Monday, October 7, 2013

Sport Horse Nationals 2013

Secret believes ribbons should be carrot flavored.
Dressage at Devon was last weekend, and for the first time in 9 years, I didn’t enter a horse. I have two 4-year-olds on my ride list and Harry is a year old now, so I had horses eligible for the breed show, but back in January I decided to skip it this year.  What would entice me to keep my youngsters home from the largest breed show in the country you ask?  Sport Horse Nationals.

This year Sport Horse Nationals was in Lexington, VA, which is only 4 ½ hours away, as opposed to Idaho, which is 2 days away. Secret has been the wonder girl all season, so I wanted to see how she compared to the best Arabians and Half-Arabians in the country.   So we sent in an entry and packed the trailer.

Because Sport Horse Nationals is limited to Arabians and Half-Arabians, unless you ride in a predominantly-Arab barn, chances are your coach isn’t available. So, like at many Arab shows, we do some coach-swapping.  Aneesa, who is a regular student of Cara Klothe (who, while she was in college, trained and taught out of SFD, and now works as assistant trainer at Rolling Stone Farm) trailered over a few weekends before so she could polish Par’s performance and we could get re-acquainted with each other’s styles. Cara and I have tag-teamed Aneesa’s show coaching a few times in the past, so shortly I felt up-to-speed to wear the coaches hat.

I also was in need of warm up eyes, so when my friend Lauren asked for warm-up assistance as her trainer Anne Rawle wouldn’t be making the trip, I jumped at the chance, but only if she’d be my warm-up eyes too.  I went down to her place and watched her take a lesson with Anne, and she came down to Hasslers and watched a lesson with Scott.  Lauren, being Lauren, took copious notes, and showed up with her notebook in warm up. 

I felt more prepared to help Aneesa, but the way the times came out, I was going to be en-route when she was doing her training level class. So the week before we spent a lesson on warm-up priorities and the stages of warm-up, including timing how long it took for Par to reach each stage.  Lauren’s first ride, at First level would also be during our travel time, so I put Secret in the trailer and headed to Lauren’s so Lauren and I could practice warming each other up. And time each other’s warm-up. Linda also video tape our test run-throughs so I could use that to help my final preparations.

Between the time with Scott and all of this warm-up preparations, Linda and I figured we’d done all that we could do to help Secret show her best. Now it all came down to judge’s opinion, who managed to have the better ride that particular day, and what curve balls Mother Nature would throw at us.  

Of course, we were all hoping that we would show our best. Arabs do things a bit different than the open shows. For example, in addition to huge ribbons and lots of flowers, National Champion and Reserve National Champion received coveted Arab statues given as trophies.

But trophies weren’t the only thing on the line--in Arabs, competition results actually change the horse’s name. When the horses earn enough points and enough championships, they get their names changed to add +, +/, ++// etc. after their name. It’s kinda like wearing their resume whenever they enter a show.  These are really huge milestones in the Arab world, with the horses being honored with a presentation in the main show ring, often followed by a barn party.

Secret has already earned her +/, and being a half-Arabian who only competes in dressage, has only one more / she can earn.  In order to get it, she needed to win a Top 10 finish at a National Championship and earn a bunch more points.  Paradox needed a few more points for his /, and a Top 10 is worth a whole bunch of points, so Aneesa and I were both working on show nerves well ahead of the shows.  Starting a week or so before, she started texting me to say the anticipation was killing her. I started having nightmares about halting at X, and sudden snow squall blocking my view of the dressage letters. Yea, this was a big deal.

Despite this anxiety, Aneesa managed just fine without me. She ended up 3rd in the quite-competitive Amateur Owner Training Level class, earning Par a new / after his name.  She missed reserve champion by .1 of a point, and spent the rest of the week letting me know it was my fault for not getting up earlier to make it to Lexington in time to warm her up.  My retort? Your 20-year-old horse is 3rd best horse in the country. And she didn’t even NEED a coach for that.

