Monday, October 21, 2013

WE ROCKED!! (super long show recap!)

Oh my goodness, I am just smitten as a kitten today. Our weekend had some extreme lows and highs, but luckily it was in that order!! Right now I feel like I'm king of the world and my horse is Pegasus.

So let's cut to the chase. We placed 16th out of 23 entrants in the Intro division, moving up in the rankings each phase. I was part of the winning Intro team, so I got to take home a pretty blue ribbon. Amazingly, we accomplished a goal from my equestrian bucket list: we finished the horse trial on my dressage score!! Granted, it was a very bad dressage score. Probably my worst ever. But still - we went double-clear in both stadium and cross-country which is really awesome! I'm just so stinkin' proud of my handsome and brave pony, so thankful to have a wonderful trainer, and proud of myself for getting through it.

Like the last show, I ordered video from Ride On, but until they're available I have a few photos.

Day 0 - Arrival and practice ride

The California Grapevine

FCHP Show Grounds

We left Friday morning on the 4+ hour drive. The horses settled in quickly so I could take Hemie out for a practice ride in the warm-up area for dressage and cross country. He got a nice longe first and was very happy and willing.

On the walk up the hill to the warm-up area he was a little hot and hip-swingy, but he settled down to work right away. We had 2 very small "incidents" of stuck-ness where he wanted to go sideways instead of forward, but I handled it much better and faster than I had at Shepherd Ranch and was able to loosen the reins (and hold on for dear life on the handy neck strap) and kick him forward. It worked and we moved on right away, and got some nice dressage work done.

Safety vest and neck strap at the ready.

On the one hand, I was a little disappointed that he had the issues; however, I'm proud that I handled it more effectively than I did at the last show.

The iconic power plant behind us.

Full moon rising above the power plant.

Day 1  
Dressage & Crazy Show Drama 

Hemie was HOT HOT HOT on Saturday. I took him out for a hand-walk and it turned into an extra long walk with not one, but 2 longes too!

The electricity make me crazy pony?

When it came time for dressage, he got yet another longe, and he was still so hot that it lasted probably 20 minutes instead of the 10 I had budgeted. Oh well, sometimes you just need to let them get it out of their system.

Again, he got a bit spunky on the walk up to the arena - a little more than the day before, in fact, but half-way up the hill I decided we could trot instead of walk and that settled him. We trotted right through the in-gate and around the whole warm up area. I realized later than I should check-in, and found an official-looking person holding a clipboard and gave her my number to check in. I wondered if they were going to measure my whip like the last show, but she just said she'd call us when it was our turn. Okay, great. We warmed up pretty darn well. No incidents at all. He was tense, but slowly relaxing. A few great moments here and there.

Finally we were called down to the competition arena - of course the closest one to the power plant. We started off okay - tense but with some moments of stretching, and some good bend. He broke to canter and switched his hind leads a bit. Our free walk was a complete disaster - neither free, nor a walk (more like alternating halting and jigging). At the end of the diagonal, we had a mini meltdown in the corner. He got completely stuck, would not move forward, and bounced sideways. It probably lasted about 5 or 6 long seconds while I tried to squeeze him forward, then I gave him a little spank and he said "yes, ma'am." We moved forward and continued on with a nice trot, but it fell apart again for the canter - it was more of a hippity hop with swapping hind leads. We approached the offending corner again but had no issue. As I halted at X, the judge started waving me over before I could even salute (I still did though).

"We need to talk." she said seriously.

Not a good sign.

"I called the vet over because I think your horse is lame."

Oh no.

"I'm going to continue scoring your test. Please come outside and meet with the vet."

Sheisse. I called Laurie over and we spoke with the vet, who said the judge called her over during the test and that she and judge both think he showed signs of clinical lameness in the left hind. She asked a few background questions, and said that the judge wanted to eliminate us on the disobedience but preferred that the vet handle it. I started to argue that we couldn't be eliminated on the disobedience because it didn't last the required length of time. The vet said that was between me and the judge - her role was just to evaluate soundness. Hemie was quite tense, no doubt picking up on mine and Laurie's incredulity, shock, and intense anxiety at the situation. The vet said to go back to the barn and she'd stop by later once Hemie had a chance to settle down.

Hemie and I headed down the hill and he got worse - started cantering sideways downhill and getting light upfront and almost tripped. I reached for the neck strap and realized I left it in the warm up. I got him to settle and walk nicely for 5 steps and decided to get off and hand-walk him back up to go get the strap. I could feel the vet's eyes on us the whole time. Meanwhile I was stewing of course. There's a big difference between disobedience due to tension & inexperience, versus due to lameness - how could these professionals not tell the difference?

