Ainsley Jacobs
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Ainsley Jacobs

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About Ainsley Jacobs

Ride Heels Down's Ainsley Jacobs has loved horses ever since she was a little girl. She began riding on Long Island when she was 8 years old and focused mostly on huntseat equitation. She spent many years volunteering at local barns, teaching lessons, pushing trails, and managing summer camps to earn more time in the saddle. After graduating college, she moved to Atlanta and began riding at Go With It Farm. In 2014, Ainsley decided to try eventing, and she’s been addicted ever since! Her first event was at the Tadpole level, and Ainsley currently competes in the Novice 3-phase with JJ Spot, a wonderful 15.3hh APHA gelding who she purchased (her first horse! OMG!) on February 16, 2016. :)

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Lessons Learned: Making the Most of It

Up the second half of the double bank combo. Photo by Kristina Munroe.

JJ popped a splint at our last 3-phase back in March, so we haven’t been out on the cross country course in a few months. With the USEA Area III Championships now less than a month away, I wanted to get back out there and knock the rust off before we head into the competition.

Fortunately, my friend and trainer Miriam Offermanns of Milym Equestrian scheduled a schooling trip to Chattahoochee Hills this past weekend for a few of us and JJ and I were able to go.

Our group arrived in the afternoon and it was HOT. We had five horses going out, and we were all eager to get to work. After tacking up, I got on and JJ immediately bee-lined towards the cross country area – he knew his job and it was clear that he couldn’t wait to get back out there, too.

We headed down to the cross country field and got a little surprise … the jumps were gone and the main water complex was empty! With the exception of some Prelim+ questions, it was pretty barren. The website had said that schooling was open, but I guess the prep for upcoming events started early. Bummer.

We were all feeling a little dismayed that our plans had been thwarted, but as we were walking into the back field we spotted a couple of jumps that hadn’t been taken away yet. There were men working on tractors cutting the grass and moving jumps, and I was afraid that they would grab the last few remaining obstacles, so I did what any sane eventer would do – I pointed JJ directly towards where they were working and started warming up while circling the jumps. Basically, I was “claiming” them and putting out the message of “hey, please don’t take these away, we’re going to be jumping them in a few minutes!”

Fortunately, the workers got the hint and left the jumps alone so we could school and I was thrilled. At least we had something salvageable! There were three Beginner Novice and three Novice fences, and JJ hopped over all of them as if he could do them in his sleep. I had been hoping to start schooling Training, but given the lack of opportunity and the extreme heat, we all decided it was better to just take it easy and make it a fun, positive experience for the horses instead of trying to do anything challenging.

Since our actual jumps were limited, our group focused on more permanent obstacles instead; we worked up banks, down banks, and ditches. I couldn’t help but laugh, because down banks and ditches are our weak points so it actually worked out better this way for me and JJ since we got to school what we needed the most work on.

I was really impressed with how our group had turned lemons into lemonade and made the most of an imperfect situation, but I was also really happy with how laid back and chill JJ was through it all. My horse, who was once deemed “dangerous and unrideable” was now the old pro, the one who knew his job and did it with zero drama. Miriam was schooling a green, young horse who had never been on cross country before, and JJ got the honor of being the “lead” horse to guide him over a few fences. I was so incredibly proud of my little guy who was acting as the mentor and setting a good example – he makes my heart so happy.

We’ll be returning to Chatt in a few weeks for the Area III Championships, and I’m feeling super positive about it. Stay tuned for updates!

I love that my horse is the only one derping. (Team Milym, left to right: Ainsley on JJ, Mary on Cali, Miriam on Cappy, Shay on Liam, and Maris on Cruz) Photo by Kristina Munroe.


LESSON LEARNED

Get creative with your schooling plan and you can make the most of any situation.

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Lessons Learned: LRK3DE From a Vendor’s Perspective

It takes all facets of the horse industry to make a massive event like Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event such an experience. Ainsley Jacobs gives us a glimpse into the event from a vendor’s perspective.

Much love to Meri Jane, Ava, Meredith and Doreen from Free Form Farm! Photo by Erik Jacobs / P.TEN Marketing.

Well, I’m back from another great weekend at the Kentucky Horse Park with Ride Heels Down and although I’m desperately trying to catch up on work from my day job after having been away so long, I wanted to get my thoughts and gratitude out while everything was still fresh in my mind.

First things first, I would like to extend a huge “thank you!” to Land Rover for their sponsorship of the Land Rover Kentucky 3-Day Event. I’ll admit, it took a little getting used to typing the #LRK3DE hash tag and saying “Land Rover” instead of “Rolex,” but we ALL need to return the favor and show our support for Land Rover.

Now on to the fun stuff! Getting ready for the LRK3DE isn’t a quick process. I started preparing about five months prior, securing my booth space, designing new apparel to launch at the event, ordering (and folding) tons of inventory, purchasing supplies, and more. I am fortunate in that I displayed last year for the first time, so I already had most things organized and had a good check list to work from which made it a little easier.

Two of my good friends, though, were both displaying this year for the first time and I did what I could to help them plan and avoid any unexpected hiccups. Because teamwork makes the dream work, right? Amazingly, Mary Campbell and her super cute boutique, Mare Goods, wound up being located right next to Laura Lamb’s incredible travel company, Ireland Equestrian Tours.

When it finally came time to drive six hours form Atlanta to Lexington, my fabulous husband, Erik, and I loaded our diesel van (aptly nicknamed “Van Diesel” – get the joke?) and hit the road. We arrived mid-day on Tuesday and settled in to our hotel to enjoy the calm before the storm. The next day, we headed over to the beautiful park and got to work unloading and unpacking. I had the booth mostly set up around noon, so we broke for a quick lunch before coming back to finish things up.

I awoke on Thursday morning so excited to get started with the first day of the event, but quickly found that I couldn’t talk. Seriously! My voice had mysteriously disappeared and I suddenly sounded like a 75-year-old, three-pack-a-day smoker, although I felt completely fine otherwise. NOT good considering I had four days of nonstop talking ahead of me, but I figured I had no choice but to soldier on. By Friday, all I could manage was a whisper and it was starting to hurt just to get any words out at all. Thankfully, everyone I “talked” to (and I used that term loosely) was super understanding. By Saturday, though, just as mysteriously as it had disappeared, my voice came back! I was SO glad for the timing as the weekend was expected to be even busier. It was so strange! But hey, I’m just glad it wasn’t worse.

Other than the temporary laryngitis, the event itself went off without a hitch. My favorite part, though, wasn’t watching the incredible dressage performances that inspire me to pay my dues on the flat. It wasn’t seeing riders tackle the massive cross country jumps that make my Novice obstacles seem minuscule by comparison. It wasn’t witnessing the horses giving it their all in stadium… it was knowing that I was able to make the weekend memorable for other people.

A few weeks ago, one of my customers-turned-friends, Chandra Bratton, messaged me on Facebook. We started talking and I asked if she and her daughter, Tori, would be attending the event as I knew Tori had her heart set on going. Chandra told me they hadn’t gotten tickets and so they weren’t planning on going. I had a couple extra passes that came with my vendor package, and so I quickly offered them up. Chandra loved the idea, grabbed a hotel, and started scheming a big surprise for Tori who had no idea she would be attending this year after all.

It was wonderful to finally be able to give these two incredible ladies a big hug when they arrived on Friday. Tori was beyond excited to actually be at the LRK3DE, and Chandra had made me a lovely pair of custom Ride Heels Down earrings as a thank you. I have a feeling we will be friends for many years to come!

Similarly, CCI* rider and my friend from Atlanta, Jessie Schwartz, 17, was also attending this year. I had promised her at the 2017 AECs that she would be the star of my next shirt, and that happened when Jessie and her 15.1h horse, Kitaro, were proudly featured in the art on my new “Too Legit to Sit” design that debuted at the LRK3DE. It was SO cool to see Jessie with “her” shirt and introduce her to people who were purchasing one of their own – she even autographed Tori’s!

Jessie signing Tori’s “Too Legit to Sit” t-shirt. Photo by Ainsley Jacobs / Ride Heels Down.

Another fun moment this weekend was when a plus-size rider came into my booth and made a comment about “I bet you don’t have anything in my size.” I responded “of course I do, I love all shapes and sizes from ponies to draft horses.” ???? She was shocked that I actually stocked 2X and 3X sizes, and proceeded to buy one of almost everything! I was thrilled to have been able to exceed her expectations, and she left my booth with a huge smile on her face.

Truth be told, it warmed my heart beyond measure to know that small actions on my part had made big impacts in other peoples’ lives. If I can do something to make someone else’s day a little bit better, then I’m going to do it. Life is short, the world needs more kindness and more smiles.

Despite sales being down slightly over last year, it was still a great event. As always, I had a ton of fun seeing my friends and meeting new people, and I was so proud of Mary and Laura for being such superstars at their first major debuts. I can’t say it enough – THANK YOU to my amazing “family of friends” and everyone else who helped make this year’s #LRK3DE a huge success. I’ll see you in 2019!

LESSON LEARNED

I may never do something to change the world itself, but if I can do something to change someone else’s world then I’ll have made a difference that I can be proud of.

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

 

Lessons Learned: Friday Fall, Saturday Success

Amateur eventing blogger Ainsley Jacobs took a tumble during Friday’s cross country schooling session. How did she fare at the same fence on Saturday?

From worst to best – I fell off at this jump during schooling on Friday and then dominated it at the event on Saturday! Photo by Erik Jacobs / P.TEN Marketing.

After kicking butt at Poplar Place Farm two weeks ago at our first Novice event in two years, JJ and I kept the momentum going with another Novice event at Chattahoochee Hills.

Since Chatt is closer to home than Poplar, my trainer and new mother to a beautiful 3-month-old, Miriam Offermanns of Milym Equestrian, was able to join us this time around. My friends and fellow Milym riders, Mary, Shay, and Catherine, were riding in the event, too, and we were all looking forward to a great weekend.

We arrived early in the afternoon on Friday, set up our stalls, and awaited our horses’ arrival. When the hired trailer got there, JJ unloaded without issue and happily munched on hay in his stall while I took off his shipping boots. To my surprise, I found a gash on his right hind leg. Even with the boots, somehow, he had managed to scrape off a big chunk of skin and hair and was bleeding. Fortunately, it was just a surface scrape and he wasn’t actually “hurt” – but I was SO glad he had his boots on, because I can’t even imagine how much worse it would have been if he hadn’t been protected! After a quick booboo clean up, my baby was tacked and ready to go school the XC course.

