Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My First Competition on Ruby

I really wanted to write about this before too much time went by, I’ve just been a little busy.

On Sunday, May 17th, I was entered in a local schooling 3-Phase event with Ruby. Our very first competition together and only my second time competing since starting my second riding life. To say that I was nervous is an understatement. I was pretty much a wreck for most of the day, a complete, blathering mess. It wasn’t so much a fear of bodily harm as it was the pressure of competing that had me in such a state. I really have to get over feeling like this, if I’m going to continue going to these things.

So, it was yet another early, early morning after a night of pretty much no sleep. And it dawned yet another rainy and miserable day (even worse than the rain from the previous week). I arrived at the barn by around 6 AM, and tried to work on getting the stains out of Ruby’s rump that she had managed to incur overnight (she had been so sparkly clean when I left her on Saturday!) I helped Megan (one of Alison’s working students/barn staff) finish up the barn chores and then we loaded our two horses up on the trailer -- she was riding “Phoenix”, one of the sale horses in the barn. There were four us going to this event, but Marilyn was bringing her own trailer for herself and her daughter, so Megan and I just used the two-horse trailer that morning, rather than the huge six-horse one.

Megan had a pretty early ride time, but my times we not scheduled to start until much later, so we had to get to the event pretty early and then I had to do a lot of waiting around while freaking out from nerves. Gawd, it was miserable! Pouring down rain that seemed to just get worse & worse, not better. We all started our morning by walking the cross-country and the stadium courses (in the rain, of course, this is getting to be the standard arrangement. I can see that I need to invest in a good raincoat). I didn’t see anything on either of the courses to alarm me, even though I had yet to ride a cross-country course with Ruby. There was a faux ditch that we would have to go over (it’s not really a ditch, just two big ground poles with mulch filled in the middle so that it looks like a ditch). I know that Ruby has given Alison a little bit of trouble with ditches here & there so I knew that I would keep that in mind when I got to that obstacle on course with her. After the course walk, I ended up standing around by the dressage rings with Alison while Megan, Marilyn, Marilyn’s daughter Emily and others warmed up and then performed their individual dressage tests. I always find it very useful and educational to watch and normally I enjoy the dressage very much, but that morning I was absolutely soaked to the skin and shaking with cold. It was not very pleasant at all. After a long time of standing around in the rain, it was time to get Ruby ready to warm up.

Megan kindly helped me tack up and mount, etc. and I made my way over to the slippery, muddy and crowded warm-up area. Ruby was pretty good about getting quickly down to work, it didn’t seem to take me long to get her round and on the bit. I did a lot of small figures to get her supple and listening. Alison then had me come a little closer to the stadium jumping ring to continue my warm-up work as she needed to divide her attention between me and the students who were ready to enter the stadium phase of the competition. I tried a canter circle going to the left and that wasn’t bad, I then tried one to the right and Ruby did this small freak-out / spook / scoot thing that was slightly unsettling. I got her back again quickly and was working her in the trot ready to try a canter again when they were calling my number for dressage – early! Yikes! Oh well, I worked my way over there and around the outside of the ring waiting for the bell.

All too soon the bell rang and it was time for me to make my way into the dressage ring. I just have to say that performing a dressage test (for a judge) scares the crap out of me. I don’t know why, but I was such a bundle of nerves for it that I was practically hearing buzzing in my ears. Anyway, the test started out not too bad. Down the center-line and Ruby was listening, on the bit, etc. Across our first short diagonal and we were fine, still on the bit, bending, etc. Started our first 20-meter circle (trotting) and somewhere in the course of that circle I sort of lost track of where I was, I couldn’t remember if I had already had trotted the full circle and had somehow just gone around again, or what. I just did not know what I had done so far and I felt myself losing it slightly. Oh well, I figured that if I went off the test that they would ring the bell at me, or tell me once I was finished (since it was a schooling show) and so I just continued on. Ruby transitioned okay into the left lead canter and we continued the circle okay. Our canter work still isn’t great at this stage, so I was just happy to get the transition and not to have her break back to trot at any point. However, it was right around this point in the dressage test that Ruby started to give in to all the whinnying and neighing of all the horses in the trailer area just across the track. She started to ignore my aids and started calling back to all of them.

We completed our second short diagonal, started our trot 20-meter circle to the right, all with Ruby’s head in the air, back hollow, calling out to the horses back by the trailers. I tried to get her back to listening to me to no avail. It came time for our canter circle to the right, I managed to get the transition (although, I think I may have chased her into it a little bit, can’t quite remember), but at some point during the canter, she did a kind of big spook and a mini-bolt and so dressage quickly went out the window for me and I was just in horse-handling mode (trying to remain actually on the horse, inside the dressage ring and still performing some semblance of the test). I was proud of myself because I didn’t freak out or get too flustered, I was able to bring her back pretty quickly within a couple of strides and we completed the test by some miracle and without missing any of the elements. At some point though I did give up on the canter and we ended up trotting far before we were supposed to. Also, at some point during the test I had heard a bell ringing, so I wasn’t sure if that had been the judge trying to tell me that I had missed something (turns out that it had been coming from the stadium jumping ring, but at the time it threw me off a bit). So, we finished in one piece, it wasn’t pretty, but we got through it and I was just relieved to have it behind me more than anything. Alison told me directly after that she thought that I handled the spook/bolt thing very well, very professionally by bringing her back quickly, continuing on and not letting it get me rattled, so I was happier about that praise than about anything that had actually happened in my dressage test.

