It has rained, both literally and metaphorically here at Challa Station. In early March we received a magnificent, drought-breaking 132 mm of beautiful rain on our parched land. The earth has sprung to life before our eyes. Swans have flown in from nowhere to settle on the new lake just a few hundred metres from the back door. Tiny iridescent green seedlings have sprung up from the bare ground, each day doubling in size. The land has heaved a sigh of relief. Rain…… thank goodness.
Success at the Australian National Morgan Show (ANMS) was our metaphorical rain….. Showered with prizes. How lovely to have the two major events almost in unison with each other.
I had planned to leave for the ANMS with Challa Station Willow and Tandarra Millennium (Lenny) on the Tuesday before the show. However our road was so flooded I had to wait until the next day to get out. I drove for a few hours through rain before it cleared so when I arrived at Kath Hare’s place I joked that I had already washed the horses ready for the show.
Those of you who know me well will know how worried I was about the ANMS. For months I panicked about the show. The riding bit wasn’t what was keeping me awake, it was the show etiquette, equipment, presentation and rules that worried me. I am so out of touch with the show scene it is like I have never been in touch with it. Lucky for me, Helena Shanal, my ANMS Angel, had offered to help. I couldn’t have achieved anywhere near the success we had without her. The consummate professional, she was knowledgeable, prepared and carried with her the Lucky Hacking Cane! This cane had taken Helena to ANMS success four times and she assured me that it remembered every workout within its fibres. Helena also brought her CD of music for the freestyle dressage, which lead to one of our many great adventures for the weekend.
Helena had agreed to ride Lenny in the dressage and jumping for me. I explained to her that, “I have done my best to prepare but have not had the benefit eyes on the ground giving me feedback before the show. I have had to do everything by feel, but I think Lenny is going to go OK. I put him in the Novice dressage but, not really knowing much about dressage competition, I don’t really know what level he is. I read through the tests and I reckon he can do all of that stuff so I thought we should give it a crack. Oh, and he’s never done a showjumping course before. I’m not really into jumping these days but I’ve popped him over a couple of logs in the bush and he’s nice and bold so we’ll see how he goes. If we have to, we can scratch him from the versatility jumping because he can long rein really well.” Helena had a couple of practice rides on Lenny and she was pretty happy with what he did and declared him ready to compete.
After a couple of days of preparation at Kath’s place, the two Challa Station Morgans arrived at Brookleigh early on the first day of the show. I did wash them of course, but chose not to plait Lenny, my part bred, preferring to show off his lovely mane and tail naturally. He did get a smudge of make-up and a trim but that was all I was prepared to do. The boy has dignity, after all. Whiskers intact, we headed to the show ring. Willow was presented even more naturally, with no hoof black, makeup and not even a trim. She is beautiful all by herself.
I was very worried about the show, but I knew I had two good horses who were well trained and I knew I could rely on them. Willow is still not under saddle, but she came for the experience. Lenny is solid under saddle and I knew that if anything untoward happened I had a safe horse under me and I needn’t worry. But neither horse had ever been to a show. I hadn’t ridden in a show since my teenage pony club days and a lot has changed since then.
If you have a close look at some of the photos of me riding Lenny against Michelle Moller and Wilga Park Tibouchina for the Grand Champion Ridden Exhibit you can see my face is ashen and very serious looking. A stark contrast to the happy, relaxed expression that I usually wear when riding Lenny. The Lucky Hacking Cane had taken us from first place in the Ridden Part Bred Gelding six years and over all the way to the Grand Champion workout. I couldn’t believe it. I forgot everything I have ever known about relaxed riding and made a bit of a mess of the workout. However it was fine to be beaten by such a beautiful combination in Michelle and Tibby.
After the terror and shock of getting all the way to Grand Champion I was ready to retire from the show ring. I asked Helena if she could ride Lenny in a few events for me. She did and came back with a stash of blue ribbons. Lenny and Helena conducted themselves with such style and professionalism they were unbeatable. Pleasure Hack, Best Educated, Show Hunter, Working Hunter. Once the English classes had finished I was happy to remount and take my good horse through the trail class.
