This is a long post, so my apologies in advance.
Thursday the kids all showed up, happily sprung from the necessity of school, in order to bathe their horses and pack the truck. This went smoothly and (miraculously) the only thing we ended up forgetting was a longe line, which is fine because we don’t honestly do a lot of longeing.
I was borrowing a client’s trailer and I loved it - the whole hauling experience was really delightful. The horses jumped right in the trailer, no hesitations, which always delights me because of how easy it is. And partially, too, my amazement at how trusting these horses are.
I’m going to write mostly about my experience as a coach at this show. I’m writing this for my own documentation, and also because most of the kids read it, and I know they’ll want my viewpoint.
The drive down we had a battle over who could locate geo-filters first on their snapchat accounts (I won a single round...) because much of the drive sort of meanders through nowhere. We arrived at the park and tensions were high - excitement was palpable amongst the kids. After several trips to the office to sort out paperwork and payment, the kids mounted up and we had a really quiet, mellow, boring schooling session.
It’s exactly what was necessary -- there’s nothing left to train by the time we show up, just get familiar with the layout of the park and remind our horses that they do, in fact, know how to half-halt and turn. One of Ginger’s stirrup leathers broke mid-ride, prompting me to torture her rider with a stirrupless workout.
Settling the horses into their stalls is always such a peaceful ritual to me - tying up haynets and filling water buckets and spreading shavings... it just makes me happy.
I wrote about my Friday morning in an earlier post. I left all the kids asleep in the hotel and went to braid Diva down because her rider was riding earliest in the day. Fog laid heavily over the ground; as the sun began to rise there was this otherworldly sense about everything, as if these horses were mythical creatures solidified from this magical fog. Riders moved about quietly, the horses murmured and nickered and snorted as horses looking forward to breakfast will do, and I chatted with my sister about online exams and her plans for transferring colleges while putting these braids in.
Friday went really well - no one forgot their test and I was really pleased with the resulting scores. At one point I shouted at a rider, “remember that we’re here to learn and to have fun, if you expect perfection you’ll just be too uptight to ride the best you can!” and this BNT turns to me and says, “man, that was me this morning.” I laughed and asked if he meant in his riding or coaching, and he replies that he had needed someone to remind him of this for his own riding. (On his CIC*** horse, no less.)
Due to the impending storm, the show rescheduled everything so that both stadium and cross country would be run on Saturday. It felt a little hectic for me because these riders are so new to eventing (2/3 riders had their very first three day outings) and I wanted to hold their hands as best as possible.
Pair #1 went out first, and had a bit of a gap before the other two riders went, so I was able to coach them through the warm-up. Diva spooked a bit at something and her rider threatened to panic a little about her being too uptight, but I was super proud of how the rider worked through it and ended up putting in some really gorgeous riding in the warm up.
Stadium went AMAZINGLY, especially considering they trotted in and Diva took some serious offense to one of the jumps and sort of wheeled around away from it, but later jumped it quietly. They pulled only one rail, and off to cross country!
I know the feeling of sitting in the start box, trying to visualize the course in one desperate ten second run, before you’re given permission to head out and then the ride takes over. I can talk a kid through that, warn them that it’s okay if you think you’re going to die because of the adrenaline... you’ll make it out. I think I need someone to remind me that I, too, will make it out alive. I sent them off and was only able to see the first two jumps before they disappeared over the hill. My heart wanted to thump out of my chest and I couldn’t feel my legs. This insane pride and love and excitement for the pairs of riders just never seems to lessen, no matter how often I send them out.
It’s just so completely out of my hands, like I’ve given you every tool I can so far and this will tell us what we need to tackle in the future, but here’s to you and your horse and your guts and your focus. I can only wait to congratulate you at the end.
It’s been a long time since I last sent a rider out cross country.
They reappeared over that hill and I literally started crying. (I know, I’m a mess.) I was so unbelievably proud. It was raining. We were all soaked.
So when they cross the finish line and I sprint over to give a high five and some well earned congratulations, a little bit soaking wet, and rider turns to me and says, “I think that was the best thing I’ve ever done,” the tears definitely threatened to overwhelm me again but I really didn’t want to embarrass my student. (I do that enough as it is.)
When my other two riders warmed up, it was a bit messier. The GingerPony said HELL NO to a few warm up jumps and for some reason then decided that the only way she could make it over the small jumps was from a DEAD GALLOP which I have to say I do not condone. Chente decided that he could not jump using his back in any way shape or form but was otherwise obedient. I had never seen the GingerPony move so fast, and I still don’t understand how Chente scrambled over some of those (very small) jumps.
GingerPony’s stadium went well. Her rider rode her heart out. Then I sent them immediately out to cross country, watched the first two jumps with my heart skittering down my ribcage and my excitement overwhelming, and SPRINTED back to the stadium ring to watch Chente’s round.
This is where reading the rulebook is a valuable thing.
4. DISOBEDIENCES a. The following are considered as disobediences and are penalized as such (EV153): 1. a refusal; 2. a run-out; 3. a resistance; 4. a more or less regular circle or group of circles no matter where they occur on the course or for whatever reason. It is also a disobedience to circle around the last obstacle jumped unless the track of the course so requires.
To my eyes, Chente was forward but under control, but his rider felt a bit helter skelter and used a circle to rebalance. She had one refusal, and then circled after the jump, thus resulting in an elimination. We were all so disappointed, especially with how well everything had been going. We went over to the cross country warm up and jumped over the log there a few times, with E the fabulous photographer there to at least capture their very dapper showing outfit and some pretty enthusiastic knees on Chente’s part.
However, to the rider’s credit, she was SO stoic about it. “it’s okay, we’ve learned so much, and it happens to everyone. We’ll work on it and do a lot better next time!” LOVE HER!
We tore down, packed up, and loaded the horses. The sun sat over our loading up. The rain continued.
I started receiving slightly concerning messages about highway 17. The most notable was, “17 is treacherous. Stay out of the right lane.”
Uhhhhhhhhh..... apparently the rain was coming down so hard that the mountains were revolting and there were trees down and mudslides everywhere. The power was out. The highway itself had turned into a river in parts.
We crossed our fingers and headed for home. The music was loud, the laughter plentiful. I felt so much pride and joy for the way these wonderful kids had handled themselves out there, showing off the progress they’d made with their horses and proving their mettle. Yeah, there’s a lot to learn, and yeah, we’ll do even better next time. But in that moment, hurtling north through the rain with our amazing horses towed behind us, re-telling stories from earlier in the day as if they were already legends, the music a pulsing undertone to our drive -- I was happy. Euphoric. Fulfilled.
It’s moments like those that remind me that my work with these kids and these horses gives me more than I could ever give them. And I want them to know, always, that I see the work they put in and I acknowledge the heart and I recognize the vulnerability.