Monday, November 15, 2010
Derby Day Recap
When I called the horse show at 9 a.m. to get the number of trips in the classes before me, I was estimating that we'd be showing around noon. More and more people kept adding to the classes though, which meant that noon became one, which became two, which became three, which became four. Poor Tucker hung out by the ring with me for hours, because I brought him down way too early but then wasn't sure if I'd have enough time to bring him back and forth to the trailer again... turns out I probably could have shipped him home for a few hours and come back. But the delays ended up working in our favor... because it meant that our cheering squad arrived! "On The Bit" at A Horse and a Half and another friend of ours, who sometimes posts comments here as "Boomerang" came to cheer us on, and very graciously took the videos and photos here, and were all kinds of helpful, and even left a bottle of champagne in my truck! Such good friends.
All afternoon I watched horses that were saying "you people must have lost your minds, there is no way I am going near that hay bale circle of death" and "there are monsters under that brush jump and I'm saving your life and mine by not going near it" and "who knows what evil creatures lurk inside those barrels? may-day! may-day!" I'll admit, I was starting to wonder if Tucker's bravery would hold out, but in my heart of hearts, I knew he'd handle it all okay. I figured he'd overjump everything the first time around but I didn't think he'd stop.
Well, turns out I completely underestimated him. Not only did Tucker jump everything bravely the first time around, but the trip that Alicia did on him was the best I've ever seen him go. She really did a beautiful job with him. He was smooth, and elegant, and looked every bit like a super-fancy, polished, made hunter. He didn't over jump anything, nothing phased him, he landed on the correct lead after every jump, and he looked gorgeous doing it. It was one of those proud mom moments where you can actually feel your heart swelling in your chest. I was so happy with him. He ended up 7th in that class out of at least 45 horses (there were so many they actually couldn't tell us in the office the exact number)... and let me tell you, there were some absolutely beautiful horses there. That was a great ribbon. Since he was so good, there was no reason for Alicia to do a second round, so we let him go back to the trailer and have a drink, get untacked, and eat some hay for a bit.
By the time I got back on him to show, the sun had gone down but it wasn't totally dark yet. The lights were on in the arena, so it pretty much still looked like daylight in there, and it wasn't pitch dark yet outside the ring. I'll let the video speak for itself, but I couldn't have been happier with how it went. I like the second half better, after I took a deep breath and let him go forward a little (though unfortunately the outside line wasn't caught on the video -- good help is so hard to find -- just kidding girls!), but as far as he's concerned, he was absolutely flawless throughout the whole thing. I just loved it, I had such a good time. I'm so lucky to have such a brave, clever horse. He was 5th in this class, out of about 30 horses (and once again, beat some beautiful, impressive, fancy hunters). I am really, really proud of him for putting in this round.
After this round, we then had eight more trips, a course walk, and a drag before the Derby. So, by the time we walked the course, it was pitch dark. I was second to go, so I walked the course and then hopped right back on, trotted and cantered once around the warm up ring (which had a couple of lights), jumped one vertical, and walked up to the gate.
I stood in the gate and surveyed the course, and I felt really good about it. My nerves were under control, I had a plan, and I felt pretty confident. Unfortunately... we got in there and the lights got in Tucker's eyes... and I don't think my confidence exactly translated down to him. I totally understand, he's never been ridden in a ring with lights in his life, and it was probably pretty shocking for him. He didn't do anything awful, but it wasn't exactly pretty.... In the interest of truth in blogging though, and making sure you all know that things don't always go flawlessly... I'm posting it here for posterity. (Please be kind in your comments! We're still figuring things out!)
The video doesn't look nearly as bad as it felt. It's hard to tell, but he got a little freaked when we first came in the ring with all the bright lights, but then he settled and jumped the first jump okay. Then he got a little stuck by the in-gate, and in my effort not to provoke any reaction from him because he felt so tense, I didn't do enough (well, didn't do anything) and we drifted right, botched the in of the line, drifted right some more.... Then he swapped off behind coming to the two stride... I think I just lost his concentration completely by then. He jumped the two stride okay, but then landed and scooted (though it felt a whole lot worse than it looked). My first reaction was to fall back on bad habits, I buried my hands in his neck, but then I made a circle, regrouped, and got a more relaxed soft canter. He actually approached the center gate fine, but when he landed and scooted again (taking the gate down with him), I opted not to continue. He seemed to be getting progressively more rattled with each jump, and I decided it just wasn't worth it. Maybe someone else would have made a different choice, and honestly I've been back and forth over it in my head and I wonder if I just should have shook it off and kept going. The rest of the course involved jumping the vertical where I pulled up, then the hay bales, then the oxer on the outside, then the log and brush at the end of the ring where he was being spooky. Maybe he would have settled... but maybe not. In the moment, he felt like he was going to lose it, and I just wasn't willing to end on a really bad note and decided to cut my losses before things got worse.
When you get to know a horse well enough, you can feel the difference between when they're pretending to be spooky, and genuinely scared. This felt to me like he was legitimately overwhelmed by the lights in the ring, and even though he was doing his best to hold it together, I could feel that he was tense and holding his breath and jumping hard. Even when we got back to the trailer, he still seemed rattled and out of sorts. He made me so proud earlier in the day that I'm not going to fault him for it. He's still young, and that's a lot for him to handle. I think if the Derby had gone in the middle of the afternoon on a beautiful sunny day like we had expected, things would have gone wonderfully.
While this is going to sound like I'm tooting my own horn here, I have to say that I'm proud of myself for not getting scared, panicked, and paralyzed when he got a little spooky. A year or so ago, maybe even less, I would have been terrified and shaking like a leaf by the time I came out of the ring. Instead, this time, I felt a little disappointed that the class hadn't gone well, but I understood that it was a lot for him to handle, and I know that he wasn't being naughty on purpose. Overall he's incredibly brave and sensible, so he's allowed to hit his limit now and again.
By the time I got into the truck to drive away, it was pitch dark and freezing, and I was wiped out and starving. Alicia and I stopped for a quick dinner while Tucker slept in the trailer, and then I took him home, got him unbraided and wrapped and tucked in for the night, and dragged myself home and to bed. There is nothing like a hot shower and curling up with two purring kitties after a long day like that! I laid in bed and felt exhausted, but happy. All in all, it felt like a fabulous day, and I'm just grateful to be the kind of competitor that can take the good with the bad, and appreciate how great my horse is even when he's not perfect. We really felt like a team, and he gave me some really fabulous efforts that day. That's what it's all about right?