Tuesday, May 15, 2012

it's show time, baby

The morning of the show started earlier than usual. I was up at 4AM, so that chores, feeding, and milking could be done in enough time to shower and preen for the ring. I had a borrowed blue jacket, a crisp white shirt, a fancy tucked-in collar. I had washed my half-chaps and paddock boots with a scrubber brush and everything was looking as good as it possibly could. I had to be at the barn around 7:00. That would give me enough time to get Merlin out of his stall (all horses in the show were kept in stalls for morning grooming instead of being turned out into the muddy paddocks) and have him brushed, washed up, and braided if I saw fit. I would slip on my jacket, place his number on his bridle's brow band, and start warming up for the ring by 9:00. Everything was planned out.

expecting a new, pudgy, Fell Pony to be suiting up for the dressage ring. Even at a schooling show in a rural part of upstate New York there are some fancy horses in that show. Warmbloods, high-stepping agile beasts who cost more than what I owe on my Dodge Dakota. Who would think the new girl who showed up with a bossy pony 13 weeks ago would be entered in the Dressage Show? I walked out into the pasture and placed his halter over his head. Both his feathered feet and my previously scrubbed paddock boots and half-chaps were covered in mud. That'll teach me not to pack my muck boots...

The morning was a frenzy. It started out slow, washing feet and combing out dry mud. I picked out pieces of pine shavings from his stall piece by piece from his long mane and tail. When he was suitably groomed, passing for clean, I decided not to braid his mane. Who was I kidding, really? He's a Fell and will remain one in his truest form for the judge. She could take us or leave us. With Merlin in his stall I walked over to where the trailers were parked and Patty and Steele were working to braid his long mane. Patty was on a stepladder as Steele munched from a bag of hay. He looked beautiful, cleaner than I have ever seen him. I was almost in shock at the site of him. I adore my Merlin, would not want any other riding horse in the world, but by Epona herself Steele looked like a giant marble statue of a horse. A life-sized Breyer in perfectly molded contours. Makes a woman weep, that kind of beauty on the hoof.

Percherons and Fell Ponies are not the usual dressage breeds, but we weren't the only outcasts. Haflingers, Spotted Drafts, Paints—all sorts of horse flesh was about. We fit in just as much as anyone else trying their hands at the USDF tests. It works like this: You enter the ring with your horse and trot around the outside of the arena. Then, when a bell rings you have 45 seconds to start your test. The "test" is really a memorized routine. I would be expected to trot into the ring with Merlin, a straight line at the judge. Then I'd hustle and jive through walks, circles, crossing the arena on diagonals, free walks, and so on. Whatever the test pattern is, you do it, and you do it the best you can. When it is done you halt your horse and bow your head in salute to the sport, the judge, the whole damn event. Then you exit the arena and wait to see how you did on your score sheet. The only person you are competing against is yourself, you create your score. The placement is simply high to low scores. Amazing how simple something so gut-wrenchingly nerve racking can be, huh? Merlin, Steele, Patty and I were warming up by 9 in the indoor arena. We walked, trotted, and circled in practice. By the time my name was called I walked down to the area where we were supposed to enter. A young boy, around 6, saw me on my mount and whispered to his mother "Mom, what is THAT? Identity issues from children aside, I thought everything was going well. I mean, the horse was clean, right? I was dressed properly, right? We had our number on his brow band, the right time....So what could go wrong?

Lots, actually.

Merlin remembered the outdoor arena. He remembered how fun it was to be in there and have the girth spin the saddle under him. He remembered the panic and the stress of it, and started backing up. Hollie, my guardian angel, saw this and told me to "get that pony in there!" and as if she could read horses the way pilots land a plane explained exactly what to do to get him inside the arena. "Pressure from your outside leg, loosen the reins, crop!" and so on. I just did what she said, gave some heel, and he entered at a fast walk. Okay, so we were in the dressage ring. We walked around the outside of the arena (we were not allowed inside until the judge rang the bell) and then I realized how much Merlin hates being trailered. The judge was sitting inside a trailer, a house from sun and rain. Merlin trotted by it and bucked a little kick, right in front of the judge... "He's got some spirit, huh?" I heard in a murmur.

He kept acting up, trotting in place, not wanting to go forward. The judge could see it all but until we started our test she couldn't start marking that score sheet. I got him down to where the official arena started and waited for the bell. The bell rang and the test started. here we go... Merlin and I entered the arena at a trot, right at the judges. We spent the next five minutes going through the routine I had lasered into my brain. We slowed to walks, made tight corners, picked up trots again at specific points. We did fairly-round 20-meter circles. And when it was all over we stopped on a dime and I saluted to the judge. People clapped and I finally let out the breath I was holding the whole time. The judge left me with some kind remarks and I exited the arena.

