I jumped with Phillip on Tuesday and that was good. I would say that by far I was feeling the most rusty in show jumping, which is odd for me because it’s always been my strong suit, so it was good to get some more practice in. Meghan and I went over to the grounds and moved in on Tuesday. I knew I was going to go Friday, so Wednesday I did some long and low and tried to get J.R. loose and relaxed. After two days of lessons his back was a little sore— I think our horses might get pre-competition nerves like us, and maybe that’s why he felt a little tight.
Phillip had agreed to jog J.R. for me. I still have some lingering lack of feeling in my right hand from my accident, and with J.R. so fit and fresh, I felt better with Phillip handling him. On Wednesday I saw the course for first time. I loved it—big and pretty scopey, Derek did a fantastic job. I thought the Chesapeake Water, with the duck jump in the water followed by four strides out up the hill to a brush on top, one long stride to a really severely angled brush with only small window to jump, was by far the hardest with a lot to do. The whole course had great flow, though—first impressions always stick with you and I really liked the flow, and I knew, barring a silly mistake, it would be a great course for my horse. The only thing I didn’t know was how much rain we were going to get, it rained all Wednesday night, all Thursday and part of Friday morning.
On Thursday I had another lesson with Silva and J.R. was in really great form. We only worked for maybe 25 minutes then hacked around. I felt completely prepared for my test on Friday morning. On Friday I rode J.R. twice, once just a walk, trot and canter for about 20 minutes to take the edge off him and see how fresh he was. I was a bit surprised because he was fresher than he’s been—I think he thought it was cross-country day! When I got on for my test I knew he was in good frame of mind, I felt really ready, and Silva warmed me up for about 20 minutes. I was so pleased with my horse’s test! One half pass he was maybe trailing a little with his haunches, and I missed my first change in the canter and he was maybe a little tight for the second, but he was really fun to ride and I don’t often say that about dressage! It was definitely one of the best tests he’s ever done and I was thrilled with him.
On Saturday morning, I decided to walk around and see how footing was holding. I really concentrated and where footing was best and how to get to it to keep him on good footing as much as possible. I went about half way through the three-star division so I knew that good footing would be hard to find. When I got on J.R. he was a pretty relaxed but really focused, he knew what was coming. I’d say it was the best ride I’ve had with him yet, though they’re all pretty good. Before I went, Phillip was great and talked with me about how these big events don’t some up often, that I needed to think about time, ride one fence at a time, and just go out and do my stuff. I feel like J.R. and I did just that, we went out and did our stuff. The footing was sticky, which didn’t make it easy, but these competitions are hard and you have to fight for everything you get. With that being said, I feel as though I was really efficient about my gallop, except for last two jumps not being out of rhythm. I changed to those because I didn’t want to make a mistake at the end, but everything else just flowed and whole course felt easy for him. Sometimes J.R. tries too hard in the air so I had to keep him going on the back side of the jump. I don’t want him to think it’s too hard, so I just encourage him forward after. You can also leave a lot of time after the jump if you don’t gallop away.
J.R. pulled up great and had a nice night thanks to great care from Meghan. Being in the lead after cross-country at a big three-star is so satisfying and even though I nervous on Sunday morning, it was so nice to feel like I did my job and was in a position to win the whole thing—that’s why we do this. Along with enjoying the sport and the horses, we also want to be good enough to win. Even though my butterflies were flying around a little crazy, I was really excited for the show jumping on Sunday morning. I tried not to focus on how close we top three were and just focus on my plan and my warm-up and how I wanted to ride the course, which I really liked when I walked it. And then it was time to warm up. It’s amazing that when you get on your horse you can feel the butterflies fly into formation; that helps you so much with your focus.
Overall my horse warmed up well and Phillip was kind enough to help me. I felt really good about my plan when I went into ring. I had a great first jump, but on the way to second fence I cut the bend and never put J.R.’s eye on the jump, plus even though we arrived on a little bit of a longer distance, I trusted he would jump it. Horses will jump what they can see, but J.R. never put his eye on it so he didn’t think he had to jump. Big, big mistake! And everyone was there to see it. I was actually lucky I didn’t fall off and he didn’t fall down.
From that point on you’re in survival mode and just try to minimize the damage and have the best result you can. I did have one more jump down that I think was a little bit of an unlucky rail behind. Overall the course was not smooth at all. But I still finished in third and looking back on it, I know I’ll be better next time. I feel that not having had a lot practice over big courses since I’ve been back might have been a factor. I went to two jumper shows then did three Advanced horse trials with J.R., which is probably not enough practice to have the kind of results you want to have. This was one point in time for me and I know I’ll be better next time. As we know with horses, it could have gone the other way; I could have jumped from the gap and had a different result.
I’m so thankful for my horse, first of all—he’s a great horse and great jumper—and second, for all the people who have supported me through everything: my parents, my boyfriend Tom, the girls in barn and all my kind friends. It was an added bonus to win the Sportsmanship award. It was so sweet of both Boyd and Becky to say at the press tent that they were both rooting for me to win. I have to say that I’m really looking forward to next year with J.R., Syd Kent and Why Not. I would love to have a good run to the Olympics, which has been a life-long dream and goal of mine.
Back home, J.R. gets a month off, which he’s so excited about because he loves to be in his field. I’m back at work teaching and traveling to do a clinic this weekend. I’ll keep you posted on fall and winter plans!