Stage Fright

“A – Enter working trot. X – Halt, Salute”. Jana is standing on the mounting block at “B”, calling out directions to Maddie, riding Misty, who has just entered our “dressage court” – a 20 by 40 meter rectangle defined by traffic cones and PVC pipes. Jana continues: “At C, track left. At E, working trot 20 meter circle.” This is only the introductory test. Jana and Maddie have been working on the test for weeks. Early in May, Jana and I had spent several hours at Saturn Cafe (in Santa Cruz) eating chocolate madness and going through pages and pages of show possibilities. Maya wants to show on Chavali, but that pretty much does in every option besides the all breed show because the conventional horse show world is of the opinion that Arab’s, and all variations on that theme, are an abomination, but that was coming up in too short notice. Nathan wants to show, but I don’t know if I’m up for watching him careening full speed around the arena, Indy 500 style, with little to no attention given to anyone or anything else riding at the same time. Haley just wants to come along as groom. That just leaves Katie and Maddie, which just leaves Maddie because Stoney tried to squeeze under the top half of the half open tack room door, got stuck, busted the door and gave himself a nasty bump on his back, where the saddle goes. (Katie has spent the rest of the summer riding him bareback.)

Maddie decided that Misty, with her displaced patella and partial blindness, should have a chance to excel. Jumping was out of the question as was any competition where the appearance of the horse (grooming excepted) that mattered. That pretty much left just dressage. As Maddie and Misty worked to master transitioning from walk to trot or trot to walk on a dime or describing a 20 meter circle that was even and round as well as committing to memory the dozen or so specifications which comprise a test, Jana and I got busy finding a saddle (one was donated) and proper bright white pad (on sale, 40% off), boots, which were borrowed, taking care of details like stapling vinyl letters up in the arena and drilling Maddie.

The original show date was at the end of August, but Jana found a better one, closer by, but sooner and more competitive. (This show was for the purpose of obtaining national ranking.) Not perfect for a first try, but Maddie said she was game.

The morning of the show dawned bright and beautiful with the promise of perfect weather all day. This was unnoticed by Maddie who’d found Misty frantic because her pasture mates were out on trail and who’s braids had become undone. Misty was left with Chavali while Jana was trailered to Webb (the show site) and left to fret while Misty was retrieved.

We returned with Misty to join Jana (and horse Binky) who was repeating the mantra “breathe, stay calm, breathe, stay calm”. As Maddie fixed Jana’s hair net, I held up the printed internet instructions on how to tie your dressage neck tie. Jana and Binky performed beautifully. Everyone was happy. Then Maddie started to get nervous. First she was jumpy. Then irritable. Misty’s braids weren’t staying in despite all braiding hands on deck. Maddie started to look gray and wilt. We got her into her show cloths and Maddie immediately leaned up against the hitch and got grease all over the back of her bright white show shirt. Deciding it was better not to sit down, she started stomping and shaking her fingers while Jana madly worked on the final and last try at making the braids stay (which they did). Maddie looked like she might faint.

“She’ll calm down once she’s on the horse” was the collected opinion. All dressed and ready to go, I tossed Maddie up on to Misty. “Oooh! I can’t control my legs! I can’t control my arms!” The wail of panic was welling in Maddie’s voice. “I’m going to have a seeeeeiishuuuree!!!” This monologue was briefly interrupted by two or three strangled gasps. (We were, by this time, almost at the warm up ring.) Maddie continued: “I’m starting to crrrrrrryyyyyyyyyyyy! I’m cccccrrrrrryyyyingggg! Waaaaaaaaugh!” Now, with her voice descending, bending over the saddle, “They are going to see me cryyyyyyyinggggg and they are going to kick me oooouuuuuttt.” Maddie looks up and squeaks, “I’m going to have a heart attack!” For a moment I thought she was going to fall over backwards, but we had, fortunately, reached the gate to the warm up ring at which point Jana took over. Jana later told me that she “had to get tough” with Maddie, making her breath and just keep trotting.

She was still shaking and mildly hysterical when she was done, but she performed beautifully, earning a 67 and a 68 on her respective tests, which, I am told, are very good scores.

When we got into the truck for the ride home, Maddie, high as a kite, said, “That was great! I loved it! I want to do it again!”

I hope she does participate in dressage tests again. The discipline of preparing for the test did both Misty and Maddie a great deal of good. I also hoping someone else can take her next time and I can just show up and watch!

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