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A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: Laundered Stripper Money and Thank You’s

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

Photo by Julie Maner.

So here I am sipping on a glass of wine (I may have abandoned my no more drinking rule for a few days. Don’t judge me!), listening to Chris Stapleton, in Portland, Maine, soaking it all in. We brought my son, Josh, a U-Haul full of his furniture and personal belongings to Portland. It is here that he has chosen to chase a dream and find himself … for a bit. He and Richard are busy hanging shelves, tacking up lights, putting pictures on the walls and keeping Lowe’s in business.

When I was Josh’s age, finding my passion or doing what speaks to me was not “a thing.” I was busy trying to have it all: a successful relationship, kids, career, mortgage, a white picket fence … you get the picture.  Doing something that just felt good and filled my heart with joy wasn’t something I really thought about but here I am — better late than never. I’m not saying I am going to become a hardcore eventer. Romeo’s days are numbered and honestly, I got lucky a few times at Jump Start.

I digress … So those who know me know that I can be pretty frugal. Although 3 of my 4 children are off of our payroll, spending money on myself (other than the occasional mani/pedi) is few and far between. For me to pay a trainer, keep an older horse moving, and pay all that goes with eventing is out of my allotted weekly budget. I wasn’t comfortable spending “our” money on me chasing a bucket list item; but there was my laundered stripper money tucked away in a special hiding place.

Don’t get excited! The money isn’t really laundered … well sort of and I was never a stripper. Years ago, when the three older kids were middle school age, I would get so frustrated with finding money in the washer and dryer. “Don’t ya’ll care that you’re missing $5” or “this change adds up!” My sometimes absent-minded husband, left a trail of dollar bills as well. After what I’m sure was years of bitching and moaning, I declared all laundered money to be mine. If I am going to wash it, and you don’t care about losing it, it will become mine.

For years I have had a mason jar on a shelf above the washer and dryer.  If it was a penny or the very rare Andrew Jackson (thanks, Richard) and I laundered it, it went into the jar and became mine.  Over time, I accumulated quite the stash. As the change would overflow the jar, I would sit in front of the television and roll it. Pennies became dollars. The crisp Bounce fragranced dollars grew. It even got to be substantial enough for me to feel obligated to tell Sarah (our oldest) about it so that it anything ever happened to me … just in case.

What should I spend it on? It was beginning to burn a hole in my pocket. Should I get a little something-something done to get rid of these wrinkles? A cool piece of art? Something for the house? No, that’s not for me. It’s gotta be for me. And so there it was … that halter … taunting me. Do an event! Do an event! Romeo is home! Do an event! Money could not be an excuse. It would not affect my household budget. I had my laundered stripper dollars … there was no excuse.

I had mentioned my laundered stripper money for years to Erika. She knew about my stash but didn’t fully appreciate it until I actually pulled the trigger and started riding with her. After at least the first 4 or 5 lessons, I would pull out my crisp, fresh and clean stack of ones.  I would count them off; one, two, three, four. “You weren’t kidding!” she said after the first few lessons. Just for giggles, if I laundered someone’s cash over the past month, I would text her just to say, “I made enough for another lesson!”

So in the line of thank yous, I should first thank my kids for being kiddos and not keeping up with their change.  To my adult children for understanding when I said, “the next month and a half is for me. Don’t ask.” For understanding if I had to cancel plans on short notice.  For loving me enough to not only understand but to be happy for me. And to Josh, for reminding me of the importance of inner happiness. For showing me how to take pause and enjoy the ride…not just the conclusion.

And Emily, for whom I know this wasn’t easy. Sitting on the sidelines, watching me ride in your saddle, use your CCI1* never-been-used dressage saddle pad, and neatly hung show clothes.  When corrected by a judge for standing too close to cross country jump #12 (the scary one), you declared, “But that’s my mom!” so the judge let you stay and cheer me over! Thanks for letting me into your world. It has been an honor and privilege to be your eventing mom.

Julie, Romeo and Emily. Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

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

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

Photo by JJ Sillman.

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

Sunday, October 1, 2017
Phase Three: Cross Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

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

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

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

Me: TROT!

Romeo: Canter.

Me: TROT, ROMEO!

Romeo: Canter.

Me: Fine! BUT YOU BETTER JUMP IT!

Sit back. KICK!

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

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

Photo by Dale Duckett.

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

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

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

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

 

Photo by Dale Duckett.

Me: DO YOU SEE IT ROMEO?

Romeo: Canter.

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

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

Photo by Dale Duckett.

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

Photo by JJ Sillman.

Photo by JJ Sillman.

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

Photo by Dale Duckett.