Finally we made it to the barn. I had some water, Hemie settled down quickly. He got a quick bath and some lunch and I got out my rulebook to figure out how this situation gets handled. The vet showed up with the Technical Delegate in tow.

The TD said that he heard from the dressage judge that our test had numerous issues - that I was talking to my horse the whole time, circled following a disobedience, and didn't take my hands of the reins to salute the judge when halting which itself could eliminate me.

Huh? I may have been a little rattled from the disobedience, but I know I didn't circle, know I didn't talk to my horse (maybe 1 cluck during the disobedience...maybe), and specifically did salute properly though it took a moment longer than normal for my horse to actually halt (and as I said the judge waved me over before I even finished saluting). I tried to bring up my concerns but both the vet and TD did not want to hear my side of the story.

The vet instructed me to trot out my horse for evaluation. As I pull him out of the stall, she says to the TD "Watch out! This horse is a striker!"


Laurie an I both immediately ask what she's talking about, and she says that the bit-checker volunteer at the warm-up gate said my horse struck her, she had even starred next to my horse's name on her list. Before we can discuss further, she tells me to trot him out. I must have been beet-red in the face with incredulity and tension, but trotted my horse out as instructed. After a few minutes, he was deemed sound.

We then had another round of extremely frustrating conversations with the vet and TD. I tried to explain that there was no way I had all those issues in my dressage test. I tried to explain that there was no bit-checker at the in-gate when I went through. But they didn't seem to care about what I had to say. Both the TD and vet repeatedly asked me if I thought we were safe to continue. I kept saying yes. But they kept on asking - they were clearly pressuring me to withdraw. The TD took me aside and said that if I had a problem in the stadium warm-up later that afternoon, that I should "call it a weekend" to avoid a dangerous situation in the stadium round. I acknowledged that I would not do anything that I felt was a danger to myself or my horse, and the TD finally left.

The vet stayed, and finally listened to my side of the story, though I didn't think she believed me. She said that we were flagged and she'd be watching us at stadium. When I said that I knew the rules and couldn't be eliminated in the warm up, she said "yes, that's true, except for Dangerous Riding." Then she said that I better go up to the warm-up gate right away to talk to the volunteer if I wanted to get to the bottom of the striker accusation, since dressage was ending soon. Instead I decided to wait for my dressage score and test at the show office, since per the rules (as I well know) you only have 30 minutes to lodge a protest.

I was certainly upset at the untrue accusation of my horse being a striker, but at the end of the day that's not against the rules and wouldn't alter my score. Incorrect dressage scoring would, especially if it could be used as grounds for elimination (not removing hands from the reins to salute). I was too emotional to go confront a poor volunteer anyway.

We got the dressage score, and it was bad. 59. Ouch ouch ouch. However, happily, there was no incorrect scoring - no circling, no points off for vocal assistance, nothing of the stuff the TD had mentioned. As one person was eliminated in our division in dressage, we figured the TD had gotten me confused with that poor person. The test scores were a tad harsher than I'd have expected (seriously, people, I got a *1* on our free walk. Yikes!), but ultimately there was nothing to protest. In fact, when I watched the video again, I thought the scoring was about right. We were pretty darn bad.

I checked the rule book on the technical definition of Dangerous Riding, and Laurie and I decided that if he started to wig out in the warm-up, she would simply come over and pony us around until it was time for our round (kinda like at our last show). With the vet and TD having already "flagged" us, I didn't want to chance a DR elimination (which goes on your USEA record). Talk about pressure.

Day 1 continued  
Stadium Jumping & meeting a fellow blogger!

Before I could allow myself to get too stressed out over the crazy show drama, I was saved by the fabulous Paola of Paola's Horse Blog who came with her family and friends to watch some of the show! She is a very bright young lady, and clearly a natural horsewoman.

Hemie snuggled in exchange for some cookies and it was just the perfect mood-lift that I needed right then. Thank you so much to Paola and her friendly, supportive family and friends for coming out to meet us and cheer us on!

As I started tacking up Hemie for stadium, the vet came back over to our area. She said that she had personally followed up with the volunteer doing the bit-check, and asked for a description of the horse and rider who had the striking incident with her. Apparently, it became immediately clear that it wasn't Hemie and I. Upon further questioning, the gal remembered that she had starred us because she wasn't able to bit-check us at the in-gate, as she was busy dealing with getting struck by this other horse (I guess it happened right before we arrived), and that she needed to follow up with us. The vet conveyed the volunteer's apology for the mix-up, and to be honest I was surprised and impressed that the vet cared enough to get to the bottom of that situation to set the record straight.

