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October 27, 2009

Horsemanship And The New England Finals Warm-Up

Since my first venture to the New England Equitation Championships in Springfield, Massachusetts, I have always looked forward to returning. The jumps are set low, closer to 3' than 3'6", and the environment is much more relaxed than most other finals. They add more classes than just the final itself, so it is possible to have a really good time even if you make a mistake in the final.
 
Because it’s only a two-hour drive from North Salem, my mother and I were able to leave as late as Friday afternoon and arrived with plenty of time to get Calvin settled before the horsemanship test. Oh, the horsemanship test. One of my favorite parts about NEEC is the horsemanship because it allows riders who are really dedicated to all aspects of the sport, not just riding, to shine.
 
On the car ride up, I reviewed my Pony Club manual but found I knew almost everything I was studying, and I was too nervous to learn much anyway. Instead, I tried to relax, but it didn't do much good.
 
We finally made it to the Big E, and I felt oddly at home. Once everything was unloaded, we traveled back to the hotel, showered quickly, and went across the street to the Marriot.
 
I entered the testing room about 10 minutes before they locked the doors, which was a first for me! Usually I would show up at 6:58 and almost miss everything.
 
We all sat together in a big room with our tests, but nobody dared to cheat. It felt like being back in school again. Unsurprisingly, I didn't miss it too much. Flipping open my test booklet, I was shocked. They changed the format of the test, and it was HARD! Even though it was still a 100-question multiple-choice test, there were new sections on USEF rules and current events that really stumped me. My confidence was shaken, but I knew that most of the other horsemanship veterans must have been as surprised as I was, and I probably answered enough questions right to make the top 12.
 
After the test was the dinner, where they play a video honoring juniors in their last year.
 
Throughout the year they interview all the 17-year-old riders and play the clips back, mixed in with scenes from last year's finals. I sounded like such a space cadet! "My riding career has been important to me because it got me out of school a lot..." Hmm, it sounds like maybe I should have gone a little more often. I'm going to be so rusty when I go to college next year!
 
Putting my lack of education aside, I had a really nice time experiencing the movie for the last time. They also announced the horsemanship finalists, and sure enough, I made it and so did another girl from my barn. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
 
There were two course walks for the warm-up, but I still woke up early on Saturday and walked with the younger group of riders. I had my horsemanship practicum at 8:30 that morning, so getting there at 7 wasn't a huge difference. The open class on Saturday was a real course of eight jumps, but it was basic enough not to intimidate anyone. The 3' jumps looked itty bitty and I was at ease with the riding part of my day. I spent a while watching and saw my barnmates put in some spectacular rounds before walking to the practicum.
 
The practicum is my least favorite, but probably the most important, part of the horsemanship class. I always test well on paper, but sometimes my nerves get the best of me, and I have trouble answering the easiest of questions when I'm talking to people. I brought my required grooming kit and first went over that. It's a good way to start the test, because it's easy and gets you talking and allows you to get in the groove a bit.
 
Overall, I did OK but not great. I felt awkward talking about the demo horse's conformation, and I forgot what oats look like! Instead I happily babbled on and on about corn. The judges definitely looked at me funny.
 
I had a while to watch between my practicum and my ride. It amazes me what range the riders are: there are top-level juniors to people who can barely (actually some can't at all) get around a 3' course. I felt really good about getting a high ribbon in my warm-up.
 
I rode in one of the schooling rings detached from the ring, and I wasn't doing too well. I get careless and sloppy over low jumps, and Calvin felt much heavier and harder to control than he ever has at a show. I finished my schooling fine, and I was grateful that the course wasn't going to test my riding too much, because the result wouldn't be pretty.
 
Calvin didn't react at all in the in-gate of the indoor arena. He was not nervous, just watched intently. When I stepped into the ring, my nerves from schooling melted away, and I pulled off a very smooth trip. I had slightly less impulsion than I wanted and had a couple of rubs, but my jumps were all very nice, and I was rewarded with an 88.
 
I waited around for a while before the presentation and then got on. I sat on Calvin in the schooling ring for a good five minutes, wondering where everyone was…and then I realized they were already in the ring, presenting. It was really embarrassing, especially because I was ready on time.
 
After they announced fourth place they went back and took my picture with my blue ribbon. Despite the win, it was hard to smile.

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