This is not, as the saying goes, my first rodeo.
This will actually be my third rodeo, my third trip to Gladstone and to the Brentina Cup championships. The first two times bore striking resemblance to rodeos, as my beloved Trakehner gelding Bellinger had a penchant for impersonating other breeds, particularly Lipizzaners and Icelandic Horses, at inopportune moments (alas, neither the levade nor the tolt receive bonus points in the Brentina Cup tests).
“Billy” placed 3rd in 2006, and we stayed on with a smile in 2007, and because Billy (bless him) was such a nutter through the five years we actively competed together, I developed a pretty cool-under-fire attitude in the showring.
With Cleo, this does not help.
Cleo is short for Clairvoya, my 11-year-old Hanoverian mare who is Billy’s opposite in practically every way. She’s 17.2. She’s voluptuous. She is big and strong and confident and has a great engine, and a good work ethic but is, in essence, a big, bold jock.
With Billy, my job in the arena was to do all the breathing for both of us and to steer. With Cleo, I’ve got to drive, steer, balance, think, motivate and coordinate an awful lot of body parts, and do it all in a wool coat in 90* weather. This dressage thang ain’t for the faint of heart!
So while this is not my first rodeo, I’m stressing the small stuff. I’ve never been a particularly good sleeper, but I’ve been up puttering around at 4:30 am for the last few days. I’m doing a lot of boot polishing (they will be quite shiny) and test memorizing (even though I’ve ridden both tests a krebillion times). I’m even worrying about what to wear for the jog, for Pete’s sake.
Cleo is not worried, and that’s my problem. I’m great at riding the worriers, the ones that panic. The cool cucumbers? Not so much. My challenge in the ring is to ride her like HER, not like Billy, and I’m getting better at showing up and being the brains of this outfit. I spend a lot of my time in schooling trying to constantly change, to not do the same thing for more than 8 strides, so she’s on her toes and listening. I have to remind myself to let go a lot, to try and leave her alone so my aids, when tactfully applied, are as loud as if I’d uttered them through a bullhorn. I do my best to be creative and fun and think outside the box.
Today, that meant ring-around-the-round-bale.
My neighbor hays my property for his beef cattle; as such, my front fields are dotted with round bales. Some are on plateaus, some on hills. And they’re just the right size to school around: big pirouettes, turny passage lines, half-pass zig-zags. The weather here hasn’t been cooperating much in my quest to do as little work inside an arena as possible, but today we went out, and Cleo had a blast. She was responsive and fun and light, and then we went for a hack around the farm, stopping to wade through the pond and let Cleo blow bubbles from her nose, one of her favorite things.
The art of prepping a horse for The Big Show is one I’m still learning, but if she goes down centerline feeling like she feels in my front field, my big white mare will have no problem filling (if not obliterating) the shoes Billy left behind. Now it’s just keeping MY cool—but not too cool!—to focus on.