We walked our fun little four-horse group down to the start area and began our warm ups. JJ felt fine, and I was relieved he was still sound. Schooling started off well and JJ easily popped over the first few Novice jumps without any issues. While we waited for our friends, he relaxed and grazed. Eventually, it was our turn to jump a few things again, and we geared up for another section of the course.

He jumped #3 effortlessly, but as we came into #4A we had another one of our typical conversations:
JJ: I’m not sure about this one… so I’m going to look at it a little and then pop over it, k?
Me: Sure, that’s fine. I trust you.
JJ: HAHA JUST KIDDING! *ducks out at the last second*
Me: *flying through the air hearing my new Hit-Air vest inflate for the first time* Well, I guess this thing works… Hah!

Oops! The vest protected me just as it should, and I was actually smiling as I got up from the ground. No harm, no foul. I stripped off the puffed up vest, mounted back up, and was ready to try again before my trainer even got to where I had fallen. Unsurprisingly, JJ stopped at #4A again, but I was able to stay on the second time.

Rather than try again and (possibly) fail for a third time, I decided to give him a better opportunity to succeed – I circled back around and took the Beginner Novice version of the jump instead. He didn’t even bat an eye at it, and we immediately came back to hop over the Novice jump perfectly. Despite the fall, I was really happy with how we corrected and resolved the issue in a positive way!

The rest of the course was picture perfect, and JJ was his usual rockstar self. So, we headed back to the stabling area where I hosed him off, got him settled in, fed him dinner, and kissed him good night.

My first ride on Saturday wasn’t until noon, but being that it was Mary’s first three-phase ever, I got there early to cheer her on. She did fabulously, of course, and it was nice to relax a bit in the morning with my husband/photographer, Erik, and my mom, Paula, who was in town visiting and came to see me compete for the first time.

Our dressage warm-up was great, and JJ was really supple. We’ve been working a lot on leg-yielding through our corners lately, and he was on point. He’s a little too smart for his own good, though, and when we came into the ring to begin Novice Test B, he thought he would “help” a little by giving me a lovely canter transition through a corner… during a trot circle. No big deal, and we kept going – but later, when he tried to “help” again thinking “Mom, I know what’s coming, just let me do my job!” and I told him “no, you’re wrong” he got mad and threw a buck my way. I started laughing so hard that I momentarily forgot where we were going and that section of our test suffered a bit, but we still managed to score 5.0s on it, and the rest went really well, so I just laughed it off. Dressage struggles are real, yo.

A few hours later, he was so perfect in stadium warmup that it was actually really boring. The jump course itself was also perfectly boring, although we did take down one rail, and I had no words except “good boy!” for him as we exited the arena.

I’m kind of obsessed with how perfect he is. Photo by Erik Jacobs / P.TEN Marketing.

It was a tight turn-and-burn before XC, so we went back to the barn to let JJ grab a drink and me grab my XC gear. Suited up, we strolled to the warm-up area, popped a few more (perfect) jumps, and wandered over to the start box a few minutes later. We got our count down, headed off with a “Have a great ride!” holler from the starter, and I knew we were going to have an epic run.

JJ was right there for me every step of the way, and we were working well as partners. I was apprehensive about #4A again, but my friend, Ava Vojnovic, had inspired me earlier in the day when she told me she and her horse, Pony Boy, had taken it without any issues. I had originally planned to jump BN4 first, then do N4, but I put my faith in Ava, decided to be brave, and just went for it – and it worked. What wound up being our worst jump during schooling was actually our best of the entire XC course in competition!

We crossed the finish double clear, and I couldn’t believe how much fun we had. I have come a long way from my early days of being so freaked out that I scratched before stadium in Beginner Novice to now actually enjoying Novice and finding it easy.

JJ and I wound up fifth of 11 for the weekend in our division, and I’m now (stupidly?) considering moving up to Training sooner than I had originally planned…


LESSON LEARNED

Take a lesson from Taylor Swift and just “shake it off” – it is far better to fall during schooling than during the competition! Also, I learned how much it costs to fall off with an air vest… about $30 for a replacement canister.

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

Lessons Learned: Nothin’-To-It Novice

We survived! Our first Novice 3-phase after two years is officially in the books. Photo by Erik Jacobs / P.TEN Marketing.

After such an awesome, easy experience running BN3P at Rocking Horse Stables in Florida last month, I knew it was time to move back up to Novice where we were two years agobefore our injuries.

My friend and fellow Team Milym rider, Catherine Shu, recently purchased a fancy new baby horse (congrats, Catherine!!) and was planning to go down to Poplar Place Farm for their February schooling show and their first under new ownership. Her wonderful mom, Susan Shu, very generously offered to trailer JJ and let us tag along. There was only one catch – since our trainer, Miriam, had recently had a baby, she couldn’t make it and we would be on our own. Eep.

In the past, the idea of moving up to a higher, harder division would have triggered my nerves hardcore. The idea of doing it without a coach would have been a definite deal-breaker. Lately, though, my nerves have miraculously disappeared and all I care about anymore is having fun and finishing with a happy, sound horse. It’s been an amazing change for me and has made a dramatic, positive impact in our performance.

Another Milym member, Maris Barden, joined us for the event and the three of us arrived at Poplar on Friday afternoon to school the cross country course. We were all running Novice and had planned to stick together as a group, but once JJ got going, I realized that I was better off just letting him run as much of the course as possible in one shot. He gets SO pissy if I start/stop a bunch after just a jump or two. So, rather than school each jump one at a time, we wound up running the entire Novice cross country course straight through, as if it were a recognized event. I didn’t even really know where I was going since I had only seen the map and hadn’t walked the course, so trying to find jumps mid-gallop made it even more fun.

The course was actually pretty challenging for a beginning-of-the-season Novice as it included a ton of terrain, a half coffin, three water crossings, and four AB combos – but it was surprisingly easy for us. JJ was totally game and gave me zero issues at all, except when he found the unmarked “reining horse sliding stop at ditch” obstacle that wasn’t on the map… LOL. I almost went off, but managed to recover and got him over it the second time. Full disclosure: we haven’t schooled a ditch in two years, so I can’t blame him for being surprised by it.

On Saturday, our move up was rewarded by being able to sleep past 7 a.m. as our dressage ride time wasn’t until 1:28pm. I took JJ for a walk in the morning to let him stretch his legs, see the sights, and visit with friends, then we had a little nap together in his stall. Eventually, it was time to tack up and get going….

Usually our dressage warm-up routine is only 20-30 minutes, but our ring was running behind. We wound up being out in the hot sun for over an hour (it was 84*F in February! What the heck?!) and JJ was definitely annoyed. When it came time to finally go, though, he stepped up and gave me an absolutely LOVELY Novice Test-B with minimal fussiness. I was really proud of him, and we somehow managed to score a 35.50 – considering we had no coaching, I was beyond pleased with such a respectable score our first time back at Novice!

We headed back to the stabling area for some down time before stadium, which was also about an hour behind. Later, in warm-up, JJ didn’t seem to have his normal amount of “go.” When I put him to the oxer (which was definitely set higher than Novice, more like Training) he stopped. I stayed on, regrouped, circled back to it, and popped over. I figured if we could manage that, everything in the actual course would be cake.

The stadium course itself was fairly straight forward with simple jumps and no filler. I over-rode #2 because of what happened in warm-up and we pulled a rail – I take 100% blame for that – but everything else was fairly effortless, even at the higher Novice height! Awesome!

Originally, we were scheduled to run cross country about 15 minutes after stadium, but because of the delays elsewhere, cross country was behind, too. Regardless, we walked over to wait around, and did a little warm-up. For some reason, the only practice jumps set were about 12″ high and there was a tiny Amoeba cross country jump… so, we didn’t get to do much. JJ still felt a little sleepy, and I should have paid more attention to the fact he needed a bit more pep. Hindsight is 20/20.

After some more waiting, the starter told us we were ready to head into the box. JJ seemed alert-ish, but still not quite his usual “revved up” self. We took off and popped over #1 with no problems, but #2 was big and took him by surprise, and he gave me a hard stop.

JJ: Oh, crap, are we on course?! I didn’t realize. You didn’t want a ribbon anyway, right?
Me: Yeah, well, let’s go do that again and actually jump it this time, okay?
JJ: You got it. Sorry, mom!

Needless to say, once he got the memo, he was perfect the rest of the way through and we didn’t have any other issues. We crossed the finish, and despite the stop, I was thrilled. I was beyond proud of JJ for being such an awesome partner and for having such a great work ethic. My whole goal for the weekend was simply to finish on a number and not a letter, and we did exactly that – even with what was one of the most challenging Novice cross country courses I’ve ever seen!

When you spot your husband with the camera and smile so the pic comes out better. 😉 Photo by Erik Jacobs / P.TEN Marketing.

One thing I noticed during the event was how much energy I had. In the past, I would feel absolutely wrecked when I crossed the finish, but this time I was relatively unaffected. The reason? Starting the Thursday before the event, I ate as much as I could. I focused on protein and stockpiling “fuel” that I knew I would need to make it through the more-challenging division – and it made a big difference in my performance!

Overall, it was a great weekend. I expected the move up to be way more challenging, but it was fun AND easy! Even though we were “alone” from a coaching perspective, we certainly weren’t alone at all. My husband, Erik, was there to be my biggest supporter, my teammates were wonderful, and my friends were all so encouraging. It was great to see many faces that I hadn’t run into in a while, including Taleen Hanna who surprised me by showing up to cheer me on, and Halliea Milner of Go With It Farm, whose love and support means the absolute world to me.

Lesson Learned

In order to perform at its best, your body needs fuel. Eat the burger, eat the fries, eat it all. Having that extra energy will make a big difference! And definitely don’t skip dessert.

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

Lessons Learned: Getting to the USEA AEC, Plan B

The booth came together surprisingly well, and the sign that USEA provided made me feel so legit! Photo by Ainsley Jacobs/Ride Heels Down.

When JJ and I first started eventing together in 2014, I wasn’t sure where the partnership would take us. When it was announced that the 2016 United States Eventing Association’s American Eventing Championships would be held less than three hours away from me at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina, though, I decided that it was my goal to compete there.

In February of 2016, I made our partnership “officially official” by buying JJ. My goal of getting to the AEC seemed easily obtainable as we received 1 of 2 necessary qualifying scores for the Beginner Novice division right off the bat at an event the next month.

Unfortunately, as so often happens with my eventing attempts, fate had other plans. On April 1st, JJ went lame. At first, the prognosis wasn’t too terrible and my vet believed he would recover in time for us to get the second qualifying score and make it to the big event in September. Things didn’t pan out that way, though, and JJ wasn’t cleared to get back to real life until May of 2017 – more on that in a future post.