All this time young Willow was quite enjoying the show. She met quite a few new friends and seemed to appreciate the ambiance of the magnificent Brookleigh Equestrian Estate. After her in hand event, where she behaved like a perfect young lady, she lay down had a snooze in the yards. Later in the day she came out with me and won the in hand trail class scoring a perfect 10 in the “High Five the Swaggie” and “Walk Over the Bridge” then placed third in the Liberty. I couldn’t be any happier than that with her.
That evening, we took the horses back to Kath’s, had a quick shower then went off to the ANMS dinner. Exhausted yet very happy we had a lovely meal with the rest of the Morgan community before heading off to bed.
Sunday was the big dressage and jumping day. I competed in the Western classes early and picked up some more ribbons, whipped Lenny the Legend around the barrel race for a handy second place, then handed him to Helena so she could ride him in the dressage.
Helena had been trying to get Lenny to a 60x20 arena so she could practice her freestyle test but to no avail. Worse than that, however, was the fact that she had listened to her freestyle CD in the car before the show and the car’s CD player was refusing to relinquish the CD for the freestyle dressage test. My husband, Ashley was informed of the dilemma and he, the man who can fix anything, spent the next 2 hours in the car trying to get the CD out. I told Helena about the problem and she handled it all with such aplomb it made me feel as though there was no problem at all. No worries, we can park the car near the arena and turn the music on. No we couldn’t. The music refused to play at all. More bashing and crashing at the CD player and Ash managed to get the music to play. Sitting in the car with the windows up being completely silent, inspired by a stroke of genius, our daughter Kate recorded the song on her iPhone. Helena entered the arena for her freestyle test a few minutes later. She raised her hand to indicate she was ready for the music. There was an awkward silence while last minute, behind the scenes, hilarious hijinks ensued. The iPhone was finally plugged into the sound system at Brookleigh, the music began and Helena and Lenny entered the ring. They gave such a wonderful performance that the earlier panic dissipated and was replaced with awe. Wow, that’s my horse there. My working horse from Challa Station was transformed into this magnificent creature who was now dancing to the music in unison with his rider. I was so proud. I was also very pleased that what I had thought was correct training back at home seemed to be on the right track. A nice validation of my solo efforts and my reliance on listening to my horse.
After the dressage we had the showjumping. Helena had done a few practice jumps on Lenny the day before the show. She assured me he’d go fine and we really didn’t need to scratch him from the jumps. So the station horse, who had never seen a showjumping course in his life, was asked to jump first a 44 cm then a 60cm course. If you didn’t know, you would never have known that it was Lenny’s first ever round. Helena handled him beautifully and helped him around the course into fourth and fifth place. I was pretty damn proud of that, He never once baulked at a jump and he did the best that his honest Morgan heart could do.
So Lenny, Helena and I went on to win the Versatility Challenge, the Supreme Champion Ridden Part Bred and the High Point Part Bred of the show. My cup runneth over.
Lenny and Willow have returned from the ANMS to the now green fields and brimming lakes of Challa. Lenny can rest on his laurels and has forever broken the shackles of the name, “the Divorce Horse” as Ashley proudly tells our visitors about the champion Morgan horses his wife owns. Whilst Helena continues with her outstanding show ring successes back home, I don’t see a new career in showing looming for myself in the near future, but I may consider a comeback to the show ring in five years’ time when the next ANMS comes to WA.
The ANMS was a very busy show and it took me a long while to recover from it. But Kath, Helena, Clarie, Ashley, Kate, Michael and I had a lot of laughs. I met Lisa and Tim Wong and Kerry and John Hill. I also met Bill and Yda Tomsett, who are the people who imported the first Morgan into WA. Clarie stayed with Ash and I for a while then visited us at Challa Station after the show. I learned a great deal about showing, especially from Helena, but most of all we had a lot of really good fun. We worked well as a team and did our best. And on the day our best was good enough.