Know Better, Aim for Better

Despite what felt like the entire Pacific Northwest being on fire, my friends and I still managed to snatch an enjoyable weekend together over in Sisters, at their first Equine Trail Sports event. The smoke was almost as bad as the same weekend last year, leading to headaches and shorter tempers, though we were able to work through them. For once I left Benny behind, which despite the literal puppy dog eyes turned out to be the right call. We were too busy with the horses and it was too smoky and dusty for him to have been able to do much.

We hauled over Friday and arrived early enough to nab our preferred spot at the ranch. We even managed a short layover at our new favorite rest stop in Warm Springs along the Deschutes River, a lovely spot for getting the horses in the river. The main downside to the whole weekend was the dust and smoke. It’s the less fun side of living where every drop of water is precious and shouldn’t be wasted on lawns for trailers to park on. Though this does mean the shower upon arriving home last night was better than a milkshake (I used a different simile in the group chat, but I’ll leave that to your imaginations!)

Tarma’s now an old pro on the Hi Tie, even dozing while I was judging and my two friends and their horses were out on the course. She still doesn’t love traffic but she’s getting a lot less reactive, which makes events like this with rigs and cars everywhere at most hours good exposure. Helping my friends set up various panels just convinces me more that the Hi Tie is my preferred choice, as it took me a fraction of the time to set up and Tarma’s just as comfortable and well rested. In every way but a few minor details, I’m in love with my current camping set up, though we didn’t give any “almost matching Double D trailers” tours this event!

We managed to fit in two trail rides around the competition, including a friend’s first true night ride. We had a blast and only got turned around once, but we had phone service and managed our way back to the ranch with little difficulty. The viewpoint we rode up to was, of course, underwhelming due to the smoke, but still a ton of fun. As soon as true dark hit Tarma really wanted to just hot foot it home, but I persuaded her not to abandon our friends in the forest. I can count on two hands the number of folks I’d be willing to do this type of ride with, in the dark, no real plan, in an area I’ve only ridden a handful of times and they’ve never visited.

With ETS, there’s a lot to juggle, though of totally different flavors than endurance. No metabolics or vet checks or speed to consider, but brackets and schooling versus competing and confidence building. There’s three different brackets, Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced, and you have to consider how well you and your horse will do at each obstacle and choose your level, and then how that will affect your overall score. The first day none of us considered brackets, so we did a lot more level 3s (Advanced), which include the same obstacles but require more precision or trickier moves, like side passing and yielding. This also means you end up competing against much more experienced folks and their horses. The second day, both to give ourselves better chances at ribbons and give our horses some grace, we did mostly level 1s and 2s and fared much better. I probably won’t do another ETS event this year, as with two under our belt plus all my judging, I have a fairly good idea of what to work on over the winter, both for endurance (we added a lot of distance this year but hardly any speed, plus the Great Saddle Savings Fund and Hunt continues) and ETS (still working on not rushing, plus more confidence/exposure and lateral movements).

As for the competition, Tarma and I came home with a Judge’s Choice award but no ribbons, though Adriane did even better: two ribbons, a fifth place and a sixth place! Not too shabby for her first time out, and a bit of a struggle with one judge which we had to discuss with the event host to work through. One judge didn’t specify where the horse and handler should be positioned within their obstacle, Adriane and her horse Rue totally nailed that one, but the judge was a bit dismissive due to a technicality. ETS strives to judge all participants the same, but as with anything that’s judged versus against the clock, there’s always a subjective bit. However, we’re trained as judges (as I split time competing and judging to learn more) to be encouraging and welcoming, not overly strict above and beyond what’s listed at the obstacle level. She was hesitant to speak up for herself, as a newbie it’s so hard to make waves, but I stood my ground as I’ve both competed and judged at this event several times before and the event host agreed it didn’t sit quite right either. Turns out we weren’t the only ones impacted, so I’m glad that situation was straightened out.

The other low point was my other friend ended up sick, she was riding the second day and the fact she didn’t come off her horse and finished the event is a testament to her stubbornness and how golden her gelding is…even though he’s a bay. Wait, there was one more low point, and the hardest to admit. It’s the reason I put off writing up this blog post for a full day, as it doesn’t reflect well on me at all, but this blog is supposed to chronicle the good, the bad, and the messy. After the event was over, the course is open for schooling, so the original plan was to play around until the award meeting. However, as one friend was out of commission, we left her and her gelding in camp. This lead to the mares being super distracted by his screaming, always conducive to a solid ride right? We didn’t have a lot of time to play, right after awards we’d be packing up and heading home, so of course we both wanted to work obstacles we hadn’t gotten to in the competition.

Tarma was totally checked out, and my normal ways of asking her to clue back into me weren’t working at all (asking for bend, one step at a time, smaller circles). I wasn’t being calm or supportive, and Adriane was trying to give me advice and feedback, like we always do for each other. I just had too many voices in my head, too many things I knew I should be doing better and in the moment, I snapped at her, and not in a nice way. Younger Jame may have gone silent and stewed all the way home, but current Jame realized I’d fucked up, took the lecture and managed to apologize, to both horse and friend, and end on a good note, working on obstacle we have nailed down, the step over bridge. I’m not proud of how I handled either situation, but at least I did try my best to not let it linger or completely ruin the trip at the last bit. Now Tarma gets a week off (due to the travel and smoke, though thankfully it rained here at home today) and I get to scrub my truck and trailer and go back to being a working stiff.

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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!

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