is so easy we can do it in our sleep, Harley broke to walk, ignored my insistent leg taps, and proceeded to drop manure right in front of the judge. At that point, the reality of the situation pretty much hit me. I still continued to ride. I still sought softness and connection and balance, they were just beyond my reach. But I still tried for them for every step of the test.
When I halted in front of the judge to discuss the ride, I thought she was going to say something of our efforts. Something witty or light-hearted would have been nice:
(in my words)
"Nice weather we're having, isn't?"
"So your horse doesn't like puddles, does he?"
"Bring your swimmies next time it rains."
Or even just,
"Thanks for coming out and riding."
Then lay it on me. I can take it. I knew that our ride was terrible, but so were the conditions and the day. The judge did no such thing. She began by asking if this was our first dressage show (ouch) and then proceeded to list every single thing that we did wrong. I shelved my smile and replaced it with my game face.
"Okay. Okay. Okay. Yes. Thank you."
I can take the low scores. I can take the 51%. I know that is not indicative of what we can do. I believe in my horse and myself. What I have trouble swallowing is the disdain that the judge seemed to hold for us. I mean it. She seemed disgusted or maybe even insulted by our presence and our performance. My husband said that she was probably having a bad day. I get that, but we all were, and it is worth noting that she was sitting in a covered gazebo dishing it out while I was soaked to the bone. She did not say even one nice thing to me and did not write anything encouraging on my test. I hope that is very unusual for dressage judges. It was certainly something that I have not seen before and hope not to see again. And this was supposed to be a "laid-back" schooling show. Whoa. It didn't come off that way to me. I saw some serious competitors, some serious horse flesh, and a very serious judge. I am serious, too, but of more modest means.
So all in all, it was a bust. Worst show experience of my life. I am so, so grateful for my husband, my friend, and the barn owners. They were such awesome people to come with me and spend their Sunday under those conditions. My husband was so incredibly supportive. He did everything from playing chauffeur to holding Harley, to being a human saddle rack, taking pictures, getting yelled at for holding an umbrella near the barn, navigating shore (tourist) bumper-to-bumper traffic on the drive home, helping me clean out the trailer later on, and then consoling me when we got home and the inevitable hurt set in. I can only hold it together for so long. I mean, I am human, and I do care a great deal about my riding and my horse. I did not seek to fail, but, unfortunately, I did. I am rarely in that position. I should just take the bitter pill and move on. It doesn't change anything that really matters. Really. I am very lucky.
I will try to remember the support of my husband and friends and the gigantic smile of the little girl petting Harley. One bystander commented that Harley would be a good horse for the girl to ride. Although she was unbelievably sweet and genuine, I am going to have to disappoint her there. Harley belongs to this horse girl, and with me he shall stay!
|Harley may not be a lot of things, but one thing is for sure: he is a good horse and he is a dressage horse. I do not care who contests it. We will just have to agree to disagree.|
|"C" is at our right as we enter the lake. Harley's expression basically says it all.|
|Harley's carousel horse impression after breaking gait: He just was not having it and I cannot blame him.|
|Shallow counter canter loop on the left lead.|
|This was a brief moment of success even if we didn't quite make it out to X.|
|Can you see all the rain drops in the photos?|
|Our final salute and glad it is over.|
|Harley expressing his opinion of the experience.|
|Looking cute while we take it unsweetened.|
|Leg yield left: I thought this felt pretty steady and nice. We got a six, but the judge made it clear that she was not impressed.|
|Harley's infamous poop tour.|
|Oh well. I will live. Good thing showing isn't my favorite horse activity.|
|A picture from before we left and on our new patio stairs. I am very glad that my husband took this photo in the morning.|
|Cute, just not functional, and I probably will not wear it again. The bow detached from the net when I took my hair down. Looks like my 15-year-old show bow will have to come out of retirement.|