Thursday, June 17, 2010

Running a Three-Day: Mighty Mangeroo at Bromont 2010 - The Roller Coaster Ride by Laura VanderVliet

I always forget what a Roller Coaster ride a Three-Day Event is. But if you like Roller Coasters, it can sure beat some of the best ones in the country!

I love the excitement of finally arriving at the event and joining all the hustle of everyone unpacking, checking in, schooling, cleaning their horses and catching a first glimpse of the cross-country course. I love checking out how everyone organizes their trunks, tack and equipment to provide the most efficient use of space and time. I love the pre-game anticipation at the first rider’s briefing and how everyone wraps up their morning schooling sessions in order to walk around the course for the first time just after it opens. Then there is the quiet lull as grooms primp the horses for the first inspection and riders disappear to find the most appropriate outfit in which to present their horse.

The say eventing has three phases but they forget to count the jog-ups. No matter how confident you are in your horse’s soundness to that point, there is no relief like the voice of the announcer saying that your horse has been accepted.

From this point on you are on an up-swing of the Roller Coaster. A slow steady climb gauging schooling sessions, hand-walking and grazing, bathing, tack cleaning, braiding and orchestrating your warm-up to perfectly time your horse’s peak interest in performing the best dressage test he will do this year to date. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. One thing for sure is that with a horse like Mighty Mangaroo, it keeps things quite simple and greatly increases your chances of making it work. As Kathleen Overbaugh (one of Roo’s owners) put so well after Southern Pines, there is no drama involved in warming Roo up.

Once you have completed your dressage test, a small downhill swing, there is again a pensive lull while you wait to hear your score and whether the judges agreed with your summation of the performance. I was very happy with Roo’s performance. I think it was a good performance at this stage of his training. I was a bit unhappy with the error I made and halting too late on the final center line. I knew where I was to halt but I got disoriented and it ended up being quite beyond the letter. The judges seemed to agree!

I mentioned that there was a small downhill swing of the Roller Coaster at this point. That is because the steady climb begins again as you start walking the cross-country course, getting minute markers, checking equipment, organizing stuff to take over to the vet box and obsessively going over your routes through combinations and lines to your jumps. You check with everyone about the lines they are taking and the number of strides they think will give you the best ride through specific combinations on course. In the end, you have to decide what you feel is the best ride for you and your horse.

I have really enjoyed reading a book my sister Kathy gave me called Mind Gym – An Athlete’s Guide To Inner Excellence by Gary Mack with David Casstevens. It is a book about sports psychology and the power of your mental game while competing. It has unbelievable examples of how mental preparation has increased athletes’ performances. Riding and preparing for cross-country is a huge mental game. Your mind can race in uncontrollable negative directions that will completely undermine your ability to ride well. I always feel that Saturday morning of a three-day is the one time that I am sure I would be fine riding dressage the rest of my life!

Mind Gym offers great ideas of how to understand these thoughts, control them and send them into a positive and confident direction that helps you perform at your peak ability. I will add once again, that having a great horse helps! Roo is such a perfect gentleman. He was so confident and rideable that my only job was to show him the fences and the pace we needed. He jumped the fences with ease and galloped easily within the time allowed.

Wow! That was a steep hill down. What a rush with it. Once you have cooled your horse and received clearance to leave the vet box and return to the barn there is some time to bask in the elation of successfully completing. The horses are calm again, relaxing, munching on hay and standing in ice. The quiet mood in the barn has once again turned to laughing and chatter of riders recapping the perfect or not-so-perfect moments on course.

Roo recovered from the cross-country easily and without issue. It made for a very relaxing evening where Steve and I were able to enjoy grilling with my Mom and Kathleen who were able to join us for the weekend.

No matter how good your horse looks or how confident you feel, the Coaster turns quickly upward again Sunday morning. Everyone is up early, jogging horses, braiding and dressing to the nines to present their horse at his best to the ground jury at the final inspection. As you are waiting for your turn, you ask everyone you know and who’s opinion you value to watch your horse jog in hopes they will convince you he looks fine and that the ground jury will agree. Mighty Mangaroo accepted. Thank God!!

Now for a very short period of time you actually feel like eating breakfast. Something you have not done for several days! It is a fun time to catch up with parents, owners or other riders and maybe even watch a bit of the earlier divisions. We were able to watch the end of the training division and the start of the CCI* before the Roller Coaster took off again.

Since you are required to be dressed for the stadium coursewalk at a CCI, riders start appearing in their attire. Once again you start to plan the timing of your warm-up and repeatedly attempt to calculate when you should begin. I was quite confident in my warm-up plan with Roo and the fact that he would not need a lot. Of course I had a crew of people helping me time it perfectly. Arianna was grooming for me. Steve was keeping track of the order and helping set fences and Buck was there to help determine the exact jumps and exercises. Roo felt fantastic and I was looking forward to our round.

Just as the Roller Coaster turns quickly upward, whoosh, down it comes. Those of you who compete, will know how this feels. For those of you who don’t, it is amazing that you can feel so high walking into an arena and so low walking out. Even though Roo was steady and rideable throughout his round, the rails kept falling down. We went from a top three finish to out of the ribbons with each rail that fell.

All kinds of questions and doubts fill your mind but I know one thing for sure. I have had better finishes with horses that I have felt worse about. Roo was fantastic to ride all weekend. He is a young horse competing at his first CCI** and it is a lot to ask them to perform at that level for so many days in a row. When I mentioned to a fellow rider that our stadium round was a bit of a disaster, that rider, Will Coleman the winner of the three star division, stated back that he would hardly call it a disaster and that Roo had looked great all weekend.

As everyone heads back to the barn, some with ribbons and some without, the efforts turn toward packing and heading home. It is like the cars of the Roller Coaster have slowed enough that everyone starts to step off and go their separate ways.

I had ten hours driving home to go over everything I will try to improve for our stadium round at the next event. But most of the thoughts were of how great Roo was to ride and how fun it was to be competitive throughout the weekend. Kathleen commented that while we didn’t win, we had our moments. What a Roller Coaster. I hope the other owners and riders that were there were able to enjoy the ride as much as I did.

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