Knowing I didn’t have enough time to get JJ fit enough to compete and magically qualify for the 2017 USEA AEC (at Tryon once again), I decided to go with “Plan B.” If I couldn’t event, I would go as a vendor instead. It disappointing to (temporarily) give up on a dream I had worked so hard for, but it was also exciting knowing I’d still be able to go, and that I would be able to cheer on my friends.

I contacted Kate Lokey at the USEA and asked way too many questions, but she was wonderfully accommodating and was able to get my little eventing apparel business, Ride Heels Down, set up as a prize level event sponsor so that I could afford to purchase booth space, too.

I had never been to Tryon before, so I wasn’t familiar with the vendor layout or setup … when it came time for me and my (incredibly patient and tolerant) husband, Erik, to help load up for the event, I basically threw a pile of “I might need this, but I’m not sure why” stuff on the packing list and decided I would just figure it out when I got there. Prior planning prevents poor performance, right?

We arrived at Tryon on Tuesday afternoon and I was pleasantly surprised by how welcoming the USEA staff was. They had volunteers and golf carts ready and waiting to help us unload our giant van full of apparel bins and boxes, and happily shuttled everything to my vendor area. The space itself was really nice, the booth came together surprisingly well, and I was excited to be able to spend a week at the gorgeous facility – despite the fact that I wasn’t riding.

Over the course of five days, my initial dismay at not being able to compete was replaced by tremendous gratitude. I had a lot of friends who had qualified for AEC and were riding at the event, and the fact that each and every one stopped by to say hello and chat meant the absolute world to me. I know how stressful it is getting ready to ride, and how scare down time can be, so the fact that everyone took time out of their already busy day to visit me was beyond amazing.

Several of my friends also took it upon themselves to promote Ride Heels Down by hanging banners outside their stalls and helping spread the word. I was so blown away by how motivated they were to show their support of me and my business, and I have to give a huge, heartfelt thank you to Rylee Gailey of Peachstone Eventing, and Ava Vojnovic and Taleen Hanna of Free Form Farm. You ladies are the absolute best ever and I love you all! (Shameless plug: want a custom RHD banner with your name and colors? Get one here!)

A HUGE thank you to Ava Vojnovic and Taleen Hanna (left) and Rylee Gailey and Dukes Up (right) for their support of Ride Heels Down! Photos by Susan Purcell Vojnovic (left) and Rylee Gailey (right).

In addition to being able to watch my friends ride and cheer them on along the way, I also met a ton of new friends – and that’s something I really enjoy! I believe that strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet, so I have a blast getting to know new people and chatting about their horses. It’s so cool to see people that don’t know me get excited about my brand, and want to support me as an eventer-turned-entrepreneur without any personal relationship or obligation. That in itself is a feeling beyond words.

Another thing that really struck me and hit me right in the feels was the fact that I realized somehow, I had accidentally become a bit of a role model to young girls in the eventing community. I had several actually express the sentiment outright, and some that I realized after the fact had come by to talk with me because they thought I was the “cool girl with the cool business.” What?! Seriously?! Me? I’m a nobody! I’m barely a Novice level rider, and I’m certainly no big-shot professional badass rider.

I definitely don’t consider myself anyone special or worthy of that level of respect, but the revelation was forced upon me multiple times throughout the event that there are many young riders who look up to me and think it’s so cool that I have my own business. I had never really thought of myself that way before. I don’t have any kids of my own, so at first, the concept was admittedly strange, but I was simultaneously humbled by it.

Thanks to Ride Heels Down, I have the ability to show young girls that they should follow their dreams and not to be afraid of risk. They can be entrepreneurs, independent thinkers, innovators, and still have fun doing something they love. It’s both weird and wonderful to know that I could be inadvertently changing lives for the better. Even if I never make a dime of profit, it’ll all have been worth it to know that I was able to inspire. You can’t ever get to Rolex — er, the Kentucky 3-Day Event — without first learning to post the trot, and the same applies to any goal – you can’t get to the finish unless you make the effort to start.

Overall, I was really pleased with how the event went, from a logistical perspective as well as a business and a social one. I made a ton of new friends, met some really awesome people, helped build my little brand, and realized that I had the potential to be a positive influence for young riders. This was only my second-ever “major” event (aside from local events that I’ve vended at with a pop-up tent) and it was so rewarding to see how warmly people responded.

Was I bummed that I didn’t get to make my dream of competing at the USEA AEC a reality? Of course, I’d be lying if I said no. But, was I overwhelmingly happy with how incredibly well “Plan B” turned out instead? Yes, a thousand times yes, and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.


LESSON LEARNED

If you don’t succeed with Plan A, try Plan B. If that doesn’t work, remember that you’ve still got 24 other perfectly good letters to plan with, too.

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

I Survived Rolex … As a Vendor

Thank you to everyone who helped make my first RK3DE vendor experience a success! Photo by Erik Jacobs / P.TEN Marketing

Well, it’s official! I survived the Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event – as a vendor. After attending as a spectator in 2016, I decided to take a leap of faith and register Ride Heels Down as a vendor for 2017. It was a lot of work but I had SO. MUCH. FUN!!

I put in my application in late 2016, and I eagerly awaited the email that would tell me whether or not I had made the cut. On January 24, 2017, it came – and I was accepted! I was super excited, but I quickly came to the realization that I only had about three months to plan my first-ever “trade show” booth for Ride Heels Down. *Cue panic mode*

I’m a big believer in the mantra that “prior planning prevents poor performance” so I started with a list. I tried to think of all the things I would need to do or buy to prepare, as well as all the things I would need (inventory, display tables, signage, etc.) and started tackling them one by one. What at first seemed like an insurmountable task started quickly morphing into a realistic, obtainable goal.

My friends eagerly volunteered with suggestions and ideas and helped in any way they could. I purchased a huge amount of inventory so that I would be well-stocked for the event. I had to hustle to make it all happen, but I checked off all the items on my “To Do” list and by the time RK3DE rolled around, I was READY.

The weekend before, my awesome husband, Erik, helped me load up our cargo van (fun fact: its name is “Van Diesel”) with everything we would need for Rolex. I’m grateful that he was there to do the heavy lifting and that he volunteered to take the wheel for the 6+ hour drive from our home in Atlanta, GA to Lexington, KY. We were scheduled to leave the Tuesday before the event, and I felt like a little kid waiting for Christmas morning.

When Tuesday finally rolled around, we packed our bags and hit the road with 1,200 t-shirts, lots of beautiful art from Gallop and Go Photography, and an endless supply of hopes and dreams. We made it to our hotel in Lexington without any issues, and went to bed early knowing load-in day was just one sleep away.

It was really cool arriving at the Kentucky Horse Park as a vendor on Wednesday morning. We got to see a little of the behind-the-scenes action as the event prepared to open to the public. We unloaded everything from the van and started opening boxes. I had an idea in my mind of how I wanted the booth to look and had put together a diagram of where I wanted everything to go, but without having ever put it together before, I wasn’t sure what the finished product would be. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to hang my shirts and banners and whatnot, so I was armed with a bag full of miscellaneous “I might need that” items including twine, dowels, zip ties, and even chain link fence clamps.

Much to my surprise, the booth came out far better than I expected. By the time we were finished setting up, it looked AWESOME. It looked like a legitimate, real-deal, big-company vendor booth! I was so proud, and couldn’t wait to open for business the next day.

Thursday marked the official start of #RK3DE, and I made my first sale almost immediately. (Thanks to Susie from Kentucky!) I spent the next four days completely overwhelmed by the tremendous outpouring of love from my friends – old and new – and couldn’t believe how supportive everyone was, including complete strangers, of my little one-woman operation. It was freakin’ incredible!

Since it was just me and Erik working the booth, I couldn’t really leave. Fortunately, my friends came to me. My trainer, Halliea from Go With It Farm, and the rest of the GWIF crew, did more than their fair share of marketing and encouraging people to come take a look at my apparel, Doug Payne took my stuffed animal version of JJ with him on the cross country course walk on Thursday, my wonderful friend Alexandra Neumann brought me some beautiful flowers to dress up the booth (as well as delicious donuts each morning, because sugar IS a necessity!), rider Katie Ruppel and her groom Mackenzie Spaes generously donated their time to host a signing session, and Lauren Wright’s “Gallop and Go” art added a lovely touch while also giving shoppers something else to purchase.

I had decided to make a little surprise to say “thank you” to everyone who has supported my business during its first 1.5 years, and created a massive “family of friends” collage poster of everyone who had posted a picture with their Ride Heels Down gear. Whenever someone included in the poster came to the booth, I handed them a marker and had them sign their square – everyone loved being a part of it and I even had a few riders request that I take their picture right in the booth so that they could be included in the next one!

Thanks to our “family of friends” who came to say hello and signed their squares! Photo by Ainsley Jacobs / Ride Heels Down

I also ran a special promo at the event where people would get a free gift if they wore their Ride Heels Down shirts at Rolex, and I had a TON of people tell me “I’m seeing your shirts everywhere!” – it was hugely gratifying to know people were proudly helping spread the word. I even had a few people come running into my booth, pointing at a shirt, saying “There it is! I saw someone wearing this and I NEED ONE!” I only have one word to describe how validating that feeling was: wow.

My “Heels Down, Bottoms Up” tee was a huge hit, and my “Everything Hurts & I’m Dying” tee was also really popular. And, as always, the “Have A Great Ride” shirts and new “Eventer” tee both did great. I loved hearing people comment as they walked by the booth, saying things like “Oh, I love that saying!” or “That shirt is so funny!”

Eventually, the fun came to an end and it was time to pack up and head home. Although I had more leftover inventory than I had hoped for and didn’t quite meet the sales goal I had in mind, I still had an absolute blast and can’t wait to go back again next year. I know this was a huge opportunity for me to get the word out about my little company and introduce the Ride Heels Down brand to more people, so that in itself was a huge success.

All in all, taking on RK3DE as a first-time vendor was a huge task, but thanks to all the amazing people in my life, it went off without a hitch. I’ve got a few new ideas in mind for the next time around, and I can’t wait to see everyone in 2018 – let the countdown begin! :)

Want to see pics from RHD at RK3DE? Check ’em out here!


LESSON LEARNED

I don’t have customers – I have friends. A family of friends. ♥

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Lessons Learned: Happy Tears, or Getting Back in the Game

Adult amateur event blogger Ainsley Jacobs has been chronicling how she finds the takeaway lesson from the good, the bad and the ugly in her equestrian experience. Her horse JJ has been rehabbing from a ligament injury for a few months, so during his layoff time Ainsley is revisiting earlier lessons in her experience. Today’s story is from August of 2015.

