Sunday, April 13, 2014

Prelim: who would have thought?

A couple years ago, if someone had told me I'd be sitting here today writing a blog after having completed an event at Preliminary, I would have laughed in their face. I cannot even describe the anxiety I felt, especially after walking the cross country course at FENCE on Friday before the event. A million questions swirled in my mind. "Have we prepared enough for this? Are we going to get hurt? How can I tackle this course when I don't even know if we can jump fence 7? Am I even brave enough to be an eventer, or should I hang up my jump vest and be a dressage queen?"

Luckily for me, the jump to move up the levels has come after years and years of preparation. With the right motivation from my coach, Eric Dierks, I was gently reminded that we have all the pieces of the puzzle to have a safe and fun show. All I needed to do was realize, #1 we can actually handle jumping the big tables, #2 don't focus on the course as a whole, tackle each fence individually, and #3 Eric wouldn't tell me I'm ready for Prelim if he thought I couldn't do it. I cannot stress how vital it is, especially when conquering new territory, to have a coach that you trust and can motivate you to perform at your absolute best. This past weekend would not have been possible at all if not for Eric calming my fears, helping me approach the questions systematically, and believing in me and my horse. (It also helps to have a support group of parents, fiance, and large system of friends rooting for us!) Thank you to all involved for making this weekend a success!

We started out with dressage early Saturday morning. I found myself oddly calm, a clear departure from my last prelim dressage up-chucking masterpiece. Tristan warmed up like a rockstar, very bright, forward, and balanced in our counter canter. We put in a workmanlike test, but were a bit tense in the early trot work. After the first lengthening, we loosened up a little, and the counter canter was actually quite nice! Our score was a 41.4, not great but not too bad.

Time passed quickly from the end of our test to the start of cross country. By the time I had cooled Tristan out and put his studs in, it was time to tack up and head over to the warm up. I felt like my stomach was jumping out of my throat (I usually can't eat before dressage, and was so nervous I couldn't stomach any food before XC either). Thankfully, with Eric's great advice the previous night, I was no longer in a blind panic. I had ridden the course 100 times while trying to fall asleep the night before and had a solid plan for the approach of every obstacle. I was focused on the track before and after every jump, allowing the jumps to become immaterial to the gallop. Tristan warmed up strong and bold, giving us lots of confidence heading towards the start box.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Have a great ride, we'll leave the light on for you!

Fences 1-5 were a piece of cake, great jumps to get the gallop rolling and get the horses thinking to the other side of the fence. Fence 6 was the first tricky obstacle on course, a big scary fallen tree with a two stride to a red barn. Tristan was giving it a good look, so I put my reins in one hand, gave him a pop with my crop, and ended up jumping both A and B jumps one-handed! We galloped away to Fence 7, the biggest table I had ever seen on a course. I was absolutely petrified of the jump, but believed if I could just clear it, the rest of the course would be a piece of cake. Oddly enough, coming down to the table at a forward gallop, it suddenly didn't look that large anymore. We focused on jumping the height and letting the width (almost 6 feet!) take care of itself. Tristan cleared it like he'd done it a hundred times before. Good boy!

Fence 6 AB

Fence 7
On to the water, a rolltop at the top of the hill, down an almost 45 degree hill to a drop in, then a 90 degree turn to a rolltop out. I planned on jumping at a right to left angle to give us flatter landing room on the other side, but ended up making the angle too tight and letting Tristan get distracted by the crowd. He stopped. No big deal, we weren't there for a ribbon anyways. Second time he took it like a champ. Down the hill we went, but I didn't have enough time to prepare him for the drop in. Again, no big deal, as long as he doesn't stop anymore, we can just school the rest of the course. We made a quick circle, popped into the water, and easily came out over the rolltop. Fence 9-10 were easy gallop fences up the great big hill to the bank complex. We had a nice big up bank, one stride on top, down bank, to a skinny brush. Tristan didn't bat an eyelash but I accidentally dropped my whip while letting my reins slip through my hands for the down. Whoops, better not let him stop again!

Fence 8 A
Fence 8 B
Fence 9
Next was the half coffin at 13! I had an issue with a similar fence at Southern Pines a few weeks earlier, so I opted for trotting the ditch, allowing me to keep a full, supportive leg to the base. "No big deal," Tristan told me, "I've got this, mom!" After we'd gotten to this point on the course, all the other fences were very straightforward and Tristan just rocked along, taking each jump in stride. I couldn't even start to contain my excitement, breaking down crying before we'd even crossed the finish line, but we'd made it and we were safely home. I've never been so proud of anything as that moment! I don't know what I did to deserve a horse like Tristan, but somebody out there likes me.

After a nice afternoon of turnout, and a softly bedded stall for the night, Tristan was fresh and ready to tackle the stadium course Sunday morning. He was definitely a bit more fatigued than usual after cross country, but he still had enough gas in the tank to show off his tight knees around the course! It rode fairly straight forward, and we only had a slight bobble at the B element of the triple combination were his stride got a bit weak and he refused. Instead of riding for time (which would be silly when we were already dead last), I took a nice big circle to get his canter fresh and motivated, and we finished the rest of the course with ease!

Fence 4
Fence 8 B

Fence 10
My biggest fear with moving up to Prelim, was that I was going to make a mistake and hurt my horse, or myself, or worse. Even with all the years Tristan and I have worked together, I wanted to be 150% sure when we made this leap together that there would be no doubt we were ready. Besides some tenseness, a couple easy stops, and some time, Tristan and I proved to ourselves that we were more than prepared to tackle these new hurdles. This is probably the happiest I will ever be with a penalty score of 152.80 after an event!

We have already achieved more than I ever thought possible, and now I'm excited to open this new chapter in our careers, becoming established at Prelim and polishing up our rough patches. I'll probably give him a light show season this year, go to lots of clinics and schoolings, and maybe throw in some dressage shows, but plan on returning to FENCE in the  fall for the TR&HC Horse Trials again at Prelim! For now, Tristan has earned a couple days to eat grass in the field and go out on some nice hacks in the woods...