Rolling With The Punches: USDF National Finals, Day 3

Nov 9, 2013 - 4:43 PM
Photo by Jeff Counterman.

There are many good qualities required to be declared a “good rider.” A solid seat, quiet hands, lots of know-how and experience. But to be a good show rider, you need one other thing—the ability to roll with the punches. Because if you can’t, not only will you not win much, but you’ll also stroke out. Showing horses is barely-organized chaos under the best of times.

And sometimes, it’s not the best of times.

Kristin had a fabulous ride today. Billy was splendid; Kristin rode her heart out. They maybe gave away a half a point on a few of their simple changes, but she rode every point out of him she could get everywhere else. Nothing’s going to change the fact that Billy’s hind legs don’t bend as much as they should, and that he sometimes opens his mouth—these are things that have been true his whole career with me, and at his age, they’re not going to get fixed.

But it was those things that relegated her to fifth place, and we were all just delighted.

Except that she didn’t actually get fifth. This show is using a fabulous e-scoring system… or at least it’s fabulous when it works. Kristin’s class was one of only a few glitches in The Matrix, but it was a glitch of consequence, and right after running the awards ceremony and taking lots of pictures with her lovely pink ribbon, Kristin had to hand it over and take a sixth-placed ribbon instead.

This is OK. It doesn’t belittle the tremendous accomplishment of being 13 years old on a not-so-easy-horse playing with the big boys and really being darned good. (This is not going to stop me from giving some grief to the rider who was moved ahead of her, who is a friend, so it’s OK that I publicly shame her, right? The jerkface stole a ribbon from a child!) ;)

The ability to roll with the punches is crucial. I spotted a rider from last night’s Grand Prix frantically searching the vendors for a curb chain just an hour before the class; his had somehow gotten lost. My North American Young Riders Championships teammate Kassie Barteau did an unreal job of staying cool during her freestyle championship class today while her music stuttered, spluttered and finally stopped all together. She just kept riding, and when the music did kick in, she was right where she was supposed to be in the pattern.

And anyone who’s been doing this long enough has a similar story. Tents blowing over. Getting called off course when you’re not. In days of old, top hats coming off. Helicopters, hot air balloons, parachuters. I’ve had both deer and groundhogs make appearances in the middle of dressage tests (though, thank goodness, not at the same time. But I wouldn’t rule it out).

In life with horses, and certainly in competition life with horses, learning to expect the unexpected is a gift. And learning how to roll with the punches is a skill! It’s a skill Kristin has in spades, as she graciously picked up her green ribbon (which matches Billy’s color better anyway). It’s been a heckofa year, and it’s over at last. Tomorrow we make the long trip back over the mountains of West Virginia (I can hear the banjos) and put 2013 to rest. 

And I’m sure 2014 will be filled with all kinds of crazy, too. It’s not going out of style. So we’ll roll with it, baby. Roll on!


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