Eli and I hadn’t been in the show ring since last June, so this past Saturday was only our second show together. We had an instructive experience. I have a lot to go over in my mind about it, so I’ll try to keep it semi-organized here, because I think that will be extremely helpful for our next show. I am also incredibly lucky to have this show well-documented by Lauren of She Moved to Texas, who has graciously given me permission to use her pictures for this post.
First of all, Eli was FANTASTIC. I arrived at the showgrounds at about 6 o’clock in the morning, and found him happily munching hay in a stall. I pulled his wraps off and threw him on the longe line for a few minutes to let him take a look around. I got him tacked up and walked him over to the ring we would be showing in. Eli had a big trot going, and relaxed some at the canter, but he is typically a little amped off-property, which I find to be advantageous for a jumper. He had a ton of energy, but remained rideable. My trainer came in and told me to jump everything once, in the lines, then try a couple of rollback turns. The lines rode easily for Eli and two rollbacks later I felt great about how he was going and my trainer was happy with our schooling. She was off to work all day, as she was a part of show management. I rinsed Eli off and let him graze for a while, while he dried, and settled in for hanging out ALL DAY.
Hanging out at a horse show all day is basically heaven for me. I get the cheer on my barnmates, casually sip Gatorade in the shade, and check out all of the cute horses. I get to see and catch up with people I don’t see on a regular basis. I get to stuff Eli’s face with cookies and fuss over the amount of hay in his stall and top off his water buckets every hour or so. Paradise.
The two jumper divisions were last on the show schedule, so I got to see almost all of my barnmates show. The 2’6″-2’9″ jumper division went first, so I also got to see Lauren and Simon go. I thought they looked great, but I will leave it to Lauren to recount her experience! Simon looked extremely handsome in his bonnet.
Eli and I were signed up for the 3′-3’3″ division, which my trainer and I decided I could go ahead and do, and scratch the last class if Eli or I got fatigued, so I got on after the end of the first 2’6″-2’9″ class and strolled over to the warm-up area. I had given myself plenty of warmup time for Eli to look around, because the last time we showed, he was very looky and spooky about the show environment. As it turns out, I should have given him more credit, as he showed the mental maturity he’s developed at home. This also means I got on way too early and we were walking around in the sun for quite a bit of time.
The afternoon sun, heat and humidity were by no means brutal for Texas, but I wouldn’t have minded a few clouds and a breeze.
The first course was stupidly simple for a jumper course–a single to a bunch of lines. The lines rode easily for Eli, although I found the combination to be a bit tight. They walked pretty much on the numbers for me except the combination walked about 3 feet short.
We were clear for the round, and went straight for the jump off, a series of turns to a bit of a gallop to rollback to the last jump.
I took a long route through one of the turns because I notice some horses that turned tighter were slipping in the footing. It meant we weren’t terribly fast, but we were clear. I was completely thrilled and impressed with Eli, as he gave an incredible effort at every jump.
The class only had 3 or 4 horses in it, and we got second. Not much competition, but who cares? This is Eli’s first ribbon with me, and it could be any color. The fact that we went double clear is what’s important to me.
But, it was pretty darn hot, and I had to go over my next course. It would be a speed round, and had some interesting turns, but nothing out of hand. There was a bit of a delay while the jump crew reset the start and finish lines, and then we were off at the judge’s whistle.
This is where the heat started taking its toll on my brain. For whatever bone-headed reason, I took the absolutely longest route possible to the first jump, a single coop oxer that plenty of horses looked at or stopped at throughout the day. Eli had already jumped it, and we were on pace, but then I picked up the reins. Worse, my leg was dead at Eli’s sides. We had a horrible distance and a rail. Okay, I thought, we’ll recover. We turned for jump two, and all I remember about it is that we had another rail and I panicked and circled.
As I was circling, I went though the 27 stages of mortification, got over it, and legged on for the combination. I also began to question my stamina and my horse’s fitness. We hadn’t worked for most of May, maybe 7 or 8 light rides and very little jumping. But the combination was next on course, and I knew that whether or not my legs actually worked properly, I had to close them around Eli and go forward.
Fortunately, he made a brilliant effort and basically jumped the shit out of the combination. The turn to jump 4 was right there.
But this one time, I could not find the physical strength or mental discipline to do my horse justice and ride him safely through the rest of the course. And the rails had me worried about his own condition, and convinced me he was fatigued enough to make ending on the combination the right thing to do. Eli rarely touches the jumps–two rails in a row blew my mind. But he finished so well on that combination, I called it a day. We scratched the last class and I gave him a drink of water and a ton of cookies, rinsed him, wrapped him, and let him graze for a while until it was time to load up.
My trainer was actually okay with my decision, and didn’t expect me to ride through heat stroke or anything like that. We had more than one discussion beforehand about how many classes I would be able to do and the likelihood of scratching at least one class. We were on the same page about our lack of conditioning and practice. It is good to have a trainer that gets you and knows your limits and doesn’t push you unnecessarily–I’m definitely lucky in that respect.
And of course there were moments of total hilarity and joy while I was on course, like when going down the line closest to the grandstand that rode as a long six for a lot of people, this was Eli:
We did not have a perfect show. But so what? Eli jumped his heart out.
I know a few things now that I can focus on and take away from the experience …
Things I forgot: Eli’s white bonnet, Eli’s boots which I bought specifically for horse shows, and diaper pins. I was the dork in the jumper ring with the number tied around her waist. Note to self, make a list ON PAPER.
Things I remembered: Sunscreen, all my other tack and a saddle rack, my courses (the ones I learned, anyway), food, water, coffee, cookies for Eli, and a positive attitude.
Things I will do better next time: CONDITIONING (May monsoon, please don’t come back). Using my LEG at the base of the jumps at ALL the jumps, timing better when to get on, my crest release (this is probably THE biggest thing I will be working on all summer–I still wonder if I had a long or automatic release coupled with more leg whether those rails would have happened–either way, tired horse/tired rider isn’t a good combo).
I want to thank Lauren again for the fantastic pictures–this post couldn’t have come together without them! I’m already planning for the next show!