Amazing how time can seem to fly or just stop depending on the circumstances surrounding your emotions. It is as if the whole weekend just flew yet certain moments seemed to be so still, as if going in slow motion. Waking up this morning and driving over to the arena I felt as if I had just arrived in Ft. Collins. Let’s face it today was the culmination of 90 days of training! In retrospect, I think we were all more nervous than Ramon ever was at any given point of the competition.

Cow work was first up on the day’s agenda. We were happy to see that the cows were “good” but we crossed our fingers that Ramon & Castro would get a black cow and not one of the brown or white ones. Apparently, crossing your fingers doesn’t really work so well, and Ramon pulled the only white cow in the lot. Not really sure why we worried, Castro wasn’t even phased by it. The pair worked the cow on the fence, Castro was extremely responsive and I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that Ramon is very fluent in “thinking cow”. They rocked and took home the most points. We were excited as this pushed him up to the first spot in terms of points; he was in the Top Ten officially.

The “top ten” had their official meeting and so Marijn, Deirdre, Sandy McFadden (our neighbor located in Greybull, whose indoor arena Ramon and Castro trained in) and I all went to grab dinner as we had to be back by 6:15pm sharp. With Deirdre’s assistance we were able to recruit the help of three college students who were in the CSU equestrian program, as we only had a short amount of time to set up the props (including a wooden box holding a dog) this was awesome and proved to be very helpful. Ramon had been drawn to go third in the Individual Competition and I have to say I think it was a good spot to be in, not first, not last, but just right!

At this point I will pause and say that up till now we were all under the impression that the points earned in the Individual Freestyle would be added onto the points accumulated thus far to determine the winner. Alas, it was not so. The points accumulated in the technical areas, only determined who would be in the top ten. Once in the top ten it was a clean slate and the overall winner was determined solely from the Freestyle portion. I had a couple choice comments on this scoring method however so it goes!

The first two riders to go did a good job; one rode bridle-less and the other performed a handstand on the saddle and then back flip off his horse. We got a little jumpy when the second performer’s music was the same as ours, luckily only the last portion! Then the judges were talking to the second performer and giving his scores and it was a whirlwind of activity for Team Hideout.

Truck, with props on bed, backed into arena. Run obstacles out and set them up in the proper position. Make sure the rope is in the right spot. Make sure the dog stays in the box. Get the bridge in the proper position. Get out of the arena. And don’t forget to breathe!

Then it was happening. The drum roll started over the P.A. and my arms started to tingle. This was the moment. This was the 4minutes where time would slow down and 90days of hard work were to be judged and critiqued. I had the camera in hand and my hands were lacking a certain steadiness. As the performance progressed I went from a little shaky to all out adrenaline hand tremors. (Makes it a little difficult to hold the camera!) But it was on…

Cue music. Enter arena at a walk, over the bridge and kick through the blanket of balls. Nice job Castro with the rear hoof to the soccer ball. Trot to lope and into right circle, flying lead change and into left circle. Stop, back up, spin to the right and listen to the crown show their appreciation. Stop. Spin to the left and listen to the whistles. The music started to grow louder. Back up Castro. Good job Ramon, into a fast trot, short lope, and over the jump. Perfectly executed jump. Rollback and then trot back to pick up the poll and carry it out of the way. Trot it back to the box; listen to the music start to reach its crescendo. Ramon leans down and grabs a rope on the top of the box and has Castro drag the box forward. Crowd applause. Castro trots back to the box and Ramon leans down to open the box – out jumps Ramon’s dog Panda! The crowd clapped and laughed and “awwww”ed. On command, and with Ramon’s help, Panda sits behind the saddle on Castro. More applause. Now, to the finale…the music continues to play and Ramon has Castro go down into a bow, then all the way to the ground. Off jumps Panda and off comes Ramon. Listen to the music and listen to the crowd as they cheer. After taking the rope off Castro’s foot, Ramon remounts and Castro gets up. 30seconds left. Perfect. Take a trot and take in the crowd’s approval.

Just like that it was over.

I don’t really know how to explain the pride, the joy, the sheer adrenaline rush from watching the performance. For me it was the first time seeing any of the freestyle – to me it looked good. Marijn and I just looked at each other and smiled – words weren’t really necessary. Of course we did need to pay attention to what the judges had to say. The total score given was 76 points. We were happy – it was the second highest performance so far. Ramon came out of the arena and he smiled down at us and said “He was good. It is over!” We just laughed and congratulated him.

Ramon took third place overall and while I could go on about how I think it should have been second (as I think the guy that took second put in a truly great performance as opposed to the guy who took first) – I think that everyone is in agreement that to come in for the first time and place third in a group of contestants who have competed in this event 4, 5, 6& 7 times (it was the 7th time competing for the winning trainer, and his first win) is truly impressive. More impressive is the quality of horse that we have in Castro. Castro was among a group of 4 mustangs that were truly elite of the 50 total. I say that, based not on a slightly biased opinion, but based on the remarks that I overheard from other trainers, from people in the audience, and from the judges. Ramon is proud of his horse and of the work he did. He should be and The Hideout is proud of him. Ramon and Castro represented themselves and The Hideout in the highest standards of class and excellence possible.

ramon3I asked Ramon on the drive to the hotel, “Did you have fun?” He looked at me and just smiled and said “Yes, he was a great horse to train and I am very happy with how we did.” At the end of the day, at the end of 90 days, what else is important? Ramon said “I was asked to train a horse that could perform well, I did my job.” That he did, and he did it excellently.

Congratulation Ramon & Castro – You Rocked It!

Tomorrow is the auction; let’s see if we can bring Castro home.  (update from when this post was written – Castro is coming home to The Hideout)