Buttoning up my hunt coat seemed like the last thing I should be doing, but one of my barnmates looked at me and told me that nothing could possibly help more in this situation than throwing a leg over a trusted horse and enjoying the chance to ride.
|photos by the incomparable Quinn Saunders|
Winds isn't exactly a horse who seems overly concerned with the emotional states of those around him, but to his credit, he was gentle and calm with me. No sign of his usual busy mouth or fidgeting, he just let me work through my emotions in the calm of a familiar routine.
Our round definitely wasn't my finest, but it certainly wasn't our worst. I felt jittery and tight, but not nervous, rather overwhelmed with the day. After I was a bit deep to our first fence, I shrugged it off, put my leg on, and let Winds set the pace for the rest of the ride.
True to form, he took care of me, and my barnmate was right - I needed the ride.
It was a good reset for me. It helped reset my perspective, reset my goals and reset my expectations for our upcoming debut in the 3'3" A/O's.
And that's the really *happy* headline here - we did the A/O's and totally survived. We even got some ribbons! So let's move on to that.
Our work over the winter was really productive. We have been focusing on some subtle changes to my balance which in turn are helping me trust Windsor's step for the move up, rather than wait for the add. Additionally, we had a wildly fun clinic with John French right before Christmas that really boosted my confidence. We spent the weekend jumping up and riding tight, technical tracks that forced me to really focus on balance and rhythm.
All of that added up to the massive mental success of staring at the jumps in Ring 1 and thinking "man, these don't look scary at all."
So we started our first week with more confidence than I usually have after a long cold winter and I think it showed. Here's our first round, which, aside from being a little deep into the outside 5 stride, I'm super happy with.
The second round (incidentally the first round of our classic) was hands down one of my best in the show ring ever. Winds was attentive, rideable and very soft. Which meant any mistakes were solely mine. We didn't really have any major ones, and as I landed out of our last line I actually thought to myself "holy shit, this might be our highest score over!"
Then I heard the announcer give me a 72, and I thought "Crap. Welcome to the A/O's."
And that dear friends, became the theme of the show -
Really, really good personal progress with a large side of humility at the exponential increase in the consistency of my competitors.
As I watched my videos back I could see how in the AA's, an accurate ride was almost always enough to pull a top ribbon - but in the A/O's (at this show anyway), a good ribbon would require accuracy and style.
Winds always jumps a pretty good jump, but even I could see that compared to the other horses in the class we were just sorta getting it done. I wasn't bringing out the best, roundest, most expressive effort every time.
But I was still incredibly happy with how I rode. I had a few pinch me moments of waiting for the jog, thinking about how I first came to the desert five years ago with a very anxious Prairie having the goal of coming home with just one ribbon.
In some ways those endless rounds at 2'3" and 2'6" in Ring 7 feel like ages ago - but in other ways they feel so familiar and recent it's hard to believe how much has really happened.
So, I gratefully accepted a 6th place ribbon for my first round. I didn't even jog the second round, which - just to be clear means I was 11th, 12th or 13th out of 13.
I'm not complaining, I just have to giggle that I came out of the ring thinking "WOW, BEST RIDE EVER!!!" and the judge was all "nah, all these other horses were better." And the judge was right, they all were - It was just a shocking adjustment of relativity.
Sunday I got to come out and ride my first real Handy in competition. I was VERY excited about it because I think Handy's are fun, and Windsor is a blast to ride in them.
So it was exceptionally disappointing to have the worst warm up ever.
|Windsor's expression is ACCURATE|
Then Winds figured out I was going to keep pulling up and decided that he would just do it for me.
Then I had a panic attack.
Then my trainer asked another trainer to come help and I nearly ran them both over.
Then I took a long walk break and tried to pull my brain together.
Then it was my turn to ride.
First was a regular Hunter round. I forget how it went, because the video doesn't exist, but I know it was bad. We added in one line... nearly left a stride out in another... It was touch and go to say the least. Winds was not impressed, and my confidence was plummeting.
We went back in immediately for the Handy and I just sorta decided to attack it. Carry pace, make the horse pay attention and go get it.
Winds was a good dude. He totally got on board with the plan and acted like I hadn't been trying to crash him all morning. He did get annoyed with his earplugs (which we never wear because he gets really annoyed with earplugs) about halfway through. Normally that would have unnerved me, but at the time I was so dead set on putting in a solid round that I just growled at him and stuck to my plan. We finished, and I felt pretty darn good about the result.
True to form we jogged 10th (out of 13) in both rounds.
We also rode our Classic round, which we qualified for by the skin of our teeth. We came back in 15th position with our 72 (the Classic combined all the age groups with the top 16 rode the second round), and managed to move up to 12th with a decent score of 77. Winds was annoyed to go ride an extra long Hunter round after the Handy, and he made it very known that he is always (usually) done after the Handy. Me thinks the Prince needs to adjust his expectations slightly.
I collected my pretty magenta ribbon for our hard fought 12th place and headed for the barn to reflect on our first division on 2019, and first time in the A/O's.
I took a lot of comfort in the fact that (aside from our first round Sunday) I didn't make any mistakes that I wasn't perfectly capable of making at a lower height. The jumps actually "felt" smaller at 3'3" than they did when we moved up to 2'9" - which tells me how much more comfortable I am on Winds these days - and that's a WIN for sure.
Any frustration I felt was a reflection of my disappointment at not adapting to the horse I had that day - not frustration with Winds or our preparation. I feel like I've gotten to a place where I ride pretty well if Winds is perky, and soft and totally on task. The mistakes start to come out if Winds is tired, or cranky or stiff. I haven't figured out how to adjust my ride and maintain my accuracy when he's anything but my favorite ride. It's something I really want to focus on this year since I typically only get my "favorite" version of Winds about once a week.
But mostly, I felt like I belonged in the ring, didn't embarrass my trainer (too much) and had a really good time galloping around some slightly larger jumps.
Exactly what I needed after a long, emotional week.