July 30, 2014
This past weekend was the big MGAA Pairs competition hosted by Stacey and Anita and the Summer Sizzler crew. Stacey and Anita always provide a top notch competition. They host the laid back friendly Summer Sizzler series in northern Virginia, as well as #2 and #4 competitions in the Mid-Atlantic Series. I can say, hands down, they are my favorite organizers. I really feel they take every aspect into clear consideration to provide the best competition for all competitors.
Pairs was held at the Jefferson Fairgrounds in Ranson, West Virginia. This is a location MGAA used when the competitor base was quite a bit smaller, and looking back, I have no idea how we pulled it off. The site offers a limited number of stalls, requiring some people to commute in and others to use portable paddocks. The latter being my preferred choice. The ring, which seemed adequate for a small team competition a decade ago, now seems dangerously small for a pairs competition. But the drive, for me, is an easy one, hanging around the two hour mark.
For this competition, I was excited to be paired with my long time friend, Val. Val and I grew up playing games in Pony Club and the old USMGA, and although we have been trained by the same people and always ridden in the same circles, we have never had the opportunity to ride together. Back in the spring we decided it was time to break that streak, and we made the commitment for this weekend.
As expected we meshed super well together. Both of us brought a chill, ‘lets have fun’ attitude, and we both were very supportive and encouraging of the other. I found I was a little nervous in the beginning that I would let Val down and I rode very conservatively. But as the competition went on, and she continued to show support and confidence in me and my skills, I started to relax and ride more like myself.
I was also a little nervous with Poe, since I had only ridden lightly, one time in the past two weeks, trying to heal up my back. This is not my style, and I was concerned Poe would feel this and put it to his favor. But he was an excellent pony, and although a little rough on Saturday, by Sunday he was right there for me.
It was also really interesting and, in a way, simplistic, to ride with someone that has the same games training basics as myself. Our decisions about order, were easy and quick, with us both thinking along the same strategic lines. Our handoffs were spot on. We did not even come close to dropping one. We rode like clockwork, and I felt myself starting to push Poe out more when receiving a hand off, knowing I could trust Val to get it to me. We both had similar giving, taking and follow through techniques, with eye to hand contact all the way through.
All of that awesomeness stated, I did go into the competition in a mixed mental state. My back was really feeling rough, and I could not reach nearly as far as I would have liked. I knew I would have to significantly pull up for drunks, with me performing more of a ‘drop’, vs dunking my equipment, and things like reaching across a barrel to pick a bottle or mug, were going to be tricky.
The first session I certainly rode conservatively, both because of my back hurting, and because of my nerves. I really did not want to let Val down. But as stated above, she was so chill, which really brought the old, laid back me, back out from hiding. We rode 8 races in the first session, one of which I had a fault in. Hug-a-mug, we opted for Val to go first, and she quickly placed and grabbed her mug and charged home, giving me an excellent side hand off, which is my preferred mug grab! On my turn, I got my placement, and reached the end, and did not have the reach in my back to grab the mug from across the barrel. So I played it safe, and circled once. In retrospect, we should have had me go first, so I could have had the choice of the mugs, or had Val grab the father one. No biggy. It was just a circle.
In Ball and Bucket, a race I had been nervous about going into the competition, with dismounting and remounting hurting, and my mounting not being very strong to begin with, I did have a challenge. We opted for Val to start out, deciding that since she still vaults, she could focus on that aspect, and not worry about a double dunk. And since I would be stirrupping up, I would already be situated for a dunk. And, to my excitement, I did quickly remount and carried on for a slow double dunk. Go Me!
That afternoon session we had an additional 8 races, which went about as well as the morning. I did not make any mistakes, and Val and I continued to connect on an expert level. I did have an extreme FAIL situation in Quoits race. Which is another race I was particularly apprehensive about, even more so than I was with Ball and Bucket. And what I was afraid of happened; I could not get back in the saddle. I jarred by back on my dismount, and when I went to remount, my saddle slid a bit, and Poe was moving a bit, and the combination just took its toll. I had the whistle blown on me. Super Lame.
We finished the session with big smiles and left the arena to prepared for dinner and social time, when we heard over the PA, that we were tied with South of the Border, for the last spot in the A finals and would have to run a tie breaker in the morning. Two Flag. Which is honestly one of favorite races, and I think is an excellent tie breaker race. It is a race that is high in error, but also can run perfectly smooth with speed, when all the skills come together.
Sunday morning, before our 10 race final, we entered the ring for the tie breaker. Honestly, I was not at all nervous, knowing that Val would not be upset with me, and I would not be upset with her. This bit of support was all it took. I started the race next to Lauren on South of the Border. She is an excellent player, and back on her x-masters pony, Mazy. The flag dropped and we both cantered to the first cone. I got my placement and pushed Poe on for a quick pick and heard some “OOOHHHHHH” sounds from the crowd. Lauren had missed her placement. This left it wide open for Val to take my handoff, place and pick her flags, and finish smoothly, which she did.
So we stayed in the arena and took part in the A final. And let me say, this was one hot A final of adult games riders! The other teams consisted of some of the top riders in our division. Matt and Averi, making up Heads or Tails, Zoe and Carol Ann, riding as White Lightning and the pair in pink, Time Flies, Phyllis and Nancy, who I had predicted would clean the floor with the rest of us.
It was a good set of races, and I was feeling much more limber, and really rejuvenated by Val’s laid back support. I think winning the Two Flag tie breaker, was another boost of confidence as well. We rolled through the races, both Val and I riding clean and sooth. I pushed more for taking handoffs, as well as giving them, and I also pushed Poe for a bit more speed between skills. Although I still slowed up for drunks, and anything that involved reaching, and trotted my end turns, simply to save my back, I pushed him out and it felt great. I did have two fail moments. One was minor, in joust, a race I am usually smooth and clean at, I flew past my target, with a complete miss. Luckily I was not the only rider to do this, and I was relatively quick to correct and cross the line. The other was a repeat of the Saturday’s PM session’s, complete fail. And it is how I ended the final race, which only made it sting more. I could not remount for Sock Race. I would like to say my saddle was sliding around, which it was not, or that Poe was running away from me like a wild pony, but he was not. I do think the deep footing was taking the smallest bit of a toll on me, sucking my feet back to the ground, and perhaps my previous day’s mounting fail was heavy on my memory. But bottom line, I could not get my leg back over the saddle quickly. I finally did manage to mount a moment after the whistle blew, so I suppose I mentally redeemed myself there, although the last race was a bust.
Val and I were both extremely happy with ourselves, and grinning at each other. They rolled directly into awards, and we became more and more surprised as the other teams names were read out. Nancy and Phyllis on Time Flies, who had an uncharacteristically bad run, came in fourth with 20 points. Zoe and Carol Ann, took 3rd with 25 points. At this point Val and I looked at each other, with a cocked eyebrow apiece, 2nd went to Averi and Matt, with 26 points, and we cheered knowing we had taken the lead, with 29 points, we won the division! How exciting to go from the last team scratching our way into the A final, to taking the win.
It was a really exciting final, and in retrospect, there were a lot more errors across the heat than a normal heat for this division. Generally these riders are all very clean, making few if any mistakes in a single competition. Perhaps the pressure pushed a few to go too fast? And maybe Val and I having so much support and confidence in each other, made the difference we needed? I know for myself, that was a big part of it. Val knew I could do everything, and told me so, “You Got This!” Its nice to have someone cheering you on, and having confidence in your skills.
Mostly photos of Poe. Thanks Kim B and Lauren for the pics!