Let’s get to the really fun part!
Saturday afternoon post-stadium was the course walk, which was quite enjoyable as I had the run of the field almost to myself. I took a brief detour on my route to have my photo taken with the jump I played over a couple of weeks ago (see below video) – turns out it’s a prelim one! I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time.
My own (much more reasonably-sized) course consisted of lovely ramps, barns and logs that were inviting with just a hint of a challenge.
Now, I had a bit of a brain fart when I came to jump #16:
What I didn’t notice was that it was labeled on the other side as Training’s #14 (I discovered this 2 days later, derp) – all I saw at the time was this absurd reverse-angled ramp that made no sense, with the world’s biggest ditch on what would have been the landing side for me. Thanks to this jump, I spent the rest of the evening rather stressed, worrying that we wouldn’t have enough stamina to navigate this one so deep into our course, not to mention the expected rain all evening and on Sunday. I went to bed with the decision that, as we were sitting at 12th place, I would have a nice safe XC ride and just enjoy it at a bit of a slower pace. I figured that, even if we nailed our optimum time (4:33), we’d never come anywhere near a ribbon, so I made my peace with that.
Sunday dawned without the dreaded rain. In fact, the sun slid in and out of the clouds as I loaded Vesper up after a nice sleep in, and I felt a little more hopeful for our day. Unfortunately, I slept in a little too long, and arrived with only 40 minutes until my ride; and, inevitably, they were running ahead of schedule. Nothing stresses me out quite like being strapped for time.
My mom showed up to cheer me on, and I feel awful because I was in such a rush to tack up and get warmed up that she definitely didn’t receive a lot of welcome from me (I’m really sorry Mom, you’re the best <3). I literally stepped into the warm up ring, got called over for tack check, they recommended I head to the starting gate ASAP and I got 1 lap of canter and 1 jump each direction. 0/10 recommend doing it this way. Did I mention unicorn? She knows her job; she knows how to XC better than the pros; I just steer.
I had exactly zero seconds of prep before they counted down from 15 and we were off!
The first thing I noticed was that Vesper was really responsive – I wouldn’t quite use the word “quiet”, but she’s never been so easy to rate on the XC field before. I expected her to launch out and grab the bit which is sort of her usual state of affairs, but this time I actually had to ask her to step out in her stride a bit, as I wanted to attack the first log. After that, I tested my brakes a bit and she came back to me immediately. She was shockingly easy to rate, and so from that point on we settled into a nice, light gallop that was easy to adjust as needed. None of this “dang where did I put that e-brake” like we usually have. Either she has way more confidence in my abilities these days, or she was tired from day 1.
It was a delight to go forward to our jumps and I felt like we were really meshed as a team. Each fence was confident and almost (dare I say it) easy. The mildly-worrisome #6 came nicely in stride, resulting in another boost of confidence. The grass was not as slick as I was concerned about, and around jump #5 the sun came out completely! I’m pretty sure I really started grinning then.
#7 lead us over the dyke (and past a very large, very random, very dead fish – you’ll hear me exclaim about it in the video if your sound is up!) and down a sandy track which I planned to trot through; it would give Vesper a breather and reduce our slipping hazard on such a sharp turn and descent. We probably eased back a bit too much at this point, but the ground was mucky and I don’t regret playing it safe.
A couple more jumps to a fun little up/down combo, a long angled line to a big log which lead us almost straight into the water splash. Vesper loves the water and plows right in. Except this time, apparently! They chemically treat the water to make it a striking blue/green colour, and I think it threw her a bit, because she hit the brakes pretty hard and almost unseated me before she took her sweet time at jogging through the giant puddle. I was embarrassed on her behalf.
Up over the dyke we had to go again, and the dreaded jump #16 was on the other side. I was gritting my teeth, gathering all my bravery as we crested the dyke, ready to kick forward to that monster fence that didn’t belong in my division… I glanced over to check my line, and lo and behold! They had removed the ramp. Jump #16 was now: simply a ditch. Talk about deflated balloon. I wanted to laugh but I was too busy trying to keep breathing. Guess who hit the pause button again at the ditch. Guess who never pauses at ditches. Guess who almost fell off because she was in jumper seat, not eventer seat. That would have been embarrassing on my behalf.
After overcoming such a letdown of a fence, the rest of the course was peanuts. #17 was a basic drop bank, bending line to the last 2 fences. We hit our OT (4:33) between the last 2 jumps, so I knew we would get time penalties, but I was so happy with our safe and successful ride that I didn’t even mind. Even playing it super safe with way more trotting than I ever planned, we clocked in at about 5 seconds over OT. Vesper was barely puffed, which was awesome and means that all our recent conditioning paid off.
2 of my best friends had shown up right as I was starting the course, so I had another little cheering squad for the day. Vesper got all the pats, treats and hay and I tried not to collapse while wrapping her legs. I did lie down on the grass for a minute when I was finished, my legs felt like jello. 5 minute wall squat on a running, jumping animal, yo.
I wanted to grab my dressage breakdown from the office and see if any final results were available, so we wandered over to take a look. Based on the results sheet, they had listed my time at 5:38. Hold up. That’s an entire minute slower than what I clocked myself at. It had me at 26 time penalties and second-from-last place. Nuh-uh. I mentioned it to the girls at the desk, who agreed that for a clear round it was way off, unless I had been trotting the entire thing. They told me to check back once they had a chance to confer with the time marshals on the field.
We hung out for a bit, and came back in time to see the office manager posting new results for my division: my updated time was 4:38, a much more appropriate 2 time penalties and 8th place! That was quite a jump from 12th. I was fairly certain that ribbons only went up to 6th, but when I checked, the office manager corrected me that ribbons were given up to 8th place! Insert many exclamation marks. I was floored. I may have almost cried. Almost.
Placing at my very first full event was really the cherry on the top for the weekend. Part of me wished I had pushed our XC time a bit more, but overall I’m really glad I chose the safe route. I know now for the future about how V handles that type of footing, and I’ll be better prepared for our next one.
Just like last year, I came out of this event ready for more. In fact, I gave the Training level jumps a solid side-eye, and I am fairly certain that we could have a go at those next season… 😉