This weekend, Katchi went to his final 2010 competition - the Area II Training Level Championships at the Virginia Horse Trials. And he came home with a very pretty yellow neck sash/ribbon! He still hates his winner's circles photos, but my mom and I came up with a way to solve the miserable mistreated pony look - just push his ears forward! Kinda cute, eh?!
Over the course of a horse's education, there are many events you enter for lots of different reasons - exposure to competition commotion; confidence builder on a course you've schooled many times before; exposure to new specifics of basic well-schooled questions; test the trust and relationship between horse and rider on a course never seen before with tough questions; evaluation of readiness to move up.... while all those things are in the back of your mind at a Championships - we enter these sorts of events primarily for one reason: success.
I am absolutely thrilled with so many things about this weekend, but I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a twinge of disappointment. Third place was good - but second is better and first is best! So, what went wrong? Sports psychology, for one thing. Don't have it mastered yet. After an excellent warm-up, a cascade effect of terribleness started about 30 seconds before I began circling the arena. It's not that any single thing that was so terrible - but I let it all get inside my head - and Katchi fell apart because of it. When we finished, I told Katchi that we'd be lucky to be in last place. You could see the tragedy in his eyes - he knew he let me down. And I knew I let him down too. When scores were posted - we were lucky - we sat in 4th - well ahead of last. But, oh what we could have done had we done what we should have done. Ouch. I just kicked myself again. I keep thinking about Boyd going into dressage at WEG when Neville started to have a breakdown when the crowd (small and reserved as it was) went wild just 17 seconds before he had to be in the arena. Silva said that Boyd just about freaked out - 17 seconds to defuse a live animal bomb for the biggest moment of you life! But he didn't freak out - he kept his head in the game; he rode; and Neville flourished. I could take a few lessons from that.
Overall, I couldn't have been happier with Katchi on XC. It was a much harder course than I expected based on what I saw at the spring HT - it was definitely a championship course! We still have some work to do to improve the fluency of our "conversations" on course - especially those involving downhill turns to skinnies. But what a difference in Katchi's confidence and trust in me compared to earlier this year! And we finished just one second over optimum time - which is definitely going in the right direction. The division leader after dressage, Kim Severson, had a stop on XC, so those of us trailing her without other incident, happily moved up a place. Katchi sat in 3rd going into show jumping on Sunday.
I am extremely grateful that Katchi decided to give me his first double clear show jumping round at Training level at this particular event. I am, however, not grateful for the warm-up. I came as close as I have in ages to falling off Katchi when he landed between the front and back rails of the warm-up oxer - both rails still in the cups, and us stuck in the middle. What on earth makes a horse do that?! And then it got worse - I jumped the X and vertical a couple more times to get him going again, and came back to the oxer - he did it again!!! HOLY SHIT! And I was just about out of warm-up time. I scrambled for a plan - Katchi and I were losing confidence fast and he had to relearn how to jump oxers - and fast! My mom raced to put down the oxer to about 2 feet - I went round and round, trotting and cantering it until I had about 30 seconds until it was our go. That was the best I could do - I had to ride the horse I had at that moment.
So into the big indoor coliseum we went - Katchi had never seen such a thing, and I was so thrilled with his professionalism. Unfortunately, we had two more incidents of perfect striding, close my leg, nothing, vomit - but thankfully they were over verticals, and by the skin of his hooves, Katchi left the poles in the cups. I don't know how. It wasn't our prettiest round, but I was thankful for the score. I'm not satisfied with how we kept our 3rd place, but I'm happy that we did! And, it's probably good to be humbled before the winter break - I wouldn't want to be lulled into thinking we have nothing to practice over these next cold months!