Pate is in NO mood to work. He's grouchy, tired and irritable. As we warm up, he's taking pot shots at me with his teeth. This is not good. I am the 23rd horse into the ring. I can hear the cheers and Aww's as the previous competitors go through the course. The announcer keeps telling the trainers to "Memorize your course!" I guess many of the trainers are going off course. I am doing my best to remember it, not realizing how important that will become later.
Pate and I try to enter the ring, but he balks a bit. The gate crew give me a bit of assistance and we are in and ready. The crowd is AMAZING. There is literally 2000 murmuring people sitting all around us. It's standing room only. Camera's were flashing everywhere. WOW! I have shown at some big places, but this took the cake. I can't even describe the feeling.
We have to walk in, nod at the judges (who are sitting INSIDE the arena) and walk over a series of poles. We make it through that without nicking the poles. Nicking is a 1/2 point deduction. We walk straight through an "L" and then back out to the left. We then pivot 270 degrees to the right and trot to the next cone. So far we are doing good. We then have to pick up all four feet. Pate stands for all four then begins to walk off. Jeez. I quickly stop him and continue on to the walk over brush boxes. No problems or nicks. Then we load into a stock trailer and he follows me right in. I get applause for this, which surprises me. Didn't all the horses load before me?? The final part was a trot through a serpentine series of cones, RIGHT next to the arena wall with about 5 camera men and 20 people leaning over the wall. Pate enters the cones well, then spooks at a cameraman and bumps into me. Ugh. Whew! We are done with Part One.
I head back to his stall to give him a short break and get some lunch. I watch a bit of the competition and see MANY of the trainers going off course. I'm surprised.
I then go and tack up Pate to warm up for the "Horse Course". He is stiff and fighting me. He refuses to get off my right leg and throws his head around. Just great! I feel sorry for him, but ask him to try and maintain his composure. I am draw 18. As we warm up, my dad comes over to tell me that I am 9th going into the Horse Course! There is a 6 point spread between 1st and 10th place. I have a chance at the Top Ten! Many of the trainers received zeros for the first portion because they went off course. Now I know why they kept announcing "Know your course!"
We enter the arena, I am unmounted. I have to get on and lope down the arena wall, past the judges who are sitting inside the arena on the wall. He lopes, but on the wrong lead. We then have to stop at the cone and pivot 180 degrees and lope back down the wall past the judges again and around the end of the arena by the gate. He lopes, again on the wrong lead. As we go by the gate, he balks and I have to get after him. He kicks out at the whip. We then have to continue to lope around and through the center of the arena and do a simple change and then lope to the other end of the arena. As we pass through the center, Pate spooks at the bridge, hard to the right and back toward the gate. What the?? He nearly unseats me. I hear the sucking in of breath from the crowd as they think I am going to come off. No way Jose! I have to circle around and try again. I give a big "Yee Haw!" and the crowd laughs. This time he goes, but is stiff and uncooperative. I hear a lady in the crowd yell to me "You ride 'em, Cowgirl!"
We then have to stop at a cone, pivot 90 degrees and trot into a box and stop. We then have to pivot to the right twice, 360 degrees and then twice to the left. Pate nails this. Then we trot out of the box and through a serpentine set of two panels. He goes wide, but makes it through. As we exit, we must lope only two strides and stop in front of the bridge. Yeah, right. Pate's not ready for this yet and we just trot. We trot over the bridge with no hesitation and I shrug and throw my head back. The crowd laughs hard at this, because they are expecting him to balk at the bridge again. After the bridge we trot over a series of poles and into an "L". We then back through the "L" to the right and trot out of the ring. The crowd roars and cheers me on with support and praise.
I felt the weight of a horrible ride and the loss of a Top Ten finish, but I praise Pate for trying. I am immediately surrounded by the media and they interview me. I don't remember what I said. The cameraman, who had been watching me for the past few days expressed his surprise at Pate's performance. He said. "What happened? He's usually SO quiet?" I explained that he was really irritable and it was the first time he was alone in the ring by himself. Pate's always needed a little moral support from his fellow equines and he felt really alone out there.
It turns out that when we circled after the spook, we were off course and received a zero for the whole test. That dashed our Top Ten hopes. Oh well. Maybe people will not want him now that he showed his hinney! Big smile!
I put Pate away and went to watch the rest of the event. After a short break, they called all the trainers to the warm up arena for the Top Ten list. I congratulated the winning trainers and went back to settle into my seat for the finals. I spoke to a few trainers who expressed that their horses were irritable, as well. It was like someone went through the barns all night banging on pots and pans. The horses were just fried. Quite a few people approached me to tell me that I had a great seat and I rode well. I thanked them, feeling better about our performance.
The finals were entertaining and surprising at the same time. All the trainers did a great job and I am proud to be a part of an exceptional group of people.