Regular readers of this blog will remember my good friend Beth as being one of my favorite eventing buddies. She’s been with me since day one and has always been one of my biggest supporters.
A few days ago, Beth mentioned she was coming out to Aiken for a schooling show at Jumping Branch Farm. Since it’s only about 40 minutes away from where I’m living in Augusta now, I suggested I come out to watch and cheer her on. Instead, she suggested that I compete, too…
It had been more than two years since our last event where a rouge pickup truck on course ended up getting me eliminated. JJ’s subsequent ligament injury and my crazy life changes meant we never got a chance to get back out there, but, now that things have settled down a little, I started toying with the idea – thanks to Beth’s inspiration, of course.
So, just one week before the show, I said ‘why not?’ and signed up to do a Beginner Novice Combined Test. We have been schooling 3′ jump courses at our new home at Foolin’ Around Farm effortlessly, so I quickly learned our dressage test and made plans.
The week leading up to the show was BUSY! On Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, I hit it hard with our training. Poor JJ has basically been a potato for the last 2+ years. I ride him almost every day but keep our sessions short to just 20-30 minutes of actual work (not including walking) so his fitness is okay but nowhere near where it used to be. I don’t ask a lot from him, since he’s already given me so much, and now suddenly I was like, ‘okay, kid, time to remember how to be a fancy dressage horse again!’ Needless to say, he was not as enthusiastic about it as I was. ;)
Tuesday I spent the entire day on the road as I went to Atlanta to buy a 2012 Tahoe from a friend (a “happy early birthday” gift to myself).
On Wednesday, I realized that the last time I had jump schooled, my feet were slipping through the stirrups not because I suck as a rider (well, maybe I do) but because the treads on my tall boots were super worn out. So, I decided this was the perfect time to break in a brand new pair…
Ouch, bad decision. JJ and I (painfully) flatted again and ran through our test a few times.
He had been a really good boy, so on Thursday, he got the day off from work but not from torture.
JJ hates when I pull his mane, and since I didn’t think we would ever compete again, I had just let it grow out – he looked feral and semi-homeless, like a Western Pleasure horse gone crazy.
Unfortunately for him, I got out the pulling knife, shortened his mane, clipped his fetlocks, tidied up some other places, then shaved and banged his tail. Suddenly, he looked like a real event horse again!
That night, we had a race at Carolina Dragway, the local dragstrip in Aiken where I work part-time, and I didn’t get to bed until almost 1:00am. We hadn’t even gotten to the event yet and I was already exhausted from the week.
Finally, on Good Friday, Beth rolled through Augusta and popped in to pick up JJ. I have my own trailer and now that I had the Tahoe I could pull it myself, but it was easier (and more fun) to take one rig instead of two. We headed off for the short ride over to Jumping Branch, arrived safely, unloaded our ponies, set up their stalls, and got tacked up for a little cross country schooling. Somehow, Beth had gone from talking me into “just a schooling show CT” to XC as well!
From the moment I swung a leg over JJ, I could tell how absolutely thrilled he was to be back. I haven’t felt that much energy in his walk for years, and he was uncharacteristically hot to my leg. He was PUMPED! I knew his fitness wasn’t there, though, so made the conscious decision to keep our work light and short so as to protect him from himself…
A quick little warmup and a small log helped him get the memo that yes, this was actually happening! Finally! We hit a couple little Beginner Novice jumps to knock the rust off, and from then on out it was all Novice stuff. He nailed every single jump, never hesitated, and was practically dragging me to the fences. Fortunately, my new tall boots had lots of grip and I stayed secure and balanced over each one.
At one point, I aimed him at a small Training coop. He underestimated the size of it, but got us over cleanly and safely. The second time through, he was foot-perfect like we had never missed a day and like it hadn’t been 2+ years since our last outing.
I was SO pleased with him (and he was very obviously pleased with himself, as he was wild-eyed and snorting and prancing and eager to take off like a rocket the moment I gave even the slightest release of the reins) but I decided to call it quits on that. It wasn’t worth risking him hurting himself by asking for more.
