We arrived Monday to beautiful weather with Syd, Dyson, my new horse, Urrem (REM) and Call to Order (Joe). Katie had arranged for me to have lessons with her on all four on Tuesday, which was great, and of course to show all of them Wednesday and Thursday, which is what we did! It was hard to get everything organized and hack over to horse show grounds, especially with Joe, who is just a year off the track. I thought I was going to die getting to the ring, though he was very good in his class.
My new mare, REM, was amazing. I did the low jumpers the first day and the medium jumpers the second day with her. She was pretty fun to ride and although she was quite fresh she was a complete pro the second day. I did the mediums with Dyson and Syd on Wednesday and the highs on Thursday and I think I was a bit nervous because Dyson’s never jumped a 4’1” course in his life and was a big ring. Most of the Grand Prix riders were using the class as a warm-up, so I was riding around with Beezie Madden, McClain Ward, Nick Skelton, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and others—all these amazing riders. The quality of the riding was out of this world, an education in itself, and I was a bit star-struck.
Friday I rode all four horses with the amazing Jacquie Brooks, and then Katie rode Syd and Dyson at her ring on Saturday. It was fascinating because Katie knows Syd so well and couldn’t believe how much calmer he was. But, he also loves the hot weather! It was fun to have her ride Dyson because she didn’t realize he’s actually hotter and more sensitive than you think. Katie’s a great teacher in that she does a lot of flatwork with her horses, they have to learn to move their bodies, be more connected to bridle, be sharp to your leg, which makes it easier to do things like go from medium to collected canter.
I took all four horses back to Jacquie on Sunday and only did two lessons, on Syd and Dyson, but it’s always amazing to ride while she’s riding because you learn a lot just from watching. I was reminded that you have to have a system and it’s the repetition of your system that makes things progress. I did two more lessons on Monday, a bit easier school with Jacquie, and then I was back to jumping with Katie on Tuesday to prepare for the show that week.
We decided to show in the same classes: the training jumpers with Joe, REM in the mediums and Dyson and Syd in the highs. I felt like I was out of practice jumping big jumps since I hadn’t had a Preliminary or higher horse other than Dyson since the summer. It’s not that I was nervous, but I just don’t jump that high that often. You have to make sure you believe your horse is going to jumps and stay in balance with them. Jumping four courses in a day of competing is a lot for me, especially four days in a row, but it’s great practice. Watching Adam Prudent showing about 10 times in the week, you realize, how do you not get better with all that practice?
On Thursday I did the mediums and highs with REM and the highs with Syd and Dyson. Syd was awesome but Dyson had a little trouble backing up in the combinations and had three rails. REM was amazing in the mediums, though she decided to do three in a four stride (she’s a bit scopey, thank God!). Then I went into the high class with her, a bit nervous because she’s new to me, not that broke, only seven, and it was a really spooky course. Henri told me to trust her and use less hand and more leg, to just settle down. She was great!
The chaotic warm-up with all the amazing riders, plus the spooky course, really reminded me that you have to have a mental calm. If you’re in the show ring 10 times a day five days a week with big classes Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, you get used to the pressure. What we decided to do on Thursday after we showed was to show again because I felt like I didn’t do a good enough job. I went back with Dyson after schooling a tighter in-and-out, an oxer to a solid vertical, and he got better and better. REM went in the mediums and highs again and Joe in a training class. Joe was really good, REM was great in the mediums, and did a better job in the highs but felt a bit tired with not quite as good a rhythm at the beginning. Dyson had one rail down at a square oxer because I cut the turn, but was amazing in the in-and-out.
Saturday and Sunday we switched sports and went to a dressage show, Joe and REM did first level test 1 the first day and first 2 the second day. Syd did third 2 both days, and Dyson second 2 Saturday and second 3 Sunday. There was so much atmosphere at the jumper shows, and although this was a local show with less atmosphere, I had an 8:00 A.M. ride on Joe, it was windy and cold for Wellington, everything was blowing over and they had huge sprinklers on to prepare the turf for the Eventing Showcase. Joe was amazing and didn’t bat an eye! I didn’t feel the horses were that great on Saturday but in fairness, it’s not a great prep to jump the three days before, and I also didn’t really know the tests well. The horses were better on Sunday. REM won her class on a 68% and all of them were good and got ribbons.
I hopped in my truck on Sunday and drove back to Aiken with my head reeling from all the information I’d been exposed to and all the show experience I’d gotten. I think my biggest take-aways are that when you get to compete a lot, like Phillip, Boyd, Ryan and Buck, or the people at jumper shows, you can’t help but get better. The other thing is if you can trust you know how to ride, and that your horse is going to jump, it will make you and you horses more confident. Finally, Jacquie Brooks is one of the best instructors I’ve ever had on the flat. Her analogies for teaching dressage are amazing, and you can clearly picture what she’s telling you.
I made it back to Aiken early Monday morning just in time for the week to start. I schooled cross-country with the babies and Dyson to get ready for Sporting Days the following weekend. Surefire South had a great Sunday at the event; every horse we brought was in the ribbons and because of my preparation in Wellington, and my students’ preparation, pretty much showing every day for the previous three weeks, we were better prepared and calmer for the first event of the season.