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December 2, 2009

This week: TUEQ does TOC!

Katie Christiansen (right) and her co-captain Cecilia Pontoriero.

We’ve been invited to the Holiday Tournament of Champions at Centenary College this weekend, and on Friday six of us will pack up my car and take a road trip down south. And by south I mean anywhere it’s 5 degrees warmer than Boston. And by that I mean central New Jersey.

To be invited to a TOC is quite an honor. Most of the teams that compete do so on the varsity level, or at the very least with varsity-level funding from their schools. Many also have access to recruiting resources that, unfortunately, we do not. But enough of painting a pity picture for TUEQ: We have historically held our own at these competitions, and we’ve always had a blast doing them.

Because entries are limited, we can only bring a point team. This puts a bit of pressure on Katie Schaaf, Cecilia and me, because we have to closely monitor not only how well members have been performing in lessons and at regular-season shows, but also how enthusiastic they seem and what their potential is in the long run.

That’s not to say that everyone selected to compete at this TOC is the absolute best rider on the team or, conversely, that they’ve worked their way onto the point team solely by baking brown and blue cupcakes and singing “Kumbaya” while we all sit around a campfire at their behest.

We also have to take into account the types of horses at the show. Some riders on our team do better with more well-schooled horses, such as the type Centenary will provide, while others thrive on a bit more of a challenge, such as the ones that we will encounter at the January Tournament in Virginia.

I'll be competing in open fences and the Medal, a class that consists of a flat phase, an over fences phase and a test. The judge usually selects the top 10 or 15 riders on the flat to continue on to the jumping and from that group, the top four usually test.

I won the Medal at last year’s Tournament of Champions hosted by Mount Holyoke College in September, so I am hoping that all the work I’ve put in on the flat in the past few months will come to fruition and help me advance to what is usually my stronger phase.

In preparation for this weekend, we’re packing the lessons in this week! On Monday I flatted Tally, one of August Farm’s bigger and more advanced horses. He usually challenges my position in that I find him INCREDIBLY hard to sit to! But after I shortened my stirrups and worked on some strategies with Katie, I had a much easier time and felt the best I have on him all semester. I then jumped Touch, who is perhaps the most perfect horse in the barn, and Drew, a horse who is also wonderful, but with whom I have some past demons that I haven’t quite worked out.

Katie really encouraged us to ride boldly to the first fence of our course to simulate the type of ride the judge will reward this weekend. This was fine on Touch, but for some reason I don’t trust myself on Drew and consequently found several quite long distances. But after I told myself to just let go and, well, GO, we finally found the jump off of a nice, fluid stride.

In theater they say that a bad dress rehearsal makes for a good show, and holy crap do I ever hope that applies to riding, too. Last night I rode Jake, a horse with whom I’ve had some confidence issues. I thought I had moved successfully past them into a happy land of pleasantly gappy distances and calm lead changes. Well, maybe not.  

After a moderately successful flatting portion of the lesson and some decent warm-up jumps, Jake and I came a bit unglued. As we came off the first jump of the first course, Jake landed with his head between his knees and decided he was perfectly content to keep it there. Now, I’m 5’10” with long legs, so it takes a lot of horse to pull me off over his head.

Jake didn’t quite succeed, but I ALMOST ended up on the floor. Jake knew he had me where he wanted me and proceeded to try to take advantage of that for a few more jumps. But after Katie so wisely suggested that I SIT UP and put my leg on through the turn, we finished up the lesson nicely albeit a bit harried.

My friend Leigh, who also had a trying lesson, and I celebrated our survival with peanut butter cup milkshakes afterwards.

I have one more lesson on Thursday (I already know I’m riding my buddy Andy… scoooore!) before the Tournament, so hopefully I’ll be able to work out the kinks and report back with some good news!