A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: We Did It!

For the past 40 days over at EN’s Blogger’s Row we’ve been following the adventures of Julie Maner, mom to Prelim eventer Emily who decided to attempt an event herself riding Emily’s old horse Romeo. The goal: Jump Start H.T. in Lexington, Kentucky. After trials and tribulations, she made it to the event — and now she’s sharing the story of how it went! If you’re just tuning in, catch up on previous posts from Julie’s blog here

Photo by JJ Sillman.

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life and the procedure. The process is its own reward.” — Amelia Earhart

Sunday, October 1, 2017
Phase Three: Cross Country

I managed to sleep in a bit longer than the morning before but it wasn’t a peaceful sleep. I awoke with my heart racing. I can honestly say I was scared. My feeling of light heartedness and skipping along the cross country course had vanished. Although I had jumped some cross country obstacles, I had never ridden an entire course. What if I run out of adrenaline? What it he slams on the breaks and I go flying? Why are my lips so dry? What if fatigue sets in and I can’t finish? Richard saw it in my eyes and accompanied me to the barn with lots of hugs and words of encouragement.

My ride time wasn’t until 1:33, which didn’t help. Time gave me the opportunity to worry more. Where is the fast forward button? I need this to be over. I tried a bit of retail therapy to distract my growing concerns. I’m not sure it helped, but I got a new helmet!

Jen arrived at the barn and we saddled up her new baby and Romeo and went for a hack around the perimeter of the cross country course. Romeo was a bit jumpy, spooking for no reason a few times. This isn’t helping. By the time we were back to the barn, he had relaxed and was on the buckle as we walked through the last field. Once my family and friends arrived, I began to feel a bit better. It’s amazing what a strong support system can do for you. Lunch arrived and despite having no appetite, I choked down three chicken fingers and drank three bottles of water. My logical mind knew I needed as much energy as possible.

There was a conversation between Erika, Emily and me with regard to me and a hairnet. I wasn’t interested. The image I will always have of Romeo and Emily is of me waiting and worrying, standing somewhere on a cross country course. My eyes straining until, in the distance, I see this gray speck running through the field. The closer they got, the more purple I could see and then finally the hair; the blonde hair, flying out from underneath her helmet. “No. I will not wear a hairnet. Today, I am channeling my inner 12-year-old Emily.”

I watched Em get Romeo ready: boots, tape, nasal strip. I think I’m going to have a heart attack. I slipped away. I needed a minute to gather myself and try to get my heart to stop racing. I sought refuge in a port-a-toilet! Gross, I know but I needed solitude. I pulled out my phone and read the Amelia Earhart quote again and again. “You can do anything you decide to do.” You can do this Julie. You know what to do. Finish the job.

A few more deep breaths and I was ready. I rejoined the others. Before climbing on Romeo, I stepped inside his stall with Richard and jokingly gave him strict instructions “just in case.” But seriously…

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

It was time to go. Richard walked with me to warm up. The closer we got to the course, the more calm I became. “You’ve got this. I love you,” he said before a kiss. I knew I did. I had already won. I didn’t get eliminated in dressage and had remembered my test. I had made it through stadium without a refusal. This was the fun part. This is the part where I let my inner Emily out and become the Indian princess again.

My warm-up was less than stellar. Apparently I wasn’t sitting back near as far as I had in my stadium round. I could here a bit of concern in coach Erika’s voice. She took a stronger tone. I felt Romeo look at the coop and say, “Are you sure?” With the reins in one hand, I raised my crop in the other. Before I had to convince him, we were over it. I heard our friend Val’s laugh. Some might have been worried. My inner voice was not. You’ll get it right out there. 

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see people watching jump number four. I heard the announcer saying, “Refusal at four. Elimination.” It didn’t faze me. Normally, it would have gotten in my head. It did not. I was there to finish what I had started and crush the paper tigers … even if it was shaped like a table labeled jump four. Just watch me! Another quick tutorial from Erika on when to approach the box, when to hit my watch, when to go … and “watch out for jump four. It’s causing trouble. Now go! And HAVE FUN!”

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

Em walked me to the start box. “He knows his job, Mom. Sit back and kick. And, just give him a tap with the crop when you leave the box to wake him up. And sometimes I used to growl at him.” Growl? She looked worried: What a role reversal. Inside, I was laughing. Doesn’t feel so good now does it? “I love you,” she said. “I love you too, Emily”

I made sure my watch was ready — I had to complete the course in a certain window of time. Too fast or too slow and I’d get penalties. I stood in the box and the volunteers counted me down. “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. ” Have a good ride!” “Thank you!” And we were off!