However, he let me know, very clearly, that he wasn’t ready to be done. I had him on a loose rein so he could catch his breath, but he took us to the little drop into the water and stepped himself right on in. Then, once he was in the water, he walked out, circled around, and did the drop again – four times in total! I was laughing so freakin’ hard I could barely sit up! He’s so funny, that kid. :)
Meanwhile, Beth was a freaking ROCK STAR on her sweet OTTB Andy and had a killer session jumping some serious stuff. Certified #baddie right there!
Later that evening, after cooling out the boys, doing up their legs, and throwing them their dinners, Beth and I headed over to the famed Willcox restaurant in Aiken for a “yay, we’re back at it!” celebratory dinner of our own. The food was delicious, the conversation was hilarious, and the company was the best – I’m so grateful to have Beth in my life. It had been a very good Good Friday indeed.
The JBF schooling show was held on Saturday, April 16, and the forecast showed a huge rain system moving in early in the day. I was hoping I would get lucky and it would break up, but, nope – it was nonstop rain all through my dressage. It didn’t stop us from having fun, though, and JJ was surprisingly light, soft, and supple in warmup. I knew we didn’t have a chance at placing since we hadn’t had a lesson (or done any real dressage work) in 26 months, but was hopeful that maybe we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves.
So, the steward told us to go on in, the judge honked her horn, we entered at A, trotted down centerline, and JJ said “Oh, yeah, I remember now, I hate this. Screw you, mom!” Uggggggh. He cantered where we should be trotting, then stumbled into the actual canter and jigged during all three walks. But hey, I can’t be mad – I was just happy to be there, considering there was a time when I honestly never thought I’d ever be able to ride him again.
After the (not so) fancy-prancing, we went back to the stall to catch our breath and swap his tack over for stadium jumping. Also on the turf, the course was very derby-esque and had a lot of long stretches in between jumps. After XC schooling the day before and already having flatted for 30+ minutes, I wanted to make sure I had enough horse under me to get through it and strategically decided to keep our warmup as short as possible.
JJ was already warmed up from dressage, so after a little trot and canter we popped the cross-rail to prep. The vertical had been knocked down by another rider with only the bottom rail still hanging, so, it was essentially a little 2′ jump instead. As I was on my own with no “jump crew,” I figured, well, that’s all we’ve got… so we jumped that once then took the oxer one time on each lead and headed on in to do our course.
JJ had been quiet and very rideable in warmup, but once we got out there, he was like a little kid set loose on a playground – a happy little jumping monster! I did my best to steer him in the general direction and rate his pace (it had finally stopped raining but there were some portions where the jump lines ran downhill and the turf had been torn up a little from previous rides) and he did his best to ignore me. ;)
We had a lucky rub at one fence (fortunately, it stayed up) but otherwise made it through double clear! I was SO proud of him for getting it done, and proud of myself for staying on.
Overall, I was beyond happy that we finished on our dressage score and that Beth had convinced me to go for it in the first place. Yeah, we were competing at Beginner Novice when we used to compete at Training and school some small Prelim, but after 2+ years of no shows and ZERO lessons, we finished – and we weren’t last.
Just out of the ribbons in 7th place, the fact that we went clear when many others had rails, time penalties, or got eliminated, was more than enough for me.
Plus, I did it on my own… with no coach. Proving that we could “still do this” and that I was competent was so incredibly validating.
So, even if we don’t ever show again, at least now we have this one to look back on and say, yeah, we didn’t end in disaster. :)
Don’t wait until a few days before your event to break in your new boots.
Also, even when it seems like it’s over (for example: our showing career) it doesn’t mean it actually is!
Date: April 16, 2022
Location: Jumping Branch Farm in Aiken, SC
Division: Beginner Novice CT
Type: Schooling Show
Final Score: 40.00