Music chosen because this was a weird event, due to circumstances beyond (mostly) everyone's control.
The week leading up to Steepleview was HOT, much hotter than the rest of the summer. I got a couple good ride in on Royal, but I wasn't sure how we would do in the heat. I suspected that Royal would be better suited for the heat than me (him being a mix of two desert breed, and me having mostly Scandinavian heritage which causes me to melt when it gets too hot), but then he'd be working a lot harder. Especially during x-c, which was hilly as ever. I was able to walk the course on Friday, and thought it was the best one yet. All jumps, very inviting, and seemed like it would reward the bold, but well controlled ride.
The next morning I was out in the pasture at 6am to get Royal. As much as I am the anti-morning person, the sunrise was beautiful.
Royal was most surprised to see me so early, but loaded in the trailer well and we were on our way. We took a back way consisting of quiet county roads and both of us arrived at Steepleview ready for action. I first took him up to the lunging arena to let him stretch his led and take in the event. He was pretty calm, at first always wanting to stay close to me. But I managed to get him to stretch out and do some nice relaxed trotting. Then I turned around and there was someone filming us! Seriously! Just standing behind Royal and me, filming us with her cell phone. She noticed that I noticed her, laughed, said "Beautiful!" and walked away. I managed to choke out "thanks...?" because I was so surprised and kind of weirded out. So, whoever you are, if you're reading this: if you truly thought it was nice, thank you and I hope you enjoyed it. If you were hoping to get some "Parelli abuse" footage, sorry to disappoint you.
Then I brought Royal back to the trailer, got him braided (note to self: braid straight up, if not slightly towards the other side of the neck) and got him all tacked up. I tried to schedule my warm to be less than 45 minutes long. In the past I've gone for longer warm-ups, but that usually backfires when he gets so bored and frustrated that it comes out as tension. So I tried to mostly just do some stretching and a few transitions before we went into the ring. My mother arrived, the ring steward and I joked about margaritas, and it was our turn (ten minutes after coats were waived to to heat, leaving me no time to change. Sigh).
I thought it was a good test. It felt much smoother than both our tests at St George's, apart from a few bobbles. The first came during the free walk, when I didn't release the left rein enough, causing Royal to veer to the left for a few step, but then he straightened out and stretched well for the rest of the test. The next came during the second canter transition, which is supposed to happen "approaching X", but Royal spotted a horse walking by the ring, stuck his head in the air, appeared to be thinking "friend?" and I was like "focus!" and gave him a strong cue. He flung his nose in the air and hopped in to the canter way after X, much closer to the rail. I thought we recovered well, and overall it felt like a smooth and accurate test.
It was hot enough that Royal was already sweating, so I tried like crazy to get him to drink some water. After much bribing and apple juice, he grudgingly drank a bit while I took out his braids. We were scheduled to run x-c around 1:45, right in the heat of the day. Once again, I waited to tack him back up for a while, and we headed to the warm-up around 1:15. We had a very low-key warm-up, in which we jumped exactly 5 jumps once: the cross-rail, the vertical, the oxer, a small pile of logs, and a good sized ramp, which lots of walking in between. Even that had Royal's neck drenched in sweat, since each time I aimed him at a jump, the afterburners engaged and he wanted to take everything at speed. He's not stupid: he could see the startbox and the horses running and jumping, and even with the heat, he was ready to go. I quick wiped off his neck before we headed to the startbox, trying to figure out how to keep him from overdoing it. Then we were at the startbox, and soon it was "5, 4, 3, 2, 1, have a nice ride!"
As you can see in the full starting jumps photo, this was part of a cluster of jumps, which sometimes has Royal confused about which one I'm aiming him at. Not this one. He locked right on and popped right over. We turned left and up the hill to
The Best Jump Ever: the Scrabble jump! Again, no hesitation. Lock and jump. We turn left and started down the hill to
A nice inviting rolltop. This was also in a cluster of jumps, but he focused right on this one and went right over. We continued down the hill to
A ramp. Also in a cluster of jumps, but he locked right on to this one. By this point I was starting suspect he was looking for the yellow numbers. We cantered all the way to the end of the tree, turned right over the land bridge and up another hill to
This was all the way at the top, and again, no bobbles or hesitation. He cantered up fairly easily and jumped over well. As an aside, this was the view from the top of the hill.