We did it. Merlin and I passed, if not placed. We didn't get one objection or correction announcement. It means that even if it wasn't pretty, it was competent. And to even enter a dressage show with a horse I had once only dreamed of, had only known a few months...was magical to me. If I got a big fat green ribbon that said 'Participant' I would frame it. It wasn't about winning, it was about showing up and trying. An event and day that marked a right of passage. I trained, I signed up, I tested, and I survived. Turns out I got third place. A ten-year-old on a white welsh pony beat us. Steele and Patty were right behind us in fourth place, by LESS THAN a point! Amazing when you know she entered her first dressage show with her cart horse after THREE LESSONS! Amazing, those two.

When you walk in my home the ribbon is hanging right on a mounted photo of Merlin. There is nothing humble about it and in this case, that is fine by me. That horse is a blessing, a lesson, and a teacher. He's coming home to the farm in a few weeks and I can't wait to wake up to that shaggy face every day, ride him around the farm and across neighbors' fields. We have plenty of adventures ahead and by Antlerstock I hope those of you coming out will get to meet him, feed him a carrot, and tussle those locks. Just don't mention anything about girths or trailers, he doesn't like to talk about them.

38 Comments:

Blogger Lilly said...

Congrats! What an exciting day and I hope you have many more successful horse shows to come (I love showing!).

May 15, 2012 at 4:42 PM  
OpenID domesteading said...

Yaaaay! (clapping) Also, I'm glad you didn't braid him. That would be like giving a Border Collie a Poodle cut.

May 15, 2012 at 4:50 PM  
Blogger Farmlady Wannabe said...

Congratulations, Jenna and Merlin!

May 15, 2012 at 4:54 PM  
Blogger JulieG - Girl With A Hoe said...

All that preening sounded like going on a first date! Very exciting!! I can't wait for you to bring Merlin home too. Won't get to feed him a carrot, and tussle those locks but I'm still excited for you. Congradulations again. AND . . .

Congradulations Patty and Steele!

May 15, 2012 at 5:03 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

/like

May 15, 2012 at 5:39 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

May 15, 2012 at 5:39 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth from the Berkshires said...

Oh, good for you and good for him! I've seen him stress out around trailers and the arena... wish I could have seen the show! Hugs all around.

May 15, 2012 at 5:44 PM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

I thought he'd be a seasoned vet in the show ring. Sounds like you had a blast. What's next?!

May 15, 2012 at 6:02 PM  
Blogger Wellfleetgal said...

Fantastic! Congratulations to both of you.

May 15, 2012 at 6:02 PM  
Blogger Wellfleetgal said...

Fantastic! Congratulations to both of you.

May 15, 2012 at 6:02 PM  
Blogger Missy said...

This is awesome. Congratulations! I've always been indifferent to horses (although I grew up in Middle TN - walking horse central - and most of my extended family had horses), but I loved reading this. You guys have come a long way in a short amount of time. Great job!!

PS - I can't wait to see him and Jasper together. What a sight!

May 15, 2012 at 6:07 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

HE is a vet! but it has been since 2008 that he was shown, all of us lose our touch over the years!

next up: trails and carts!

May 15, 2012 at 6:17 PM  
Blogger K said...

Congratulations! I am so impressed - I once knew someone who did 3-day eventing, and the time she put in just on the dressage part - it's such a demanding sport!

May 15, 2012 at 6:19 PM  
Anonymous Walter said...

I'm between my retired old man and a young Percheron mare, so I'm enjoying your show vicariously. What test did you ride? Was it 20 by 60 or 40 (I hate short arenas)? What do you think of the judge's comments? Is it material you can use? Last, and I understand if you'd rather not say, what was your score? For me ribbons were fun, but scores were my barometer and comments my compass.

May 15, 2012 at 8:26 PM  
Blogger karen said...

YOU ARE BOTH AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Karen from CT

May 15, 2012 at 8:31 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

It was the Intro Test A, and my score was a 107.5 points for a 67.19 percent. I don't know how that measures up, but I was told anything over a 60 means some level of competence!

and yes, a short arena 20x40

May 15, 2012 at 8:33 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

and the comments were great. The last one just said "Great Pair" and since they watched him bitch, kick, and act up I'm not sure that's a compliment.

It is, however, accurate!

May 15, 2012 at 8:34 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

this is probably a dumb question from a non-horse person who spends way too much time growing way too much produce...but why does it look like you & Patty are riding your horses through what appears to me to be a giant greenhouse??? what is that thing?

May 15, 2012 at 8:37 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Beth!

It's an indoor riding arena, a big open place with a rubber/dirt floor (made from ground up tires and such) for riding lessons. Here in the northeast you need these super domes to keep lessons going in the rain and winter, and after dark!

