The day began bright and early for me as I rolled out of bed and into the truck at 5 AM. I was on my own for this as Eric’s mom and brother were in town. They were planning on coming out to watch later in the day but there was no need for everyone to be up before dawn! But, that’s why you pack the trailer the night before and have everything all set to go, right? I’m so thankful that Dandy is good loader.
The drive was tough in the beginning thanks to rain but we got there without incident. Of course the minute he stepped out of the trailer Dandy was excited and on high alert. I tied him up, gave him his hay and went to go scope out the grounds, find the rest of the JLE crew (who all had stalls) and fill his water bucket. JLE showed up at about the same time and checked in Dandy before warming up another student.
Once I was sure Dandy was all set at the trailer, I joined the rest of the crew to cheer on R (who was going N) and went to walk the stadium course. It was technical. Lots of tight turns and small three stride lines. When we walked the course it was set for training height which didn’t make me worried but the tight turns did. I really enjoyed hearing JLE walk everyone through the course and bringing specific points about each person’s horse or pony. Even though I wasn’t riding, JLE pointed out specific spots to me and told me what her strategy was going to be for riding Dandy. For example, the second jump has a very small amount of space to turn to get to the second so instead JLE planned to go further out and around a second jump. Her main strategy for stadium was to get straight lines to each fence and get him to sit up and listen between them.
We then had just enough time to walk the XC course before JLE had to be back to warm someone else up so we hurried across the field to the start. To begin with, I wasn’t nervous. The first jump was a plain old log and the second was a red painted roll top thing. The third jump though, was a grey ramp. Okay, now I’m a little nervous for JLE. Dandy’s never gone over anything like that. And it looked big to me. Granted she’s jumped around Rolex so I’m sure that was nothing for her…
The 4th jump was a down bank. Dandy’s done banks before so I wasn’t worried. He still doesn’t know to just step down them but that’s all just experience. The next couple of fences were simple galloping fences. JLE stressed the importance of getting him straight to the jumps here as well as the position I needed to be in between these types of fences. I loved walking the course because I really learned a lot more about how I should ride the whole course compared to just doing a few fences at a time when we go schooling.
I wasn’t initially worried about the water complex, but then we finally got to it and I thought, uh oh. It had a dark chute into it and was a very murky and dark looking water complex. Dandy’s never had an issue though so I tried not to worry about it. The other jump was I was nervous about was this weird ditch thing. It wasn’t a real ditch, just a dip in the path. I was worried that Dandy wouldn’t really know what to do because it wasn’t clearly defined but JLE wasn’t worried. After that there were just a few more standard XC jumps, including Dandy’s very first table, and he was home free.
Now it was time for the fun to begin. Even though I wasn’t riding, I was so nervous for Dandy. I wanted him to do well because he’s my baby but I also wanted this to be a super positive experience for him. I wasn’t expecting him to be a super star and blow everyone else out of the water, but I was thinking that he was definitely good enough to not be last. I got Dandy all prettified and tacked up and walked over to the warm up areas. He was being pretty good until I made the stupid decision to walk by the stadium ring. Dandy saw those jumps and went into giraffe mood. Great. In fact, we couldn’t get him to hold still enough for JLE to get on so we put him on the lunge line where he cantered for probably 10 straight minutes.
Eventually JLE was able to get on and had a really nice warm up. At that point, Dandy was even willing to stand patiently while JLE coached another student. Good pony! It was a bit of long wait as they were behind schedule on the dressage portion but Dandy was ready to go when his number was called.
Overall, I was so proud of my Dandy. He definitely made some baby mistakes but they didn’t really mater. Right at the start Dandy spooked at a bird flying out of the bushes and unfortunately got a 4. He was also pretty resistant to pick up his left canter lead this time. And he was a goof at the end: nice straight square halt and then he stuck his left food out. But JLE gave him such a nice calm, positive ride that I can’t be annoyed at any of those things! He finished with a 38.00. So not he best score but we weren’t in last place, smack dab in the middle (though to be honest, I didn’t go look at this until after XC so I had no idea what he had gotten or where he was in the standings until it was all over).
