Monday, October 11, 2010

Riding in the Championships

At the 2010 Regional 8 Championships, Piper and I contested 2 classes per day over 4 days.   While a little bit of a gamble, in the end, this worked out really well.   It meant that prior to the Training Level Championship class on Thursday and the First Level Championship class on Friday, we rode a warmup test.   And the night before the Freestyle Championship, we were able to ride our Kur in an open class in the same ring as the Championship.

Two years ago, in September 2008, we took Piper along to Saugerties when Jeddien had qualified for the Third Level Open Regional Championships.   This was the same year that Piper started to compete in the USA and was dealing with wicked phobias of judges stands, tents, booths, and whatever else was used to house judges.   And with golf carts, show jumping, banners, flowers, dogs, cyclists, lots of horses, stabling away from home, and everything else that keeps the Saugerties show atmosphere buzzing, Piper was overwhelmed to the point of submission.   He found SAFETY in the quiet calm of the dressage arena, and was actually a good boy, although a bit shy and withdrawn at times.

Last year, injury sidelined Piper in the summer.   This year, he came into his own and became a little competition star.   And at Saugerties, this became even more apparent.   From arrival to departure, he was braver than he'd ever been, taking everything in stride.   The few little moments he did have would have been expected from most horses.   Especially competing in the impressive Ring One for the first time.

Day One - Training Level Championships

With a fabulous first ride time of 9:12 am, Piper went into Ring 3 and pulled off a very nice, calm Training Level Test 1 test.   The super score of 69.565% was enough to earn him 2nd Place in a class where the scores ranged from 70.87% to 46.957%.

An hour later, we were in the same ring again for the Training Level Championships, Open Division.   As expected, the class included several well known professional riders on really nice horses.   Knowing this, I was hoping we would finish in the top half of the large class of 24 combinations.   Earning an okay 65.4%, we finished 11th out of the 22 who started.   (There were 2 scratches.)   Scores ranged from 71.6% to 53.8%.

Day Two - First Level Championships

Our warmup class on Friday was Training Level Test 2.   Another good sized class with 18 starting.   Making it more interesting, the class was watched by about 20 judges attending a judges' forum.

I like Training Level Test 2 because it has two full trot diagonals in it.   With Piper and his very steady trot tempo, these movements offer a great opportunity to earn easy 7's and 8's.   However, to earn those, the rider has to remember to perform them!   And sure enough, I did not remember one of them, thus earning a deduction of 2 points for going off course.   However, a quick wave to acknowledge the judge's bell, and we went around again and did a nice diagonal.

In what should have otherwise been a quiet and easy test, Piper decided to start tossing his head and going well above the bit.   This was a new behavior for him, and not welcomed at all at this point in the game.   Of course, the judge saw it too.   In the end, we earned 66.071% in a class ranging from 70.714% to 55%.   6th Place.

The First Level Regional Champion, Open Division followed later that morning.   And by then, Piper had decided he really liked this new game of head tossing, pulling against the bit, and ignoring the rider.   It was not a fun ride at all!   And when the score of 56.184% was posted, I was not surprised.   We came Dead Last in the class of 23 combinations, a class which won with a very respectable 69.605% score.   I can't remember the last time I came last....   Talk about a bump in the road.   I was not a happy camper after that test!

Day 3 - Open Classes Only

Saturday morning, bright and early, Piper and I rode in the Training Level Test 1 class of 13.   Scores ranged from 69.565% to 55.652%.   Our score of 66.087% put us in 4th Place.   While this is an easy test for Piper, he was still playing up.   And now I was really starting to wonder why... and had a sneaking hunch it was to do with the bit.

A week before Saugerties, I switched Piper's thinner KK ultra bit for a thicker one.   The thinner one was what we had spent the whole season competing in.   At home in the runup to this show, he was really great in the thicker bit.   Responsive, light, happy.   But we had not tried it in competition.   And this was, in retrospect, not the competition at which to be testing new tack!

Riding in Ring One

That evening, we were given a scratched slot in the USEF / FEI Freestyle Level of Choice test.   Since it was in Ring One, where the Freestyle Championships were scheduled to be run on Sunday, and was being held during cocktail hour in front of the grandstands and VIP tents, it was a perfect opportunity to press all the buttons of both horse and rider and see how well we were BOTH going to cope.

