I decided to take Monte to Poplar after we couldn’t get in to the last Ocala show. I felt let down that once we had really started to have a handle on all three phases the season was over – and I had set a goal of 4 perfect training xc rounds for the season. I still needed my last one.
I had a plan: leave Friday am, get there in time to have a nice relaxing, stretchy ride, clean my tack, get settled in, read, write, relax, sleep and ride dressage Saturday at 11:something. My plan started to fall apart when I spent the majority of Thursday putzing around town waiting to see if a check would be able to cash. I’d sold a horse and the cash was covering my entry. It didn’t, but the woman promised it would by the next morning. She had been waiting for a chunk of money to come in and at this point, all I could do was believe her – she hadn’t dropped off the face of the earth, she was returning my messages, and luckily, Friday morning it cashed.
When I stopped to say goodbye to K on my way out of town, he told me his dad said he could take off and come with me – which was fantastic! but he had hay deliveries to make before he could come home and get ready to leave, which was not what I’d planned for. He was ready to leave by 1:30, which would have put us at Poplar around dark, so I decided I would just ride at home, get everything ready here then leave and drive at night.
We pulled into a small town near Poplar a little before 3 am. I let Monte loose in the trailer and put two dogs with him. K, Lady and I cuddled in the bed up front and as I lay there, sandwiched between my pup and my guy, listening to Monte grind his hay, I couldn’t have been happier. K, the quintessential beach boy, was not so happy – more “miserable,” but he gets points for wanting to come…
In the morning, we grabbed coffee and drove the last twenty to Poplar. The more steep than rolling hills, winding roads and thick forests reminded me of home and how much I miss it all – you don’t get much of any of these in Florida. I checked in and took Monte for a walk. He seemed more relaxed than I’d anticipated; instead of boogering every chance he’d get, he’d drop his head to eat instead.
We did walk a good 15-20 minutes of our dressage warmup before he started to be really through and stretching for the contact, especially on my right rein, but overall, he felt good. We had some really nice trot and canter and I just enjoyed my time riding him. I will say, however, he’s definitely figured out the difference between warm-up and what counts. He gets “fresh” in our test, and while I know it lowers our submission score, I can’t not smile because he’s enjoying himself, sassy little bugger that he is. ❤ At home, we walk and trot AND canter on the buckle to warm up, and at RH, his relaxation movements were getting better. At Poplar, we lengthened our frame, but might have lowered a couple inches… maybe. But I still had fun on him and will forever be like a little girl with her pony when it comes to this guy.
I untacked after dressage, rested 20-or-so minutes and went to walk xc. Twice. By this time, the 3 hours sleep had overpowered my adrenaline and xc had begun to overwhelm me. Poplar’s omnibus listing had said the courses were: “Average, for horses with some experience at these levels.” And for the most part, it was true. There were a handful of “narrow”fences – not skinny by any means, but not wide, either, but the course was pretty straightforward and not super technical. The fences weren’t adorned with bright colored flowers or any extraneous objects that might make one hesitate, which was also comforting. But the fences were over much more uneven terrain than I’d become accustomed to in Florida. I grew up galloping up and down hills, but I didn’t event back then, and my fatigue kicked doubt into overdrive.
K walked the course with me the second time and I pointed out to him my self-appointed nemesis. A solid training level height fence that leaned more toward a vertical – a low base coming out from it the only thing that didn’t make it a complete vertical fence – with the landing a foot or so lower than the takeoff. K pointed out that it really wasn’t that bad – and he was right – but I couldn’t stop seeing a boogeyman.
We might have stopped to play with Hank momentarily, too. 🙂
We went back to the trailer and I tacked up for xc. I walked down past the other horses and riders and noticed no one else wore xc attire. K and I had both questioned why no horses were running yet – I asked him if he’d heard if it was starting late or anything about it over the loudspeaker – but had decided maybe they were just starting with training in the afternoon. Turns out they’d switched days for stadium and xc.
I hadn’t even looked at the stadium course I’d been so focused on getting through xc, and it turns out – I was up soon – and the judge didn’t want me to ride in my xc shirt (even though dress requirements have been lowered for levels through training this year). So I took Monte back to the trailer, trying to bypass as much gravel as possible, stripped my xc pinney, vest and shirt (still on Monte) while K handed me my show shirt, collar and jacket. We had time to look at the map twice, watch one round and do our warmup fences in 10 minutes tops – we finished with a few nice warmup fences, but our round was not quite so nice. Laughable, actually, after the depression faded. The judge chatted with me after my round, since the division was over, and it turns out I wasn’t wrong in thinking that xc was first, but Poplar had at some point changed it, which I would have noticed had I looked at the phase paired alongside my times (which had stayed the same) on my packet. Such is life. We had one really ugly fence, but we made it through to the next phase and Monte and I had both been able to regroup during our ride.
After a night of somewhat restful sleep, aside from the dogs trying to jump on the bed and Monte getting a little fussy around 6 am, I prepared for xc by visualizing the run, and then giving Monte a play-by-play, and then visualizing it again.
We had a great warmup, regardless of our crappy stadium round the day before and the fact we only had two xc warmup fences: a pseudo-trakehner and a coop suitable for prelim. We had good distances on the trakehner every time, but the coop gave us good practice for riding forward to the fence and stretching my legs down and around Monte’s barrel, while keeping my core engaged and sitting up. It’s such an awesome feeling when you do that and the distance just comes to you! I finally started to think, “This is supposed to be fun! Stop putting so much pressure on this and just enjoy it!”
We left the start box and Monte knew his job. He was a xc monster eating everything in his path. He did spit out my boogeyman jump, but I can 100% say it was my fault. I rode “aggressively” toward it: I kicked and tapped him on the shoulder with the whip, but I didn’t take control of the situation. I should have sat up, kept my leg and seat and core engaged and ridden – not chased – to the base of the jump. It was a very slow runout, slow enough I considered just trying to pop him over since we were still in front of the jump, but he’d already taken a step left, and wasn’t sure if it was worth the effort. We circled, and when we came back, Monte jumped it like a boss – in perfect stride and it felt AWESOME! And it turns out I had no reason to be intimidated; it really wasn’t that bad. Enjoyable, really.
Even though I had missed my goal of a perfect xc round, I didn’t have one bit of depression about my failure. I had a lot of fun with my horse this weekend. He was show-offy in dressage (to the disadvantage of our score) and even if he is being a little naughty, I’m appreciative he’s using his back, not just hollowing it out like he used to; was as honest as could be in stadium; and handled a new xc track with vastly different terrain than we’ve become accustomed to. He didn’t get squirrely and say, “Hell no!” to anything and I take the blame for 99% of our jumping fails. But neither of us completely cracked under pressure and we FINISHED. And did I mention I love my horse? ❤