The third stage of the marathon is Section E and has the hazards. This is where the fun begins! One thing that stuck in my mind from last year was to take my time and do things right. Slow and right beats fast and wrong, all the time, every time. Last year since it was my first CDE, I can admit that I got caught up in the excitement of being there, being in the moment and letting Kat go as fast as he wanted without breaking out of a trot. Doing that cost us big in the end.
Last year I was in 3rd after dressage and slipped to 4th because of my mistakes in Section E of the marathon. I seriously think they call it Section E, because if you are going to E out or get Eliminated- that is where it is likely to happen. Missed gates, red on the right, several obstacles to remember your path through and even with a good 'gator- it still happens and not just at Training Level.
As a quick recap from last year- I let Kat go too fast and in Hazard #2 we overshot one way into the maze, took the next one- which happened to be Gate C and rearranged the alphabet that day. That cost us 20 penalty points. **Something to note here- in training level, your time IN the hazards doesn't count** Then at the end, Kat was cruising along in a really nice extended trot so I let him. I figured we would finish strong doing a bold, very forward trot. Another big mistake since we finished 34 seconds Under the minimum time allowed. We were too fast and racked up More penalty points... Doh!
So this year I had my plan of action in mind. I had walked the course three times already and although the first time out I mistakenly went through the hazards in the wrong the wrong order. I walked through #1, #2, #5, then #3 and finally #7 instead of taking them in the correct order. At least while I was walking them- I realized what happened and retraced the course in my mind so I knew what I was supposed to do. Mind you this was on Friday afternoon. The wind was blowing at around 65mph at times, it was raining off and on and twice we had decent sized hail. This is all supposed to be FUN! Remember???
**#4 is the water hazard. ADS rules state there is to be an optional dry route for training level, but since this one is set up in a way that a dry route is not possible- training level skips it. Training level also only has 5 Hazards so #6 was skipped as well. It consists of 2 large 'covered wagons' and Gate B was going right through the one wagon**
As Kat and I made our way out to the start of Section E, he didn't have a care in the world about the same people who were the scary, horse eating monsters that we had to go past to get to the start of Section A. He was ready for action, but this time around, these people were fine and not going to bother him, let alone set him off like they had earlier that morning. We walked around in the waiting area as the pony before us was also waiting for their turn to go.
We are spaced out in 5 minute increments so that there is a steady flow through the hazards and everyone has plenty of time to do things right, make corrections and be on their way before the next competitor comes through. This also gives the many volunteers at each hazard time to consult and call in any penalties to the TD and Ground Jury. With so many people armed with camera's and video cameras- if there is any question about anything- someone along the sidelines probably has it on hand for a quick review and is more than happy to provide digital evidence of what you actually did.
Kat and I finally had our turn and we headed off to complete the rest of our course. He was comfortable moving along at a steady working trot. We headed off to Hazard #1 the Kokopelli Pipes. Some of you may have seen photos of us in the pipes as we had done them at the Darby back in December.
To get to the Pipes, you have to enter a fenced area and right in the gateway was a sizeable spot of mud. No problem here- Kat just launched his little bad self into the air and jumped it. The mud was pretty firmly packed, but he didn't care and wasn't going to set foot on it and find out otherwise. There was plenty of photographers on the sidelines and I am hoping that someone caught that, because I was cracking up and I heard several others laughing about it as well. He never fails to surprise, impress, amuse or entertain if given the chance.
We wound our way around and through Gates A, B and C, thanked everyone as we went through the Out gate and headed out the way we came in. Kat jumped the mud again and kept on going like it was no big deal or anything out of the ordinary. Everyone had another good laugh about it and it was all good. We wound our way around and through the course, went through Hazards #2 & #3, looped around through the fields and I could see that we were gaining fast on the horse in front of us. This kind of had me concerned. Either we were going way too fast, they were going too slow or a combination of both was happening and we were both going to get nailed on it later.
I slowed Kat down a bit as we were approaching and lined up for Hazard #5 to let them get out of there before we came blasting along. We headed into #5 and easily wound our way around through the gates and I made sure the red was always on my right as we went through them.
As we came out of #5 we were stopped and advised that the course had changed. Where we should have gone straight and wound our way around through a field- others had gone through it in the morning and their horses struggled as the horses and carts sank into the deep mud. One woman's horse, a lovely Trakehner mare sank to her knees in the mud while the cart sank to the axles. There was nowhere to go but forward. They were on the path through the field, so getting off the path meant the mud may be deeper yet. One of the minis or VSE entries- the driver had to get off the cart and lead her horse out to solid ground. She was advised she would not be penalized for it and after that- that section of the course was closed.
After coming off of #5, we took a right to the end of the road, made a left and went up that road to a 'marker' which was a person waiting to tell us to make a U-turn and come back, that we would be back on course from there and proceed as normal, which was go to hazard #7. At Hazard #7 we went in the In gate, made our U-turn and back out through the Out gate heading for the end of section E.
Once you cross through the markers at the end of Section E, you head back over again to the vet check and rest area. The vet gives you a quick once over- respiratory and HR, quick look to see that the horse is ok and then you are met by the President of the Jury. You hand him your green time card and he figures your times for each section and scores.
On Section A with 23-25 minutes as the time allowed? Our time was 23:03. We BARELY squeaked by on that one without penalties by 3 seconds. Talk about cutting it close! In the walk portion- Section D the maximum time was 12 minutes and we came in at around 9 or 10 minutes I believe. Now for the scary part. I have no idea how we did in Section E and he didn't either. It looked like we were once again fast, but since the route was changed, the one hazard withdrawn- they really couldn't figure times on the course at that point and would have to make the changes and accommodations later and then refigure the scores.
As it turned out- because of all of the changes, the overall time for Section E for all levels was tossed out. Only the time in the hazards for the upper levels would count as well as any penalties or major mistakes which resulted in elimination. While one person in Training Single Pony did have time penalties in Section A of the marathon- None of us E'ed out! This penalty for the other competitor moved us up into third place.
After shaking hands with the President of the Jury and thanking him for his time and comments, I headed Kat back towards the barns. He still had plenty of pep and plenty of breakfast to finish cleaning up. I had plenty of mud to clean up and clean off of everything. As we made our way back behind the tent and past the giant orange semi of Gerard Paagman- Ideal Harness it was a soupy, wet and incredibly sloppy mess. So I let Kat run...
And run he did! Mud was literally spraying up off the wheels on the cart as well as it splashing up through the steel mesh of the basket as it came off his feet. We were both having a wicked blast and I soon realized I had better stop smiling because there was plenty of mud getting all over me and in my face. Yes I had mud in my teeth and Kat probably did too. At that point neither of us cared. We were having a total blast...
And this is the muddy, messy result-
My helmet on the seat of the truck
Mud chunks on the seat
A couple of chunks in the basket still and the number holder pulled double duty holding my green time card for each section.
You can see where I sat the whole time- it's clean!
The back of my number holder on the tailgate. It's caked!