Well! That was a horse show!
Our day started with normal morning chores on Saturday, but as none of my students rode until the afternoon, I got twitchy and decided to ride Ella a little bit.
It ended up being a good idea, at least for my peace of mind. I took her on a tour of the coliseum, this time with the lights turned up, in the morning quiet, all alone. She wasn't exactly the cool, calm and collected girl I ride at home, but we just made transitions in the walk, collected to extended, and back, and made a few transitions to passage. Her tension made her a little too keen to piaffe, and I waited until she could make the transition from walk to passage without any short, quick steps between, and then we left. I think she settled a little, but mostly it settled me—she let me drive, even under great stress. Hoorah.
With a heat index above 100*, Nicole won her class with Tres—her first recognized competition at second level, by the way—and then Mel had a very lovely test on her Bali. Mel is really improving as a show rider. I'm a very proud coach!
Finally, it was show time. Nicole braided us up and dusted us off, and in we went. Ella was reasonably civilized as we went around the ring in the near-dark, but when the audience started to clap for the exiting rider before me, she started to build. And then the music started, and she built some more. And then to make her day, Ella came down centerline... into the path of a spotlight, which was not there in our Friday warm-up.
My music lulls for the halt and salute, and then it picks back up with a boom for me to passage off... except that Ella leaps out of her skin and tries to fling herself out of the arena.
And NOW we're off to the races.
I swing her around, make a frantic but VERY active first piaffe, and passage out. And at some point, I make a big half-halt and pat her neck, and she takes a big, deep breath.
It had some boo-boos. I'm not sure we made any twos whatsoever. My ones got smaller and smaller. For some inexplicable reason, we couldn't really turn left in the canter pirouette. And our walk was, shall we say, a little tense. The audience was like at Dressage at Devon, applauding for every crowd-pleasing movement; the first time it happened, it scared the heck out of her.
BUT! She stayed with me. She (mostly) went where she was told. She let me fix things and let me keep her reasonably under control in the extended trot. Mostly, she showed her unbelievable quality, and she developed an awful lot of fans in the crowd.
An experience like that is hard to come by Stateside, one with a rowdy, intimate audience and an electric atmosphere. The value to Ella and I, to our partnership as an international pair, was astronomical.
And to top it all off, we raised a whole lotta money for a terrific cause—the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Center. You can't beat that with a stick.
Nicole and I had a blast at the dinner soiree after the performance. We got to meet and mingle with lots of neat folks, including the WONDERFUL event sponsors from Land Rover, some great local breeders, and a Navy Captain in full dress uniform. We partied hardy, then got up bright and early the next morning so Nicole and Tres could win another second level class, and so Mel and Bali could get another 60%+ score at second level as well, a big step up for them. Nicole completed the day by riding her hair off for a third win at 2:30 in the afternoon, in blistering heat, before we somehow made it home in almost an hour and a half—wicked, wicked fast—on some of the nation's worst highways.
A victorious weekend, on all fronts!
It's a brief calm between storms for us—I get a weekend off (yay!) before a whirlwind week of judging a schooling show with Ella and Midge in tow (seriously, they're coming with. To the QUANTICO MARINE BASE, where I judge a show every year. SO COOL.), then going right from Quantico to Gladstone, where I'll ride with Debbie McDonald (SO COOL!), and THEN going to spend a few days with Lendon Gray. Of course, that brief calm includes two new horses in training, Pony Club camp and the Fourth of July, during which I would like to attempt to—insert gasp here—have a life outside of horses.
(Yeah. Good luck with THAT.)