So, now it was time to focus on the stadium jumping phase. I was milling around for a bit and ready to go check in with the event stewards at the warm-up ring when Alison looked at me oddly and asked me what time I had been scheduled for the stadium. When I told her, she said that I was, uh, an hour early – doh! That’s how nervous I was, I had actually forgotten what division I was competing in. Sheesh. Anyway, so I went back to trailer, untacked Ruby and put her back on the trailer. The unexpected break did give me another chance to walk my cross-country course, and I was glad of it too because they had changed the markers for the bank. The first time that I had walked it, they had it going one direction, they then, at some point, had apparently changed it to going the other direction (which actually made more sense with the rest of the course), but if I hadn’t seen the change on foot, I would have gotten out there on course and been confused and possibly could have ended up off-course.

Very soon it was time to tack up Ruby again and go back to the stadium warm-up. I could feel my nerves heating up again, so I was anxious to get through the next phases so I could relax and wind down from everything. We entered the warm-up ring and Alison had me school over the cross-rail and then the vertical fence a couple of times. Ruby felt great, our jumps felt great and I could feel myself start to relax a tiny bit. Alison said that I was ready, so we went to stand and wait for our turn beside the stadium ring. Somehow I managed to get on the list to be more or less the next person to go, so I didn’t have to wait too long, luckily. This stadium had proved to be pretty troublesome to many on this day, I had seen a lot of stops and even some falls, so I didn’t really know what to expect with Ruby. Still, Ruby is a pretty honest and enthusiastic jumper and I can usually ride out a horse that gets squirrely jumping, so I wasn’t too worried. I think I was the most worried about actually remembering my course.

We entered the ring and they rang the bell (which meant that I could start the course whenever I was ready). I rode to the first fence and Ruby popped over it and right away became very frisky and excited about where she was. I just took it slowly and quietly and brought her back to me after every fence. The only squirrely bit was this one fence that we had to ride a broken line to, I think because we didn’t have a straight approach, she was a bit unsure at first whether I wanted her to jump it. But I drove her to it calmly with my legs so she relaxed and jumped easily over it without a fuss. So 10 fences and she jumped clear! I was so happy with her and very happy with our round. Even the parts where she got a bit strong, she never stopped listening to me and each time came easily back to me. I was very satisfied with how she went.

One of the very nice things about this event was that once you completed your stadium round, you could pretty much move directly on to your cross-country. So there was no going back and untacking again and waiting around allowing my nerves to over-take me again. I went over to the cross-country steward and put my name in queue and just had to wait a few minutes for two other horses to go ahead of me. At this point, I was only slightly nervous. I think once I started my stadium round that I had relaxed. This is usually the way it is for me, once I actually start jumping, I’m usually okay. It’s the waiting around that gets to me. Well, that and the dressage (odd that dressage would scare me more than jumping). Anyway, I didn’t have to wait too long before I was released onto the cross-country course. Since this was my first time taking Ruby cross-country (as well as my first competition on her), I wanted to be conservative and take it easy so I planned to bring her back to a trot between elements. Since this was a schooling event, nothing was being timed and there were no speed penalties, so it didn’t matter how long it took to complete any of the jumping phases (as long as you were moving forward and didn’t stop before a jump). So Ruby popped gamely over everything, she would have a nice strong, rocking canter going away from each obstacle which I would allow for a bit and then I would bring her back to trot for more control. She didn’t give me trouble with anything at all, not even the faux ditch that Alison had warned might be a problem (although, I think I was ready for it, had there been one). There was one corner that we came around where Ruby did a big spook, but I was even prepared for that, I had seen the big pile of deadfall on my course walk and thought it might be a spook opportunity and since it was also coming around a corner and beside the stadium and warm-up rings, I thought that might be another element for possible acting up. So I was able to ride through it without much trouble and quickly brought back Ruby’s attention and onto the next fence that came up quickly after the spook. She just locked on and popped nicely over it with no fuss at all. So, we went clean over cross-country, with just a little bit of drama. My first CC with Ruby and it was just fine. She was bold and enthusiastic and forward, without being too strong. A great horse for cross-country!

It had been fun, but it was also a relief to be finished, especially after all of my nerve attacks. It had also ended up turning into a pretty nice day, after all the horrible rain had finally stopped (sometime during or just after my dressage test). It felt so, so good know that Ruby & I had finished our part in the competition and that our performance was relatively good, despite a somewhat disastrous dressage test. We had redeemed ourselves with the jumping and didn’t get eliminated! Nor did we (hopefully) embarrass Alison either. After untacking Ruby and putting her back on the trailer, I was able to mill around and watch some stuff without my nerves interfering and I was finally able to eat something as well. I went to the posted results and saw that somehow I had managed to pull off a 41.1 dressage score – now that was a gift! Nowhere in life should our performance in the dressage ring that day have been scored that generously. But I figured that because it was a schooling show, they were trying to keep things positive and encouraging. After all the jumping scores came in, we managed to move up to third place in our division! So we made up for our unimpressive dressage phase with our “brilliant” jumping phases – excellent. I was very, very pleased with Ruby and very happy with the results for our first competition together.

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