A close distance during warm up, but no stops and a big “oh thank god!!” smile. Photo by Erik Jacobs / P.TEN Marketing

Stadium has always been so easy for us, but after the unexpected (and painful) fall at Poplar last weekend, it’s now my biggest source of anxiety.

Fortunately, our next event was back at Chatt, where I felt comfortable and safe. It’s funny how I’ve gone from being the most freaked out about cross country and not worrying at all about stadium to the exact opposite. Now, cross country is fun and stadium is scary!

We schooled our cross country course as usual on Friday night, then I took care of JJ and headed home to spend a sleepless night worrying about stadium. I didn’t think he’d stop again since Chatt’s jumps are pretty straightforward, but you never know.

We’ve been focusing more on dressage lately, and doing a lot of flat lessons. It’s slowly paying off. We rode Beginner Novice A and once again were in the 30s with our score – this time it was a 38.94. We’re slowly chipping away at those numbers. I’d love to get into the low- or mid-30s soon!

As I left the barn to head down to stadium, I was trying to be positive. Positive we would have a great ride, positive JJ would jump everything, and positive I wasn’t going to fall off (again). Our warm up went great – we had a few close, conservative distances due to me riding defensively, but I’ll take that any day over what happened last time.

Much to my relief, our course was perfect. It was one of our best jumper rounds yet, and JJ was an absolute angel.

I knew I couldn’t let my guard down on cross country, but JJ was in beast mode and pulled me to every jump. He was a machine, and all I could do was sit there, hold on, and direct him where I wanted him to go. He took care of the rest! We finished on our dressage score and were double clear in stadium and cross country.

I’ve started a thing where I don’t even check my dressage score (or any score) until after I’ve completed all three phases. I don’t want to psych myself out going into a phase thinking “I’m doing well, yay!” and then screw it up, or think “I’m last, there’s no hope” and give up mentally. So, after we had survived all three of the day’s challenges, I walked on down to where the scores were posted to take a look.

At first, I couldn’t find my name. I am so used to being mid-pack or at the bottom of the class that my brain didn’t even bother to check the “top” scores. When I did locate my name, seeing it in second was a huge shock.

I’ll admit it, I happy cried. After falling last weekend, this redemption was priceless. From the low to the high, I’d experienced a range of emotions in just a week. I’m so proud of JJ for trying his best!

Photo by Erik Jacobs / P.TEN Marketing


LESSON LEARNED

The color of the ribbon, or even if you got one at all, doesn’t matter. What matters is that you tried your best, rode your best, and learned something along the way. But man, the physical, tangible validation that you’re doing it right sure is nice sometimes.

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Lessons Learned: The Hardest Part of Riding Is the Ground

Our dressage was lovely! Photo by Ride Heels Down

We’ve been on a roll lately where we’ve had more success than failures, and I was excited to get back to Poplar for another 3-phase. Poplar’s cross country course is a lot of fun – while the terrain is challenging, the jumps are inviting. I figured it would be an easy, confidence-boosting weekend… I was wrong.

This was the first event since I started competing that my husband wasn’t able to make it to. While we’re on the subject, let me take a minute to talk about what an absolutely wonderful, incredible, amazing man he is – I am SO blessed that he chose to spend “forever” putting up with me.

Erik has never once questioned my love of riding, and is my biggest supporter when it comes to eventing. He attends every event, is up at the crack of dawn without complaining, and works tirelessly to capture every moment (and every jump) for me in his wonderful photos. I am a very, very lucky girl. So, when he couldn’t make it to this event due to a work conflict, I certainly wasn’t upset.

Our Go With It Farm did our traditional Friday night cross country schooling session, followed by a fun team dinner. Then, it was off to the hotel to get a (short) sleep. The next morning, we got up bright and early to go take care of the babies and drop feed.

As usual, we started off with dressage. We rode Beginner Novice B, and JJ felt pretty good. I left the arena feeling confident that we had scored a little better than usual, and I was right! We wound up with a 39.25 – our first time dipping into the 30s since January!

I tacked up for stadium, and there wasn’t even a question in my mind that it would be anything but perfect. We’d gone double clear at every single event we’ve attended, and I just assumed the streak would continue.

I waited in the warm up arena for my trainer, but unfortunately, she was stuck elsewhere as ride time conflicts had popped up. I waited, and waited. I knew better than to warm myself up without her consent. Eventually, the ring steward told me “you have two minutes to get in the jump arena and do your course, or you’ll have to scratch.” Cue panic-mode. I saw my trainer running down the hill to come warm up me, and I proceeded to hurriedly trot/canter around. She had me pop over three jumps, and I just continued straight on into the main arena without stopping.

We got through the first few jumps of our course just fine, but my adrenaline was still pumping. I remember somewhere around jump four or five, I told myself ‘Hey, you made it. There’s no need to keep rushing, they can’t scratch you now! Chill out!’ and so I settled JJ’s pace back to that of a normal horse rather than the rushing beast he had been. We hit a few more jumps perfectly, and I was feeling good.

We went through an outside line with perfect distances, passed the in gate, and turned left towards a single hanger jump, the American flag jump. Two strides out, JJ stopped and ducked right. HARD. I went off. HARD. I remember thinking “What?! JJ doesn’t stop! Why am I falling?! Noooooo!” and then I hit the ground on my left hip. Later, my trainer told me she had been just as shocked as I was and she didn’t see it coming at all. She doesn’t think he actually stopped maliciously, but rather he was surprised by the fact that the jump was there and spooked.

Of course, I got back on and schooled the fence, albeit at a trot. We got over it, finished our course, and exited the arena. Back at the barn, I pretty was shaken up. Not because I fell, but because I had zero warning and it caught me completely by surprise. That was the scary part.

I chose to end my day and not bother riding my cross country course, as I didn’t want to risk falling off again in my injured/weakened stated and potentially hurt myself even more. I fractured a few vertebrae in my back and compressed a few discs back in ’98, so protecting my back from injury is always a priority for me.

Not gonna lie – now I’m freaked out about the American flag jump. A bunch of other horses stopped/refused it that day, and when I was talking to an eventer friend of mind about what happened, she said “Oh, it was the American flag jump, right? Yeah, that thing gets a lot of people.” Ack! Stadium has always been so easy for us, and now that’s my biggest source of anxiety. I’m looking forward to going back and trying again next month, but I’m definitely nervous as hell now…

In this X-ray, you can see how far off center my pelvis wound up (11mm) after the accident. Real talk: it HURT! Photo by Ainsley Jacobs / Ride Heels Down

LESSON LEARNED

Don’t take anything for granted. Even if your horse have never stopped at a jump in his life, things happen. Ride confidently, ride consciously, and ride competently. The ground is hard – you want to wind up there by choice, not by surprise.

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Lessons Learned: ‘Perfect Practice Makes Perfect’

Adult amateur event blogger Ainsley Jacobs has been chronicling how she finds the takeaway lesson from the good, the bad and the ugly in her equestrian experience. Her horse JJ has been rehabbing from a ligament injury for a few months, so during his layoff time Ainsley is revisiting earlier lessons in her experience. Today’s story is from June of 2015.

Go With It Farm‘s second farm show of the year took place on a beautiful summer day, and JJ and I were proud to be a part of it!

We did both a Beginner Novice CT and a Novice CT once again, with the Beginner Novice jump round serving as a warm-up for the Novice round.

Dressage went well, and the judge scored a little more “realistically” this time, leaving us with a 37.50 for Beginner Novice B and a 34.78 for Novice A. I love how JJ is really learning to engage his hind end more lately! He’s so cool, I am having so much fun learning with him!

By the time our jumping rounds were called, it was getting pretty hot out. JJ gave me a perfect Beginner Novice round, but once the jumps went up, it was a little harder for him. He still tried his heart out, but the heat got the best of him and we knocked three rails which added 12 penalties to our overall score.

Tired but still trying. Photo by P.TEN Marketing

At first, I was pretty upset. He’s usually such a careful jumper, and he’s so incredibly talented… knocking rails sucks! But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I was happy that he still jumped everything, didn’t refuse, and carried me safely through a course that was a little higher than we were used to. And for that, I was grateful.


LESSON LEARNED

As George H. Morris says, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice does.” Why do you take lessons? So you can become a better, more capable, more effective rider. It makes sense that you should practice showing, too, and local farm shows are a great way to do that.

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Lessons Learned: Riding the Struggle Bus

It looks like I’m riding JJ, but I’m actually riding the struggle bus. Photo by Oxer Farm. It looks like I’m riding JJ, but I’m actually riding the struggle bus. Photo by Oxer Farm.

Adult amateur event blogger Ainsley Jacobs has been chronicling how she finds the takeaway lesson from the good, the bad and the ugly in her equestrian experience. Her horse JJ has been rehabbing from a ligament injury for a few months, so during his layoff time Ainsley is revisiting earlier lessons in her experience. Today’s story is from May of 2015.

I’d heard a lot of great things about Oxer Farm’s combined test and three-phase shows, so when our schedule worked out that we could go to one, I was really excited.

We drove up the morning of, and got started bright and early. We scored a second 40 in a row for dressage, this time on Beginner Novice B.

Cross country was before stadium this time, and I was having flashbacks to the disaster that was our first recognized event because just like that day, we hadn’t schooled this course the night before. I tried to ride confidently, I tried to ride assertively, but apparently I did not do my job well enough.

The first few jumps were placed along the edge of the woods parallel to the tree line, and JJ didn’t believe me when I tried to convince him that there were no scary monsters hiding inside waiting to eat him alive. As a result, we had a LOT of stops. Well, three to be exact. But that was enough to knock us out of the running for the day. We finished the course, but I did not do my job with giving him enough pace so that stopping wouldn’t (really) be an option. If I had kept my leg on, my shoulders back, and my eyes up, maybe things would have ended up differently…

The nice folks at Oxer Farm let us school our stadium jump round after the cross country failure, and of course, stadium was so easy that it made up for the struggles we had earlier on. Oh, well … at least we ended the day on a positive note!

LESSON LEARNED

If you want to get over the jump, you need to actually have enough pace to jump it. Also, the woods are scary.

We were able to salvage the day and end on a positive note. Photo by Oxer Farm.

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Lessons Learned: Working With the Conditions

Adult amateur event blogger Ainsley Jacobs has been chronicling how she finds the takeaway lesson from the good, the bad and the ugly in her equestrian experience. Her horse JJ has been rehabbing from a ligament injury for a few months, so during his layoff time Ainsley is revisiting earlier lessons in her experience. Today’s story is from April of 2015.

