Carolina International: Live And Learn

Our last jump school before the event! Our last jump school before the event!

What a whirlwind of a weekend spent at the Carolina International. I competed in the P/T division this weekend and all I can say is that the event was a huge learning experience for me. Spending the last three months indoors, honing in on my flatwork and trail riding in the snow in some ways prepared me and in other ways left me feeling like a fish out of water.

That’s simply the reality of the situation. You want to play with the big boys, you better be prepared to warm up and jump with the professionals.

Luckily, none of the four-star riders even know who I am, and even if I had introduced myself to each and every celebrity type rider, they still would not have cared about my score, or the fact I was riding this weekend. Isn’t it funny, or interesting how they could care less about me, and yet, the pressure someone like myself, (a rider new to the Preliminary level) feels from riding with, or warming up next to is monumental. If they don’t care about me, why should I care about them?

I have been riding, hacking, and jumping in Southern Pines now for a couple weeks. Ideally, I would have competed at the first Southern Pines, but the timing, and our trip from Vermont did not seem to fall perfectly into place. So, instead of not competing at all, I somewhat naively entered the Carolina International for my first event of the year. Genius idea? Doubtful. Big mistake? We will soon find out.

Day One

My division had dressage on Friday, followed by show jumping on Saturday and ending the weekend with cross country on Sunday. I felt pretty cool and calm for dressage, other than the fact that my teeth were chattering during the wee hours in the morning. Yes, I am allowed to complain about the temperature, even while temporarily living in the south, because that’s my inherited Yankee attitude. We enjoy complaining, even when the conditions are agreeable!

The one and only waiting patiently after dressage!

The one and only waiting patiently after dressage!

Back to dressage. I am becoming more acquainted with Vinnie all the time. I started riding this amazing Irish gelding last June, and since that first ride, our relationship has really blossomed into a partnership.

I really enjoy riding Vinnie on the flat, and because we spent countless days indoor this winter, I had time to really practice and finesse our ride! Of course, there were some mistakes, and there will always be room for improvement, but considering it was our first time in public this year, I was pleased with our test, and our score.

Day Two

I was scheduled to show jump at 8:17 Saturday morning. We arrived with enough time for me to go walk my course twice. By now my heart was pounding. The course was immaculate, and the jumps were not quite what you see in little Area 1. There were giant sunflowers, and rainbow jumps, and the list goes on. The jumps were real size preliminary fences, not sort of Prelim height, but the real deal, with real spreads. Almost every line was a related distance, which also made my nerves build up.

I warmed up while my adrenaline was running high. I never really calmed down. My warm up went considerably well, though my round was not great at all. My first few jumps went well, and then the rails started falling. I immediately lost my canter, panicked, and things quickly started unraveling.

Vinnie was very good and soldiered his way through the course with little help from his pilot. I let my instincts overcome my training, and for that I am truly disappointed in myself. Not only was I mortified to have several rails on a horse who has the ability to put in consistently clean rounds, but I was horrified by my riding, and I was worried I let Vinnie’s owner down, and my trainers. To say this experience was humbling would be an understatement.

I sauntered back to the trailer with my tail between my legs, feeling ashamed and mortified. What the hell is wrong with me? Why did you let those nerves take over? Why didn’t you ride like you have know how to ride? That was one of the worse rounds I have ever had. I don’t belong here. I should have entered Training. What the hell was I thinking?

I decided to go walk my cross country course and watch some upper level riders. I needed to move on. I recognized what just happened and realized exactly what I did wrong, and was trying not to dwell too much on the negative, and look forward to the next day.

Not too shabby for our first outing in 2015!

Not too shabby for our first outing in 2015!

Day Three

Sunday morning arrived before I knew it and previous feelings of frustration and disappointment quickly subsided, as I geared up for cross country. The Training course could not have been more appropriate and inviting. There were typical Training level questions, but everything seemed to ride very well.

I will not go so far as to say I felt totally “in it” on Sunday, considering I haven’t galloped and jumped outside since October, but cross country did feel amazing, and Vinnie really is a remarkable horse who knows and loves his job.

This weekend proved to be more challenging than I anticipated, which was eye opening for me. In hindsight I should have entered Training, to make the first outing of the year a bit more straight forward. However, that’s not the level I entered, so I had to pay the consequences of riding under that much pressure, over much larger fences, in a seriously intimidating atmosphere.

In a weird way, I am glad I entered a harder level, because now I know what exactly I need to work on and what I need to practice in show jumping. If I didn’t put myself out there, I would never understand what it’s like to ride under pressure. If I never messed up in front of people, I would not be human.

Not that these are great results, but there were countless riders who had tons of rails too, not just at the lower levels, but at every level. There were falls in show jumping, eliminations, rails flying every which direction, and some great riding and some disappointing riding. We all mess up, and we all get nervous sometimes, but staying at home and not putting yourself out there will never get you anywhere!