**This is a long post, but it has a happy ending and lots of pictures.
The highs and lows of our sport are pretty extreme. The exhilaration felt as you pass through the finish flags on a double clear XC round is a high that cannot be matched. And knowing your green 5 year old OTTB just finished a tough Novice division in 3rd place at Pine Top takes you to the top of the world. But, then you’re walking back to the trailer, bursting with joy, and the TD drives by and says, “Guess what? You were eliminated–you didn’t pass through the start flags!” Suddenly, you’re in the lowest of lows. The bottom just drops out of your world.
What a disappointment. Chip jumped his heart out and put in such a relaxed and obedient dressage test, and it was me who failed us. I went back and looked at the start box–I just couldn’t believe I’d missed going through the start flags, but sure enough, there they were. Two tiny flags stapled to one side of a set of wing standards, somewhat obscured below eye level, and certainly not very visible if you were making laps through the start box the wrong direction (which I was). It’s hard to describe, but the start box was fully open both sides (not like most start boxes that have a clear exit and obvious entrance), and they’d set up wing standards to close off the open corner. By putting the flags on one set of standards, they determined the rider must pass through that side to begin. I went out the opposite direction. Because the box was on an angle to the first fence, I got no advantage–it was essentially the same route as going out to the ‘left.’ It was my error, though, and it cost us third place. However, Chip had no idea we didn’t finish in 3rd. He just knew I was happy with him, and he was happy to eat hay at the trailer while we sadly packed our things to head home.
That left front was still somewhat bothering him, though, and it was obvious in our dressage test, where we were still slightly counterbent on the left lead. Because he has such large osselets on his LF, I asked Lara if we could get a current screening set of his fetlock. We set the appointment for the following Friday, and true to form, Chip pulled his right front shoe on Tuesday. It was Thursday night at 7pm (my farrier is awesome) before my farrier could make it out, but he worked hard on that left front, cutting away a ‘cushion zone’ where the abscess was growing out from the coronary band and likely pinching him (and what we strongly suspected was still causing him some discomfort). Friday afternoon, I was a nervous wreck waiting for the radiograph to pop up on the screen. And when it did, I could hardly believe what I was seeing. For a second, I thought I was looking at the rads from the previous horse. The joint was impossibly clean! The osselets were below the joint, and most likely (per the vet) due to external trauma (repeatedly kicking under a stall door, for example). On cloud nine, I giddily asked Lara if I could put Chip in a modified Training level division for the schooling trials that Sunday (yeah, less than 36 hours away). She said she’d put him in Training-Novice (Training level dressage & stadium, novice XC). So, I packed up, left Chip at Full Gallop for the night, and headed home.
Saturday morning after feeding, I loaded up my students and their horses, and we hit the road for Aiken. Again. (I wish I could get frequent ‘flier’ miles.) The girls had a fabulous XC school, and I got a very insightful dressage lesson from my old dressage trainer who just happened to be in Aiken at the same time.
Sunday morning, Chip and I entered the ring to ride our Training B test for the first time ever. We’d literally not ever even put two of the moves together. And, we came away with a 37.7–a very steady and relaxed test with some canter lengthening, no trot lengthening, but a fairly accurate and obedient test. I was incredibly proud of him. And, then he put in a double clear stadium round that caused 9 dropped rails for 10 riders in the regular training division, putting us in an imaginary 4th after stadium (if you compare scores…not that I do). And he did it with ease. I withdrew him before XC, knowing he could run the novice XC with his eyes closed. He went home a champion in my eyes (and, if you compare scores, not that I do, we might’ve placed 1st if he’d run the training level XC double clear…).
I must insert a truly proud moment here and share that my two students both won their divisions as well. Kristin completed her first BN, and Ally ran her second Tadpole on her pony’s first ever horse trial.
Chip still has a lot to learn, but he’s exponentially improving with every outing. He pours his heart and soul into everything he does, and I’m so happy to have the opportunity to bring him along.