Not gonna lie, I think was maybe more nervous for the second Prelim than I was for the first. The first time I was just trying not to die – pure and simple, no further expectations. And then I didn’t die, thus it was awesome by default. But now we were back for another crack at it, with the goal of smoothing some things out and trying to make some improvements. There’s a lot more pressure in that. What if the first time was just luck? What if I came out and bungled it royally? Now I had to prove to myself that it wasn’t a fluke.
I was nervous a couple days before, but woke up on show day feeling pretty zen about it. And then dressage and stadium went well, and I was feeling a little more confident by the time cross country rolled around. I actually remembered to take pictures of the course this time, AND I had my helmet camera charged and ready to go! Miracles never cease.
Before we got there I was very concerned about the footing. We’ve had So Much Rain, and there were definitely spots on the course where there was still standing water and mud. Luckily most of the Prelim course runs through the higher ground, so while there were a couple of deep areas, none of it really effected the jumps themselves. The other levels had some course modifications because of the footing, but mine didn’t, so that part all worked out. The venue did a really good job of preserving the footing leading up to the show, and laying down sand in places where some extra grip was needed.
Since the footing looked pretty good, I decided to let Henry open up a little more than last time, carry a little more speed between the jumps, and see how he felt. Of course, I didn’t take into account that since the course was the same as what we did in December, Henry now knew exactly where he was going. He took off out of the box like his ass was on fire, just about leaving me suspended in midair like a cartoon character, and jumped the first fence like a rabbit. Not the start I had in mind.
I landed from 1 and really pushed him up in front of my leg again right away, so I could rebalance and settle into a better rhythm. It worked, and within a few strides we were rolling. Henry was feeling very cocky, knowing exactly where he was going, and pretty much just told me to strap in and hang on. I steered, and I rebalanced on the approaches, but I’m pretty sure Henry would have done the course with or without me. He wasn’t rude about it, so I was okay with that, and I was glad that he was feeling confident. He flew over the rolltop at 2, the wagon at 3 (will that ever stop looking big? Probably not.), the combo at 4AB, and the log ramp with the drop at 5. I took a tug on the way to 6 that I shouldn’t have, stuffing him into a tight spot there, but he’s honest, so he went.
We popped up and down the Irish bank, around to the chevron, and then to the trakehner. Things seemed to be going by so fast at this point, jump after jump after jump. I was trying hard not to micromanage him or shut him down between fences, so I pretty much just let him go along at the speed he felt most comfortable at. He was eager and full of run, so when we had long stretches, I just let him roll.
All the jumps at the water were good, and I let him open up a bit as we went back up the hill, hopping over the little bench out of stride. Then we steadied up quite a bit for the turn to the corner, galloped around the lake, and through a muddy spot that made me have to whoa a little more than I wanted with just a few strides before the boat table. The distance there was a little long, but he jumped the snot out of it for good measure.
Then down the hill combo, rolltop to bank to chevron, back into the front field for the last two fences. He tried to be a little too athletic and jump over a muddy spot, almost tripping over his own feet in the process (god, that would have been an embarrassing way to end the day), but recovered well and hopped over the train car, then we finished up over the big stone wall. And just like that – second Prelim, in the books!
We were quite a bit faster this time than last time, and once again Henry was barely even breathing hard at the finish. They had a timer malfunction, so didn’t log my official time, but from my helmet cam footage I think I was about 20 seconds over, which would have been 8 time faults. Due to the timer malfunction they put me as double clear. I’ll take it, but in my head we’ll go with 8. Which I’m still super happy with, because last time we had 19, and this course is so twisty I think it would be nearly impossible for me to average 520mpm without being scary/dangerous.
I made a couple of mistakes and had a couple of bleh fences, but overall I was happy with how confident Henry felt and with the fact that I let him jump out of a more open gallop. It was nice to make the mistakes and have him not even blink about them. It helps me a lot mentally to know that I don’t have to be perfect, he can handle it if I’m a little bit wrong. There was definite improvement though from the December show to this one, and it was a big confidence booster for both of us. The first time wasn’t just a fluke!
I still have to sit down and make some kind of plan for the next 6 months, but hopefully there will be more green numbers in the near future!