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Today dawned cold and dark, and I was especially glad that I splurged and paid a braider (welcome to Hunter Princess Land!) for Cally this morning, as I had to scrape frost off my Yukon before I could head out to the show this morning.  I could still see my breath when I got to the showgrounds, and I wore wool gloves for our morning handwalk.  The braids looked fabulous, and Cally looked well rested, if the amount of shavings I had to remove from her tail was any indication.  I took her for a light handwalk, then headed down to the ring to see if the course was posted.

Going to see this without the Trainer along was probably a mistake.

Um, a one-stride?

Yeah, so the Oxer of Doom was back, plus a ONE STRIDE, right from a four.  So, I was sort of looking at that wondering if it was too late to scratch and go, like, barf in my horse’s stall, then start drinking for the morning?  But I womaned up, headed back to the barn, and Holly was there, and said we were going to walk the course with her mom, who is also a trainer and judge.  They managed to talk me down off my mental ledge as we went around the course, and gave me a good pep talk, and I went back to the barn to tack up feeling slightly less nauseous.

Holly decided we were changing our game plan a bit, because she wanted me to have the best chance of having a good trip.  I’d get on and do a bit of warmup, then she’d school a few fences on Cally herself while I watched the first few trips myself, since I went 13th.  Which given our weekend to that point seemed about right.

Our warmup felt good, though the brand new saddle pad was slipping a bit (next time I should launder that first, rather than pulling it out of the packaging on show day…), and so I hopped off and headed in to watch.  There were a lot of little bobbles, failures to get good lines and odd swaps and rails and such, with scores mostly in the mid-60s, so I knew that if we did as well as I knew we could do, there was maybe a window for us to get in there.  Holly’s mom came in to the coliseum to give me another pep talk while Holly finished up schooling, then sent me down to get on.  I was feeling as assured as I was going to get.

I met Holly, swapped out spurs with her for the rollerballs that had worked so well, and headed down the ramp to the ring.  We went over the course 893419238703549 times again, so that while I wasn’t entirely sure I could make it around, I at least knew where we were going.

I’d love to show you glorious video of our trip, but apparently Holly was only slightly less freaked out than I was, and managed to not video our round.  But I put on my big girl pants, and kept my leg on and my left rein open, and by god, we made it around the ring, totally nailing the 4-to-1, and even the short approach to the bending 6.   The long gallop to the final oxer was amazing. We had a rail, but whatever, we got over ALL THE THINGS ON THE FIRST TRY, and we got all our leads.  I was grinning like an idiot and hugged my horse on the way out of the ring (probably horrifying the judges), almost in (happy) tears.

It turns out WE MADE THE CUT!!  Just the bottom score in the top 10, but still, in the TOP 10!  Which mean that I frantically had to learn the second round course, which we hadn’t even bothered, with, not expecting that to even happen.   It was tougher, and had the 4-to-1 again.  And because I was in 10th, I was first back.  I feel like I should have clambered on from the ground closer to the gate, to gain some kind of bonus points with the judges, but as I said to Holly “all I have to do is not fall off, and I get a ribbon, right?”

But I wanted to do better than that.  And we did.  I may have galloped a little more than necessary and gotten us a little flat to the first (vertical) fence, and we had a rail there, but other than that, she trucked right around, even doing the Single Oxer of Doom like a champ, because I KEPT MY LEG ON, and made her go at it like her tail was on fire.  And we did it, totally got all our spots and I was grinning like crazy over the last fence, and landed to cheers and applause from barnmates and friends.

It was a long wait around while everyone else went, then they did additional testing with the top 4.  But eventually we were summoned back to the ring, and went in to wait while they presented ribbons, from Champion on down to us, in 10th.  Frankly, I couldn’t have been prouder had be been Champion.  That pretty pale blue 10th place ribbon and neck ribbon represented a big arc of learning and progress over the course of the weekend, and I’m pretty sure I was the happiest 10th place finisher they had.

Cally seemed to know she’d done amazingly, and didn’t blink at the huge fancy ribbon or the amazing neck sash.  And after we got our pictures taken, we actually got to participate in a victory gallop, which is something I never ever thought I’d have the privilege to do.  And it felt amazing.

I was smiling like I’d just won a gold medal for the rest of the morning, because we might as well have.  We went from not being able to get over more than 2 fences in the Ariat to jumping around like we actually knew what we were doing and had a plan and some kind of skill in the Championship on Sunday.  We did our homework, and kept working on our bits and pieces all weekend, and worked on our plan and strategy the whole time, trying to figure out how to get Cally going her best, and my brain in the place it needed to be, and today it all came together in the best way possible.

Ribbons! And a saddle pad! And smiles!

I’m now going to be stalking the pro photographer’s site, and the barnmate who was taking pictures, because I feel like there have to be some amazing photos of us on course, despite there not being video.  Hopefully I can figure out what do with those fancy ribbons and the photos, something like a shadowbox?  I’ll have to see, because I definitely need to display them somehow!  They represent a lot of hard work, and something I’ve hopefully now ingrained in my brain, with the value of forward.

We go forward to go well.