Well a few weeks ago, my new horse Uiver and I dipped our toe in the big pond and I would like to say we were little frogs, but when you compete Dressage in Southern California -(land of the former Olympian/world class rider) - I would say that we were more like guppies in the ocean. But non the less we survived our first competition at the first rung of FEI - Prix St. George. For those not familiar with the levels of dressage, Prix St. George is the first of 3 levels in FEI (Federation Equestrian Internationale). Although I don't have any delusions about going to the Olympics or world cup, I have dreamed about making it to FEI for many years now.
This is where I go back to not being satisfied, or smart enough, to stay in the little pond. As some of you might remember, I just bought Uiver this past June and, especially in Dressage, it usually takes a while (generally 6 months to a year) to "click" and form a solid partnership with a new horse. I bought Uiver through a very well respected trainer in San Diego named David Blake. I have known David for several years and was very happy when I saw that he was brokering the horse because I knew that he was honest and ethical which we all know is somewhat rare in the horse world. After buying Uiver I decided to train with David for several reasons. I knew that I would need help getting to know this extremely talented horse as well as further both of ours education and since David had already been training Uiver for the preceding 8 months, and Uiver clearly liked David, it was a logical choice. In addition, the other pluses were that David trains out of a gorgeous facility, Arroyo Del Mar, with great footing, which is also the home of Stephen Peters with whom David trains. I cannot afford to ride with Stephen and am certainly not at a level (yet) that would merit his high level of input, but it is nice to know that although David is very accomplished in his own right, there is also some influence from Stephen (who is indisputably the top U.S. dressage rider) as well.
The other unexpected positive has been that everyone at Arroyo, has been gracious, kind and supportive and make me feel welcome every time I am there for a lesson. There is such a happy, positive vibe to the place it is no wonder that all of the horses seem so happy to work and that the trainers are so successful.
After buying Uiver I started a routine of hauling to David once a week for lessons. Uiver and I clicked and bonded quicker than my wildest dreams and in August David suggested that we go to our first show and try our hand at 3rd and 4th level. Part of me thought David was a little crazy but the other part trusted him and felt confident in Uiver so to the show we went. Well I could not have dreamed a better result and would not even put it in a book because no one would think it plausible. Uiver and I rode 3 classes over 2 days, Third Level Test 3 and Fourth Level Test 1 on 2 different days. We won all 3 classes with scores of 70% at 3rd and a 66 and a 68% at 4th. What all these numbers really mean is that I was walking around the show in shock pinching myself to know that this really was my horse.
Uiver was amazing. As you all know, you never fully know a horse when you buy them and never really know how they will handle the stress of competition until you go. Uiver was a gentlemen in the often hectic warm-up and the minute he realized we were heading to the ring for our test, he puffed himself up even taller, pricked his ears and put on a show. The moment we started down the center line it was as if he said, watch me and my new Mom. The test was not without a few mistakes, they rarely are, but it was one of the best of my career especially considering we had only been a pair for about 2 months.
So, instead of staying comfortably at 4th level for a little while, David thought we should try our hand at Prix St. George just 3 months later. How did we do, you say? Well, it was not perfect by any stretch but we did not make fools out of ourselves either. All in all it was a respectable start but it would have been even better if I could count right. The dreaded "Tempi" change (a series of flying changes on a designated stride count) was my nemesis and as a result we only got a 58% one day but improved to a 64% the second which earned a 5th place in the class. Not horrible but we definitely have room for improvement.
Am I crazy? Should we have stayed comfortable at 4th for a while? Uiver does not seem to care one way or the other. He is happy to work as long as he knows there will be grass pasture time or a chance to play with his pony afterward. Uiver has become very attached to Michele's daughter's pony Monty and they either play or take naps together when they are not being worked or turned out. They are a bit of an odd couple since Uiver is 16.3 hands and Monty is 14.1 but they are happy and that is all that matters.
I do plan to stay at Prix St. George for most of 2012 and our winter training will focus on getting the count right on Tempi changes and refining everything else. With a little luck I hope to be a little less of a guppie in the ocean and maybe even make it to little frog status. No matter whether the sharks get us or not, I am just happy to be living the dream.