This one seemed to loom on my radar before we even entered. It seemed much tougher than it actually was. Last year when we went to watch this CDE, there was a horse pulled off the course just before the last couple of obstacles. Why? The horse was clearly spent. Watching from the sidelines, the horse was tripping here and there and displaying a few other noticeable signs that s/he was just wiped out. As the TD (Technical Delegate) pulled them off the course, they were told to walk the horse back to the vet check area, where water is available and cool the horse out. They were done. The groom dismounted the cart and off they went. I vowed to myself, I don't ever want to be 'that horse' in any competition. Ever.
In defense of the competitor, they may have been from out of state and just not acclimated to our weather. There have been years when the rain just pours down constantly, other years when it is already warming up and Hot out there. This year the wind blew constantly on Friday & Saturday, with big gusts and immense dust- to the point you couldn't see 5 feet in front of you at times... so anything is possible out there. I also don't know what level they were showing at, but for my first time out there, I can honestly say, it is VERY easy to get caught up in the moment, the heat of things and not notice the subtle things and ways your horse lets you know they have had enough.
For those who don't know, the marathon is set up in three sections. A, D & E. Each section has a minimum time allowed and a maximum time allowed. You go too fast, coming in under the minimum time allowed- you get penalized. You go too slow, going over the maximum time allowed- you get penalized. It is a pace, not a race. In section E when you go through the obstacles, you are timed at each one. Your time in the obstacles at training level do not count. The only thing that really counts is that you go through the gates in order and you get through and out of the obstacle in Under 5 minutes, which is really easy considering....
For the marathon you must have a SMV (Slow Moving Vehicle) sign on your cart. You must also have on your medical info armband, somewhere to put your green 'time card' and you absolutely must have a body protector ON for section E. My number holder pulled double duty that day and was strapped on the rein rail for the green time card to go in. I need to do something else, because the wind kept blowing it off either side and I found myself holding it in place with my boot as we trucked along. I also heard the small bar in the bottom of my SMV sign "ping" against the cart a few times. I was looking on the ground to see what we went over and Kat stepped on, hoping it wouldn't bruise his feet or anything and knock us out of competition... it took us 3 or 4 pings before I finally figured out what it was.
Section A is to be no less than 5,000m and no more than 8,000m. Ours was about 5 km and any pace was allowed for all levels. Kat was bouncing around and ready to go when we got over to the starting area. As with dressage, you have a set order of go and a start time. When we got going I checked my watch, but had no real idea of how long we had to complete this section. We had between 23 & 25 minutes. We did okay and did not get any penalty points. Kat was fresh, wound and ready to GO! If we were headed into the wind, he was blasting along like nobodies business. We were cruising. When we turned to where the wind was at our back however, he scaled it way back on the speed. A few times he tried to slow down and walk. I kept an eye on the horse ahead of us and tried to keep the distance between us steady and consistent. If they were on time, we would be too. At the end of section A you hand the attendees your green card and they write the time on it that you crossed the line.
At the beginning of section A, there was a white plastic bag in a tree that caught Kat's attention. It was on the left side of the road and he spooked hard to the right. We ended up in the plowed field and made a big right hand circle, lining up to face the bag again. I took him on the left hand side of the road past it this time. For whatever reason, he was ok with that, but still gave the bag a mean, hard look with the stink eye. Past that we started trucking along again and on the left side of the road was a small burrowing owl. As we went by that, it was screeching at us with its wings spread wide apart. I just hoped it stayed put and didn't fly up out of the hole. Thankfully the screeching was all it did.
Section D is to be no less than 800m, no more than 1,000m. In Section D, all levels- you are to walk the horse(s). Again there is a minimum and maximum time allowed. A few times Kat tried to trot when he seen other horses and also because we were headed back onto the property towards the barns. Again at the start and finish of Section D, you hand off your green time card for times to be written down on it.
After Section D, you head over to the vet check area for the mandatory 10 minute rest break. You check in and the time starts while your horses' heart rate and respiration are taken, they are given an all over glance to see if there is anything wrong and from there you head over to wherever you stashed your bucket of water. I stashed my vest with the water and while Kat was drinking and looking around I was putting it on for Section E. We were also given penny's to wear with our numbers on them. Getting the vest under the penny while holding the reins proved interesting, but I managed to get it done. Your horse can stand or you can walk them around. They can and should be offered a drink and you can also sponge them down if you'd like. If you are a small pony entry you do not need a groom, but if you have a header, someone has to be holding the reins at all times.
To be continued...