Ring One can be intimidating.   Even the super brave lionness of a horse, Jeddien, thought twice when entering Ring One in her 3rd Level Freestyle Championships in 2009.   Entering under the pedestrian bridge into the sunken fishbowl arena is awesome and can really get the blood pumping.   For Piper, it was a true test of his new found bravery.   But with a little encouragement and help from the NEDA volunteers, he squirted into the arena and we made our way around past each of the 5 judges booths.   I introduced myself and Piper to each of the 2 presiding judges and took a deep breath.   "This is a practice run", I told myself.   "Ride it and have fun."

Then, the bell.   Positioning ourselves outside of the arena near K, I signaled the announcer and within a few seconds, our "Tic toc tic toc" music intro began.   I made a supreme effort to find Piper's trot and adjust it to get into sync with the music, pulled off our halt at X, then headed directly on the diagonal to M, as planned in my choreography, thus avoiding having to head directly towards the judge.

The rest of the test is mostly a blur...   as they sometimes are for me...   with exception to Piper pulling against the bridle in the canter, but only to the left, and the final centerline where Piper suddenly took great exception to the view of C several meters ahead.   With our final line from A to C being a zigzag legyield movement, it was just impossible to keep Piper trotting, flowing sideways, and going forward.   He walked the final legyield into our halt at G.   None-the-less, I saluted and smiled, happy just to be there, happy to have ridden our freestyle, happy to be done.

Suddenly the audience reappeared out of nowhere, bursting my private little bubble in which I tend to ride my dressage tests.   People were applauding on three sides of the fishbowl.   A moment of mushiness swept over me as my eyes welled up and my heart filled with immense pride for my horse.   It was good.

When our winning score of 65.833% was posted, I was thrilled to see that not only had we won the class and a nice $50 gift certificate donated by NEDA's own Beth Jenkins & Paddock Saddlery, we had earned our first qualifying score towards the 2011 Regional Championships.   An excellent result!

Day 4 - Freestyle Championships

Bright and early on Sunday morning, we entered Ring One for the second time.   After the night before, I was confident we could pull off a bit more accuracy on our choreography, now knowing that Piper might back off a little in this ring.   I could adjust for this.   I also felt confident that I could get him to trot the full final zigzag movement.

As the test progressed, I was pleased to see my confidence in Piper's confidence was well placed.   And while he was able to finish the zigzag, his head tossing was no better than before.   And with the same judges viewing the same freestyle in a space of 16 hours, they were a little less tolerant of Piper's lack of submission.   Our score dropped nearly 1.5% to 64.375%, putting us in 4th Place in the Regional Championships for First Level Freestyles.   The final scores for the class ranged from 68.333% to 59.167%.

Considering it was Piper's first complete year of serious competition, 4th was still a good result.

Day 4 Continues - Tack Change

The weekend was nearly over.   And with it, we had one ride left to go.   Another run at First Level Test 4, the test in which we earned a disappointing 56% two days earlier.   Even though we had just started competing at First Level recently, this score was not acceptable to me.

Before tacking up, I put Piper's old bit back on the bridle.   In the warmup, he was FABULOUS.   I had my 2010 season partner back under me again.   But, enjoying the warmup so much, I probably left my competition test in the warmup area.   Piper was running low on fuel.

The last test of the show was polite and Piper behaved.   I left the arena beaming like someone who fully believed they had just won the class with an unprecedented winning score.   Yes, I was very pleased with the boy.

We finished in 6th Place with a 61.842% in a class of 15 where the scores ranged from 72.368% to 55.263%.   We had improved our earlier L1T4 score by over 5%.   However, more importantly, I remembered the advice I always give others....   Never change your tack right before a big show!   A mistake I will not make again....

The Awards Ceremony

The last thing we had to do before packing up the trailer to go home was ride in a Mounted Awards Ceremony in Ring One during the lunchtime break.

Leading up to the Championships, I was able to worry myself to sleep at night, thinking what might happen during the Awards Ceremonies, which in my dreamworld we would of course be attending!   But when it actually came to pass, Piper acted as if he had been doing Mounted Awards Ceremonies all of his life.

He stood.   He waited.   He got bored.   He tried to eat the long white ribbon hanging from his bridle.   And he happily did a circuit of Ring One with the other competitors from the First Level Freestyle Championship class.   No problem.   He was a super star!

Good-Bye, Piper the Wuss

Looking back at this competition year, it's really amazing to see how much Piper Warrior has matured.   Piper the Wuss is finally growing into his real name.   While not quite a Warrior yet, he has certainly come a long way towards being a braver, more confident competition horse.   And that, in turn, makes him all the more fun to ride and partner in competition.

It'll be interesting to see what next year brings....