I finished tacking up, and we decided to have Laurie walk with us up the hill and around the new warm-up area. This worked out very, very well - I could feel Hemie look around and tense his body, then he'd relax when getting a tug (or pat) from Laurie. Racehorses are comforted by being ponied, and we absolutely used this knowledge to help settle him.

We had a perfect warm-up for stadium. He was happy and forward, listening and bending. We went in for our round and he was great. By jump #3 I knew in my gut we were going to have a completely successful go. I'm sure I had the biggest grin on my face the whole time. After being so tense earlier in the day, it was an incredible relief to have such a good ride.

Wendy and Calvin walked us back to the barn, and Hemie liked having a buddy there - he offered no antics at all. The vet passed us in her SUV and gave us a thumbs-up out the window. An extra layer of stress melted away.

Day 2 - Cross Country

Even though my XC ride time wasn't until 4 pm, I decided to get up early and volunteer by jump-judging the Training and Prelim levels of XC. FCHP now offers volunteer incentive - a $20 voucher for a half-day's volunteering, which is very cool. The courses ran very well and it was awesome to watch these more advanced riders jump gigantic things I don't think I ever will attempt.
Gina Economou on Calidore, Prelim fence #12

Hemie was calm and perfectly behaved for his hand-walk, so I didn't do a morning longe. In fact, I decided not to longe him at all before XC and to only have a small warm-up. We kept the same plan as stadium - Laurie to pony us up to the warm up and to rescue us immediately if any incident starts to happen. Hemie warmed up like a dream - a little amp'd but in a happy way. Laurie ponied us to the start box and held onto us for the count-down.

Out the box, Hemie was a little nervous. There was a camera next to a large jump on our approach to our first fence which we trotted, but I put his eye on our destination and I felt him lock on. From there on out, we were FLYING. It felt like we were soaring, and decided to test my brakes well before fence #2 - Hemie was obedient and listening, so from there on I trusted him and only asked him to balance a few strides away from each obstacle. Down hills, up hills, he was perfect. I didn't bother telling him "good boy" every fence like I did last time - he was having too much fun. So was I. We schooled the water first just to be safe, but he was perfect. We also trotted one more jump that was on a tight turn, but he was completely game the whole ride. By the last few jumps I saw we almost caught up to the person ahead of us. I definitely had tears welling up as we crossed those finish flags, and gave him a million pats and hugs and "good boys".  We had gone double-clear, with over 25 seconds to spare, even with the water schooling and trotting. I haven't done the math, but likely that means we went between BN and N speed.

So there it is. Downs, and ups. But of course ups > downs. And double-clean is a great way to end our 2013 show season. :-)


  1. Definitely sounds like a stressful weekend, but congratulations on the ultimate outcome!

  2. That mess about the dressage judge and the vet and TD is nuuuuutts! I would have cried.

  3. So glad you overcame the early bobbles and finished strong. :)

  4. Jeeze! I probably would have withdrawn after dressage just because I was too stressed to deal with the situation. Good for you for not letting anyone bully you around and finishing. I can't wait to see video of your awesome jumping rounds!

  5. Oh my goodness. I would have melted into a puddle with all that craziness! Way to hang in there! I'm glad you are figuring out what works (and doesn't) for Hemie, that's really half the battle! Congrats on your successful outing!!!!!! You should find out if the event had evaluation forms so you can follow up with a complaint against the TD and maybe even the dressage judge.

  6. Congratulations! It was awesome to meet you at the show. :) If you would like some more pictures, I have several of you on my blog:

    1. By the way, you have been awarded the Sunshine Award:

  7. Aye! I would have been a mess with all that back and forth! Good for you for sticking up for yourself and handling it all so well. I agree with Niamh, get an evaluation- both for the TD and judge and also a good report for the vet who actually cared about ya!

    Congrats on the highs too! :)

  8. Oh my! I'm so impressed that you were able to put the Dressage Debacle behind you -- talk about crazy!!

  9. That dressage drama would have sent me over the edge and I would have high tailed it out of there. Awesome job for sticking with it, standing up for your horse/riding, and finishing so great!

  10. Oh, good for you, Sarah! Crap like that pisses me off. I am so happy that you held it together and got Hemie back on the right track. Awesome, awesome job!!!!!! :0)

    1. BTW, I nominated you for the Sunshine Award. :0)