A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: Sure. How About This?

For the past 40 days over at EN’s Blogger’s Row we’ve been following the adventures of Julie Maner, mom to Prelim eventer Emily who decided to attempt an event herself riding Emily’s old horse Romeo. The goal: Jump Start H.T. in Lexington, Kentucky. After trials and tribulations, she made it to the event — and now she’s sharing the story of how it went! If you’re just tuning in, catch up on previous posts from Julie’s blog here

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life and the procedure. The process is its own reward.” — Amelia Earhart

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Phase 1: Dressage

I was wide-awake at 4:50 a.m. I laid there for a bit reviewing the dressage test in my head as well as the stadium course; remarkably, I had them both completely memorized. Unlike the night before, I was very calm. Richard rolled over and asked if I was OK. I nodded. “You’ve got this,” he said. By 5:30, I couldn’t stand it any more. Carefully, maneuvering over a snoring Sampson, I got up and got dressed.

The campground was quiet and damp. Embers from the previous night’s campfires were the only lights. I wiped the dew off the scooter and headed to the barns. I was barely out of the campground when I was struck with a realization — I had made it. I stopped the scooter and soaked it in. The rolling green of the cross country course lay before me. In through the nose, out through the mouth.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

Amelia Earhart’s quote about tenacity kept running through my mind. “The most difficult thing is the decision to act.” Check. I had made the decision to act. I had passed my 40-day crash course in eventing and actually made it here. As I sat there in the dark, watching my breath coil and looking at the lights of the glowing barns ahead of me, I knew that the rest was merely tenacity.

Eight years ago or more, a good friend’s daughter asked her what the word tenacity meant. She tried to define it and finally said, “Tenacity. Julie is tenacious.” Her daughter then understood. “You can act to change and control your life and the procedure.” I did. I had done it for the past 40 days and this weekend, I was going to do it again. It might not be pretty, but I was going to do it. Pep talk over, I proceeded to the barn.

Things moved quickly from there. Everything moves quickly when your ride time is 8:55! Feeding Romeo grain and giving him more hay, cleaning his stall and filling waters, polishing tack, borrowing a dressage coat (Thanks Erin L!), finding my gloves, losing my gloves, and finding my gloves, checking Romes’ braids, a quick tail trimming by trainer Erika, a morning walk to stretch his legs, all ahead full!

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

Richard arrived with breakfast and Em to help me with the details. As the time to mount up neared, there were a lot of “where’s my” questions that suddenly came out of my mouth. “Katherine have you seen that thing I was holding a minute ago? Hey Em where’s my hair net? Does anyone know where my halter is?” You go from having all morning to get ready to suddenly not knowing where your head is. But we managed to get me dressed, get Romeo tacked up and his competition number on his bridle, and me on my mount. Romeo and I walked with Jen on her non-compete horse, Liam, to the dressage arena. Romeo seemed calm. Although it had been awhile since he evented, he knew what we were doing. At least one of us did.

As we approached the warm-up, we stopped at the tack check tent where volunteers make sure that all of your tack is within regulation. “Look at me! I get to go do a bit check! (SQUEAL!)” Jen laughed with delight! We met Erika and Cheerleader-in-Chief Val in warm-up. Despite one small melt-down by Romeo (too many horses in my space! Bucky, bucky, rear, rear!), it was great. I was relaxed — at least I thought I was. Romeo was a bit excited but controllable.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

My crash course had not really covered the details of actual competition rules like how to salute the judge, when to enter rings, etc. I went to take off my helmet in order to fix my glasses and Erika panicked. Tripping over her words, “YOU CANT TAKE YOUR HELMET OFF! YOU WILL BE ELIMINATED!” OH, HOLY HELL!!! “Oops! Sorry. I didn’t know!” Wouldn’t that have been a horrible way to end the dream?

Before my test, I had a quick conversation with Erika about hearing the whistle. When you hear the whistle (or horn or bell or squeaky toy), you have 60 seconds to enter the dressage arena. Let me remind all of you young sassy kids out there that when you get older, not only do you need all kinds of different eye glasses to help you see, but your hearing gets a little fuzzy too. Many times at Emily’s shows, I have either not heard the whistle blow or gotten hers confused with an arena near by. I certainly didn’t want to get a penalty or be eliminated over a whistle misunderstanding. Erika said it was perfectly acceptable for me to stop at the judge’s box on my first time around the arena and tell them the situation and ask if they could give me a hand wave or something to that nature.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

The rider ahead of me was done. We picked up the trot and made our way around the arena to the judge’s box. Romeo was still a bit excited, but I knew I had plenty of time to circle the arena once or twice and calm him down. I felt good. We could do this. I stopped at the judge’s box.

Me (Smiling from ear to ear): Good morning!

Judge (coolly): Hello. Number 422.

Me: I have a bit of a hearing problem. Would you mind giving me some sort of signal so that I know that your whistle it is for me?

Judge (still coolly): Sure. How about this?

And she blew the whistle right in my face. SHE BLEW THE WHISTLE WITH ME STANDING RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER!

ME: That’s it? Wait, you want me to start? NOW?

Judge: Yes.

What the heck? That wasn’t nice! Crap! We gotta go Romeo! Go! Now I’m sure in actuality, I had enough time to circle the arena again, but because I wasn’t going to let not entering it in the allotted time be my downfall, I didn’t take the chance. Romeo sensed my panic and broke into a canter going down the far side away from the judges. Well crap. Get it together. Get it together.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

I entered the ring. Romeo still had his feelings hurt for not being allowed to trot around the arena (maybe I did, too). I spent the majority of my test trying to keep him from breaking into a canter. My dressage test consisted of remarks like “restricted,” “tension,” and “tight.” But my only proper mistake was the free walk. The arena seemed so much smaller than the others. We turned at M and headed diagonally across the arena. Halfway across, I realized we were headed toward K and not E. Uh-oh! I wonder if she’ll notice if we just leg yield over here to the right a bit.  The smile was uncontrollably back as I tried to edge Romeo closer to E. She noticed. The test read “error.”

We completed the test with my newly learned salute. Head, arm, arm, head. I smiled and thanked the judge even though I felt like she was rather snarky to me. I left the arena thrilled that I had remembered my test and was actually moving on to the next phase!

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

On the walk back to the barns, I told my family about my not-so-nice conversation with the judge. Later, I read the judges remarks on my test: “Both horse and rider can relax more.” Sure, sounds like a plan. How about you don’t blow your whistle in my face when I ask you for help hearing the signal! Need to relax more … you can relax this …

But never mind. Eventing is a marathon, not a sprint, and I had two more phases to go. I had a score next to my name which meant I was still competing. On to show jumping. With dressage behind me, all of my attention focused on those eight jumps in the arena.

Paper tigers. Sit Up and Kick. Kick and Sit Up.