Lauren, who hid her show nerves much better than Aneesa and I, piloted Breeze around  the sandbox for  a quite nice First level ride that finished 3rd,  earning another top 10 ribbon.

Lauren’s Prix St George ride was next to go, and Linda and I made it there in time to help her warm up.  She was a bit insecure about that ride as it is her first year at FEI, but she and Savannah warmed up well. That is, until the amazingly cheerfully-on-top-of-things-for-five –whole-days ring steward (the woman deserved a medal) called that the ride before was circling the ring. I watched her lower back stiffen, and instantly Savannah, her very, very honest mount, forgot how to count tempi changes.  In desperation to help my friend relax RIGHT NOW, I went with humor.

“Lauren, pretend it’s Friday night, you only have $5, and want to drink all night. Shake your booty, girl!” Lauren promptly busted out laughing, shook her hips, and went in to ride a national top 10 Prix St. George worthy test, complete with accurately-counted changes. To top it off, she earned her final score for her USDF Silver Medal.

Lauren rode Savannah again on Thursday in her 4th level class, again earning a top 10, with a score over 68% from one of the judges. 

Finally, on Friday, Secret and I had a go in our 3rd level class. There were 33 other pure Arabians and Half-Arabians in our open division, with  lots of +/, ++//, ++++// after their names. Linda and I wanted a top 10, but with the quality of the purebreds and the warmblood crosses in our class, we weren’t sure if it was realistic. We were in the first hour of our class, which ran nearly 5 hours long.

The dressage arenas were on the top of the hill, and our stabling was in the far back corner. Linda and I nearly wore our shoes out walking up and down the hill checking scores, which were slow to come out. We walked, and waited, and walked, and waited, did a little shopping, then walked up the hill again.  Finally, after all of that walking, we got our score – 8th out of 33, for a top 10 finish.  Mission accomplished.

Sunday was Secret’s Second Level championship, but Saturday afternoon the skies opened up. Secret is a really good girl, but slippery footing scares her. She hates the splashing and slipping, so she’ll hold her back and shorten her neck.  Which is a huge improvement—a few years ago she would leap the puddles and kick out at the mud.

Sunday morning dawned foggy, so not much hope of the arenas drying out. I walked up to check the different warm ups and see the condition of our assigned ring. I took a few steps at M, the low point in the arena. Yep, it was splashy and slippery. Linda and I agreed that it was a good thing we had already earned the needed top 10, and with the footing it was anybody’s game.

I warmed up in the one arena that had some dry areas and some puddles, so I had a chance to get her loose and to get her acclimated to the mud separately.  We went in and did our thing, and Secret was a bit tight in the neck, and it showed in her mediums which were a bit running, but otherwise she was a good girl. She didn’t leap or dodge any puddles and did everything I asked her to do when I asked her to do it. As scared as she gets in the mud, I couldn’t ask for anything else. I was really proud of her.

Lauren, who had watched more of my class (I tend to avoid watching my classes, it just makes me nervous), said a lot of the horses were having trouble with the footing. Since there were only 15 in my class (they divided purebred from half-Arab at 2nd level), we figured we would need to stay for awards. Which, of course, was the last thing of the day on Sunday.  So we waited. We took our time packing, did another tour of the shopping, and generally killed time. We waved Aneesa off in the morning, and Lauren off in the afternoon. And waited some more.

Again scores were slow to come. We joined the mob at the dressage office. Or I did, as Linda couldn’t look.  When I told her Secret was Reserve Champion, Linda didn’t believe me. She made me look again. Even on second look, Secret was still Reserve Champion.

So Linda and I celebrated Arab style, with some over-blinged-up gaudily embroidered ego-jackets that declared BR Danny’s Secret as Reserve Champion and Top Ten Sport Horse Nationals all over them. If Secret gets her resume attached to her name, well then Linda and I will wear it as well.  And we wore them we did, at Dressage at Devon the following weekend. Of course we did.

Secret's haul from Sport Horse Nationals

Back of the ego-jacket

Front left of the jacket. Go Secret!

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