Val had a junior hunter showing early in the week at Harrisburg, so there was no time for a lesson before Calvin began the five-hour trip on Thursday. My mom and I followed a few hours later and arrived at the Farm Show Complex in the late afternoon. I immediately got tacked up and rode in the schooling ring.
Harrisburg is weird in that it is almost entirely indoors. The only times the horses see the light of day are when they get lunged or bathed. Calvin is unfazed by it, but it confused Alan my first year when we drove directly into the building. The schooling ring is huge, and my horse practically plodded around it without a care in the world. I expected him to peek out the door or something, but he was perfect, and I was hopeful that he would be so quiet in the show ring too.
Medal Finals is one of the biggest shows of the year, and nobody wants to take any chances on their horses being wild. In the past I have had lessons at midnight almost every night, slept for a few hours, and then gone in the show ring at 5 in the morning to let my horse have a look around. It’s pretty terrible to be so sleep deprived and under pressure at the same time!
This year, though, we had a great batch of really mellow horses, and we knew that Calvin was a superstar last year, so Val eliminated all midnight rides, and we only rode at 5 a.m. once. I think I actually cheered when she told us.
On Friday we trailered over to a nearby farm, where another trainer had set a simulation finals course. He did a great job…it was HARD. The jumps came up very quickly out of the turns, and the distances between jumps required a lot of lengthening and shortening. We each jumped two patterns, and I completed both with great style. I knew that the finals course could not possibly be harder than what we did in our lesson, and I looked forward to seeing another course that would really keep me on my toes.
With my new stirrup pads (we did NOT want a repeat of USET), I felt confident and ready to go; nothing was holding us back. Before and after my ride, I spent most of my day watching the show ring. I usually don’t have so much down time at shows, so it was great to see the riders I’ve become so familiar with competing over hunter and jumper courses, not just equitation.
I woke up at 4 a.m. on Saturday morning. Yuck. The ring opened at 5 a.m. for equitation horses, so Calvin and I cantered around in there for about 20 minutes.
The scary part about riding in the morning before the show is not the ring itself, rather the traffic. A good 40 or so horses are all packed in there at once, and horses are circling the ring on four tracks: the people closest to the wall are walking, the ones inside them are trotting, the next group is cantering, and the innermost horses are jumping the two jumps set in the middle. I’m amazed that more people don’t get hurt in there because everyone is packed in so tight.
After flatting in the ring, Val took us out to the schooling ring, where a course was set up. Although the jumps were flagged, people still zigzagged around, and it was hard to jump around. The course tested stride adjustability and had some short turn options, and I was able to do it very smoothly (when traffic allowed). I went back to the hotel and napped for a while during the day and got back in the saddle at 6:30 p.m. for my warm-up round.
The course was the exact same from the year before, and I remembered that the last line was very bending. Overall it was quite easy, so that didn’t have me too worried. I loosened up and jumped around the big schooling ring and my horse was quiet as can be, but when we walked to the little schooling ring by the in-gate, his head shot in the air and he lit up. He was still rideable through all the tension, so I was surprised but not too afraid of what would happen.
My round itself was not too bad. It was not as smooth as the winning trip, but I met my jumps OK and felt that it could have gone a lot worse. I got off and Calvin left immediately to get lunged, and I knew that was the only real preparation we needed.