We didn’t have that long between dressage and stadium so I hand walked Dandy, put on his boots and running martingale, and let him have some water. Then we marched back over to the warm up fields. Dandy was still super high energy and excited. While I didn’t have to lunge him to bring him back to a halt, he was antsy when I gave JLE a leg up. “Not tired yet, Dandy Lion?” she asked him. Never. Never ever tired.
Dandy’s was probably one of the ugliest rounds I saw that day. Not because of stops or run outs (he didn’t have any) or even knocks (none). Simply because he was so dang green! JLE had very little ability to steer or make those tight turns and she had to really use all of her skill to keep him from jumping long. She stayed calm and collected through it when I definitely would have been yanking on the reins to get us back on the proper path and totally freaking out. Dandy did have one rub but it stayed up. I will admit though that each jump looked better, looked smoother and left Dandy more confident. He was definitely having fun out there and was one of only two clean rounds in stadium.
Thankfully we had a two hour break before XC because now Dandy was tired and dripping sweat. He got a good sponge bath and was put back on his tie so I could finally sit down and get something to eat myself. By this point I was exhausted and definitely thinking about buying new tennis shoes.
Dandy was pretty dead too. After I tacked him back up for the last phase, we walked across the warm ups and off to the XC field; his head just hung on the ground. But I wasn’t too concerned because as soon as he saw the first jump that he had to walk past (wine barrels) he hard core spooked. Really?! Hey, Dandy, remember how we jumped pretty much this exact same jump when we were schooling in California? Apparently not.
My horse stood still just long enough for me to give JLE a boost into the saddle. They had a quick but efficient warm up and off they went. I managed to watch the first three jumps (which he cleared no problem from my vantage point) and then busted my ass to get to this bank so I could see the last half of the course. But once Dandy and JLE disappeared from my view I got so worried. What if Dandy refused? It was so hard to not be able to watch the entire thing.
And then they came into view and it was the most amazing sight I had ever seen. There was my goofy Dandy cantering along with his ears pricked. From what I could tell he was listening to JLE like he never had for me: rating when she asked and finding his way to the base of the jumps. Dandy soared over the jumps. Maybe not in perfect form but it was beautiful to me. My heart was gushing with pride, look at my baby go! Gosh do I love that horse when he’s behaving!
JLE was smiling as she pulled up and handed him over to me. “He’s such a blast.” We chatted for a few minutes on how he was on the course (unsure of the water but willing to listen, able to rate) and about the problems Dandy and I were having together. JLE gave him a great first ride and while part of that is because she’s ridden at the highest levels of this sport, she also doesn’t have the same emotional attachment that I have to Dandy. When he’s being naughty she can correct it without getting upset. When he’s being naughty for me, I get upset and sad. Dandy’s supposed to be my partner so it bothers me when he’s not helping.
We also talked a bit about what my plan should be with him. Dandy needs the pro rides right now and I 100% agree with that. Being able to watch how calm and collected JLE was on him, and seeing the confidence Dandy gained this week has really motivated me to be a better rider. I’m not sure if there are any more back to back one day horse trials in this area this season but if so we’re going to sign up for those and hopefully have JLE ride again the first day and me the second. If not, we’ll figure out another plan. Because I do have to get back in the saddle at one of these things. I didn’t buy Dandy just to watch him go around the course (however fun it was!).
It wasn’t until I had gotten Dandy back to the trailer, untacked and cooled out that Eric said “do we know where he’s placed?” I pointed out where they posted the scores but said that I hadn’t looked. It didn’t seem important to me to check throughout the day as I wasn’t expecting anything and I really just wanted a good ride. So while I went to return my trainer’s saddle, Eric went to go look at the standings after dressage and XC. We met halfway back to the trailer.
“Where do you think he’s placed?”
I shrugged. “5th?”
“Assuming he went clear XC, JLE won.”
So then of course I had to go look for myself and sure enough. Dandy had won.
While it wasn’t as sweet as if it had been me riding, I was still super excited. And now I KNOW Dandy can do this and is capable of going clear going over brand new fences and brand new shapes. It definitely gave me a lot of confidence. Looking forward to the next one!