Welcome to A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: A Prelim Mom’s Journey to Starter. I would like to invite you to follow along as I attempt to ride in my first … and only event, Jump Start Horse Trials in Lexington, KY. Sit down, pour a glass of wine (enjoy an extra one for me as I have all but given it up) and watch it unfold. Will I make it? Who knows! Should I even be attempting this? Who cares! There are no baby steps to be taken as we are short on time, but my not so trusty steed and I are taking it day by day. Come along for the ride!
Monday, September 4, 2017
It was Labor Day, and Romeo and I were on the road early headed to River Glen for another cross-country schooling. This time I was nervous. I had a sense of dread, not fear, just a sinking feeling. I figured if it didn’t go well, Erika might be inclined to say we were not going to be ready by the end of the month and pull the plug. W
ith butterflies in my stomach, I tacked up Romeo. My jaws hurt. Stop clenching your teeth. Without Emily to double-check everything, I was even more insecure. I enlisted Erika’s help with the jumping boots (not dressage boots) and she also presented me with a crap strap to use for the day. For those of you who don’t know, a crap strap, as eventers call them, is a simple leather strap that is fitted around the horse’s neck. It comes in handy when you lose your balance or need something to hang on to as you’re careening through the fields yelling, “Oh crap!”
A small hiccup in our plan was that Erika and I had completely forgotten that she had borrowed my cross-country vest and it was back in her trailer an hour away. Julie P. (another member of the Road Less Traveled) offered me hers. Julie P. and her horse, Bosco are amazing. Bosco is pretty much Superman. He is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and I am quite certain he can leap tall buildings in a single bound. This being said, Julie’s cross-country vest has a Superman logo on the back. I am not worthy. It’s a bird, it’s a plane … oh wait … it’s just Julie and Romeo.
We headed out to warm up. This time the group consisted of young girls — girls who had been training in some form or fashion of a horse discipline for years, or possibly their entire lives. No pressure. I think I’m going to throw up. I asked Erika at what point do the butterflies go away. “Never” was her reply. I tried a page from my son’s Zen lifestyle. Meditate. Breath in through the mouth, out through the nose. Enjoy the moment Julie. Apply what you know. I faintly heard Erika ask, “Are you taking deep breaths?” I nodded.
For the past week, I have relived my two jumping refusals. I have played them over and over in my head. I lay awake at night visualizing sitting up, heels down and counting my trot steps to each jump. It was my turn. Don’t just take off and go. Take a minute. Remember to sit back and when you think you are sitting back, sit back more. Count out loud. Heels down. Got it. Now, you can go. The other girls might have thought I was crazy as I gathered my thoughts and took a moment; it was just a small log on the ground. One, two, one, two, one, two. Jump! We did it! No problem! Cheers and applause coming from the sidelines encouraged me to do more!
Next jump. One, two, one, two. Success again! I could hear Erika yelling when I had reached “the point of no return!” This was extremely helpful. At that point we were committed to the jump. Heels down, eyes up, KICK! We tackled every obstacle put in front of us. I was even able to get the trot back a couple of times! Butterflies turned to smiles — lots and lots of smiles. I bet I look like a person straight out of a mental institution. But I was having fun.
More importantly, I think Romeo was having fun. He took a few stutter steps here and there but Erika explained that he wasn’t questioning the jump — he was finding the distance for me. I was staying out of his way but still giving him all of the right signals to jump the obstacle! Feeling confidant, I even followed Katherine, a fellow team member, up a bank: more smiles and cheers! Erika asked if I wanted to attempt the beginner novice back-cracking combination again. No need to push my luck or my back. “No, thanks.”
I found myself going through the water, up a hill and toward a jump. You could tell Romeo just thought we were going for a hack. Hands wide, sit up, count, LOOK ROMEO! And he did! Success!
Remember when I said I can sound like I know a lot about eventing but don’t really know a lot? Well, I’m used to my Preliminary level daughter doing trot and gallop sets to prep for shows so while taking a break, I asked Erika about conditioning Romeo.
Me: So, how much galloping should we be doing to get him in shape? Em is going to do the conditioning for me.
Erika, aghast: NONE!
Me: What? Why?
Erika: He’s a thoroughbred. He’s naturally fit. He’s fit for starter just by the work you’re doing. You want him to be fit for the job but not too fit or he could possibly overpower you. We don’t need him to be anymore athletic than he already is. A trainer once told me that you want your horse to be on or near the same fitness level as the rider.
Me: Oh. Wait? What are you saying? I’m slow, old, and not very talented? Snicker. I’m not sure that’s a compliment but I get it. He’s a thoroughbred. No more conditioning. Mark that off my list! Does this mean I can skip the gym this week?
We shared a good laugh and moved on. There was one jump to go, the dreaded red barn thing that we had trouble with last week. More butterflies. I have to get comfortable with this. I have watched cross-country videos from the starter division at Jump Start. They have lots of these barn things on course. With Erika in my ear, “Open your left rein, MORE, POINT OF NO RETURN!, KICK!” One, two, one, two, one, two. We were over it! We did it! Granted, he jumped it with a few feet to spare (no doubt memories from last week’s correction) but we did it! Grabbing the “crap strap’” I did a victory lap. More insane smiles! Stop smiling you crazy lady!
To top the day off, those dressage boots from my first cross country lesson were still sitting on the jump I’d put them on two weeks ago AND I remembered to grab them this time.
With that, my second cross-country schooling was over. I get it. I understand why these girls keep going back. The freedom of flying, the sound of the wind, seeing the mane fly, the ears perk, becoming one with a 1000+ lb beast! My words don’t do it justice. When everything clicks, it is an amazing feeling! I couldn’t wait to get on the road to call Richard … and I didn’t stop smiling all of the way home. Good job, Romeo. Up, up and away!!!
Heels down, eyes up, leg on.
27 days to Jump Start
Read more on Julie’s blog here.