In our first CDE (Combined Driving Event) of 2016 there were a lot of firsts. Our first full blown marathon in the new Glinkowski vehicle (250 pounds heavier than the Hardwick Tadpole), the first CDE with my amazing assistant, groom and navigator Kate McIntyre, and the first cones with Kimba and Bugsy. There were many challenges too.
Packing up an moving my 38 foot RV to the beautiful Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City Florida where there are no electrical hook ups. The up side is we could pick a beautiful spot by the lake, but after the second day the generator was not performing well, and finally died. This meant every time we needed a little battery operated light, we had to run the truck, hooked up to the RV. There was no getting it fixed or serviced, either.
Thanks to David Getz and Lyn Brooks we had plenty of help and their trailer to keep my three vehicles needed the week we were there. Every day was driving three ponies, single then pair, and working Kimba each day as well. My little red trailer I got in Kentucky continues to serve me well, even though sometimes 2 trips are needed to get to a show, so having David's help and an extra trailer was a good thing. Still we looked very humble next to Chester Weber's mega rig.
Then there was the rain, a two day deluge. As I laid in bed hearing it pounding on the roof, I was not so much worried about my dressage test coming up that day, but questioning my decision to park so close to the lake!
After a full week of training with Bram Chardon who flew in from the Netherlands to coach myself and a full roster of drivers from the Black Prong Equestrian Center we were ready.
The 3000 acre Little Everglades Ranch is a large cattle farm, and breeders of Hanoverian horses as well. There was a two year hiatus until CDE Organizer Ellen Ettinger stepped up t the plate, took over management and made it happen. It was also the first FEI 1* and 2** competition of the season, allowing those headed for the advanced division to get their qualifying 1* test done. We are aiming for that, but the process of getting passports, pony measurements, and all that is required, was not quite done by the time entries were required. We are learning more and more about the world of High Performance. Now we are on the hunt for 2 more pony bridles needed for the horse inspection, when we do our first 1* God willing in March.
Still the challenge of going Intermediate, with the smallest ponies competing at that level in the country was plenty to face.
The Gangsters, Classic American Shetlands, Al Capony and Bugsy Maloney, showed me that while they may be the smallest equines out there, they have the biggest hearts! For dressage day the rain was relentless. The dressage arena was created and maintained by Little Everglades' Dan Millstead AKA, Dan the Turf man. By the time we went down the centerline though, it resembled a canal. All the tracks were 5 inches deep in mud, but my boys attacked each puddle with a vengeance, did a great lengthening, and even got an 8.5 in the walk from one judge. It kind of worked to my advantage, slowing down my little hotties. Kate riding on the back as the groom and I just had to laugh through most of the test. Even the judges were smiling when we saluted. None of the scores were great that day, so with a 60 penalty point we were happy we not only survived but did a good enough job to get a compliment from out trainer Thorston Zarembowitz.
With Dressage over on Thursday we had all day Friday to walk the 7 obstacles and determine the best routes through 5 gates, A-E. At Little Everglades the course has all obstacles along a track of the steeplechase course, making it the most spectator friendly driving event in Florida. Since being "Euro Shamed" by Bram Chardon who was surprised at all the ATV's American's use to do this, we now just use bicycles and walk. It's great exercise for the body and the brain. I still need more confidence in remembering my way, and also knowing that it looks a whole lot different when the ponies are at a full gallop, and then thereare the tight turns and keeping it going forward.
On marathon day our pit crew, David Getz and Lyn Brooks were ready with ice, astringent, water at the start of phase B, and the end of the Marathon. Phase A is roads and tracks taking us across some of the gorgeous property no one ever gets to see, and the ponies were ready to rock and roll. After the walk into the vet box, we waited for our start times and were off. My first hazard I messed up and missed my turn to B, losing valuable time. So mentally you need to get over it, and the shaken confidence. Kate got on my case and told me to get focussed. All those letters in all those hazards start to look the same, but I am getting better. I also underestimated the room I thought I had in them and hit a post a couple of times, and hard, but the ponies have done that before and know to back up and keep going. There were a lot of spins, and I need to learn how to keep them going faster and more forward, something we will work on next week at the USEF Developing Driver Clinic. But we rocked the water, and except fro two obstacles where I got into a little trouble, and going a bit slower than I could have we are getting the technical moves down better each time.
Still I was a bit deflated after we were done, because I was ready to really rock it and thought I could have done better. But we have tough competition in our division with the reigning Intermediate queen Boots Wright and her awesome German Riding ponies, years of experience, and world class crew. My good friend Sheri Dolan and her ponies were just ahead of us by a few points overall, so we had a great division for the pony pairs. That said, we were close enough to make me proud, in our show of firsts, as the ponies and I get used to the new marathon vehicle. Kate stepped up to the plate big time keeping me focussed on each twist and turn, and boosting my confidence after we galloped through the finish line.
Then there was the cones. The final phase of Combined Driving is a course set with 20 cones, balls on top and a challenging time to make for each division. The course look pretty straight forward, but there were subtle angles, 2 slaloms, and a couple of longer runs where we could make the time. We were one of the last division to go. I have yet to do a cones course even close to the time, being too careful not to hit balls which I seem to do anyway. But a week training with Bram Chardon, the technique finally clicked in my head. We had a very tight advanced course at Margaret Mayer's farm where we live and train each winter.
I had the time to watch as many of the advanced drivers with tighter distances and faster times struggled with the course. This was Kimba's cones debut with me as driver. Bram had competed her in Kentucky, and we trained with my adorable "spare mare" all week. I was really calm and confident for some strange reason. The warm up was crowded, and that helped actually to be focussed on not only navigating the warm up cones but multiple drivers and ponies/horses negotiating everything. I kept looking for Sheri, but she never showed. I later found out she had to leave to return to Aiken early after getting word her husband had a fall from his horse (but is OK) So it was down to Boots and me, with me going first. I ramped it up with the speed, and aced the entire course, being careful through the last #20 which has been my nemesis before. With just 0.5 time penalties we did the best cones course ever in competition. The (so far) unbeatable Boots was perfect. But we were almost perfect, and my red ribbon was just fine with me. Another compliment from Thorston, who does not throw out many was the highlight of my day!
Then it was the caravan, taking my home home, back to Margarate's farm and thank God electricity. David brought the ponies and one carriage in another truck and trailer, and Kate was following behind in my truck and humble trailer with 2 more carriages and all our equipment; 5 harnesses - tack truck, blankets, buckets and hay.
There was a point this weekend I was pretty down, struggling with all that is involved, the expense, nerves, help needed to do it all right, but when it is all said and done, so far there is nothing that makes me happier. Wonderful people, great events, everyone is so helpful and kind. One of the greatest parts about competing in this sport is everyone from the highest level to grooms, etc, all are encouraging and helpful. If you've made a mistake, they are the first to say "I did that several times."
Thank you to the Blanchard family for allowing us back on your property to tear it all up again. Ellen Ettinger and all of her volunteers as well as those who kicked in to sponsor making it possible to return to this venue. I am so proud of my ponies who make everyone smile and show them all the American Shetland can keep up with and sometimes be faster than the big boys. David Getz and Lyn Brooks made it so much easier. And of course Kate the Great, my Morrisville State College grad, who I have been blessed to have in my life this past year.
On to the Developing Driver Clinic February 4-7, and the Live Oak International February 24-28.