Duel before the sun is in the sky.
Pick a place to die where it’s high and dry.
Leave a note for your next of kin,
tell ’em where you been, pray that
hell or heaven lets you in.
– Ten Duel Commandments; Hamilton
Saturday dawned and I was determined to be ready to go with much more time than the day before. Since I knew what saddle and girth I would be using, and all my fancy butler clothes were carefully packed up in my garment bag already, I knew I was in pretty good shape on that front. Murray had dug several huge holes in his stall, which is new for him, and when I took him on our hand walk he was shockingly brave — like, walking up to traffic cones and nosing them, and sticking his face inside trash cans to rifle around in the papers and used SmartPak strips thrown in there. Super weird, brave shit.
The stadium course was really interesting! It was really just a big serpentine. Walking the course I was a little surprised by the height and spread of the oxers, but later realized they looked much bigger on foot because my height perspective was skewed (they look smaller from Murray’s back!). And also because when I see pictures of other humans near BN- and N-sized fences, I assume those humans are the same height as I am. But I’m a solid 6″ shorter than a lot of people, so suddenly the fences leap up when compared to relative points on my body.
Stadium warmup was less crazy than dressage or XC warmup since it was pretty much just limited to the 12 riders in our division, and a handful of riders from the division after us. Sitting in 8th/11 (or maybe 12 remaining riders) I knew I was going pretty close to the beginning, so jumped around and then watched a few rounds. As the rider before me, my teammate, went in I popped back over the vertical one more time for a quick refresher, and Murray was game and good to go!
I tried to give Murray a look at some flowers and spooky standards by walking him past the combination at 7, and he definitely gave them a bit of the side eye. The buzzer rang as we approached the back fenceline, and I asked Murray if he wanted to pick up the canter. It was a bit of a sluggish canter, but I kicked him forward to fence 1 and kept my leg on all the way up to the fence. Murray backed off a touch but I was right there for him with my lower leg, and while he got deep he went over just fine. I kicked for the 7 stride to the oxer and we got 8, of course, but it was still a pretty good fence.
As we came around to jump 3 I felt Murray hesitate and sputter. Fence 3 had these big stripey horse-head standards, and while we have horse-shaped standards at home there was clearly something spooky about these ones because horses had trouble with them all day! Murray actually came all the way to a stop and sidled to the right, but I didn’t let him turn away and I put my leg on. He walked and then trotted the fence, shockingly leaving it up. I didn’t know if it would be considered a refusal (it was), but I wasn’t willing to turn him away from the fence just in case. (I later found out that this is pretty borderline in the eyes of the judges. Had I been closer I would have been much better off turning and re-presenting, since they would count jumping from a stand still as a refusal anyway, and is also considered a huge no-no in the eyes of officials. The more you know.)
The bending line to 4 rode really nicely, and I felt Murray peer again at fence 5, since it had a big wavy panel underneath. But I legged on again and Murray didn’t question me. I rode the bending line to 6 as a right-angled turn so we would get a really straight approach and be able to make the inside-track left turn to 7A. I really kicked to the two stride but we got deep (of course), and crammed 3 in there anyway (of course).
The last line was pretty straight forward, Murray had finally (really) gotten into a rhythm by that point. We still managed to do 9 in the 7 strides between fences 8 and 9, but then it was a pretty straightforward gallop down to the closing oxer. As I tried to pull Murray up I took a moment to look over at the clock and saw our time was in the 99-second mark, just under our allowed time of 100 seconds.
I had looked at the standings before I went in to stadium and knew that, going in, fewer than 4 points separated me and the three riders ahead of me. So with no rails and just 4 jump penalties, now just 2 rails separated me from the magnificent purple ribbon. Two rails! Horses knock down two rails ALL THE TIME.
I jumped off Murray and couldn’t stop grinning like a shit-eating monkey because i was just so happy with his performance. Even if we had ended up sitting in 8th I would have been so happy with him for how he stepped up for me all weekend. Even with that silly stop at fence 3, Murray didn’t back up or run out — as he did at Camelot in 2016, or even in cross country warmup — and when I kicked him forward he responded by moving forward and not with a tantrum. It was super.
Then the rider after me fell off at 7A.
I saw the fall just out of the corner of my eye, and said to my teammates “did she just fall?” followed by a really inappropriate expletive of joy. Not everyone heard me but… a lot of people heard me. (I’m not proud of it, I’m just telling it like it is.)
Then the rider after her fell off and took her bridle with her at 7B.
I had just gone from 8th to 6th in less than 2 minutes.
The rider sitting pretty high in the rankings — in second or third, I think — had some serious and unfortunate disobedience from her gelding which eliminated her, raising me to 5th.
I was so stupidly, deliriously happy. Part of me felt that my final placing was a little cheap, since I relied on 4 people getting eliminated on XC and 3 people getting eliminated in stadium to reach 5th. But at the same time, I didn’t get eliminated on stadium or XC so there is that.
The only downside to the morning was that after the awards ceremony I chose to take part in the victory round, which broke poor Murray’s already highly-taxed and well-worked brain. We left the stadium arena and he promptly tried to back into or sit on every human and horse in sight. I know that the people waiting there were thinking of other things (their own impending stadium rounds, for example), but I was a little surprised by how slow they were to move or even look around them as I frantically yelped “sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry!” and tried to do anything to get Murray out of the fray. At one point he slammed my leg into another horse’s butt crack, and I was really worried that we were about to get kicked, but a kindly coach nearby yelled at me to trot him forward and it actually worked. At least, it worked to get us out of the mess of horses, and into the middle of the warmup where I finally got Murray settled enough to get off and try to calm him down.
Lesson learned: no more victory gallops for us.