I left Seattle in typical hectic fashion: worked an eight-hour closing shift, then went straight to the airport to catch my red-eye flight. Thankfully, I had plenty of time to sit and have a cup of soup before heading to my gate – a welcome moment of quiet and calm.
I arrived in Philadelphia without incident, and was welcomed by my good friend and fellow para athlete Keith. It really is nice to have a familiar face waiting for you in unfamiliar places. We drove towards Newtown and Fire Creek Farm.
The Farm is nothing short of stunning. I could literally feel the tension of the hectic week disappearing. I suddenly had no particular agenda, and no particular timeframe, at least until Wednesday when we had to report to the showgrounds. It probably seemed a bit odd to the boarders that I was happy just to hang out or wander around the property, but it is truly a luxury to spend time at a barn, and I really feel like it is almost a meditative process. Slowing down, being present.
The first rides on Pavalina went well. I was a little frustrated with myself, because I could feel the potential, but couldn’t quite get myself sorted out. I was getting a bit too “bossy” and strong with my aids, when really I just needed to ask, and she would do her job. However, the down time allowed me to reflect on my rides, strategize, and in fact, our partnership improved each day.
Our plan was to head to Saugerties on Wednesday lunchtime. Francine needed to teach some lessons in the morning, and I figured Marci and I would use that time to get organized. Riders who were hoping to try for positions on the team were scheduled to ride in front of the high performance committee. Since I was on a borrowed horse, I figured it was more important to schedule those riders on their own horses…but by Wednesday morning I was getting text messages and calls wondering where I was, and why I had missed my ride time. Oops! We scrambled, and got in just in the nick of time. It was not my best ride, but we did get the chance to walk (tour?) the entire showgrounds, including the FEI ring conveniently while they were doing a sound check.
Thursday was the jog. I decided to ride in the morning, so Pavalina would have some downtime during the day. Just about the time we had hoped to get going, the sky opened up, and it started to pour. My good friend and team physio Laura Scherr was at the show doing some work on the hunter/jumpers, and stopped by to help some of the para horses. She did an adjustment for Pavalina, and by then the rain had let up slightly. The adjustment made a huge difference for the mare, and she was clearly ready to show! I shared the warm up ring with Catherine Haddad in the again pouring rain. J
The jog was scheduled for 5, but we were going to be the last horse to go. There was a lot of discussion about how long the jog would take, but in reality, the ground jury really had no interest in standing out in the cold and rain, and were accepting horses quickly. Consequently, Pavalina did not get more than the walk from her stall to the jog strip to warm up. Oops! Again!
Friday morning was cold and clear and windy. Pavalina was Very ready to get down to business, and seemed to grow a few inches with every step towards the ring. Our warm up was quite similar to what we had been working on, with the focus on the walk rhythm, the activity in the canter, reaching forward to the contact. I have nicknamed the Gr 3 Team Test “the walking test”. This would be a challenge for us, as Pavalina can get a bit lateral in her walk, particularly if she is anticipating the next movement.
The test went well. The walk was in fact a challenge, as was the Right shoulder-in…as soon as we developed it, we ran out of arena! I felt great leaving the arena, though. It felt so good to get out there, and have a “thinking” ride in the ring, and be partnered with a mare who was so in tune with me every step of the way.
We scored a 62%, a good score given our walk, the mistakes, and that I rode fairly conservatively.
Freestyle was Saturday. I was admittedly a bit more nervous for the freestyle, since we really had only run through it once, and I was not entirely sure where I would need to make up time. I planned out where I could add in circles, and hoped it would all work out!! We started our warm-up in the CDI ring, as it was adjacent to the ring we would be showing in. After 5 minutes or so, we were asked to move to the “para only” ring across the road. Once we moved into the para ring, we were asked to move back into the CDI ring, as that ring was for “para only” – ha! That is the first time I have ever been “mistaken” for an able bodied FEI rider ;-)
The freestyle was SO fun. It flowed almost perfectly. The trot at the beginning was bit unsteady, as I was thinking a bit more of making the pattern work than actually riding. Once I hit my “groove”, it was awesome. I couldn’t believe how well the music actually fit!! I love LOVE freestyle, and I am so glad we got to ride to my favorite music in the big CDI ring. I ended up with a 69%, a very unexpected score, and won the Gr 3, a very unexpected surprise!!
Sunday I rode my Individual Championship test. I had an “ah-HA” moment about the walk rhythm, and our warm-up was wonderful. I had a few bobbles in the test, but really rode every moment, and it felt great. Big booming canter, sweeping shoulder-in, it just felt awesome start to finish. I ended on a 67%, which won the class.
After our test, Francine took us down to the warm-up adjacent to the FEI ring, where I got a crash course in riding tempi changes – our “reward” for the weekend – So. Much. Fun!!!!
Unfortunately, reality sank in quickly….I had a flight to catch, and Fran and the amazing Pavalina needed to get home. We would unfortunately miss the USEF awards ceremony, I had to get home to the west coast so I could work on Monday.
So what comes next? I am very much hoping that Pavalina will continue to be a part of my life!! I am not exactly sure what that will look like yet. Washington is just so dang far away from PA! But I hope that this is just the first chapter in what will be a very exciting story!