We’ve been getting better and better each time out lately, so I was especially excited to celebrate my 31st birthday at an event with my awesome husband, wonderful team, and fantastic horse!

It’s been a really wet spring, and this weekend was no different. We tried to minimize Friday night’s cross country schooling session so that we wouldn’t add an unnecessary damage to the footing or risk potentially hurting one of the horses, or ourselves. My awesome Go With It Farm team helped me celebrate my birthday with some cupcakes, and after we tucked the horses in for the night, I headed home for some much-needed sleep.

We’ve been working on our dressage lately. Flatting isn’t really something I’d ever focused on before, and it’s showing in our scores. Our Beginner Novice Test A went well, but the footing was extremely sloppy from all the rain and JJ was (mildly) annoyed. We scored 40.00. I was disappointed because I was hoping to get back into the 30s, but I know I’ll need to keep working to make that happen.

Stadium went well once again, despite the slick footing. JJ’s SO handy and is great with his feet, so even the roll backs and tight turns didn’t bother him. I’m learning to trust him to take care of me! We were clean in every sense of the word, except for literally – we finished double clear and absolutely filthy. Hah.

I was starting to feel confident about cross country again, but apparently that was a mistake. As we left the start box and headed for the first jump, I just assumed JJ would jump it. He didn’t. He stopped, which was unusual for him, but I think it was just the incredibly muddy footing that he didn’t like and he wasn’t feeling confident about. We began our course with 20 faults already tacked on to our score, but worked hard to make the best of what we had left. I was careful to place JJ where the footing hadn’t been churned up already, so we took most of the jumps off-center. He responded by giving me a GREAT ride, and it was the most fun cross country course we’d ever had!

The stop ultimately put us out of the ribbons. Yeah, I’m a little bummed I didn’t get a “birthday souvenir” but I still haven’t stopped smiling because of his much fun I had, and the amazing photos that my wonderful husband Erik took for us are way better than a ribbon!

Gettin’ dirty while bein’ fancy. Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Gettin’ dirty while bein’ fancy. Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.


LESSON LEARNED

Don’t let challenging terrain or conditions get you down. What may seem less than ideal at first may push you to ride more effectively, and you’ll wind up having more fun than if the conditions were perfect!

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Lessons Learned: Eventing, Race Tracks & Slumber Parties

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.comJJ has been rehabbing from a ligament injury for a few months, so during his layoff time Ainsley is revisiting earlier lessons in her experience. Today’s story is from March 2015.

Riding on a race track was such a cool experience! Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Riding on a race track was such a cool experience! Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

We’ve been eventing for a few months now, and slowly but steadily it’s getting easier. I hope I didn’t just jinx myself by saying that!

For our next event, we went somewhere new – North Atlanta Equestrian. It was a little far from our barn, so we reserved some stalls and trailered up the day before. Since it was a Combined Training event and not a 3-phase, there was no cross country course to school.

Instead, as North Atlanta Equestrian is situated on an old Thoroughbred breeding and training facility, we went out and had some fun on the race track! I’d never ridden on a track before, and it was such an amazing experience. I’m still getting to know JJ, and wasn’t really comfortable with the idea of letting him run flat out since I wasn’t sure how he’d react. Instead, I wussed out and settled for a mild hand gallop… but it was still a blast.

That night, we got some dinner, then had a team slumber party in an incredible bed and breakfast on the property. The house was full of such amazing memorabilia and pieces of racing history – I felt like we were staying IN a movie!

The next morning we woke up and walked down to the barn to feed and get the horses ready for another day of showing. It was REALLY windy out, and while JJ usually isn’t spooky, he can be pretty frisky. That said, we actually had our worst dressage test to date. One of our canter departs included a buck, which the judge kindly noted as merely an “exuberant transition.” We wound up with a 48.50 on Beginner Novice Test B – ugh.

A touch behind the vertical, but overall we had some REALLY lovely moments of trot. Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

A touch behind the vertical, but overall we had some REALLY lovely moments of trot. Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

For the second portion of the event, the arena had been set with stadium jumps and an adjacent grass arena was set with a few cross country-esque jumps. For the first time, we got to jump INTO and OUT OF an arena as part of our course, and it was so cool! JJ put in his usual perfect round, and we were double clear yet again.

We finished on our dressage score, and went home with a pretty white ribbon for fourth place. I had opted in for a second jump-only round, and we took fifth in that.

Looking back now, I really wish I had let JJ run his heart out on that track…

Lessons Learned: Schooling Shows

Adult amateur event blogger Ainsley Jacobs has been chronicling how she finds the takeaway lesson from the good, the bad and the ugly in her equestrian experience. Her horse JJ has been rehabbing from a ligament injury for a few months, so during his layoff time Ainsley is revisiting earlier lessons in her experience. Today’s story is from March of 2015.

On course, JJ being perfect with his knees. Photo by Go With It Farm

On course, JJ being perfect with his knees. Photo by Go With It Farm.

Disclaimer: I know I’m not ready for an off-farm Novice event, but we regularly jump Novice-sized stuff during our lessons, so I figured I would give it a shot at a Go With It Farm show.

I had missed our first GWIF farm show in December of 2014 as I was out of town that weekend on vacation, so I was really excited to be able to be a part of the fun this time around. I liked the idea of riding in a setting both JJ and I were familiar with, pushing ourselves a little harder than we usually do in lessons, and getting great feedback from the dressage judge.

Both of our dressage tests were lovely, and our scores reflected that. We got a 29.80 in Beginner Novice B, and a 32.40 in Novice A. I would be super excited to have finally scored in the 20s, except that I know the judge was being a little nicer than usual since it wasn’t a USEA or GDCTA recognized show.

For jumping, we started with the Beginner Novice course and went double clear. The jumps were raised, and we went double clear for our Novice course, too!

Although this was not my first time jumping a Novice-height course, it was my first time doing it in a “show situation” with a little extra stress. I’m really proud of how well both JJ and I performed, and I loved being able to cheer on all my fellow GWIFers, too!

GO GWIF!! Photo by Go With It Farm

GO GWIF!! Photo by Go With It Farm


LESSON LEARNED

If your barn has a schooling show, GO! It’s a great, fun way to get extra show practice in a safe, supportive environment. Plus, you don’t have to pay for hauling or stabling!

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Lessons Learned: Two In a Row

We’re starting to look like we know what we’re doing! Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

We’re starting to look like we know what we’re doing! Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Coming off our last event with having completed all three phases successfully, I was excited about trying again to see if we had simply gotten lucky or if we were starting to get the hang of things.

We headed back to Chatt Hills for another 3-phease schooling show. JJ and I had have now had a few months together as a team, and we were starting to figure things out! After we schooled our cross country course on Friday night, we popped over a few stadium jumps for fun. I still have no clue what I was thinking, but my trainer told me to take the warm-up vertical and I pointed JJ at the oxer… I totally derped, and as a result, so did he. We crashed through it, and I was so incredibly embarrassed, but thankfully neither of us were hurt.

The next morning I was still a little shaken up from the jumping fiasco the night before, but I decided to put it out of my head. I told myself it was a new day, a clean slate, and JJ and I were going to have a fresh start. Armed with that positive attitude, I tacked up and got on.

Dressage was a little rough, but once again, it wasn’t my primary focus so I just rode what I got and tried to make it as “not bad” as possible. We finished up with a 40.53 score on Beginner Novice Test A.

I was a little worried about stadium after having screwed up so royally the night before, but much to my surprise, it was uneventful. JJ carried me around like a boss and went double clear yet again.

I’ll admit, I still had nerves about cross country as we walked down to the starting box, but I was learning to trust JJ, and to trust myself. Once we got started, things went well, and I found myself actually having fun again. We had several perfect jumps, including an up bank to a stack of logs combo that proved difficult for a lot of other riders. We flew over every jump without a struggle, breezed through the (chilly) water complex, and completed our course!

As we crossed the finish line, I couldn’t stop smiling because we had finished two three-phase events in a row. It didn’t matter what color the ribbon was, I was just happy that I didn’t fall off and die!

JJ deciding whether or not to be annoyed by the fact that the water was chilly. Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

JJ deciding whether or not to be annoyed by the fact that the water was chilly. Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing


LESSON LEARNED

Eventing is a team sport, and your horse is your partner on your team. Trusting your horse to do his job, and allowing him to trust you to do yours, will help make it easier and more fun for you both.

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Lessons Learned: One Jump At a Time

While her horse JJ rehabilitates from a ligament injury, Ainsley Jacobs is rewinding to past chapters from their journey: today’s story rolls back to mid-November 2014.

After such a rough first Beginner Novice event, we decided to try again. It doesn’t get any easier if you don’t keep working at it, right? So, I signed up for another 3-phase, but made sure it was a schooling show this time as JJ and I clearly needed a little more practice on cross country…

My wonderful friend and teammate, Beth, knew I was having some anxiety after the last event, and I arrived on Saturday morning to find a surprise outside of JJ’s stall. To help with my nerves, she made me a special seat which was “reserved for Ainsley Jacobs, Queen of Sr. Beginner Novice.” Thanks, Beth!

Thanks to Elizabeth Clymer for being the world’s best cheerleader. :) Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Thanks to Elizabeth Clymer for being the world’s best cheerleader. Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

We got through our dressage test without any major incidents, and although our score of 41.58 on the Beginner Novice A test wasn’t great, that was the least of my worries that day. I had gone from having loved cross country at our first Tadpole, to being terrified of it after our first Beginner Novice.

JJ is an extremely talented jumper. He loves it, and takes his job seriously. I had opted to add an extra 2’6″ jumper round for this show thinking it would be a walk in the park for us. I wasn’t concerned about stadium at all until we started warming up, and he was just a touch more enthusiastic than I was comfortable with. There were tears, there was back-talking to my trainer, and, I’m ashamed to admit, there may have been a diva moment (or ten).

My wonderful trainer somehow talked me into at least trying the first jump of the course, and told me to continue on if that went well. I begrudgingly entered the arena, and JJ changed from “beast” mode to “baby sitting” mode. Miraculously, we went double clear once again.

As I was already a little freaked out and had some lingering confidence issues after the last event, I decided not to push my luck and scratch from the following 3-phase stadium round. I didn’t even attempt to school the cross country course, because I didn’t want to risk another bad experience for either myself or JJ at that point.

Somehow, JJ and I managed to WIN our 2’6″ jumper round. I went from so freaked out that I scratched from my 3-phase division to winning our jumper class. How crazy is that?!