We took a few walk steps initially and then broke into the trot! Don’t laugh! Safety first! 50+ year olds don’t bounce like the younger models do! Before reaching jump one, I was amazed at Romeo. He knew exactly what we were doing. I could see him searching, looking for the jump, telling me we were going to canter because this is the part he likes. He is the Indian Princess’s valiant steed. The first jump was a single log. I felt him look at the Beginner Novice and Novice logs. “NO ROMEO! THIS ONE!” He latched on. KICK! We were over and off to a stack of logs. KICK! After jump two, we had some ground to cover. Gotta remember to sit back first or this could end badly.

Me: TROT!

Romeo: Canter.

Me: TROT, ROMEO!

Romeo: Canter.

Me: Fine! BUT YOU BETTER JUMP IT!

Sit back. KICK!

We were over three and making our descent down the hill to jump four. He’s not going to trot. You’ve got this.

A quick glance to make sure we were in the center and I looked to the heavens, sat back and KICKED! We sailed over without so much as a thought! I could hear my fan club cheering and yelling. Smiles!

Photo by Dale Duckett.

I got quite vocal and let out a “yee-ha” as we sailed over a large log at jump five. At this point, I should have taken a breather and continued straight to regain composure but instead, I banked hard left … a bit late. It took all I had to get him lined up and pointed at the jump. Made it! And Romes? Man, he really seemed like he was having fun.

Now, I had a choice, take the safer route and jump the log, or go through the water. Romeo must have sensed my indecision because he slowed to a trot. Well, if your gonna trot, we are going through the water and we did. We gracefully practiced our extended trot right through the water like it was the simplest thing in the world.

Next we proceeded to trot up the hill towards jump eight. I realize now that I should have been cantering but this is all new me. I wanted to finish, not die trying. Jump eight was now behind us.

I suppose because of our not-so-fast-pace, Romeo, let up a bit on his intensity. I allowed him to canter on, yelling at him that we were getting close. We jumped nine a bit off center, but it was a very forgiving obstacle. Jump 10 was another scary one. What in the world is a fan palisade? Erika had warned me about this one. “Horses don’t like it.”

 

Photo by Dale Duckett.

Me: DO YOU SEE IT ROMEO?

Romeo: Canter.

Me: DO YOU SEE IT? I SEE IT! DO YOU SEE IT?!?!

HEELS ON THE DASH, SIT BACK, EYES UP, KICK!!!! OMG! He saw it!

Photo by Dale Duckett.

There were just three jumps to go! Jump number 11 and 12 were the ones that had me a bit worried. After jumping an easy roll top (jump 11), the course made a quick sharp left hand turn to a steeplechase jump (hedges). Erika suggested I go straight after jump 11 if I felt like I couldn’t make the turn and circle back to 12. We flew over 11. I panicked. What is it about crossing your tracks? What if I get eliminated because I do it wrong? It was too late, I had reached the point of no return. If Erika had seen it, she would have told me to “kiss him on the lips” because he completely saved us. I banked left, late again and before Romeo knew what was happening I was sitting back and KICKING! (Dear Romeo, this negates all those times in our lessons when you didn’t bail me out.)

Photo by JJ Sillman.

Photo by JJ Sillman.

Somewhere between jumps 10 and 12, my watch began to beep. My time looked good. As we hit the ground with me landing like a sack of potatoes on his neck, we turned toward the final jump. RIDE ‘EM COWBOY! Romeo must have thought we were done because he slowed to an easy going trot. NO! NOT YET! ONE MORE ROMEO! ONE MORE! JUMP! JUMP! JUMP! We jumped!

Photo by Dale Duckett.

I circled around and went through the finish flags one more time for good measure but it was over. We did it with no time or jump penalties! Richard and Julie P. were the first to greet me.  My first reaction was to jump into Richard’s arms but wearing an inflatable air vest, it was best I stay put. Jen came running up quickly proclaiming I had finished in 4th place! 4th place? That can’t be right. Apparently, jump four had done a number on quite a few riders. I had already moved up to 5th before going on course. Wow! I soaked it in as we made our way down to family and friends. It was all I had dreamed it would be and much, much more.

Now, I need to take some time to reflect and rejoice. Richard and I are going to take a drive and watch the leaves turn colors and just enjoy each other’s company. I’ll wrap up my 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing after I have had some more time to process it. WOW! WOW! WOW! 

Thank you for all of the love and support from complete strangers, family, friends, The Road less Traveled Eventing team and coach and especially my now trusty steed, Romeo! WE DID IT ROMES! WE DID IT!

Photo by JJ Sillman.

Photo by JJ Sillman.

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