Then we went back down the hill to
Tootsie roll jump! This had caused him to do a double take in the past, but now he was more familiar and glided over. We turned right and went back over the land bridge to
The ditch! A much nicer and safer one than Roebke's Run. That one was extremely deep, which could injure a horse if it left a leg. This one was shallower than my knees and Royal jumped across well. We went back up the hill to
No muss, no fuss, not even a glance at the starter jump next to it. We went into the trees and swung right to
On Friday, I was unsure of how this would jump. This picture (which I took around 4:30 on Friday) shows it completely in shadow, but I knew it would only be partially in shadow on Saturday. And I was right: only the right third of the jump was dark. But even with that weird visual, he didn't look twice, just jumped straight over. We keep going on to
The bank. I slowed him down to a walk as we approached it so he wouldn't launch off it, because immediately we had made a sharp right turn and go out through the trees. He stepped off it nicely, we swung around like a barrel team, cantered out the trees and onto the top of the hill to
Boing! We then turned left and went slightly down the hill to
The turkey feeder where we had a refusal last year. At the time I gathered it cause a lot of problems, which is probably why it was moved out to the open this year to allow the horses to get a good look at it. Royal peeked at it a bit, but jumped over and we went down the hill and turned right to
Water. He wanted to walk though it (and probably splash himself) but we ended up trotting though and turned left to
A nice rolltop. He chipped in and jumped it kind of awkwardly, but we made it over. The course designer gave us a couple options for how to approach the next jump: we could take the short rote and jump it at a slight angle, or go around a different jump and jump it straight on. We'd had enough experience jumping slight angles that I took the short rote to
I felt him lock on and then all of a sudden, he dropped his left shoulder and spun out. I couldn't figure out why until I looked down and discovered that Royal was so sweaty that my saddle pad had slipped halfway under the saddle, and the saddle was really unstable. I'm not sure when it started, but I think Royal just didn't feel like we safe to jump. I tried to wiggle the saddle back into place and we jumped over, but awkwardly. We continues straight on to
The saddle was still wiggling, so we had another awkward jump, but we we done. I was so over heated and on adrenaline that I had to sit under a tree with my head between my knees and take some deep gulping breaths to keep from passing out. Once I could stand, we went over to the cooling-out-people by the finish line, which loaded my tack into a trailer and started hosing Royal. He wasn't the most cooperative horse, still on adrenaline from x-c, and had a look on his face like "The strangers are TOUCHING ME!" but we got him hosed down cooled down. We walked (well, I staggered) back towards the trailer, stopping to check our dressage score, where my poor fried brain got a nasty shock: we were in last place with 45.7 penalties.
What the what? How had what felt like one of our best tests overall generated such a bad score? Getting the test back only made things worse.
Apparently, Royal was "counterflexed" for ~80% of our test, and hollow for the rest. Now, we've had bad tests before, and usually I can tell. But most of the comments made no sense, to the point where I'm wondering if she was even watching our test. The free walk got "inattentive," with no mention of the wild veer at the beginning, and botched canter transition was "hollow." Yeah, hollow like Miley Cyrus is "quirky". So, yeah, I was wondering if the judge was even watching.
We made it back home safe and I basically passed out that night. I seriously debated going back, but I am not a quitter. We still had a number, dismal as it was, and the show jumping course looked nice. We headed out at 7 the next morning.
Royal seemed pretty relaxed when we got back to Steepleview the next morning, and the jumping arena seemed smaller than last year. It was a short quick course, with lots of twists and turns. Royal handled it pretty well, although there were some interesting jumps in the bunch, and we didn't add any penalty points to our score. The next person had a refusal, which put them behind us by what I found out later was .4 points, and we moved into 8th place and the ribbons.
|Royal with what appears to be a bug in his right eye|
So, all in all, not a bad weekend. The heat obviously played a bit role; Royal was on a mission, and I think if the saddle hadn't slipped, we could have had our first double-clear x-c round. But I am still so mystified by the dressage test. I'm usually able to peg whether we had a good or bad test, and I've never been so off the mark before, and had such bizarre comments. I'm VERY interested to see our pictures now. I know Royal has a Slinky for a spine, but I've ridden odd-shaped Royal before and odd-shaped Royal is weird and uncomfortable. So, we'll see. I could be wrong, but I'd don't think that wrong.
I'm super proud of Royal. He was the rock star of all rock stars.