Here’s me having a panic attack mid-flight. Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Here’s me having a panic attack mid-flight. Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

LESSON LEARNED

Even when it all seems to be going wrong, it’s still worth trying. Jump the first jump. If that goes well, jump the second jump. Then the third. Then the fourth, and so on. If at any point you don’t feel comfortable, you can stop. There’s no rule that says you have to finish, but you owe it to yourself (and to your horse, and your trainer, and your bank account) to at least try.

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Lessons Learned: Try, Try Again

I was hoping to have good news for you today about how JJ has been cleared for cantering, but we hit another snag in his recovery. He had been doing fabulously with his rehab, but a week and a half ago his behavior drastically changed and he started bucking and sucking back when I’d ask him to move forward and trot with a purpose. The vet came to look and found him to be footsore. He’ll have to grow out more foot before we try again. So, it’s more waiting…

So in the meantime, let’s focus on something positive: the first Beginner Novice event where I finished!

Our first two attempts at Beginner Novice eventing did not go as planned, so we stuck to the motto of “try, try again.” Eventually, I figured, the odds would work out in our favor and we’d manage to get through one of these things…

It was a new year, and I decided that I was going to be the type of rider and partner that JJ deserved. The Go With It Farm team road tripped down to Poplar Place Farm for our first event of 2015, and we set out to school our cross country courses on Friday night.

Being that it was January 2, it was cold, dark, and wet. I was still extremely apprehensive about cross country, but not only did we nail every jump, we did so in the rain. JJ was great, and I was starting to learn to trust him more and let him do his job.

Saturday morning we warmed up for dressage and rode Beginner Novice Test B to our best score to date! Our hard work over the past few months had paid off, and we got a 35.50.

Stadium, thankfully, went well and there were no freakouts (from me) like there were at the last event. We were double clear and positioned well going into the cross country portion of the event.

JJ aka “Sorry He’s Dirty, He Wants To Be A Chestnut” Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

JJ aka “Sorry He’s Dirty, He Wants To Be A Chestnut” Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Once we started our course, I realized that I was going to have to work to keep JJ from picking up speed faults – that boy can RUN!! The footing was slippery from all of the rain, and so we chose to trot several sections to help with balance and pace. Although we got through the whole course without a fight (hooray!) I was overzealous in my speed corrections and wound up picking up 10 penalty points for going too slow.

We finished fifth overall, and I was overjoyed just to have finally finished an event. I had gone from expecting a ribbon at every event (as that was normal for me in hunters) to realizing that finishing in itself is the reward.

LESSON LEARNED

Eventing is fun. Yes, it’s also HARD, and at times it can be scary and frustrating, but the feeling of actually finishing is so incredibly rewarding that it’s worth working for.

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February, 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Lessons Learned: Ride to the Finish

This was our best moment of the entire weekend, and it wasn’t even during any of the competition. Photo by Harriet Engman Sysyn.

This was our best moment of the entire weekend, and it wasn’t even during any of the competition. Photo by Harriet Engman Sysyn.

After such a great eventing debut, I couldn’t have been more excited about trying it again! As everything had gone so well, my trainer and I decided that I should move up to Beginner Novice. The next event was a USEA recognized one, and we decided I should go for it…

We arrived at Chatt Hills ready to conquer the world. I meticulously braided JJ’s mane, and battled the ever-present poo stains on his adorably white butt. We went for a warm-up flat ride up on day one of the show to loosen up his legs and let him inspect his surroundings.

Several hours later, it was time to start! We waited patiently for the “okay” to proceed into the main dressage area. Once the gate steward allowed us in, JJ decided to invent a new dressage move. Inspired by the scary, flapping flags that were flying overhead, he showed me his “rear, pivot, and bolt” talents… three times. Fortunately, I stayed on and this occurred before we actually entered for our test. Once we started, however, JJ put on his game face and tried his best to listen to what I was asking. We rode our Beginner Novice Test B to a score of 37.00!

That afternoon, we set out for cross country once again. I was full of false confidence since our previous event had been so easy, and I was blissfully unaware of what was ahead of us. As it was a recognized event, we were not allowed to school the course the night before.

To stay it was a struggle to get through it would be putting it mildly. JJ and I did not trust each other at that point, and he put in a lot of effort to try and refuse or run out at almost every fence. Somehow, I managed to get him over every jump the first time. It was a fight to the finish, and we (almost) made it. We cleared our fifteenth jump, and I stupidly allowed myself to relax.

Literally three feet before we crossed the finish line, JJ spooked, jumped left, and I got dumped. I couldn’t believe it – I feel three feet before the finish line and got disqualified! After working so hard to get through the course, it all came crashing down so close from success.

 I somehow managed to fall off between landing this jump and that oh-so-close finish line. Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

I somehow managed to fall off between landing this jump and that oh-so-close finish line. Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

As we had therefore been eliminated, we were not allowed to ride our stadium jumping course on day two. I, however, still had an obligation to JJ (and the rest of my team that had been competing that weekend) so I showed up on Sunday to muck stalls, feed, and take care of my partner. Despite being disqualified, we had gotten through it. The photos from the event showed me that I was not riding JJ like he deserved, and I vowed from that moment on to be a better partner to, and for, him.

LESSON LEARNED

The last jump isn’t the finish, the finish line is the finish. Ride the finish line as if it was another jump and don’t stop focusing until you’ve crossed it!

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February, 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Lessons Learned: Eventing Is a Galloping Sport

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur eventer whose blog focuses on learning the lesson at the heart of every day with horses, from the good to the bad to the ugly. In the latest installation of her “Lessons Learned” column, while continuing to tack-walk her rehabbing event horse, Ainsely takes us on another flashback to 2015 when she learned a game-changer lesson, the impacts of which she still feels today!

Letting him run means both of us are happier! Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

Letting him run means both of us are happier! Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

I’ve had a lot of ups and downs lately. We’ve had struggles and successes, but it’s been tricky to do anything regularly. I figure the more events we can go to, the more practice we’ll get, and we’ll start being more consistent.

I’ve been talking to a few of my more-experienced eventer friends lately, and the one thing they all keep saying is that “eventing is a galloping sport.” Whenever I whine about the fact that galloping between the jumps is scary because I don’t really feel like I’m in control, they all laugh and say they have the same problem!

The key is to realize that it’s OKAY to be (slightly) out of control, so long as you can check in with your horse a few strides before the next jump and refocus his attention. His job is to listen to you before, over, and after the fence. Your job is to act like a GPS and guide him — let him take you to the next jump and have some fun running in between!

By not interfering with him between jumps, JJ was much more willing to listen when I did “check in” before each question. Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

By not interfering with him between jumps, JJ was much more willing to listen when I did “check in” before each question. Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

For this next event, I decided to try and focus on that mindset. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I decided to have a beautiful, sunny attitude to match!

Once again dressage was “blah”, but that’s okay with me. We scored 41.05 on Beginner Novice A, then went double clear in stadium like always. Going into cross country, JJ was feeling good and I knew we were going to have a tough time placing well with our dressage score, so I said “screw it, let’s just have fun.” Best. Decision. Ever!

We left the start box in a hurry, and I wasn’t even worried about the possibility of JJ stopping at a jump again. He was going SO fast, but I could tell he was having a ton of fun, and I didn’t want to piss him off by getting in the way of that. So, I just made sure I was balanced, stayed off his back, didn’t pull on his face, and just pointed him in the direction I wanted him to go. Yeah, we had to circle (a LOT) so we didn’t get any speed penalties for going too quickly, but holy heck, that was a blast! He was perfect over every jump, didn’t hesitate at anything, and was such a happy horse when we crossed the finish.

We ended the day on our dressage score and wound up 8th overall. Although I left yet another event empty handed, the lesson I learned, and the confidence both JJ and I earned, was so incredibly valuable.

LESSON LEARNED

Eventing is a galloping sport. The sooner you get comfortable with the idea of being (slightly) out of control while galloping between fences, the sooner you’ll start improving!

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February, 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Lessons Learned: I Had Lunch With George Morris! (Kind Of)

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur eventer whose blog focuses on learning the lesson at the heart of every day with horses, from the good to the bad to the ugly. In the latest installation of her “Lessons Learned” column, while continuing to tack-walk her rehabbing event horse, Ainsely Jacobs rewinds back to September of 2015 when she audited the George Morris clinic at Blackjack Farms.

After months of waiting, wishing, and hoping, much like a child does in anticipation of Christmas morning, I got the news that I was not selected to ride in the George Morris clinic at Blackjack Farms. So, I did what any reasonable fangirl, er, horseperson would do — I went to audit!

My two best barn buddies, Beth and Monique, also wanted to audit, so we met up early on Sunday morning at our home base of Go With It Farm and made the 2.5+ hour drive to Birmingham, Alabama to attend Day 3 of the clinic.

It was rainy and a little chilly, but our excitement wasn’t dampened at all. We grabbed some prime seats and listened attentively to every word that came out of The Master’s mouth. We took copious amounts of notes, drew diagrams, and fantasized about having the nerve to ask for his autograph (spoiler alert: we didn’t).

Through the morning sessions, Mr. Morris was surprisingly lacking in his famed lovably-heinous insults, but not lacking in his tokens of knowledge and insight. He easily conceptualized things I hadn’t quite grasped, and verbalized things I already knew but had never consciously taken into consideration.

During the lunch break, my friends and I enjoyed the downtime to giggle like groupies about the fact that we were in the presence of George freakin’ Morris, and maybe snag more than our fair share of free cookies. Hey, we were only auditing — GHM wouldn’t notice if our breeches were a little tighter tomorrow!

Anyway, at one point, I sat down on a couch to eat, and realized a split-second too late that I had chosen to sit across from George Morris himself. I generally don’t care much for celebrities, but I’ll admit I was star-struck. I sat there, eating in silence, basking in his epicness, and trying not to somehow magically piss him off. I also casually snapped a very stalker-esque picture of him eating, to prove that I had lunch with George Morris! (Kinda. Not really. Whatever.)

I don’t care about Hollywood celebrities, but George Morris is a legend! Photo by Ainsley Jacobs/Ride Heels Down.

I don’t care about Hollywood celebrities, but George Morris is a legend! Photo by Ainsley Jacobs/Ride Heels Down.

The clinic resumed that afternoon, and GHM put his groups through some interesting jump exercises. My friends and I were beyond pleased to see that many of the things he worked on were exactly the same as what our trainer, Halliea Milner, works on with us back home — cool!

All in all, it was a really great day spent learning from one of the greats, and spending some quality fun-time with my barn besties.


LESSON LEARNED

If you have to make a tight turn after the jump, ride a short-strided, conservative distance to it. If you have plenty of galloping space after, you can go for the long spot. Within reason, of course … adjust accordingly depending on the jump height/scariness.

