Monday, March 30, 2009

Rally Report

Wonderful was the word of the weekend, used first in bitter sarcasm to describe the wind and rain, later for the few hours of sunshine that warmed up the barns a tiny bit, frequently to note appreciation for the readily available hot cider and hot chocolate, and as the rally went on, increasingly to describe my Pandora.

Saturday evening found us arriving in light drizzle, which naturally turned into a sheer downpour as we carted in the last of several wheelbarrow-loads of equipment and tack. Horses were screaming for their lost buddies. We set up tack rooms equipped to Pony Club standards for four riders, feed rooms with labels and perfectly secured grain containers. We used plenty of sawdust to bed down stalls whose dirt floors geographically resembled a love-child of the Rockies and the Grand Canyon. Conveniently, the wind blew straight down the barn aisle. At 7:00 sharp, we had to bridle our horses and stand in line outside to jog out for soundness. Then came bit/bridle/helmet checks. Then a written test from 8:30 to 9. Barn closes - make sure you're back at 5:30 tomorrow morning to feed and be ready for the rally briefing at 6:30!


I am not a morning person. I consider 8 to be the perfect wake-up time, provided I went to sleep at 10:30. I tend to need that much sleep. I can get up at 6:30 and function for the day if I need to. But 5? No.


Wander blearily into the barn at 5:40, throw hay and fill water. Pick stalls, sweep aisle. Rally briefing, which goes mostly in one sleep-deprived ear and out the other, though important things like 'Don't be late to anything or you lose massive amounts of points' stick. Head back to the barn, curry and brush and brush and brush and tack up for the Formal Inspection.

After Formal (with no penalties, I might add), I headed to the warmup arena promptly on time in order to stand for twenty minutes outside of it because it's small and they only allow six horses at a time. I realized ten minutes into my wait that I had somehow misplaced my medical armband with my release form in it, which is now required to be worn at all times at all rallies. Trotted a puzzled Pandora back to the barn, frantically found my Stable Manager (not the first time, and certainly not the last, that her calm smile and efficiency would be my saving grace), retrieved the missing armband, and returned to the arena to wait another five minutes.

My warmup began nervously, but settled down remarkably quickly. Pandora, bless the mare, is not a horse in need of lengthy warmup. After twenty minutes, we'd calmly taken several fences, and I'd memorized my course and double-checked this memorization at least ten times. I and the butterflies in my stomach were ready to ride.

"I'm scared, but if you say so, I'll do it," said every inch of Pandora's pricked ears and wiggly, warp-speed trot. Scoot though she may, once she was pointed at a fence, Pandora did what I asked of her -- even over the rather bright fences, between lavishly decorated standards and plenty of decorative greenery. The swedish oxer, which spooked a lot of horses, didn't phase her much. A bit rough, a bit chaotic, but we made it clean and I slowly began to understand the trust Pandora placed in me.

Untack, groom, dunk bit in water, fill water, pick stalls, sweep aisle, wipe tack, blanket on, change into warm clothes, don't forget the armband. I helped my stable manager reorganize the tack room, which after four riders' worth of Formal Inspection and ride preparation looked like a tornado zone. We watched some of my teammates ride, but all too soon it was time to tack up for round 2.

Warmup was shorter this time; Pandora was much more relaxed. We put in a reasonable round. She was calmer, I was calmer; we cantered more fences and took conservative lines because until we locked onto a fence our steering was a bit suspect, but we made it around clean again.

I took care of all business, then took a moment to breathe. I glanced at the watch hung up in our tack room for lack of a clock. Good - an hour and a half till my ride time. I had enough time to wander back to the arena and watch a little. On my way by, I happened to glance at a clock hung in the aisle way...which read an hour later than the watch in my tack room. After verifying that this was the correct time, and taking a moment to very quietly swear about the fact that I now had twenty minutes to tack up, get a safety check, and warm up, I grabbed a teammate and scooted back to the stalls.

After a grooming and tacking-up that lasted about five minutes and was undoubtedly the shortest I've ever managed, I arrived at the arena two minutes before my ride time, just in time to wait for another ten minutes because things were running behind.


I warmed up for maybe five minutes. She just didn't need any more. She was with me, she was good. This round was "choose your own line" -- jump every fence once, in whichever way and order you please. I had planned an ambitious course, full of tight jumper turns neither of us usually do. To make sure we had it in us, I practiced tight turns to an oxer in the warmup arena. Outside rein, outside leg, push forward out of the turn to the fence. Perfect.

It was one of the most fun courses I've ever ridden. Salute. Canter, first fence, right corner, second fence, left corner, third fence. Around to the fourth, the big blue swedish oxer, then over five and a super tight turn to six that walked reasonably but was just too tight for her to make...though she sure tried. We skipped to the side of the standards. No worries, loop back to jump it, then fence seven, rollback to eight, tight turn to nine, and through the flags.


I came off that course with the biggest idiot grin on my face ever. I was pumped. Never mind that one turn -- that was my lack of course-walking experience combined with Pandora's much-appreciated sense of self-preservation, not her fault -- she was awesome for me. She sat up, did the tight turns, powered up to every fence, nailed all the striding and did all kinds of flying changes on her own.

What a horse I have, I thought as we walked back to the barn. For her to rise to my challenge and run that tight course, when we'd never practiced things like that before, was fantastic. For her to listen to me every single round, and always be there for me when I asked her to do it, was awesome. It was a really powerful experience for me. I was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude that this gentle, sweet mare, who always closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against me when I slipped into her stall to say hello, would put so much effort forth for me -- would trust me that first round when I said "Jump, please," and she said "I'm scared, but which fence do you want me to do?" I felt somehow humbled, that I could ask her to do such a hard, twisting course, the likes of which we'd never practiced before, and she would unquestioningly do it. It doesn't sound that remarkable, writing it down. But in that moment something changed about the way I see her. I'm suddenly so grateful, so in wonder of her willingness to trust me and to try for me.

What a horse.

It was all a relatively easy downhill from there. Take care of the horse, watch my teammates ride, begin tack room tear-down, go to awards (we took fourth and fourth in horse management and overall scores), load up, finally get home and crawl into bed at midnight.

I think I was sleepwalking through most of today.

When we got out to the barn this evening, the horses were out in paddocks, cheerful and alert in the cool air. I lay with just my head under the electric fence, pulling long handfuls of grass and setting it down for the two mares, smiling at the quick thump-thump of their lips as they vacuumed it up. Everything had a yellow cast from the lazy sunset, the temperature was perfect, and all I could smell was the grass they eagerly lipped up from my hands.



Leah Fry said...

It sounds like you both had a good, hard, honest day. You both did your best and rose above the setbacks of weather, and uncertainty. Wonderful!

Andrea said...

What a great post :D

RuckusButt said...

wonderful post!

manymisadventures said...

Thanks, guys. I'm still digesting the weekend - it was a lot to learn in one day :)

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