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

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

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

Photo by JJ Sillman.

Photo by JJ Sillman.

A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: Sit Back and Kick. Kick and Sit Back

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

Photo by Kathy Pate.

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

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Phase Two: Stadium

There were 15 riders in my division Friday. By Saturday morning, one rider had scratched. I was tickled with my 40.0 dressage score, which put me in 11th place out of 14 riders. Now, I know I said I wasn’t going to be competitive. All I wanted to do was complete all three phases. It’s a bucket list thing. But … the top 10 riders get ribbons. That might be nice …

After dressage, Jen and I rode back to the barn breathing a sigh of relief. This is really happening! Time was of the essence as my ride time for stadium was 10:33. I sipped on a water and watched as Em started switching tack. Paper tigers, paper tiger, paper tigers. Coach Erika would be a few minutes late to my warm-up since she was working with other riders. Em was to get me started.

We headed into the stadium warm up arena and were quickly stopped by the officiant. “You need an armband.” Crud. Em ran back to the barn but couldn’t find it. I had left it in the camper; it’s hard to think of everything at 5:30 AM! Since there was not enough time to get back to the campground, and the Big Blue Tack Trailer was literally next to our barn, she bought a new one and ran it to me. By the time we had it all sorted, Erika had arrived.

This warm-up arena was less crowded than the dressage warm up, but a nice fall breeze had come up and Romeo was feeling fresh … a bit more than I wanted. We popped over a few jumps and his excitement seemed to increase with the wind. After I slammed on the breaks after a jump and gave him the “what for,” he settled down. Erika took the opportunity and said it was time to head to the in-gate. We walked to the arena. Paper tigers, paper tigers, paper tigers. 

Erika: Sit up and kick. Kick and sit up.

Me: Sit up and kick. Kick and sit up.

And with that, I entered the arena. I circled just as Erika had showed me. I heard the whistle (not to be confused with any other whistles) and the announcer say my name and Prepster’s (Romeo’s registered name). We trotted toward the first jump. It had butterflies on either side; very appropriate. SIT UP, KICK!! We cleared it! Romeo didn’t hesitate at all!

Photo by Kathy Pate.

I gathered my thoughts and got the trot back as we headed down the rail to jump number two. Heels down, eyes up, KICK! We were over two and cantered to three! On purpose! No problems! My confidence was building.

But jump four was a tight roll back near the rail, so I decided to trot again. Jump four was behind us.

We cantered toward the fifth. Trot! Trot, damnit, trot! Nope. He cantered. Screw it. Sit back and KICK! Clear five!

Photo by Dale Duckett.

Again, the rail and quick turn allowed me to regain my composure. Sit back, KICK! Then the smiles came, we were over jump six (in a not-so-pretty fashion!)

Romeo was more than eager! He was having a great time, never really looking at anything and completely forgiving my rookie mistakes. We cantered out of six and from there, I abandoned the trot and went for it. Barely avoiding a display of hay bales and flowers, we took jump seven. We weren’t exactly in the center of the jump, but Romeo didn’t seem to mind.

Photo by Kathy Pate.

I completely lost balance on the hard turn to the right toward fence eight and had to laugh as I almost toppled out of the saddle. ONE MORE! SIT BACK, KICK!

And like that, we were done! Eight jumps and no refusals or rails. (SQUEAL!) Thanks to me trotting so much, we accrued five time penalties but I wasn’t there to be competitive, right? Clearly, we need to work on our equitation but there will be time for that later. I was grateful to crumble the paper tigers and defeat both Rome’s and my insecurities.

Photo by Kathy Pate.

I’m not certain my feet touched the ground the rest of the day! We enjoyed lunch and afterwards walked the cross country course with family and friends by my side. There were lots of different kinds of jumps; certainly, I had never jumped anything like them … except for the logs! A quick glance over the map and I realized there were no hay bale jumps. Well that was an unnecessary exercise but hopefully it was a confidence builder for me. Honestly, I wasn’t too fazed. I had slayed my fears in stadium; I could do this too.

Time to walk the course again with Richard, Erika and Val; this time with intention and purpose. On our way to the start box, I looked at Erika. “OK, I do want to be competitive.” I had moved from 11th to 9th place after stadium. “7th place gets a purple ribbon. I want a purple ribbon.” I’m not certain if the look she gave me was one of disbelief or “Uh-huh, I thought so” but we walked it with the intention of being competitive. I tried not to skip with joy!

Her biggest piece of advice was to forgo the water. We had an option at the water complex: trot/canter through it and deal with a really spooky in, or trot alongside it and jump a log. “If you want to be competitive, don’t do the water. It’s not inviting. The safe bet is to take the road and jump the log.” Duly noted.

