Since I'm a specialist and/or because I'm too fabulous to need dressage practice, Anton takes my place for the preshow training sessions. I'm mostly left alone in my stall to watch the sights and take a nap or two. Mike does take me out for a long-lining session. I use the opportunity to show off my cutting horse family heritage with lightning speed moves and crowd pleasing action.
Vet check is fun as always. The team is fit and show ready. I am ready for dressage day to be over and get on with marathon. The team seems satisfied enough when they get back from their test. What they lack in fancy movement they try to make up for with team work and accuracy.
On to Friday, our day off before marathon. I'm thinking thre must be some mistake because Ruff is left in his stall and Anton brought out instead. Ruffs looks on with worry and cocern but is powerless to help us. It seems that Anton needs to qualify if he is to compete in the dressage phase at WEG. Mike and Peter have decided that the hazards look easy enough to get Anton through, so he'll take Ruff's place for the remainder of the show. Tuff and I are not thrilled. Donovan is downright depressed. He's tired already, just thinking about it. Don't get me wrong. Anton's a nice guy and all but he pulls like one of the rubber trace girls (a.k.a. Tina and Ready).
We go out and practice some cones, make sure the harness is adjusted correctly and that we won't all die with Anton in the wheel. Mike tries to instill confidence but we can hear the doubt in his voice.
Still, we're pumped for marathon. The course is great; taking us through both the cattle and turf operations on the ranch. Now, being from cattle country ourselves, we've seen lots of cows but we did a double take at these funky looking black cows with white bands around their bellies. Good thing there was lots of scenery to tkae our minds off working. By the time we got to the walk section, I was starting to think evil thoughts about Anton. He didn't even help much in the walk section and for the first time ever, we were too slow. I'm usually not even breathing hard when we reach vet check but today I even broke a sweat. Anton didn't get the memo that wheelers pull and leaders, well, lead. Tuff tells me to quit whining and that we'd better get Anton through this marathon or we'd have to do it again at the next show. That's incentive enough for me! Bring on the hazards!
We start section E and finally, a hazard. I forget all about Anton and focus on my job. All goes according to plan and we're outta there. Hazard 2 is also a series of boxes and goes well. The campground hazard is a wide open free-for-all. Lots of fun. The Altech hazard is tow rows of poles with a lane down the middle. This means lots of diagonal turns and lots of opportunities to miss or break a gate. We miss a turn and correct it but it costs us time. The water hazard is usually our quickest but today we were missing Ruff's pulling power. We get through nicely but slower than we'd like. One more to go! Tuff and I are a little tired. We've been mostly in draft, pulling through all the hazards. Donovan is doing great but needs Ruff's help. Coming up to the last hazard, my heart skips. Cars! Cars on ramps! We have a bad history with cars. Tuff must have felt apprehensive as well. He started in the first hole he saw. He quickly realized his mistake but it was too late. The carriage slammed into the post and because Tuff and I were in draft, it is firmly wedged in place. Mike tries to back us up. Gators Dean and Jerry try to pull or push or move the carriage in any way. Nothing happens. The clock ticks on. I'm thinking we only have 5 minutes to get Anton through this hazard. I'm not doing this again! In a flash of brilliance, I turn right. There's enough room to turn us around. We have at least 12 feet. Plenty of room for four horses abreast. Mike yells,"Fred! No!". Then, as he perceives my brilliant plan, "Fred! Go!". I look Anton in the eye as I pass him, daring him not to follow. We spin around and are on our way. Poor Tuff is rattled and unbellievably we split the post at the next turn! This time Tuff and I can back up enough, remedy the situation and leave the hazard with the voodoo cursed cars behind. There is only a short distance from the last hazard to the end and we have to book it to make up for all the time lost. We're all out of breath and still a bit dazed at the final vet check. I'm understandably pleased with myself and look back at Mike. I don't even get a "Thanks for saving the day, Fred!" Never any credit I tell you, never.
After looking at marathon scores, it looks like we were well on our way to winning before the last hazard. I guess we'll have to wait for Ruff and get 'em next time!
Cones day dawns cloudy,cold, and windy. Practice goes well and we're ready to roll! The cones field is beautiful. I get an extra bounce to my step as I greet the crowd. However, my heart sinks when we hit the very first cone. It's Tinagate all over again! I'm not sure what happened but it's like a demolition derby in there. I'm embarrassed and can't wait to leave. We're ready to head back to the barn but have to stay for the awards presentation. I'm not happy. It's way too cold. Finally, we go back in the arena. I can't help but greet the crowd. It's pretty awesome to have all the four-in-hands together. As we stand lined up watching awards being given out, I turn and look at Mike. "Where's ours?", I ask. He cleverly averts his gaze. We take a lap around the ring and finally head back to the barn.
The next day, barns are mostly cleared out but we're stayin for two more days of practice. It's still cold and now raining. I think I want to stay inside. No such luck. We do however, get Ruff back. Little Everglades Ranch has agreed to let us practice on the cones field and the hazards. We'll do cones first. We go through a few practice cones, get some tips from coaches Peter and Michael, then redo the cones course from the show. We go double clear! W all know that Peter and Michael would have us here until nightfall if we didn't get it right. We're cold. And wet. Did it perfectly. Get to go back inside. (Nobody needs to know that the reason we're double clear is that the team knows the course, so we can do it without Mike!)
The last clinic day is a little drizzly but warmer. We're ready for hazards. Michael has very nice things to say about us. At last! Someone who recognizes true talent! We practice four of the hazards including the voodoo car hazard. The biggest challenge today was tired Mike trying to remember routes. The rest of us are great!
Finally, we pack up and leave. It's back to John Porter's for a few days and then home to Texas.