Whew. What a show! God walked with us every step of the way and with all our highs and lows, we still had an absolute blast.
It kicked off really well with Nell winning Supreme Champion Purebred Nooitgedachter Mare, again. She started out really fresh and bouncy, but by the championship classes she had settled right down and stood up quietly for inspection, which is a first for Nell. Obviously she had to do her obligatory hair flip and sideways canter during the victory lap, though.
Not to be outdone, Liana came second in her very strong in-hand class, being absolutely angelic for her adorable kid.
Arwen was Champion Sport Horse In Hand, but in all fairness this was not very hard, considering she was the only one. She was impeccably behaved and all the judge could go on about was how she looks so much like Nell and whether I was sure that they’re not related. (All judges please note: 1. Yes, I am sure I have the right horse. 2. No, they are not related. 3. Yes, I am sure about that, too. What do you want, a DNA profile?)
Show riding was somewhat less successful. Unfortunately, there were no novice classes, so for show riding the greenies got lumped in with 12-year-old bombproof stallions ridden by old veterans who have been champions many times over. Nell wasn’t bad, for Nell – never naughty and I didn’t have to cling on for dear life at all – but she broke to canter a few times and was definitely not the image of the well-mannered, effortless-to-ride showing horse. Fabulous, yes. Quiet, not so much. Still, the judge said that she has great potential and will get there with more training and exposure; she has everything she needs, she’s just still kind of a baby. Also this random warmblood threw its rider and galloped into our arena while poor Nell was still walking around and trying to brain, from which she never really recovered.
Liana was tense about the whole new experience, but took awesome care of her kid. He got all his leads and diagonals perfectly for a well-deserved third place. She’s not really a show pony, but they both tried their guts out.
Arwen decided to redeem both the purebreds by being the picture of manners, elegance and obedience. She came third too, in a strong class, and was an absolute joy to ride – and I think she looked it.
In the end it was another stunning stallion bred by Arop Stud that was ridden supreme champion, as well as gelding champion in hand, working riding champion, and adults’ Novice dressage champion – in fact, Arop won almost every class it entered with the exception of the children’s and partbreds’ show riding.
Soon afterwards, it was off to go do the working hunter with Arwen. Going off alone turned out to be a stupid idea. Arwen spent her warmup doing handstands and going insane, at which point obviously the Mutterer pitched up and stared aghast as his most experienced rider and pony went broncing around the arena. We still hadn’t quite settled down yet when we came dragoning in to salute the judge, but this turned out to be a good thing as Arwen was much too fired up to think of stopping and jumped a splendid clear round. We both had a blast. We were alone in our class and I stayed on and steered, so we were Partbred Working Hunter champions and got to go through to the Supremes on the Sunday.
Dressage was sturdy and uneventful; Liana and her kid got a little lost, but scraped their brains off the floor, got it together admirably and finished second. Nell was third out of three, but to be fair there must have been easily six years’ age difference between herself and her competitors (we will not mention the age difference between their riders). She obediently and willingly completed all the Novice 4 and 5 movements, including her first walk-canter transitions, 12m circles and leg-yields in competition, so I was totally happy with that. Arwen was again the only partbred to do Novice, so automatically won, scoring a respectable 60 for her first Novice 5.
To my great relief (and, it must be said, surprise) all three the girls had a peaceful night and behaved impeccably in their stables. Okay, so Arwen kicked the door and woke up all the fancy horses and their grooms at 5:30am because she was hungry, but that is still impeccable for Arwen. (Dragons don’t live in stables). We started the morning all fresh and chirpy, with the possible exception of the longsuffering Morning Star Stables Groom, who had been rained on in the night. Nell was a lunatic waiting to go in for pre-judging but managed to put her brain back in her head by the time she went in and stood remarkably still during the incredibly long and boring in-hand class. I like in-hand, but 37 horses? That makes for a lot of standing in the line-up.
Straight afterwards I was onto Arwen for the working hunter supremes, which was a blast. Arwen warmed up raring to go, threatened to kick somebody’s valuable hunter and stormed into the arena with smoke coming out of her nose. I, starstruck and petrified, had to try three times to get the correct lead. That done, we jumped the three smallest fences at 60cm in the boring but functional course I had walked for us. She was extremely looky to the first two fences, so they didn’t look awfully pretty, but she left them standing. The third fence was beautiful – she just flowed over it and galloped her heart out. We trotted up to the judge, saluted, and left the arena before I could hyperventilate. We came nowhere in the placings, fairly obviously, but it was a blast. The only really bad part was standing in the line-up – I had to repeatedly yank on my horse because she was trying to eat the iconic Bob Charter arena.
Nell was next up for the in-hand breed supreme championships. For this she was once again very well-mannered and patient. We didn’t finish in the top 10, but this turned out not to be such a bad thing as being excused early was the only way we made it to our YHPS dressage class on time.
The Young Horse Performance Series is something that newbs do not do, but, being a newb, I didn’t get this memo and entered it in a fit of reckless enthusiasm. When I saw my name lined up alongside the likes of our WEG competitors and South African champions, I figured it was way too late to pull out and I may as well show up. This is exactly what we did. Nell, the smallest horse in the class, one of few South African breds and the only non-warmblood or Friesian of the entire show, had a total meltdown in the warmup arena. To be fair, we both did. We were already tense when we walked in and then Chere Burger rode past (perfectly – she is a joy to watch) and my nerves got the better of me. Poor old Nell and I spooked around and around the warmup until eventually with a deep breath and a prayer I got a hold of myself and my horse and we settled down. She was going beautifully when the announcer called us in (stumbling over the Afrikaans Nooitgedachter names). Some poor kind lady pointed out to be that there was daylight between my horse and my girth, I fixed it, and in we went.
Nell has never felt better. She came down the centre line a little crooked and a little above the bit, but confident, relaxed, and happy. She threw her quarters out to the right a little in the halt and I looked up at the square of sky beyond the judges’ box and saluted my God. And after that none of the big names mattered; what mattered was the horse, and this next movement, and the dance.
That fantastic young horse went out there and did the Nooitgedachter breed proud. Sure, she was a little crooked, and a little stiff, and a little on the forehand, but with her green rider and all she stood up to that excellent company she was in. We finished dead last, but with a respectable 59.6% – 1.4% behind the second-to-last horse. The judge complimented her willingness, obedience, and good nature. She tried her guts out and I was really proud of her.
With that, three very tired Nooitie mares, four equally tired Hydes, a relatively chuffed Mutterer and the exhausted Groom went home. And thanked our God. ❤