In Jessica Fox’s latest column, she enters at “A”… and lives to tell about it.
I started dreaming about riding my tests weeks before the show. Slapping the alarm silent, I’d remain half-conscious, observing a dream version of Bailey and I riding our patterns, halting at X.
The night before the show, I was so nervous that deciding where to eat dinner (In-N-Out? Nongla? Curry House? Komodo? Tacos Por Favor?) almost brought me to tears.
Nibbling fries, I brooded on what could go wrong.
I’d get sick. I’d get sick in front of everyone. I’d get sick while riding. I’d freeze up and forget how to ride. I’d salute with my whip, then begin laughing hysterically and stagger out of the arena, wheezing. I wouldn’t be able to get Bailey to canter. I’d be so tensely twisted and grippy that Bailey would be endlessly counter-bent and we’d make tortured spirals where circles were supposed to be until the judge’s bell disqualified us. I’d forget the tests and somehow not hear Jill (my instructor) calling them for me. People would whisper and feel bad for the delusional woman attempting to ride dressage. Twice.
In the morning, Bailey’s carrot-eager nicker and the warm smell of just-slept-in sawdust muffled my doubts in a sweet horsey haze. Slipping into into the tack shed, my fellow competitor and friend, Susan, mumbled hello and we ruefully looked at the time. Grabbing my grooming bucket, I scurried to collect Bailey.
A constellation of wood chips spangled his mane, but, thanks to a two-hour bath, multiple applications of Show Sheen and a day-sheet, he was gleaming. A quick brush and, armed with hair gel, I started braiding.
Forty-five minutes later, I tightened his girth and rigged my 25-year-old saddle’s flap strap with a black electrical tape keeper (I like to keep things classy). Stuffed everything I thought I’d need (halter, lead rope, fly spray, sugar cubes, tests, epi-pen, phone, wallet, juice, Frosted Mini Wheats, dust rag) into a bag for Andrew to drive over. Threw on my show shirt. Scampered around looking for a glove. Got on Bailey. Realized I needed my whip and a drink of water. Got off. Got back on again.
Then we were off, anxiously hurrying down the trail with Susan and her horse, Sera, toward Hansen Dam Equestrian Center. My first ride time was in 45 minutes, Susan’s in 40.
Numbers in hand, Jill met us by the warm-up ring. Mine was 93. The same year I graduated high school. I decided the law of opposites applied and took it as a good sign.
Susan and I trotted around each other and a couple other riders. Almost everyone from our barn appeared. It felt like a party. The smile on my face grew. I practiced cantering and promised Bailey that if he cantered as beautifully during the test there would be piles of carrots and a trail ride with gallops in his future. He snorted and arched his neck.
Then it was time.
And I didn’t mind.
Turns out, a couple decades will take the edge off.
That, and roping a buddy into competing with you. Also having a cheering section, complete with donuts. Oh! And a great instructor, as well as a chance to practice in the actual arena you’re competing in with a “ride the test” clinic the day before.
It takes a village, friends.
Were my rides up centerline drunken sailor-y? Halts not X-y? Circles not circle-y? Was Bailey occasionally counter-bendy? Did I salute with my whip?
Was my trusty steed his fancy, handsome North Forks Sir Bailey self? Were carrots and a trail ride enough to buy prompt canters?
Turns out, Bailey and I are a nice team. We earned two first places! OK, so maybe Intro B doesn’t really count since I was the only one who rode that test. But still! Our scores were pretty good: we got 63.75% on Intro B and 69% on Intro C!
Now I want to do it again. We’ve got lots to work on (as you’ll see if you watch our rides here and here), but I’ve put a fall schooling show on the calendar, set my sights on Training Level, bought more carrots and have a few months to get myself (literally) straight.
About the Author: Jessica Fox is a freelance writer and novelist-in-training who dreams of the day she can sit a trot without flailing about. She currently lives in Los Angeles, CA where she writes as much as possible to feed her increasingly voracious horse-habit and almost rides Dressage. Read previous “Riding the Second Time Around” columns on Horse Nation and visit her website at www.foxywrites.com