May 15, 2012 at 8:52 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

ah! an equine super-dome!! and here i thought you were cantering through the greenhouse cucumbers :) duh. though the farmer in me is musing that someone could be growing a lettuce or two along the edges...or would that distract the horses?

May 15, 2012 at 8:58 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Woooohoooo! Congrats to you and Merlin!! Great run-down of events... I was bitin my nails along with you :) such a handsome boy he is~

May 15, 2012 at 9:47 PM  
Blogger Tora Consolo said...

Whoo hoo! It's those solid brass ones of yours that we love so much!!!!!! You go girl!

May 15, 2012 at 10:38 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

Congrats!!! That's awesome! I remember one early dressage show on my Arab x Shetland. . .she hated umbrellas and truck beds and consistently refused to enter the bottom half of the arena. The top half wasn't too bad!

May 15, 2012 at 11:49 PM  
Blogger The Village Queen said...

Well done Jenna! I still remember getting my first ribbons, way too many years ago to mention. I showed for 16 years and it never got old. The only part I didnt like was the getting up at the crack of dawn. And washing the white parts when it was 50 degrees. If you keep doing it you'll get a system down for the prep work. You both looked like you had some fun despite the bucks! Congrats!

May 16, 2012 at 1:52 AM  
Blogger phaedra96 said...

Congratulations...it will never be that hard to do again...ever!

May 16, 2012 at 6:09 AM  
Blogger Sophie - The Joy of Farming said...

My first stepmother was a very high-level dressage rider. I have fond memories of sitting in the middle of the indoor where she trained, watching her practice carefully choreographed routines, the horse dancing beneath her. I could never see her move a muscle, so the whole thing just looked like a great big magic trick, or some sort of unspoken agreement between her and the horse. Very well done, with your ribbon finish! It is not all about the place, of course, but it sure is fun to come home with a little something. And Beth - I have never once thought about using my hoop house as an indoor, but now I can't get the idea out of my head!

May 16, 2012 at 7:33 AM  
Blogger Krista said...

You two are so awesome and inspiring!

May 16, 2012 at 7:40 AM  
Anonymous Jennie said...

Jenna, You are an awesome writer with a great sense of humor! I thorughly enjoy your blogs. And yes, Merlin is gorgeous- even though, I often wonder if he can see through all that lovely hair? Congrats on your ribbon for the first dressage. More ribbons in the offing, for sure.

May 16, 2012 at 8:10 AM  
Blogger seagoddess said...

Lookin like a pro there, Jenna! Nice work you two!

May 16, 2012 at 9:00 AM  
Blogger J.D. said...

Well done and congratulations to both of you!

I remember loving to show, but every show my horse never failed at surprising me in a good or bad way. Whether he decided to cow kick on a turn, refuse a jump, or tell me in no certain terms that the flying change I asked for wasn't worth a flying [insert expletive here], we shared days when he made me look better than I rode, including the day I forgot to cinch my girth before I entered the ring. BK had my back during that class and performed beautifully. First thing my coach asked, "What got into him?" And to me she mused, "Forget something?"

That's show business.

May 16, 2012 at 9:10 AM  
Blogger Elaine said...

Good for you; while reading this I was so excited and as proud of you as if you were my own daughter ... that pony is gorgeous and so are you, in every way possible. Also, my own opinion is long and flowy manes are the way to go !!

May 16, 2012 at 10:11 AM  
Blogger Melanie J. said...

So I'm editing a website offering horseback riding and dressage lessons and the dingbat designer puts an image of a polo match on the page describing the dressage lessons. Thanks to your latest posts, I knew it needed to be switched out and dug thru our paltry image gallery for a shot of a helmet and riding crop (cuz our gallery is high on cowboys and low on riders in show apparel).....so thanks for the vocational assistance today! ;)

May 16, 2012 at 12:08 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

CONGRATULATIONS!!! Y'all looked very professional. WHAT A TEAM.

May 16, 2012 at 12:11 PM  
Anonymous Linda said...

Congratulations to you and Merlin!

May 16, 2012 at 12:46 PM  
Anonymous Dianne @ My Southern Heart said...

Well done, Jenna! You should be proud! ;-)

May 16, 2012 at 1:53 PM  
Blogger Lara said...

Way to go!!! Can't wait to meet Merlin in person.

May 16, 2012 at 10:31 PM  
Blogger kimberlesk said...

Thank you for sharing, Jenna, and congratulations to you and Merlin!! I really enjoyed reading this!

May 17, 2012 at 1:08 PM  
Anonymous Celeste said...

Well done!!! i am so proud of you both! i ride a haflinger mare and we do dressage and driving. Merlin is very beautiful. love your blog you are very inspiring and i am so glad you have added horses riding/ driving to the mix! congrats on your test and going for the farm full time! you are living the dream - go forth and prosper!

May 18, 2012 at 3:49 AM  

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