So in the end, I only missed two extra classes instead of four. I got to come out to Florida on Tuesday night, jump and do a little XC on Wednesday, and go out to Ocala on Thursday. I also missed the cold weather in Texas! Hooray.
Anyways, as I mentioned, we arrived at the Florida Horse Park on Thursday and set up. I got on Dante and did a dressage school. He was excellent. I love riding dressage when he and I are meshing so well! I also golf carted around the course with my barn mate. I had been told that Ocala II was HUGE and TECHNICAL, all in capital letters. Unfortunately, I felt it was more of a move up course. Don't get me wrong, it was a very nice course and most definitely was an Intermediate course. It was just that I was expecting one thing and got another. Ah, well.
Friday we had dressage early in the morning. It was quite cool on Friday but I was nice and comfortable riding in my Underarmour. Dante and I were in Open Intermediate-A, which I'm pretty sure was the toughest division in the show. I rode against two WEG pairs (Mandiba and Port Authority) and several others who are running or about to run Advanced. That was pretty cool, I love telling non-horse people that I'm competing against Olympians on their Olympic horses! Of course that meant my dressage was most definitely not up to par.
Dante was actually very good for his test. He has a tendency to get a bit tense in new places, but I thought he stayed very relaxed for the most part. He's also gotten to the point where he's almost too obedient to my directions. This is not a bad thing at all, I just need to adjust myself and realized that instead of needing three strides to prepare for a transition, I only need one. We made three big mistakes, all my fault; the first, I caused him to halt rather than walk through the first simple change of lead. Then, without reorganizing, I asked him to canter again. Lately we've been working on picking up the lead that I ask for regardless of which direction we're going. Unfortunately, when I asked for the canter again, I didn't stop to specify a change in lead, so we picked up the lead that we had previously been on. So that was an epic fail, and we got a three on the movement. Then, on my right medium canter, my transition from medium to collected was too abrupt and Dante lost the connection and swapped for two strides behind. Finally, on the final (very tight) turn after the canter serpentine, he lost his balance a little and also swapped behind for a stride. Those things hurt us pretty badly and we ended up getting a 43.40, placing us 16th out of 20. The comments about all of the mediums stated that the movements were conservative. When I do my mediums, they don't feel conservative, they feel pretty powerful. However, watching the test back on video, I realized how conservative they really look. I could barely see any difference in my medium canters at all. It just goes to show how valuable it is to see yourself ride so you can see what the judge is seeing.
On Saturday, I rode very early in the morning again. In fact, I was the 8th rider of the day for show jumping. I got up early enough to see the sunrise, which was beautiful with the fog floating out over the polo fields. Of course it was very cold, and when I stuck my feet into my tall boots (which had been outside all night), my toes just about froze off. Who knew Florida could be so cold? I can't complain though, even Texas is colder most of the time. Just my misfortune to ride SO early!
In any case, the course was lovely, although not terribly huge. Unfortunately, I am discovering that all my weaknesses in show jumping (which I'm pretty sure I had at Prelim too) are showing up now. At Prelim, Dante could jump clear, even when I screwed up. At Intermediate, he needs me to get it right! If I get him anywhere resembling a decent spot, he'll jump clear. If I bury him under the jump, or try for the long spot that doesn't exist, he can't get himself out of the way and we deservedly have a rail. Primarily I learned that when I have a related bending distance between the first and second jump, and it walks long, I need to learn to add a stride. Dante just gets a little tense when he first gets into the ring and his stride down the first couple of jumps is going to be twelve foot, not longer. I cannot keep trying to get the long stride because he doesn't have it then. However, after that first line, I can get the long stride and we have it for the rest of the course.
Needless to say, we had two rails. The first was at the second jump (again!). The line from one to two was a longer seven or a bending eight. When we walked, Mike originally said he thought it would be better to get the eight. However the few who went before me all got seven, so we changed our mind to seven strides. Not the right decision. I got seven and a half, thought he would jump from seven, dropped him, and of course he couldn't jump from where I asked and pulled the rail. Then, I got a tight spot into four, which was then a regular five to a square oxer at five. I panicked, decided it was a long five and I should try for six, thinking of the earlier line. However, he easily could have gotten the five and we got in way too tight to the oxer, pulling that too. It was definitely not our best round, but he didn't touch another jump, and I learned a lot about how to ride him.
I spent the rest of the day walking cross country. It was pretty straight forward, with lots of single fences interspersed with a few combinations. We had a bank complex which was a table, bending five strides left to a bank up, one stride, then off the bank and a turning left four strides to a wide wedge. There was a fun quarry question involving a jump down into the quarry, a left turn up out over a jump then three strides to a pearl/egg/thing. (As an aside, who finds a giant pearl in the forest? It was definitely an egg, despite other reports.) There was a medium table with brush on the top that made it about 4'6" tall. A hanging log, then bending right 6 strides to a corner. A hanging log, bending four strides left to another hanging log into the water, then out of the water over a corner. Finally, there was a sunken road complex which was a hanging Prolog, one stride down a bank, four strides, up over a bank then four strides bending right to a wedge. I walked a couple times and it seemed very fun and doable.
(The water complex. We jumped the hanging log just right of center. I was sad not to be jumping the big bank in.)
On Sunday I went at the relatively late time of 10 am, although I was still the first Intermediate horse in my barn to go. Dante was absolutely fabulous. We had one very bad moment at the second jump, which was a rolltop. I took it very much for granted. It's just a rolltop, right? WRONG. I figured it would be a nice fly fence, so I didn't slow down enough coming to it. We got a long spot to it and I let go, thinking he was going. However, Dante was busy being occupied with the shadow on the ground line and I ended up dropping him on his face (AGAIN!) and we stumbled over it, almost eating it on the back side. I'm an idiot, a giant idiot. I will NEVER again take a rolltop or second fence for granted. Anyways, after that scare it took a little bit to get our speed up to pace again, because I was trying to be careful.
The only other sticky spot was at the bank complex. Dante launched off the bank, landing well out off its base. Which meant the turn to the wedge was not very pretty. We added a stride, got right to the base, and Dante popped over it, with very good form I might add (I put the photo of the wedge on my website in the Gallery). At Rocking Horse we had a similar complex but the wedge was straight ahead. I think that when I have a bank complex, I need to be communicating to him that we will be turning before we jump off the bank, rather than after. He can be very enthusiastic about jumping off banks.
After that though, Dante and I were absolutely in sync and foot perfect. We rode every combination 100% according to plan, he was bold into the water, I found my spots to all of the tables. He was a fabulous, fabulous pony. We had a few time penalties because I had slowed down after two and took a few fences to build up steam again. We ended up sixth thanks to nine pairs choosing to withdraw before XC (because they are all running Advanced next weekend!).
So my goal for RH3 will remain the same as my goal for Ocala II: score in the high 30's for dressage, and finish on my dressage score. And above all, jump the second jumps on course correctly! I think it's something we can accomplish.