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February, 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Lessons Learned: Cranky or Communicative?

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur eventer whose blog focuses on learning the lesson at the heart of every day with horses, from the good to the bad to the ugly. In the latest installation of her “Lessons Learned” column, as her horse JJ rehabilitates from a ligament injury Ainsley details the importance of listening when your horse speaks up.

In my 20+ years of riding, I’ve thrown my leg over hundreds of horses. Many have been lesson horses, and while most were happy to cart me around without a care in the world, there have been some that were flat out opinionated, obstinate and ornery. Who can blame them? Lesson horses, are, essentially, the “rental cars” of the equine world and I can’t say I wouldn’t be crabby if little kids kicked me around all day, too.

However, knowing the difference between when a horse is simply being cranky, or when he’s trying to communicate can be a real game changer.

As JJ’s rehab progresses, I can’t help but think about how the fact that he communicated to me that he was hurting may have saved both of our lives. How? Read on!

Example 1: A few weeks after I first started working with JJ in 2014, he began bucking when I’d ask for canter. He had never bucked with me previously, and it wasn’t a malicious “get off me, woman” type of a movement. It was more of a “hey, I don’t like that” thing.

At first, I reprimanded him for the bucking behavior, but it persisted. My trainer and I figured he was back sore, so we put him on meds and started using a heating pad before and after each ride. After several more rides where nothing had changed, we were perplexed. JJ, however, was smarter than both of us.

Rather than continue with his bucking, JJ changed his behavior. Instead of kicking out when I asked for canter, he would instead reach around and gently nip at my left leg. He was telling me, “hey, dummy, it hurts over here and what you’re doing to help isn’t helping at all.”

When we realized that his actions had changed, we re-assessed the situation. Could it be an ulcer, and not back soreness at all? Perhaps! So, we treated for ulcers, and his bad habit immediately disappeared!

Long story short, this incredible horse actually consciously changed his method of communication and tried a new tactic because we simply weren’t getting the message. It worked. WOW.

Example 2: When I arrived at Go With It Farm to hack my new horse on April 1 earlier this year, I wasn’t expecting an April Fool’s Day joke. I tacked up JJ, lead him down to the flat arena, and proceeded with his mandatory pre-ride cuddles. Yes, he makes it known that he requires some snuggles and scratches prior to me mounting up.

This time, however, instead of craning his head around to “hug” me like he usually does, he nipped at my leg. He had never bitten me before, and I thought it was strange.

Just a few short minutes later as we began to trot, I discovered that JJ was lame. Was his little bite his way of communicating that he was ouchy and didn’t want to work that day? I think yes.

If JJ hadn’t told me “no” at our event in April, we both could have been critically injured or worse. Fortunately, thanks to this boy’s smart thinking, he only wound up with a minor ligament issue. Photo by Ainsley Jacobs/Ride Heels Down.

If JJ hadn’t told me “no” at our event in April, we both could have been critically injured or worse. Fortunately, thanks to this boy’s smart thinking, he only wound up with a minor ligament issue. Photo by Ainsley Jacobs/Ride Heels Down.

Example 3: After the next few weeks of off-again-on-again lamenes, JJ seemed to be feeling okay enough for us to go show. On April 15, he schooled a warm-up session flawlessly and we had one of our best works ever.

The next day, JJ was a trooper as we got started for dressage in the warm up arena. He seemed just the slightest bit off, but he was forward and willing and went about his job happily. It was getting close to our ride time, so we walked over to the main dressage arena.

Two minutes before we went in, JJ demonstrated a drastic flip in behavior. He went from fine to barely able to stand up. He was dramatically hobbling at the walk, suddenly extremely lame. I immediately dismounted and withdrew from the event. A few hours later, and he was definitely still lame, but his condition had miraculously improved significantly.

What I think happened that day was this: the moment he saw the dressage arena, JJ realized we were at an event and were going to be competing. He knew we would be running. He knew we would be jumping. And he knew we would be going all-out on cross-country. I think JJ sent me a message, loud and clear, that “Hey, mom, I’ve been trying my best for you, but I’m actually hurt worse than you think and this is a BAD idea. Let’s not, okay? Please? We should NOT be doing the cross country jump-y stuff.”

If he hadn’t told me he “couldn’t”, I would have gone out on cross country later that day. And, given that JJ had what we later discovered to be a collateral ligament injury, chances are we would have had a devastating fall on course from his leg giving out, either while running or jumping. That scenario could easily have ended with one or both of us being horribly injured, or worse.

I truly believe that JJ saved both of us from tragedy that day when he communicated his inability to perform.

Example 4: During JJ’s stall-rest recovery, I’d often take him out to hand graze so he could see the world and get a break from the dull monotony of doing nothing. As we neared the four-month mark, JJ had something to say.

JJ loves to jump, and he makes it known. I guessed that he probably missed “working” and being active, and once again this great little horse communicated to me what was going on in his head – I was right!

On one of our walks, instead of sticking to the yummy grass like usual, JJ beelined straight into GWIF’s jumping arena, walked right up to a vertical that was set in the middle, stopped in front of it, bumped the pole with his nose, turned around to look at me, and bumped it again. He then walked me over to a second jump and did the exact same thing. There was no mistaking it. JJ was telling me, “I’m feeling better and I miss this. A lot. When do I get to jump again?”

I couldn’t help but laugh at how obvious he was, and it took a huge weight off my shoulders. My suspicion was validated not long after when Dr. Carter came and confirmed that JJ was sound enough to begin rehab.


LESSON LEARNED

Knowing what’s normal for your horse – and what isn’t – is extremely important to keeping you both happy, healthy, and safe. Be fair, ride with respect, and ride with open communication. It’s your job to know when, and how, to listen.

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February, 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Lessons Learned: Walking the Road to Recovery

Blogger Ainsley Jacob’s horse JJ is BACK! After a collateral ligament injury sidelined JJ for months of stall rest, he’s been cleared for tack walking at last.

The smile on my face says it all. It feels good to be "home" on his back again. Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

The smile on my face says it all. It feels good to be “home” on his back again. Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

“That’s a sound horse.” – Dr. Dan Carter

Good news, friends! JJ has been cleared by our vet to start rehab!

After he came up lame at an event in April, JJ was diagnosed with a collateral ligament injury and put on stall rest for several months. (Fun fact: in the six months that I’ve owned him, he’s been sound for only six weeks … ha!)

JJ usually lives outside 24/7, and he’s generally a very active horse, so having been on stall rest for 4+ months was not his idea of a good time. Standing around eating, however, is one of his favorite hobbies (second only to rolling in the mud). As a result, he has gotten F-A-T! (To be fair, he’s really not “fat” – we’ve been managing his weight well. It’s more like he’s gotten flabby since his fitness has deteriorated from lack of exercise.)

Fortunately, we’re now able to start tack walking again, and we’re both really excited to get back in shape together. We’ll take the rehab slowly and be careful so as not to risk re-injuring him, but I can’t wait to not have a giant horse-shaped marshmallow anymore.

Dr. Dan Carter of Countryside Veterinary Services wants us walking for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, two days on and one day off, for the next six weeks. Last Tuesday, I got to sit on JJ for the first time in months, and from the smile on my face as we walked around the arena, you’d have thought I’d just won Rolex – it felt so good to be “home”!

Ironically, JJ had the same exact reaction. He was totally pumped up and snorting like a 4* horse about to leave the start box for the world’s most epic cross country run. We had a conversation, as usual, and it went something like this:

JJ: MOM I AM READY AND I WILL WIN THE OLYMPICS FOR YOU!
Me: Uh, yeah, that’s cool, but not today, okay? Today we just walk.
JJ: YES, I WILL WIN THE MOTHER LOVIN’ OLYMPICS OF WALKING!

Considering he hadn’t had someone on his back since May, and we haven’t even trotted since mid-April, he was an angel. No bucks, no rears, no shenanigans. He chilled out and settled in after the first two minutes, was a perfect gentleman, tried his best to be on the bit a little, and kept his ears focused on me even though we were “only” walking. I’m SO proud of what a good man he is.

JJ says: "Really, mom? A saddle? Are you sure? I thought all I do now is eat grass?" Photo by Ainsley Jacobs/Ride Heels Down.

JJ says: “Really, mom? A saddle? Are you sure? I thought all I do now is eat grass?” Photo by Ainsley Jacobs/Ride Heels Down.

This morning, the small flat arena where we have been walking was being used by Go With It Farm‘s hippotherapy program, and the footing in the main flat arena was pretty sloppy from a rain storm last night, so the jumping arena was my best option for our tack walk session.

I figured JJ would be excited by the presence of jumps, and I was right – he was CONVINCED that today was HIS day, and we were going to be jumping ALL the things. I had to break the bad news to him that the opposite was true … and although he begrudgingly obliged, his cute little ears perked up hopefully every single time we even walked near a fence. It was adorable.

Aside from the tack walking, JJ is still on stall rest for the time being. Once we reach the 6-week mark (barring any problems with his progress) the vet will be back out to reevaluate and (hopefully) clear him for trotting and light turn-out. Keep your fingers crossed, friends!


LESSON LEARNED

Clean your tack regularly! Seriously, if you let your saddle sit for several months without touching it, you will find that when you go to pick it up for the first time, a very large spider and her egg-babies have taken up residence under the tree. Then, you WILL wind up doing a very ridiculous, very embarrassing “OMFG I TOUCHED IT GET IT OFF ME WTF IS THAT SOMEBODY PLEASE SAVE ME!!” interpretive dance in front of everyone at the barn.

www.RideHeelsDown.com.">Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN MarketingAinsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February, 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Lessons Learned: From Zero to Hero

Now that’s a halt! We scored our very first perfect “10” on a movement! Video capture by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing. Now that’s a halt! We scored our very first perfect “10” on a movement! Video capture by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur eventer whose blog focuses on learning the lesson at the heart of every day with horses, from the good to the bad to the ugly. While her horse JJ is healing from a ligament injury, we’re revisiting some of her past lessons learned — like her personal best event, coming right on the heels of a memorable spill.

My already fragile confidence had taken a hit after I fell off during stadium last week at the USEA-recognized event at Poplar Place Farm. I had planned on showing Novice 3-phase at this past weekend’s schooling show, but thought it would be wise to back down to Beginner Novice just to make sure we didn’t have a repeat performance.

I’ll admit, I was nervous. Things had been going really well for me and JJ lately, and I was surprised by the setback. We had a jump lesson on Thursday prior to the show and JJ was very enthusiastic. We didn’t have any stops, but I was still feeling a little shaky. Going into the weekend, I tried to push those feelings aside and focus on the import thing – staying on, staying safe, and having fun with my awesome Go With It Farm team.

