Pink Ribbon

I happily blame everyone who actually reads this random blog and sends encouragement in any form for this crazy ride with Tarma for what happened this last weekend. Ya’ll are put on notice for being generally awesome, and partly for helping Tarma and I get so far so fast. Of course I take some credit, but it wouldn’t have been possible without a wide range of helpful folks, from my husband holding down the home front and reminding me “She’s a horse,” to my best friend and weekend dogsitter and videographer, to all the other participants at this weekend’s ETS (Equine Trail Sports) event at Blue Sky Ranch in Sisters, Oregon.

There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s dive in. Let’s start with the highs: Being an obstacle judge is my absolute favorite, so here’s my somewhat open offer to keep judging for as many events near me as I can get to. You learn so much by watching so carefully, and you can make someone’s day with some well chosen words. Everything about ETS is geared towards supporting the horse and rider combo, not tearing other’s down for the sake of a ribbon, and when you earn a place, you know you really worked for it and it wasn’t based on appearance but on teamwork and hours put in with your horse. My absolute high point of the weekend was the judge’s shout out I got for the sixth obstacle from the trail course, opening and closing a rope gate. Tarma and I don’t always do the expected thing, that’s for sure! Instead of keeping the gate in one hand as most folks do, I passed it from hand to hand under her neck and got it closed, versus asking her to sidepass. It took the obstacle judge a few moments to parse out whether that was allowed, so I got her shout out for being unconventional but still getting the job done! I did notice that the instructions for the gate obstacle the next day clearly stated “Keeping gate in the same hand”, so you’re welcome, that was my doing I’m pretty sure…

The biggest bonus of the whole weekend gets it’s own paragraph, before we dive into the work Tarma and I have ahead of us. I bribed my best friend to come with me, and she was finally able to see and understand what I love about ETS so much. She’s an excellent road trip companion, cheerleader, videographer, dog watcher and motivational speaker. Most of the photos in this post are her doing, so thank you! She’s also going to the next event in September with her own horse, so we’ll take turns helping each other out and I’m excited to see her shine with her mare.

Now into the messy stuff, and I’m going to share as honestly as I can, so be gentle with any advice and feedback. Our score the first day, which was a trail course format (two obstacles in the “arena”, four obstacles sprinkled along a four mile trail course, and two back in the starting arena) was 166, which earned us our first ever ribbon, fifth place! This may have made me a tad overconfident going into the second day, which was all in the arena, no chance to move out and relax between obstacles. Our score the second day? 94….I will say, even as frustrated as we got with each other (I felt we were capable of a bit more, Tarma was just irritated) we always ended at a good spot, and she was never, ever dangerous or so mad she tried to get me off, and we did manage to find relaxing moments.

However, as several folks have said, you have to ride the horse you have that day. Be it the heat, camping situation, saddle fit issues, using a different saddle pad, not going on a trail ride, the general atmosphere, what have you, we struggled. We didn’t 100% nail anything (our top score from the day was a 12 out of 20 possible). I have a lot to puzzle over, how best to set us up to succeed on a competition day. I’ve spent most of my energy and time with Tarma getting her set up for endurance, practicing trot outs, working on race brain, and just putting in sheer miles. If we had the correct saddle, we could go out and rock a 25 mile endurance ride tomorrow. I’ve dabbled in some obstacles with her, but it’s not been our main focus and it shows. My rein management was off, I wasn’t able to give her clear signals on what I was asking for, and we have a shuffle, not a sidepass, even when she’s not irritated.

Slow mo, beauty and the hot mess

I was able to listen to her, acknowledge her input, and while I pushed her and that was by design (I wanted to test us and see where we are) I never pushed so far she shut down or got truly mad. As one friend pointed out, she’s always telling me exactly what she’s thinking and feeling. She did relax somewhat between obstacles, including cuddling with my friend, and she wasn’t antsy or jiggy while we waited. I do feel we could have made a slightly better showing, but overall I’m satisfied even with all the work ahead of us to set us up better for the next event in September. As with all things horses, most of the work is with myself, but a good chunk will come from Tarma’s willingness to try these new things, when the goal goes from “make miles” to “do the weird, stupid human thing, and then do the next weird, stupid human thing which includes carrying a scary human thing with us”. Even if it’s not reflected totally in our scores, I could tell the small moments when Tarma totally clicked into what I needed, and my seat and hands and emotions flowed just the right way. Those are the moments to aim for, as the best participants are smooth and quiet and assured, whereas I spent most of the obstacles chattering away and shuffling the reins around and Tarma’s ears flew all over the place.

Our best obstacle of the day, Spanish Pole

It also hugely helps that so many folks spent the weekend complimenting my horse (so pretty, so smart, so expressive!), my trailer (we gave at least five tours and long conversations about it and have I mentioned lately I love it and it’s perfect for us?), my dog (who was pretty damn well behaved for an energetic one year old Labrador), and hanging out with friends I don’t get to see super often. It’s a good reminder that what I have is just freaking amazing, and totally beyond 20 year old Jame’s hopes and dreams. Even with the world at large, this little corner of it is good, and sometimes that’s okay.

My favorite photo from the weekend…Tarma, don’t stick your tongue out at my friend and the event organizer!

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After years of borrowing horses, working to ride and catch riding, I finally have my own horse, a spicy chocolate mare...but also a demanding day job (who doesn't?), a nerdy husband, a soccer loving kid who needs to be parented (by me, duh), and the ultimate trail buddy, a chocolate Labradork!

5 thoughts on “Pink Ribbon

  1. This looks so fun! I loved Tarma’s curiosity when you were putting the pole back in the bucket. Something I do with folks I work with, after we’ve gone on an outing, is to recap our “wins and lessons” i.e things we liked/were satisfying and/or felt like accomplishments; and then things we didn’t like/can learn from/explore how we could do differently —
    it seems like you found a similar balance from this and I hope it serves ya well as you continue! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing this .Tarma is a good horse. I know nothing about this sort of competition but you do and your horse does too. Yes we all have highs and lows.That’s horses! but you did well. Bravo!!

    Liked by 1 person

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