This show was perfect chaos, but by the grace of God it turned out to be one of our best shows ever.
We started our preparations with a lesson with S., one of our favourite coaches ever and also our saddle fitter, at the actual show venue a week beforehand. Despite having no other horses around, Nell was ridiculously quiet and settled and we had a very productive lesson that helped us out a lot the next weekend. The general theme of the lesson appeared to be “more”: more bend, more swing, more straightness. After having chiro Nell’s walk was about a thousand times better, though. We also learned to make our halts less abrupt in order to give her a second to step up into a square halt instead of fussing around and stepping back, which was a very valuable one.
The first day of the finals was the qualifying class; the top five young horses in this class would go through to the championship class the next day. I had exactly zero expectation of going to championship since we are so reliably always last, but I didn’t mind. Just being there was an honour. Although we arrived in a ridiculous hurry (Jacaranda Nooitie show was on the same day, and Nell had been champion mare in-hand that very morning – more on that later), Nell walked into the arena with her game face on. This on a horse that couldn’t be persuaded to get all the way to C in Prelim last year. I was desperately grateful. We had one hairy moment when my hastily buckled right rein popped off and Nell obliging turned sharply left, almost crashing into and killing Chere Burger (who went on to win basically everything in amazing style, no thanks to my rogue Friesian-squashing pony). Nevertheless, we survived this and when we walked off to introduce ourselves to the judges she was feeling pretty fantastic.
This was a good thing. The chaotic morning, alongside the stress of having to get back to a yard full of kids and ponies at the Jacaranda Show, had taken its toll on me. I was trying my best and God is my peace, but I was undoubtedly not on my game. When we came down the centreline all I could think was I’ll forget the test, I’ll forget the test. Which is not ideal to be thinking in front of three top judges. I nearly did forget my test, too, getting my walk transition a few steps after C even though Nell was as obedient as they come.
It was around the big long M-X-K free walk that I breathed for the first time, because Nell was being an absolute trooper. As I lengthened the reins she put down her head and swung through her back and gave a huge relaxed sigh, which was when I realised that the horse was fine. All the hours and hours we had put in had paid off: for the first time, Nell was holding my hand, instead of the other way round. The realisation was a gift from above and more valuable than any win could have been. So by the time we reached K I was grinning like a pumpkin, and when I asked for the walk-canter at C she gave it to me like a breaking wave. The canter work was just awesome. The best it’s been. When we came down the final centreline I was breathing again and could halt nicely, look up, and salute my King Jesus in gratitude.
We scored 66%, a personal best at any graded show; we also scored our first seven in YDHS – for the walk! It has always been our worst mark and the improvement meant a lot to me. This was good enough for fifth place, squeaking us into the championship class the next day. Poor Nell was pretty tired and I debated going, but in the end we decided to go with the proviso that if she warmed up flat, instead of just tired, I would scratch. She was very perky in the stable that morning and warmed up pretty awesome, a little dull on my aids, but happy and relaxed. There was no resistance or unhappiness in her, so we went with it.
Things went a little sideways when we walked past the judges’ box. Not expecting to get into the championship, I hadn’t familiarised myself with the rules and it was only the kind photographer that saved me from going down the centreline with a whip like a total newb. That shook me a little; I school her without a whip most of the time, but with her being quite pokey on the day, I would have liked to have had it. In the end, though, she was excellent. She was tired but she tried her guts out every step of the way and gave me every single transition so obediently, even the walk-canter. I couldn’t help but fall on her neck and squish the life out of her when we’d finished. This horse has come so far from the spooky baby I had under me last year to being a resilient adult, full of try. I knew that whatever we’d scored, I’d already won the jackpot when God dropped this incredible partner in my lap.
We had 63.5%; I think we could have done better if we both had more energy. The judge complimented her attitude (everyone does), but Nell was also very on her forehand and her walk was decidedly mediocre on the day. I know our balance is a weak point, but I think she’s not nearly as bad normally. We also came last, but even from a rider’s point of view I can’t be anything but happy with it; I was on the only non-Friesian or Warmblood in the field for the entire day, and half the horses were imported, and I believe the majority of the other competitors had about ten years on me, too. It was an honour just to be riding with them.
It was even more of an honour to go down that centreline on Arop Nianell and salute my beloved, beloved King. Thank You Sir. ❤