Saturday afternoon, a few of us New Yorkers went shopping for costumes for the Challenge of the States class held that night. Last year we dressed up as hula dancers, coconut bras and all, and we wanted this year's outfits to be just as fun. We decided on a New York City Ballet theme and hit the party store in town to get tutus, tiaras and pink ribbon. We even got a pink dress for Val's dog Sofie to wear! Sofie was a bit grumpy at first but was soon parading around, loving all the attention.
The Challenge of the States is yet another unique class from New England Finals. The top four riders from each state ride for their team, and the fifth and sixth placed riders serve as coaches. Trainers are not allowed to communicate with their students at any point, so the class is an excellent test of riders' preparedness. Unfortunately, with 12 teams (some states like Massachusetts have so many riders that they have multiple teams) the schooling ring was very crowded. Everybody did their best to warm up safely and quickly, but it was difficult to navigate around so many people.
I was elected to go first from my team. I didn't mind too much because the course was not too challenging, and I wanted to ride before the sun set. The only schooling was outdoors, and I wasn't comfortable riding under the lights. I had a lot of trouble establishing a forward canter in the schooling ring and found it difficult to share the jumps with so many people. It felt like the world was against me—every time I wanted an oxer it was a trot jump, and every time I wanted to canter to the left everyone was going to the right. I tried not to get frustrated and just focus on my ride, but it was very difficult.
My trip was almost exactly like my schooling: generally good distances but a little under pace everywhere. I was disappointed that I didn't put in an incredible round for my team, but I knew that my score of 80.5 was solid enough to keep us in the running for a medal. As defending champions, everyone from New York was hungry for another win.
All in all, everyone rode great. I was ninth individually, and we finished second overall. The top three teams won backpacks full of gifts, including some nice gloves, hairnets and a crop. The prizes weren't quite as amazing as last year's Baker duffel bags, but gifts are only the icing on top of our cake of glory. I knew that with Val's help I had what it took to win the final.