Willow Draw recap
I’m glad this is a three-day weekend for me- I’m still tired from the show! But it’s a nice kind of tired, the kind you get when you’re exhausted and happy and remembering you aren’t as fit as you were the last time you did this kind of thing.
Johnny, Moe, and I hit the road around 9:30 AM Friday. I wanted to avoid driving through Oklahoma City (because that place is a hellhole), so Google Maps took us through some scenic back roads through tiny towns like Prague (home of Jim Thorpe and the National Shrine of the Infant Jesus) and Wolf. We stopped to get gas in
Fyrestone Roff, at the strangest gas station I’ve ever visited.
We eventually made it to Willow Draw in Texas and thankfully missed the awful rainstorm that doused the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
The facility is beautiful: the driveway winds down gentle hills dotted with trees and deposits you at a large covered arena with an attached office and stabling. The stalls were large, well-bedded, and very well-ventilated. My stall was down toward the end of one side, conveniently close to a wash rack. The volunteers at the office were friendly and pleasant and got me checked in quickly.
Moe unloaded from the trailer totally blasé about the change in scenery. He dragged Johnny over to the nearest patch of grass while I parked the trailer, then settled into his stall to sip water and eat hay.
Johnny and I headed out to walk the cross country course. It was apparent from the get-go that it was very, very wet from a week’s worth of rain. The B element of jump 9, a ditch, was removed from the course because it was flooded enough to be unsafe. I recorded the course via the CourseWalk app; there’s a couple of duplicate jumps in there because this is the first time I’ve used the app, but you can click through it if you’re interested.
None of the jumps looked particularly scary, but the 7-8 combination made me feel a little nervous; jump 7 was perched atop a short, steep hill, while jump 8 was placed a few strides from the bottom of that hill. I was a little worried about the downhill ride, especially with the slippery footing. The footing from jump 6 onward was a concern, really. The back half of the course was absolutely drenched, with standing water in several places. Moe is barefoot, and while he’s normally surefooted and agile, I was lamenting my inability to give him any extra traction with studs.
I walked the course twice, walked the show jumping course once, tucked Moe in for the evening, and headed to my home away from home in Fort Worth, Johnny’s parents’ house.
We arrived at the show grounds around 9 AM on Saturday. I rode dressage at 11:30 AM, so I had plenty of time to walk Moe around, braid him (using Austen’s braiding tutorial!), and get on to warm up. It was hot and humid, but at least it wasn’t raining.
Jesus H. Christ, the warm up for dressage was a nightmare. The grass area set aside for warm up was roughly the size of a small dressage ring and had already been thoroughly chewed up by time I arrived. There were about 12 horses going at various speeds, so my plan for a leisurely walking/bending/lateral work warm up turned into a stay out of the way/don’t slip in the mud/hope for the best warm up. I trotted a little and cantered once before I decided that the warm up ring was not the place to attempt to fix any of Moe’s problems (a thought not shared by the dozen people cantering frantic circles while their trainers yelled at them). I tried to keep him quiet and walking near the rings until it was time to go.
I thought Moe put in some lovely trot work. He was soft and supple, really bending well, and steady in the contact. His canter work was much as it has been- transition above the bit, unsteady in the bridle, ugly downward transition. I was overall very happy with our test, because it met my expectations. It did not meet the judge’s expectations, though- she dinged us for being ‘hollow’ and ‘above the bit’ on nearly every single movement, and was unimpressed by Moe’s straight, square halt that only garnered us a measly 6. We had a rough 42.5 that put us near the bottom of the division in 12th place.
Show jumping was scheduled for 1 PM, so I untacked Moe and let him drink some water and relax for a few minutes while I guzzled Gatorade and peeled off my white breeches. Show jumping was immediately followed by cross country, so I strapped on Moe’s boots, put on my safety vest, and considered changing my cross country colors to something that does not include black.
Warm up for show jumping was shared with the warm up for cross country. Moe got very excited when he saw other horses cantering around and jumping. I walked, trotted, and cantered him both directions and pointed him at a crossrail. He leaped over it and galloped away (nearly into a Port-A-Potty). We spent the next 10 minutes jigging in front of the arena before our round.
