Nationals!!!

Well, IHSA Nationals is officially over – and let me tell you, a lot happened between that and Semi-Finals (my last blog entry).  To begin with, I burned my hand pretty badly in a cooking accident, so I was all bandaged up for a while.  In addition, I finished my internship, which freed me up a little more in the last few weeks before Nationals.  I was also supposed to go to a horse show with Image, but due to several extenuating circumstances, wasn’t able to go.  However, I didmanage to fit in a road trip to Niagara Falls with James and I also got a few rides in at the Katonas’.

At the Katonas’ and preparing to ride bridle-less!

My trip to Niagara was extremely exciting, but was also quite relaxing – which was needed after the end of my internship and tax season.  We visited the falls, went on the Maid of the Mist, and did a lot of other touristy activities.  However, as soon as we got back, it was out to the Katonas’ again!

My first lesson was on a little black mare and it included riding bridle-less – so cool and exciting!  The next two were on a gelding named Buddy and boy did he teach me a lot!  The first time I rode him, things were a little bumpy, but I started to get the hang of him.  Then during our second lesson we finally clicked and we even did a little bridle-less riding again.  I felt like I had a major breakthrough and it made me feel really confident for Nationals.  By then, I was only a few days away from the big event, and it was time to start packing.

Soon enough, I was in the college van and on my way to North Carolina!  After about 14 hours, we arrived in Raleigh about 10:00 p.m.  The ride went pretty smooth and we were tired from the journey, so we were quickly off to bed.  In the morning, we woke up around 8:00 and headed to the grounds.  The facility was huge with stadium seating all around the arena.  The names of countless sponsors hung around the rail and on the other side of the pen were a variety of vendors and booths.  So naturally, we wandered around and checked the place out for a bit.  Then, there was a western coaches’ meeting, so Denise and I sat in on that.  Next on the program was team reining, so as soon as the meeting finished, we went to the arena to watch some of the reining horses warm up.  All of them seemed well mannered and it was a great opportunity to see them being worked.  I kept notes on all of them and by the end of the warm up, my favorite was a horse named Peppy.

Boy could Peppy slide! (Photo credit: Mark King.)

After a draw for all of the riders that represented the nine colleges that had teams competing, it was time for them to do some reining.  There were a lot of great rides and Peppy ended up winning the class!  However, the other rider who had drawn him did not do so well.  His name is Sam and he’s from Michigan State.  It appeared that he was just trying to lay a nice clean pattern, so I wasn’t too concerned with talking to Sam about him – but I probably should have.

As you may have figured, the horse I drew on Saturday morning was Peppy.  And boy were Denise and I excited!  I was confident that we could perform the pattern so I went and changed for my event and then headed down to the warm up pen to talk to Peppy’s owner.  He made him out to be a sweet and honest horse and pointed out how quiet he was for a stallion.  Since another rider had also drawn Peppy, I got to watch her ride.  She did pretty well, though he seemed a little agitated, but she accidently under spun at the very beginning of her pattern and received a 0 score.  When she got off, I asked her about her ride, and she told me that he was a very hard horse.  Uhh ohh!!

A couple rides later, I was up.  Denise gave me a pep talk as my horse holder led me down the chute and then I was in the arena.  We walked quietly along the rail to the center.  As we walked down the centerline, I noticed that I was already having a hard time keeping him in between my legs and when we stopped at dead center, Peppy was ready to go.  As I tried to settle him, Peppy decided he was ready to go, and started into his spin before I even cued him.

“Here we go!” I thought.

After our spins, we completed our circles, which proved quite challenging.  I could hardly keep him where I wanted and he was not very willing to increase his speed.  Once those were done, it was roll back time – and let me tell you, that horse could really slide.  After we were done, I started my way out of the arena and was surprised to hear a score of zero.  What had I done wrong?  I must have looked extremely perplexed, because as soon as I was out of the ring, Denise asked me if I had realized I’d spun five times.

It turned out that I missed the cone my first time around due to Peppy starting so quick on me, so although I counted four spins, we actually completed five.  What a bummer!  I ended up eleventh overall, which I guess isn’t too bad considering that makes me eleventh in the nation, right? I moped around for a bit, then spent the rest of my day hanging out at the hotel with the team.

On Sunday, it was Morgan’s turn to ride, so we were at the show bright and early again.  After watching a few other riding classes, it was her turn to draw and she got a gelding named Harley.  Together, Morgan and I went over all the notes we had on him and we also talked to one of MSU’s riders who had drawn him the day before.  By the time her classed rolled around, she had all the info she needed and it was up to her from there.

Her rail class went pretty well – though she did have a bit of trouble navigating the arena since he was such a big horse – and her pattern was great.  There were a couple of minor flaws, like being a stride off for her transitions and having a slightly flat side on her circle, but nothing that would result in any major deductions.  Excited to hear her placing, I stood anxiously next to Denise as Morgan stood with her fellow competitors in the center of the arena.  She ended up placing seventh, which is super-exciting considering she’s only a freshman!

Image and I representing Albion at the LMHA show.

So, overall, Nationals went well, but next year, we’re going to do even better!  I even talked to Bob Cacchione about where Nationals are going to be next year and he told me that he was planning to see me there.  I guess that means I have to go to Nationals again because you can’t just let down the founder of IHSA like that, right?

Soon, we were back on the road to Michigan and after another 14 hours, I was finally home!  You may think that means I’ve been relaxing since then, but you’re most definitely wrong!  The day after my return, I was busy getting ready for my own show with Image, which took place this past weekend.  The show was in Mason and was held by the Lower Michigan Horseman’s Association.  I have shown LMHA in the past and it was great to be back on the circuit.  Since I had been so busy getting ready for Nationals, I hadn’t had much time to get Image back in shape, so things were a little rough at first, but by the end of the first day, Image and I were back in sync, including a third and a fourth place in Hands Free Showmanship (you heard me – showmanship where you can’t touch your horse/lead rope!), as well as a fifth in Hunt Seat Equitation, second and third in Senior Horse Western Pleasure, a second in 19-39 western pleasure and Horsemanship.  We were the Reserve Horsemanship Champions on Saturday and the reserve Western Pleasure Champions on Sunday.  Woo hoo!  It was so great to be back on my own horse showing again.

So, for the rest of the summer, I’ll be taking summer classes, working at the yacht club as a waitress, and riding my horse.  Sounds pretty good to me – have a happy summer!

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