Ribbons don’t actually matter in eventing — that insanely good feeling you get when you come off a well-ridden cross country is one of the best parts of the sport. But it is nice to come home with a pretty ribbon sometimes, albeit a powder blue one for 10th. I called it a war of attrition at Caber —Cairo and I got a ribbon because the rest of the folks in my group fell off.
But hey, as that T-shirt I want to get says: “Stayed on! Won prizes!”
My partner in eventing crime and I Kristine got there early and Cairo and I had a good dressage school, where Meika had me fight my instinct to try to lower my hands to try to get Cairo to give at the poll and release at the base of the neck and rather let her relax and come to me. Relax is a key word with Little Miss Thing.
(On a side note, Little Miss Thing is an expression Southerners and often gay men use to refer to a woman or man who thinks she’s all that. I recently discovered that Kristine thought I was making a Munsters reference.)
Originally I was delighted to see that the same dressage judge who judged us at almost every other show this summer (including the schooling show where she called Cairo a “hot little unit”) was judging us again. Cairo has been progressing beautifully all summer. She still swishes her tail and makes faces but her gaits are rhythmic and she lacks the tense high-kneed trot she used to have. Sadly for Cairo and I, judges judge you on what they see right then and there, and not on your great progress. Each of these events has at least five dressage arenas with five different judges, so it’s rather impressive this poor lady keeps having to judge me.
Cairo was, as always, a good girl. She is clearly disgusted by dressage, but she never tries anything bad. She never leaps or bucks or even breaks gait. She just swishes her tail and gnaws the bit, and pretty much the judge’s comments were “Unhappy mouth” and “tense.” This time she had nothing to say on my position (which I have been working hard on!) but we finished dressage DFL — dead fucking last.
Meika pointed out that her own wonderful currently-prelim horse Lear didn’t score great at the lower levels either in dressage, and that my goal is to move her up. And I reminded myself that there’s nowhere to go but up, and that this time last year Cairo was hanging in a pasture and very, very green with a head-tossing issue. We got a 45.7, possibly our worst score since our very first show at EI at starter where we got a 57. Same judge. Heck, technically we’ve improved!
Before Caber I had Leslie double-check the fit of Cairo’s dressage saddle, and I’ve also talked to Kari about getting Cairo’s teeth done again and then some more bodywork. I’ve done all that before, but it doesn’t hurt to double check that her mouth fussiness is just tension and not discomfort.
I had a nice late morning (9:42 am) ride for xc on Saturday, which gave us plenty of time for course walking (I walk it three times, every time). For the first time in forever, I was really not worried about anything on course. That’s not to say I didn’t look at a fence or two and think really hard. Fence four was a palisades-looking ramp set on the side of a slight rise near trees and then it was just a couple strides to fence five (a log and drop) and I knew Cairo would be fine as long as I rode her well, but she’d never done a fence like that.
As you can probably guess, based on Cairo’s track record, she was amazing. Optimum time was five minutes and we did 4:39 so maybe a little fast, but not fast enough for time faults. She headed for the first fences with her usually cocky enthusiasm, log, brush ramp, house, whatevs. She didn’t look at fence four and the log drop at fence five didn’t make her bat an eyelash. She skittered a little on a long gallop to fence six at the sight of a fence judge but soon got back on track. And she slowed just off my voice after the gallop. As strong and hot as she appears, I’m still riding her in a soft rubber mullen mouth xc.
A wanna-be-coffin after we rounded the loop and head back to the finish? No problem. The only problem there was she jumped the ditch so big we got rather close to the fence three strides away (or more like two-and-a-half strides the way we did it).
The water complex was super fun:
First, a table heading towards the finish. I’m a little tense there — not sure if she will land and grab the bit and head for home when I need to make a show-jumping type turn away from home toward the brush fence and water!
Signature tail flip on landing.
Left turn to the brush? No problem.
So then I was all in show-jump brain and headed for the water in a happy two-point.
Cairo remembered last time we schooled water at Inavale we had jumped off a drop. She saw the water and rocked back. I merrily fell forward onto her neck:
And I’m now laughing wildly because Cairo is bunny-hopping through the water, and I’m relieved my brief moment of stupid didn’t result in my being IN the water while she splashed on without me!
And out of the water to the next fence? No prob.
We finished double clear and I was over-the-moon happy!
Then we got randomly selected for a USEF drug test. The nice vet tech was almost no match for Cairo’s stubbornness, which apparently extends to peeing while someone holds a cup. She drank and held her bladder for over an hour. When she finally peed, she pressed her booty up against the stall wall and kept trying to hold it so the urine came in fits and spurts while the vet tech chased it with the cup on a stick. We made taking blood easy on the vet — I held a small bucket of beet pulp and Cairo snarfed that and ignored the blood letting.
Stadium was another learning experience. Cairo jumps better if I let her be a little gappy to the fence, and I know that. But the horse of the girl before me slipped in the grass twice and fell, and I found myself trotting into the arena while people called for a vet to check him out. I was thrown and worried about the footing and held Cairo to a short choppy canter. It wasn’t slow but it lacked power and when we get a tight distance on that canter, she whacks fences. We had two rails right off the top and then I sat up and rode. Once I let her flow, the course finished beautifully. We had one more rail after a drunken swerve turned a two-stride into a three stride but it was enough to stay in the ribbons and be the caboose on the victory gallop.
Ribbons or no, Cairo and I are finishing each show thinking “Damn, that was fun!” and I’m plotting what I can do to improve. I gave her a couple days off and yesterday in my lesson with Kari, we worked on developing a bouncy strong canter Cairo can jump even tight distances from. Kari leaves for Spruce Meadows tomorrow and then Cairo and I will work on dressage til we do a little combined test at EI to finish she season. Tentative plan? Do Novice dressage and stadium Saturday and then Training stadium Sunday. Ack!