Friday we hauled down to Poplar as usual and got to work with our typical routine of setting up stalls. Our group tacked up and headed out to school our XC courses. I was pleased to see that mine was mostly the same as last weekend’s, which I didn’t get the chance to ride. My trainer, Halliea, let me decide if I wanted to school the whole course or go one jump at a time. I put on my big girl pants and decided to go for it … we popped over our Beginner Novice #1 to warm up, circled back to hit the Novice #1, and things were going so well that we just continued on through the course.

Except for a stop at the up bank where the footing was really odd, JJ ran it flawlessly and gave me a perfect performance. I wasn’t quite sure where I was going since we hadn’t walked this exact Beginner Novice course, so I was finding my jumps as we ran, and I accidentally added in an extra one that wasn’t flagged. Bonus! After we crossed the finish, we circled back around to hang out with the rest of the group as they schooled their jumps and I let JJ enjoy some happy grazing time. I had a feeling we’d be fine the next day so long as I could just stay on.

Saturday morning was chilly, and fortunately, the show was small enough that the organizers decided to set the start time to 9am. Our first ride wasn’t until noon, so I spent the morning hanging out and helping with whatever anyone needed. Eventually, it was go time. I tacked up JJ with our dressage gear and walked down to the warm-up to start getting him in focus mode. We did a quick 15-minute work, and the show was running ahead of schedule, so I decided to just go on in and get my test over with.

We rode Beginner Novice Test B and JJ gave me some really lovely movements, and he didn’t feel as resistant as usual. I didn’t think it was great, but I was satisfied overall. My trainer, however, couldn’t stop smiling and told me she thought it was my best test ever!

Two hours later, it was time for stadium. Ironically, the same exact jump that JJ ducked out at last week and I fell off was in the same exact place this week, except now it was part of a two-stride combination whereas last week it was a single obstacle. We began working up in the hectic warm-up arena, and as we went by “The Jump” (which was parallel to the warm-up area) JJ spooked at it, hard. I gave a “that is not the answer, buddy” crop smack, leg yielded him towards it, and made him go by it several more times until he realized the jump was not, in fact, going to eat him.

Our warm-up went well, although JJ was feeling unusually strong. When we began our course, I was just hoping to be able to point him in the (generally) right direction and hang on through whatever distance he gave me, since I wasn’t having much luck in communicating to him what I thought was best for us. I planned to just go one jump at a time, keep my shoulders back, my leg under me, and pray that the horse show gods were merciful. Eleven jumps and just over a minute later, we crossed the finish to stop the timers with me still on JJ’s back! YES! Success never felt so good!

With confidence bolstered from stadium jumping, we went up to the barn so that I could grab my XC gear then headed back out for our third phase of the day. My trainer’s beautiful 7-year-old daughter, Sidnee, was riding her very first dressage test at the time (which I am super bummed I didn’t get to see in person!) so I just hung around in the XC warm up area waiting until they had finished. Unfortunately, the way the timing worked out, I had to start my warm-up without my trainer.

Ironically enough, I was more scared of doing my warm-up jumps without Halliea’s consent than I was of the course itself. I didn’t know if she would be okay with me not waiting for her, but my ride time was coming up and the starter wouldn’t wait, so I had no choice. With less than two minutes until my ride time, I tried to tell myself what she’d tell me if she were there. I popped JJ over the warm-up cross rail, the vertical, the oxer, the hanging log, then booked it over to the start box. The starter began my 10-second count down, I started my watch, and suddenly we were officially on course – on our own.

JJ was in BEAST mode the whole way through, and although I was super proud of how full of “go” he was, and how game he was for every obstacle, there were moments where I had to remind him who was in charge (me, I think?). We had to come to almost a complete stop for a reality check – twice – and do some trot sections to calm the heck down, but he said “Yes!” to every question and carried me through the gallop stretches and a crazy fast pace. Interesting note: when we got to jump #11 of 14, I still had 2:20 left on my watch before optimum time. Fortunately, we worked together well enough to add in some circles to kill time, and crossed the finish about twenty seconds under optimum, with no jumping penalties. We had survived.

Back up at the barn, JJ got lots of “good boy” cuddles, treats, and his dinner. Halliea got back from her own cross country run and – thankfully – wasn’t mad at all that I had warmed up and started my course without her. She had checked my dressage score earlier in the day and proudly told me that JJ and I had scored a 27.75! My reaction was to ask “was the judge watching the wrong horse?!” HA! I couldn’t believe we had done so well! We were always mid-30s at best, so to be in the 20s was simply incredible.

Once the scores were posted, I went to check out final placing. I was THRILLED to see we had finished second, just 0.75 points behind first, with our official new personal best of 27.75. When I opened my dressage test to read the judge’s comments, I got a shock – we had scored a PERFECT 10 on our halt! WOW!!

27.75 – a new personal best for us! Photo by Ainsley Jacobs/Ride Heels Down.

27.75 – a new personal best for us! Photo by Ainsley Jacobs/Ride Heels Down.

The best part of the day wasn’t the pretty red ribbon or the incredible “10”, it was the fact that we conquered yet another fear-obstacle and made more progress towards rebuilding my confidence.

LESSON LEARNED

Leave your past in the past — a poor performance does not mean you won’t succeed in the future! That said, make sure your horse sees the “scary” jump before you start your course so you’ll have less of a chance of him spooking at it.

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February, 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Lessons Learned: 100% Success … At Failure

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur eventer whose blog focuses on learning the lesson at the heart of every day with horses, from the good to the bad to the ugly. While Ainsley Jacobs' horse JJ is healing from a ligament injury, we're revisiting some of her past lessons learned -- like this particularly memorable moment from earlier this spring!

Pictures can be deceiving! We may look pretty perfect here, but I fell off just a few jumps later. Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing. Pictures can be deceiving! We may look pretty perfect here, but I fell off just a few jumps later. Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

Yeah yeah, I know that’s a pretty Negative Nancy blog title, but don’t give up hope for happiness just yet! February 6-7 was our second-ever USEA recognized 3-phase event, and just like the first time around, we were disqualified due to me falling off. So, yeah – I’ve now fallen off at 100% of the recognized events I’ve (tried to) ride in, and I find that pretty funny!

After having several successful months in a row of Beginner Novice 3-phase schooling shows (as well as a successful Novice 3-phase schooling show), I decided to try the USEA recognized event stuff again. JJ and I have made *huge* progress in our teamwork, and in our cross country, so I figured it wouldn’t be too terribly difficult to simply survive it. My only goal was to stay on and avoid a repeat of our first recognized event, but as is so common with eventing, things didn’t quite go as planned.

Truth be told, I wasn’t nervous about this event at all. If anything, I was the most relaxed I had ever been prior to a show! JJ had a visit from our wonderful chiropractor, Holly Breaux, DVM on Thursday, and on Friday, the Go With It Farm team trailered down to Poplar Place Farm. Due to the class being split by age rather than horse/rider/etc designation, I wound up in Open Beginner Novice.

Friday morning our girls arrived in good spirits, and everyone had fun hanging out and braiding our pretty ponies. We began our dressage warm up that morning, and JJ was feeling s-p-e-c-t-a-c-u-l-a-r! He was so soft and responsive and light and lovely and, well, I couldn’t stop smiling. Thirty minutes later, we entered at A and had (what I thought was) a really nice test! I was pleased, my trainer was pleased, and JJ seemed pleased. Turns out we scored a 40.0. Definitely not our worst, but nowhere near what I had expected… that’s okay, though! There was still plenty of time to move up during stadium and cross country in the class of 16 riders, or so I thought.

That afternoon, I got JJ all fancied up for our stadium round and checked that all his tack (including his martingale) was in place. We wandered down to the warm up arena, loosened up, and took a few pretty perfect practice jumps before heading into the arena to start our course.

The course had a few difficult turns and roll backs that had been causing problems for a few riders, so I had a plan of what path to take to avoid those issues. We started strong and had some really lovely jumps through the first half of the course. We nailed the tricky jump #4 that had been taking people out like it wasn’t even a thing! We had a little argument about pace and balance coming into #7, but got over it and headed towards #8.

We approached #8, which was on the long side of the arena parallel to the slightly chaotic warm-up area, and JJ locked on to the jump. It was an oxer, and I was working to keep him balanced, upright, and listening. I had my trainer in my head reminding me to stretch tall, keep my shoulders back, and wait, wait, wait … we neared the jump, everything seemed perfect, and suddenly – BAM! I was on the ground! What?!?

JJ says: “Oh, look! Let’s go do that jump over there instead of this one!” Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

JJ says: “Oh, look! Let’s go do that jump over there instead of this one!” Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

Turns out, JJ added a small chip, then decided to duck to the left. Despite doing my best spider monkey impression, I wasn’t able to hang on and hit the ground. Fortunately, Poplar’s arena is squishy soft and my butt helped cushion the fall.

As a result of the fall, I got us disqualified and we were done for the weekend. I was SO bummed that we weren’t going to be able to run XC (as it seemed like a fun course) but SO happy that neither of us had gotten hurt in the incident.

I’m learning to handle the disappointment of “failure”, and I was really proud of myself for being able to shake off this emotional upset fairly easily. I’m starting to see things more as opportunities to learn more about what JJ needs from me as a rider (support, confidence, etc) instead of focusing on the fact that we had trouble. Rather than get angry, I just told myself “Hey, it’s better that this happened today when our dressage was mediocre than on a day where we had a great test and were in the lead!” There will be plenty more shows for us to have good days at!

Anyway, Sunday was a nice, low-key day for us since we weren’t riding. I spent the day taking care of JJ and cheering on my trainer and teammates as they finished up their classes.

Overall, despite going off, I actually had a lot of fun and met some great new friends! We’ll be back at Poplar next weekend for another 3-phase schooling show. I had planned to try Novice again, but I think I’ll stick with Beginner Novice for now and (hopefully) get some confidence back for both JJ and myself. Wish us luck and thanks for reading!!


LESSON LEARNED

When your trainer tells you to make your horse stand in front of the jump when he tries to duck out in your lessons, she has a point. Eventually, rather than stopping in front of the jump, he’ll learn to run out, and you’ll wind up in the dirt like I did. If you get a stop, keep your horse in front of the jump (as best as you can), give a crop discipline, and turn him AWAY from where he wanted to go. Accidents happen, and riding is always unpredictable (that’s what makes it fun!) but you can unintentionally train in an undesired behavior that will come back to bite you in the butt during a very expensive horse show. Oops!

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February, 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.