You won’t get if you don’t ask and you don’t know until you try.
As an equestrian professional on a budget, I’ve found that success comes in being adaptable. When my equitation prospect failed out of jumping school, I found myself in an upper level dressage barn for a couple years. When my young jumper needed a break, I decided to focus on the ex-Grand Prix horse who has turned out to be super and also trying to take my slightly spooky hunter in a three day event.
Trust me, I thought I lost my marbles too.
This all started in purchasing a horse park pass for the year. The Woodside Horse Park is like a play ground for horse people. There’s something to do all over the place. It’s great for a whole variety of reasons and it’s so close that schooling is something that we can do frequently. My little mare loves water so we started our practice around the water, jumping in and out over the little logs and then a couple of the jumps. The first few times I was so nervous not knowing how she’d respond since she can be a little shifty at times. She almost always jumps but sometimes it's from a standstill and her athletic little body can launch you. Turns out, she actually likes cantering in open spaces and splashing through the water. You don't know until you try...
With the help, support, and encouragement from the eventers at the barn, I made the bold decision on the day entries were due to sign up to do Beginner Novice. In hindsight, Novice probably would have been easier but I didn’t want the height of the jumps to be even a thought in our minds. I was already venturing into unknown territory and I figured it was easier to take the height out of the equation. As it was, neither she nor I had ever done an event and I wanted to have the best chance at having a successful first outing.
I also didn’t know how she would be hauling in and not stabling. In the hunters, we usually have to prep quite a bit, but we’ve been working on hauling her places and then riding. She was super quiet on dressage day. It was nice and warm and the whole property had a very low-key feeling to it. She responded and was very quiet in our dressage test. It’s been a long time since I’ve done a dressage test and I forgot how nit-picky I can be while riding the test. It’s four or five minutes of thinking ahead while reflecting on the last movement, while riding what’s underneath you and remembering where you’re going. I’m grateful for my extensive ballet training when I was younger because memorizing courses and patterns has always been easy for me. I rode a very conservative test in which she was slightly underpowered and a tad over the bit but it was a peaceful first dressage test for Fiora. We scored a 28.8 (71.2 in dressage terms) but of course I forgot to pick up the test paper after. Hunter/Jumper rider error number one.
The second day we rode in the morning. It was a little colder and the big guns were out jumping their cross country. I left Fiora in the trailer to go walk the course and came back to her attempting to put a hole through the floor. Once I unloaded her she was insane. Her mind was completely blown by the horses on course and she was rearing while tied to the trailer (something I’ve never ever seen her do before!). The thought crossed my mind that today might be the day I’m going to die. I threw her on the lunge and she trotted around quietly and peaceful like nothing was the matter. Took her back to the trailer and tied her to the side so she couldn’t see the field and she was much better after that. I started breathing again.
The stadium round was pretty simple. Bending five, line in seven, bending in seven, line in five, roll back to a two stride. I got her a little deep into a small vertical and she rolled the rail out of the cups but jumped everything else just fine. It definitely wasn’t a half-seat hunter ride, and she looked at the jumps a little, but a little leg sent her right over.
The third day I thought I was going to vomit. I was useless at the barn in the morning while doing my chores because I was so nervous. I got to the horse park really early just in case she was going to pull the stunts she did the day before. Of course she didn’t so we had a bit of time to just hang out and enjoy the sun. Gearing up to go cross country felt like suiting up for war: boots, bell boots, pads, breast collar, numbers everywhere, vest, in-case-of-death armband, watch, whip, gloves, helmet, spurs. No wonder these eventers have beautifully large trailers to keep all this stuff in!
The warm up arena was pretty tame and I was infinitely thankful for this fact. I imagined loose horses, bolting riders, and other insanity. She can be a little funny about traffic but she handled herself really well. She was really backed off to the first crossrail which had me a little worried but her confidence grew the more she jumped. On my way down to the start box I thought I was going to vomit. I always get nervous before doing something new but haven’t ever actually vomited yet. I fiddled with my watch to get my mind off the feeling. She was so eerily quiet that it concerned me but she perked up once we got going.
The first three fences she gave me a big “wait, what did you sign us up for?” I thought for a half a second she was going to stop at fence three because she had gotten her eye on another jump we had to ride past and was staring at the jump judge. I sat down and prepared to use the crop but she popped over it and kept going (there is some benefit to riding stoppers early in your riding career, you learn how to sit back and use a stick in the air when need be). She actually dragged me around most of the course. After fence four and five she started to get the idea and leapt into the water and didn’t really look hard at anything else.
At minute marker four, we had only been on course for three minutes so I had to slow her waaayyyyy down. I hadn’t even been asking her to gallop, I had just let her canter at her own pace. I knew we’d have an issue at the ditch so I tried to accommodate for that. Sure enough she cantered up to the ditch, looked hard at it, and just planted her feet. It’s funny because she’s okay with jumping a jump and then cantering to the ditch. There’s just something about cantering the ditch and then up to a jump. I couldn’t get her over from the standstill so we circled and she jumped over it the second time without hesitation. We collected cantered our way through the water and over the last two jumps and still finished about fifteen seconds under optimum.
We ended 9th in the division. No complaints here - I just wanted to come home in one piece with a sound horse and complete the whole thing. I knew the ditch was going to be a bit tricky but in her defense, it's the third time she's seen one. I learned a lot about my little mare and a little bit more about a whole new aspect of the horse world. I can’t say that I’ll be switching disciplines but it is fun to be a little more versatile. This way when you have a horse that isn’t working out in one field, you can be a little quicker to find them a career in another.
The outpouring of support and help from all the people at the barn was truly amazing. Big thanks to Haley for helping me school and lending me equipment. Huge thanks to Alex for braving the wind and cold to show me how to walk the cross country course and for all the little tips and tricks. Thanks to Dannielle for being my escort/babysitter on day one and Tori for braiding. And thanks to Kathryn for flying home from Arizona to help and watch her old horse and trainer do something incredibly out of character (although I know she was just there for her entertainment).
And now back to hunterland...