Aug 172013

Last Saturday, I competed in my first three-phase event on Lila. The three phases of a “combined training” event are (1) dressage test — meaning precision movements in a pattern on the flat (2) stadium jumping — meaning a course of fences in an arena, and (3) cross-country jumping — meaning a course of fences over varied terrain.

Eventing is new for me, as I mostly did hunter shows and foxhunted when I was riding seriously in my teens. Back then, I did a few (two, I think) events for Pony Club on my fabulous horse “Paint.” That’s the sum total of my experience with eventing… and it’s not much.

I’ve been training with the amazing Martha Deeds of Middle Ground Farm for the past year, and Lila and I have made spectacular progress. So it was time to put our skills to the test! We did that on Sunday, August 11th at the One-Day Trial at the Colorado Horse Park. We competed at the “beginner novice” level, meaning that the fences would be 2’7″.

My dressage test was very basic, easier than the three “training level” tests I did at the schooling show in July. My performance was okay, but not spectacular. Alas, I rushed through the test a bit — except for the free walk, which was too sleepy.

I did manage to capture video of the test. The video camera is sitting on Paul’s hat, so that’s the white thing you see in the frame. Martha is next to him. (Paul was a fabulous supporter and help during the event, and I was so glad to have Martha with me to warm us up, plus give me advice and support all day long!)

Here are my dressage test results, with the movements, scores, and notes from the judge.

During the break between dressage and the two jumping phases, I decided to walk the cross-country course again. Or rather, to run it, since I had only 20 minutes to cover a mile of very hilly terrain, stopping to take a picture at each of the 17 jumps. Yikes!

A few hours after my dressage test, I warmed up for jumping. The warm-up area was a madhouse, but Lila was fine for that. However, when we entered the ring to do our course of ten fences, she became quite nervous. I think that being suddenly alone in an unfamiliar ring, with lots of brightly colored jumps with (*gasp*) flowers was a bit more than she knew how to handle. I didn’t realize just how nervous she was until she sucked back on the approach to the first fence and then refused it. (That’s a big penalty.) After that, I got after her, insisting that she jump every fence despite her fear. Thankfully she did that, although she continued to suck back in the few strides before every fence. She knocked down a rail on one too, and thankfully, that was our only other fault. Still, my riding improved and she gained confidence as she went through the course. When we finished the course, I was breathing harder than Lila was because I’d worked so damn hard to keep her going forward.

Since then, I’ve jumped her over various scary fences made of cones, tarps, flowers, and more, both at home and at Martha’s. She’s been mostly fine, so we suspect that major problem for her is jumping wholly new jumps in unfamiliar territory. To fix that problem, I plan to take her to two jumper shows in the next few weeks. After that, she should be much more confident jumping new fences in new places.

After that disheartening performance, Martha, Lila, and I headed down to the cross-country start area. Given what she’d just done, we expected Lila to balk at the warm-up cross-country fences — and in the course too. To our amazement, she was fabulous. She only got squirrely at one fence: #8. It was large tree branches at the top of a steep hill, and it looked awfully big as we cantered up that hill. Oh, and Lila refused to canter through the water, but that wasn’t a big deal. She was even excellent when I forgot everything I was supposed to do, such that I hindered rather than helped her.

We were good on time too — 17 seconds under time. (Both stadium jumping and cross-country are timed: you get penalty points for going over time.) Again, I could have ridden better — but again, I’m glad that I improved as I went through the course. Plus, I had SO MUCH FUN in those five minutes of jumping cross-country. Now I really know why eventers are, in the end, really about the cross-country. It’s the most challenging, the most dangerous, and the most fun!

Alas, the video didn’t record for my stadium jumping or cross-country. I set it up properly, but the camera just didn’t record. GRRR!

Ultimately, Lila and I ended up 5th in our group of 12 “Beginner Novice” riders, which isn’t bad for our first event. (We seemed to be in fourth place when the results were posted, as you can see from the picture, so we took home the white rather than the pink ribbon.)

I was pretty nervous during the event — although at least I’d overcome the major pressure and despair that I felt a few days before the event. Given the challenge of what we were doing, I’m pretty happy that we weren’t eliminated! (That’s not uncommon.)

Overall, the experience was very, very educational. I’m more aware of the kinds of mistakes that I’m likely to make, and I’ll be better able to handle … well, everything next time. Some of Lila’s hidden deficiencies were laid bare. More generally, I felt like I really grew as a person, particularly in my capacity to let go of mistakes, even while working to correct those mistakes and improve my performance.

Here are some pictures from the event, including each jump of the cross-country course:

I want to do one more event this year, so I’ll go back to the Colorado Horse Park on October 12th to 13th for this two-day event. It’ll be good for Lila and me to be in familiar territory again, and I think we’ll be able to do really well!

Now that my story is told, I’ll get off the computer and on my horse!

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