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HITS, for those who don’t know, stands for Horseshows In the Sun.  And boy did that feel accurate as we pulled in to HITS Culpeper yesterday for my first experience as a competitor at a big AA circuit show.  Due to the temperatures forecast for the weekend–well into the 90s, plus classic Virginia humidity that makes it feel like you’re walking through a swamp–and in deference to the pregnant trainer, I swapped my Sunday 2’9″ division (which had been moved from prizelist scheduled mid-morning to the very end of the day) to a Saturday 2’6″ division, so all her riders would be going the same day, and she wouldn’t have to spend two days out in the heat and humidity.  It was also forecast to be slightly less disgusting on Saturday, but the difference between 92 and 95 is so negligible I wasn’t putting much hope in it feeling less awful than I’d expected.

We managed to find shady parking in the far back of the showgrounds, to whence the lowly trailer-ins are relegated.  I hadn’t been down there in years, not since they’d redone the barns, and you can really see the effort that’s been put in to revamping the showgrounds.  The new barns are lovely, and while we were offered use of a stall while one of Holly’s mom’s students was showing in some junior medals, we opted not to use it after I walked Cally over and she and Sophie immediately started screaming at each other, as the lovers had been separated for all of 24 hours.  Rather than listen to that for the next few hours, since the two were also showing in the same division, I opted to take her back to the trailer to hang out, since it was shady and relatively comfortable there.

Cally seemed totally unphased by the big show hoopla.  We took a walk around past all the rings, and she was totally ho-hum about everything, so she just got to hang at the trailer with a big bucket of water (which she actually drank some of!) and a well-stuffed haynet.  Mostly she dozed.  I had a smoothie and was able to take my time getting ready.  At the appointed hour, we were at warmup to meet Holly.  Except her mother saw my super comfortable knee-saving Compositi stirrups and vetoed them for our division, because she knew the judge was super old school and would not like them.  So while I warmed up in them, we sent someone back to the barns to borrow a pair of regular old school fillis irons.  Which is how I ended up riding in fillis irons belonging to the 5′ pony rider in our barn.  Little smaller than I’m used to, and a different feeling, as I’m not sure the last time I’d ridden in truly plain irons, without at least comfort pads or my ProJumps or something.  So that was a sensation to adjust to.

Also less than thrilling was the rain squall that rolled through during the flat portion of the division that went before ours, leaving us standing by the ingate, getting soaked.  Cally was cranky about this, I was somewhat happy about being cooled off and very grateful to now have a fancy technical showcoat (FITS Zephyr, courtesy TOTD) that was not wool that was going to be ruined by a good drenching.  Or the very brief bit of hail that fell.  WTF, weather?!

Somewhat wet, but feeling cooler, I went in for the first round.  I knew the course, I was super confident, and we nailed the first fence. But then, dear reader, I didn’t just find a bad distance to the second fence. No, even worse, I totally failed to make any decision to the fence, and the result was this:

Pretty sure Trainer was totally facepalming right about then, but somehow we managed to actually get the correct number of strides down the line (because Cally obviously deserves to be sainted), and the rest of the round was surprisingly not terrible.  Particularly given that I realized somewhat belatedly that wet reins and wet gloves are a horribly combination and I couldn’t keep them from sliding all around through my fingers.  Obviously we’d totally blown that round.

Second round was’t perfect–we had a pretty chip in to one fence–but it was greatly improved in that I actually knew we were getting that chip and didn’t end up somewhere between the saddle and the ears when it happened. It was also on the far side of the ring, so maybe wasn’t so terribly obvious to the judge, who was safe and dry under a tent with a fan. Though by this point the sun had come back out and things were feeling swamplike again. Ugh.

Third round, I finally got my act together, and put in a pretty decent trip. One late change, but I was quite happy with this.

They ran us in groups, so we relaxed, took off the martingale, hung out in the shade, and waaaaaaaited for the division to finish. I thought there were 8 of us, and 8 had gone, but apparently we were waiting for one person? So we had 9, and the ring sat empty for a while as we waited for that one person. Finally they came and did their trips, and the judge must have pretty much already pinned the classes and results came in as we were going in for our flat. I was literally The Worst Person In The First Class, after that horrible lack of decision to fence 2, and didn’t pin there. But our other, greatly improved rounds, we did pretty well, 5th for the second trip and 4th in the 3rd. Flat went pretty well, other than one kind of cranky transition to sitting trot directly in front of the judge. Cally was happy to be at a show, jumping all the things, less so to be in flatting, expecting to put herself together and go a bit more dressage horsey. But overall I was happy with it, and how I rode, and we finished 6th.

We only had a brief breather and bit of water, and quick course review before we went in for the Marshall & Sterling medal. It was a much twistier course, significantly more difficult than the very huntery courses we’d done for the Adult Novice division. And we totally nailed it.

I was so thrilled with that as our final trip of the day. I was hoping the test for the Medal would be something cool too, but rather than testing over fences, we were just brought back in to flat. Nothing fancy, just basic flat-class flatting. And Cally was not happy at being asked to do that again. She tried to canter when I asked for sitting trot, and then had a Bug In The Ears issue in the far corner as we approached the judge, and flung her head around like a rabid giraffe. So, not our most spectacular performance on the flat. I was disappointed after our great over fences, but based on our great over fences, we still managed to pull out a 3rd!

I was really pleased with how we’d done.  I mean, not with that first round, that was awful and I’d really like to forget it ever happened, except as a reminder that even if it’s a bad one, I need to make SOME KIND OF DECISION to a fence.  But we went in and improved with each round, and ended with putting in a primary-colored medal trip.  I’m feeling very optimistic about our August trip back down to Culpeper.  We have to look at the schedule and figure out what I want to do, but definitely the M&S Medal again, because that was really fun.  I wish there were more medal options for adults, because my horse does so much better at more complicated courses.  I’d also like to try a little jumper round, like the .80s.  And Liz may show her in a Junior class, depending on whether she wants to do her or Sophie.

But however it works out, I’m definitely planning on hauling down Friday, and spending the weekend, because doing it all in one day, even with having the pro be the one to do the braiding so I didn’t have to wake up even earlier and get even less than 3 hours of sleep, was way too much.  I was even more tired than Cally.  But we made it down and back (frankly I think I deserve a ribbon for managing to haul around the beltway and out 66 twice in one day without having a mental freakout) and Cally got her dinner and happily headed out to the field with her buddy Snappy.  She whinnied once for her girlfriend, but getting no answer from Sophie, settled right down to grazing.  She gets to chill until Wednesday, though I may stop out for some grooming and tack cleaning before then.

Enjoy your well earned time off, Cally! I’ll be enjoying some slightly belated birthday crabs.