As you might recall, I left you in a little bit of suspense about whether or not I would stay on for hacking R&T and getting over to the steeplechase school. I must admit that it was this question that worried me the most going in. I imagined that Taco might get so excited about the other horses running around that he would jump in the air and chuck me on the ground. Hey, I had to put my anxiety somewhere, right? But on the other hand, I had to have some way of getting over to the very far end of the Kentucky Horse Park to meet Dorothy Crowell.
At first I had decided to hack over by myself, but then Kerry and Chase, some P3D competitors from Georgia, were heading out at about the same time we were. So we decided to hack together. And it turned out to be great! After we had been out a few minutes Kerry thought that we should trot, and we did. Chase is a little horse with a big stride, and Taco stayed pretty busy keeping up! He was fresh but it was nothing I couldn't handle, and I arrived at the steeplechase school with a sense of triumph.
|Taco scoping out the steeplechase field upon our arrival|
The school itself had been a source of anxiety too. To add to my trepidation, one of the riders in the previous group fell off just when I got there. But I knew that if I just held on, I could ride as fast as Taco could run. I asked Dorothy to encourage me to go faster should I need to, since I thought I might probably err on the side of going too slow. And I was off! First we did a 260-meter marked stretch, which we were supposed to do in 30 seconds. We then proceeded immediately to a triple bar showjumping fence. Taco and I did both quite respectably. Yeah!! Next, we got to practice accelerating from a standstill and jumping the first steeplechase fence on the actual course. Here is what happened:
To quote Dorothy, woo hoo!
Then I did hack back to the barn, back along Phase A, all by myself. As I was trotting along under the blue sky, amidst the fall foliage, through the park that only recently had held 700 of the top horses in the world, and on the back of the horse that I feel is the best one in the world, I thought about how unbelievably lucky I was.
The next morning was our dressage test. Hoo boy, was it cold! My numb fingers re-braided Taco (a slightly better job this time) and we tacked up and hacked over to the dressage complex. Amy helped me warm up, making sure that I got the engine going at a hot enough temperature. My dad and my stepmom Jennifer arrived while I warmed up, and then I headed down center line! It was a respectable test. My connecting half-halts were not as effective as they needed to be during the canter lengthenings and he tossed his head at the end of each one. He broke from the canter in the corner after the right-lead lengthening. My trot lengthenings were adequate but suffered from a similar inconsistency in the connection. But he was forward and very obedient, and I was very pleased with him. We scored a 36.4, which was good enough for 7th out of 34 starters.
|Photo by xpressfoto.com|
That afternoon, I went over Phases A-D thoroughly. Amy walked me around Phase D (the regular cross-country phase) and we made a good plan. Out of concern for the hardness of the ground, I decided to "ride" Roads and Tracks on the bike. It took me a minute to figure out the route, but I eventually got my gates and kilometer markers figured out. On the advice of my friend Jennifer Joyce, who is an old hand at this classic-format stuff, I got a second armband and put my little Phase A-C time chart into it. I wrote my Phase D markers underneath it on my arm with a sharpie, and then took off the extra armband in the ten-minute box. It worked a charm!
The next morning I woke up with a mixture of excitement and nervousness. This was it! The day I have been preparing for for three years! I was worried that I would screw up, but also excited and feeling like I was about to embark on a fun adventure. And that is exactly what it was.
My whole Team Taco crew had met the night before and come up with a game plan for the day. It consisted of Amy, Carol, Lauren, Dad, and Jennifer. Although I only needed one person to send me off onto Phase A, and one person to be in the assistance area after Phase B, the whole crew was at each place, cheering me on and excited for me. Lauren walked me out to the Phase A start, where the others met us. And then I was off, making Taco trot as fast as he could! He is not the world's fastest trotter, and he was spooking at all of the gate judge's cars, so we were slow meeting our first kilometer marker. No matter, we put in a little canter along the way and it was easy to make the time. He also perked up a good bit as we trotted alongside the steeplechase course and a horse raced by!
|Phase A. Photo by xpressfoto.com|
Then it was steeplechase/ Phase B. Oh, my. I have never gone that fast on the back of a horse in my life. But I was determined to make the time, and I did, with some to spare, even. Once we got up to speed, I felt like everything went very still up on Taco's back, and we sort of skimmed along the ground. He was very careful at each fence, setting himself up just as everyone said he would. Wheeee! What an exhilarating experience! Lauren handed me a water bottle for a quick drink and then we were off on Phase C.
|Steeplechase! Photo by xpressfoto.com|
Phase C was supposed to contain some walking but Taco was really not too into that. Dorothy had said that it was OK to trot if this happened, as long as the horses were not rudely running away with us. Taco trotted along very happily and politely, so I let him.
|In the ten-minute box.|
My team was fabulous in the box! Beth joined us, so that we had plenty of calm people to put cold water on and scrape it off. Taco's vitals came right down and he jogged well. Amy and I went over the course one last time. before I knew it, we were off on Phase D again! It was a great round. Taco was forward and confident, and so was I. He was also very, very rideable. We made time easily and I went through the finish with a big smile on my face! It really is true that doing Phases A, B and C before D make the last phase even more fun.
|Photos by xpressfoto.com|
With the help of my expert sponging-and-scraping team, Taco's temperature, pulse and respiration came down so fast that Dr. Duncan Peters asked me whether Taco had even worked that day. We were released to the barns very quickly and I set about taking care of his legs. We had moved up one spot and ended the day in sixth place!
Later that afternoon, Dr. Peters had generously agreed to do an optional jog for T3D and P3D competitors. I pulled Taco out and jogged him along our shedrow. Uh oh. He was a little uneven. But he jogged better the second time, so I thought he might be stiff from standing in his stall for a while. I went over to Dr. Peters to get his expert opinion.
|Waiting for our turn to see the vet|
Dr. Peters suggested icing his hocks and light, gentle exercise. Because it was a national competition, Taco was also allowed to have a gram of bute that evening and then 12 hours later. The next morning, I iced again, and then showed him to Dr. Peters again, who was cautiously optimistic that continued gentle movement would loosen Taco up. Since my efforts seemed to be helping, and Taco felt fine during a light ride, I decided to present him at the jog. However, the ground jury sent us to the holding area, where the treating veterinarian palpated his hind end and found it to be quite sore. The hard ground of the day before had, it appeared, taken a considerable toll on his hock joints and he was also quite muscle sore as a result. At that point, I made the difficult decision to withdraw him from the competition. Even if more exercise has been able to loosen him up enough to satisfy the ground jury, I hated to jump him when his hock joints and hindquarter muscles were making him uncomfortable.
So we drove home. I cannot say how very proud I am of my horse and my team, and so very grateful that I had this opportunity to participate in this wonderful event! I got much more confident riding Taco in the open, more confident at speed, and more confident on cross country. I learned how to prepare for a jog, and how to take care of Taco better afterward. And I learned more about how to keep him sound and comfortable for our next T3D. We have an improved game plan for keeping his joints and muscles happier through the training and competition season next year. Indiana Eventing Association T3D is in June 2011, and I plan to be there!