When you're an event rider, the beginning of the new season always packs a lot of hopes and dreams, which are usually counterbalanced by anxiety and worry, or at least some kind of certainty.
You dream of clear rounds and top ribbons, but you wonder: Can we be competitive at this level? Can we improve our dressage scores by 5 points? Can we consistently make the time on cross-country? How can we stop lowering two or three rails in show jumping?
And can we move up to the next level, or go even higher? Does my horse have the gaits for a top dressage score? Does he have the scope to jump at the upper levels? Does he have the heart to answer those questions?
Do I have the heart, and the talent, to answer those questions?
Well, those are some of the questions I'm pondering on the night before I kick off the 2014 eventing season. As I write this week's blog, I'm at the Fresno County Horse Park, in Fresno, Calif., where the first horse trial of the season kicks off on Friday morning. I'm here with two horses of my four-horse competition string, wondering what this weekend will tell me about their abilities and my training with them.
The two horses competing this weekend are my Quarter Horse mare Firebolt (whom we call Alba), who's running at intermediate, and Bravo's First Class, whom we call Boogie and who belongs to our stable manager, Roxanne Rainwater, and is competing at novice.
This is Alba's second season at intermediate, and I'm planning to run her again in two weeks at Twin Rivers and then at the end of March in the CIC2* at Galway Downs in Southern California. Alba ran honestly last year at intermediate, but we never threatened the winners, mostly because of our scores in dressage and show jumping. We've been working hard to improve those weak phases, and I hope that our results in these three events will give me a clue as to whether I should continue with her in FEI-sanctioned events, like Galway Downs, at the two-star level or just learn from her in intermediate horse trials.
It's not a do-or-die decision, because, even if we decide the answer is no, she's simply not competitive. I won't consider Alba, who's now 12, a failure. My diminutive chestnut mare was left with us as useless by her previous owner in 2008, and she's done more than we ever would have dreamed, because she's the most determined and hardest-working horse I've ever sat on. She simply doesn't know the word "no." I will love and enjoy her forever, and I desperately hope our son Wesley, who's 4, will enjoy her in the future.
Boogie is a horse with his entire future ahead of him, but much of the three years I've been working with him have been challenging. He possesses more raw talent than any other horse in our barn, but maturity and concentration have been slow traits to evolve with his natural ability. He's given us glimpses of what he can do, and we're aiming him for the novice three-day event at Twin Rivers in mid-April as the next big step for him. Will it be just the next step in a long series of steps forward?
How am I feeling about Alba and Boogie as the first day dawns? Well, I think they're about as ready as they can be for the start of the season. They each ran well in a schooling combined test a month ago at Twin Rivers. Boogie actually won the novice there.
Alba is fit as a fiddle and is becoming ever more solid in her training, so I'm hoping we can get a dressage score that puts us in the top half or so of a tough field. On cross-country, she knows what she has to do, and I think she's ready to fly. And show jumping will always be her hardest phase--if she'll stay relaxed in her back, we can leave most of the rails up. But if she gets tense and stiff in her back. . .
I've worked hard to make Boogie into a physically stronger and more responsive horse, and that work seems to be paying off. I'm anticipating him producing a highly competitive dressage score and hoping he'll ad nothing to it in the jumping phases.
Wish me luck, please.