This is the best SJ round I can ever remember having on this horse- we saw eye-to-eye on the distances and Moe jumped very fast and very clean. The big oxers and a long two-stride gave him zero trouble, and he came off the course even more amped up than he had been to begin with.
After finishing show jumping, I had about three riders in front of me before I left the start box. I tried to breathe deeply while Moe tried to drag the reins out of my hands. We left the start box at Mach 1, sailed over the first jump, and we were off on our triumphant return to eventing!
Moe hunkered down into a long, low, ground-eating gallop and sailed over jump 2, a house, then rolled back to another house at jump 3. He immediately locked on to the Training level stairs next to our Novice level rolltop, and seemed confused when I wrenched him away from it. He jumped the rolltop, cantered through the first water element, and jumped smoothly over the log cabin on the other side. Jump 6 was an easy bench whose landing was a swamp. Moe wisely slowed down through the swampy footing.
I nearly turned us up the steep hill that led to the Training level combination, but remembered at the last second that our hill was a few strides down. We cantered up the steep hill, lurched awkwardly over the rolltop that was jump 7, and began our descent to jump 8. I lost my right rein over jump 7, so Moe went left. I kept cool and knew I couldn’t circle or cross my path to the rapidly-approaching jump 8, so I regained my rein, turned him to the right, then turned him back to the left to give him a stride to get set up for the jump. Moe popped over jump 8 without hesitation, and I gave him the biggest pat and “GOOD BOY!!” I could muster. I’m sure the jump judges thought I’d lost my mind or was totally drunk, but I’m both proud of myself for not making some kind of technical error and proud of Moe for completing the world’s weirdest serpentine and jump.
Jumps 9 and 10 were rolltops set on a bending line, which Moe jumped fine. Jump 11 was a ditch-and-wall, and jump 12 was a wide table. Moe cleared the table by what felt like a mile, and we set off toward a trakehener at jump 13. We cleared it and the picnic table that followed, and I stuck to my plan of trotting through the second water element. Moe slowed down to a walk in the water and seemed to briefly consider splashing himself. I got him to trot out over the little bank, and we had a smooth turn to the rolltop at jump 16. Jump 17 required going down a hill, over a drainage ditch (that was full of water on Saturday), then up the other side of the hill before meeting the rolltop. Jump 18, the last jump on course, was a log-cabin kind of thing that Moe met with no trouble.
I jumped off him as soon as I got him stopped, and gave him a big hug. We were both drenched with sweat, so I loosened his girth and handed him off to Johnny to walk while I poured water on my head and unzipped my safety vest. Moe cooled out fairly quickly after getting a bath and a few sips of water. I slathered him with Sore No More, fed him half a jar of red licorice Paddock Cakes, and texted my barn manager, my mom, and my best barn friend about Moe’s spectacular performance.
Johnny and I ate some lunch while I waited for the cross country results to be posted. I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t get a jumping penalty for my bizarre maneuver between jumps 7 and 8. I also had no idea what my time was; I didn’t wear a watch, and my mental clock is a little rusty. (I didn’t want to worry about time on such a soggy, slippery course. Plus the dogs ate my Optimum Time watch, and I was 99% sure I wouldn’t be able to see the numbers on Johnny’s G-Shock.)
I saw I’d moved from 12th place to 11th place after my rail-free show jumping round. I was sure I’d finish out of the ribbons (they only went to 6th place), but wanted to see where I’d ended up. I nearly fell over when I saw I’d moved up to 7th place (just out of the ribbons, damn it!!) after cross country, ending my run with only 4.7 time penalties!
I feel 100% fine with this finish. Moe was phenomenal. I didn’t feel like I was galloping around on a 21 year old horse. He felt great. I was happy I remembered two jumping courses and a dressage test error-free. (I’ve had people reading me dressage tests for the last 3 years!) I felt like my riding was pretty alright, too.
We slept in a little on Sunday morning and left Willow Draw around 10:30 AM. Moe traveled well on the way back and settled in for the evening without any fuss.
I’m not sure what the plan going forward is- I can’t afford to both breed Gina and take Moe to Queeny Park, so we’ll hold off on another event until later in the season. I’ll keep working on our dressage, and I will definitely work harder on my fitness. We may hit a couple of schooling shows over the summer. We’ll see.
At any rate, my good horse will have a few well-deserved days off and at least a dozen donuts tomorrow.