Sunday, September 6, 2009

FEH- what are we really looking for?

Rex (Carnivale King) and I competed in our first FEH class yesterday, and although we had a great time, and he placed second in the 2 yr old division, I walked away a little confused with the scoring, and in the end, what the judge (and in theory, the eventing world) was truly looking for.

I'm one of those people always searching to improve upon my last score, and in doing so spent the 4 hr ride home pondering on what I needed to fix in order to move up in the placings. I'd be lying if I didn't think Rex was pretty perfect already, but I bred and foaled him, so you have to be a little understanding of my pride. So it is easy to rationalize my disappointment when he wasn't placed first. As I read and re-read the score sheet, I made mental notes on what I needed to work on, (mostly improving his swing and reach in his walk and trot) and what comments I was really happy with ("nice sport horse type" for one). Then it hit me, the last directive idea on the page, right there under the "General Impressions" heading, "Shows inner confidence". That's it, three words and it all seemed a little bit clearer and at the same time greatly overlooked. Shows inner confidence.

In the end I think this is an underscored, and slightly under appreciated directive, in a discipline where the safety of the horse and rider may depend on it. Inner confidence says a lot about a horse, and we know it when we see it. Theodore O'Connor was the poster boy for inner confidence in event horses (and I use him specifically, as Rex will mature not much taller than Teddy, and there is no better role model to have). A confident horse, is careful, alert, and interested but not fearful. He continues to follow his rider or handlers instructions even in unfamiliar surroundings. He does not lose focus or become distracted, he does not act out by bucking or kicking, he does not take advantage. As Paul Simon would sing, "I am a rock, I am an island". Inner confidence is a horse who is fun to work around and a joy to ride.

For that alone I think Rex was "jipped" just a little- he was second by eight tenths of a point to a horse who bucked around his trot triangle, had to do it over, and had the luxury of calling the facility "home". Rex was the consummate professional, trailering 4 hours, arriving after dark, showing in a strange place with a less than knowledgeable handler (myself), and never putting a foot wrong. All this happening in a 24 hr period and only his third trip away from home.

So, I'm giving myself the weekend off, and then I'll put my running shoes back on and we'll practice some more. Perhaps even try our hand next month at the FEH Championships in Virginia. Who knows, maybe I'll have mastered the walk (and the trot) by then and give Rex a shot at the ribbon I think he deserves to wear. As for Rex, he'll just keep taking it all in stride. At least one of us is content in knowing that the color of the ribbon we win today has no lasting influence on our success tomorrow.

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