We wrapped up the day with dinner at the campground with the team, family and friends. I was in bed by 10:30.

Photo by Kathy Pate.

The rest is merely tenacity, the rest is merely tenacity, the rest is merely tenacity…

A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: Sure. How About This?

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

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

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

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Phase 1: Dressage

I was wide-awake at 4:50 a.m. I laid there for a bit reviewing the dressage test in my head as well as the stadium course; remarkably, I had them both completely memorized. Unlike the night before, I was very calm. Richard rolled over and asked if I was OK. I nodded. “You’ve got this,” he said. By 5:30, I couldn’t stand it any more. Carefully, maneuvering over a snoring Sampson, I got up and got dressed.

The campground was quiet and damp. Embers from the previous night’s campfires were the only lights. I wiped the dew off the scooter and headed to the barns. I was barely out of the campground when I was struck with a realization — I had made it. I stopped the scooter and soaked it in. The rolling green of the cross country course lay before me. In through the nose, out through the mouth.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

Amelia Earhart’s quote about tenacity kept running through my mind. “The most difficult thing is the decision to act.” Check. I had made the decision to act. I had passed my 40-day crash course in eventing and actually made it here. As I sat there in the dark, watching my breath coil and looking at the lights of the glowing barns ahead of me, I knew that the rest was merely tenacity.

Eight years ago or more, a good friend’s daughter asked her what the word tenacity meant. She tried to define it and finally said, “Tenacity. Julie is tenacious.” Her daughter then understood. “You can act to change and control your life and the procedure.” I did. I had done it for the past 40 days and this weekend, I was going to do it again. It might not be pretty, but I was going to do it. Pep talk over, I proceeded to the barn.

Things moved quickly from there. Everything moves quickly when your ride time is 8:55! Feeding Romeo grain and giving him more hay, cleaning his stall and filling waters, polishing tack, borrowing a dressage coat (Thanks Erin L!), finding my gloves, losing my gloves, and finding my gloves, checking Romes’ braids, a quick tail trimming by trainer Erika, a morning walk to stretch his legs, all ahead full!

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

Richard arrived with breakfast and Em to help me with the details. As the time to mount up neared, there were a lot of “where’s my” questions that suddenly came out of my mouth. “Katherine have you seen that thing I was holding a minute ago? Hey Em where’s my hair net? Does anyone know where my halter is?” You go from having all morning to get ready to suddenly not knowing where your head is. But we managed to get me dressed, get Romeo tacked up and his competition number on his bridle, and me on my mount. Romeo and I walked with Jen on her non-compete horse, Liam, to the dressage arena. Romeo seemed calm. Although it had been awhile since he evented, he knew what we were doing. At least one of us did.

As we approached the warm-up, we stopped at the tack check tent where volunteers make sure that all of your tack is within regulation. “Look at me! I get to go do a bit check! (SQUEAL!)” Jen laughed with delight! We met Erika and Cheerleader-in-Chief Val in warm-up. Despite one small melt-down by Romeo (too many horses in my space! Bucky, bucky, rear, rear!), it was great. I was relaxed — at least I thought I was. Romeo was a bit excited but controllable.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

My crash course had not really covered the details of actual competition rules like how to salute the judge, when to enter rings, etc. I went to take off my helmet in order to fix my glasses and Erika panicked. Tripping over her words, “YOU CANT TAKE YOUR HELMET OFF! YOU WILL BE ELIMINATED!” OH, HOLY HELL!!! “Oops! Sorry. I didn’t know!” Wouldn’t that have been a horrible way to end the dream?

Before my test, I had a quick conversation with Erika about hearing the whistle. When you hear the whistle (or horn or bell or squeaky toy), you have 60 seconds to enter the dressage arena. Let me remind all of you young sassy kids out there that when you get older, not only do you need all kinds of different eye glasses to help you see, but your hearing gets a little fuzzy too. Many times at Emily’s shows, I have either not heard the whistle blow or gotten hers confused with an arena near by. I certainly didn’t want to get a penalty or be eliminated over a whistle misunderstanding. Erika said it was perfectly acceptable for me to stop at the judge’s box on my first time around the arena and tell them the situation and ask if they could give me a hand wave or something to that nature.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

The rider ahead of me was done. We picked up the trot and made our way around the arena to the judge’s box. Romeo was still a bit excited, but I knew I had plenty of time to circle the arena once or twice and calm him down. I felt good. We could do this. I stopped at the judge’s box.

Me (Smiling from ear to ear): Good morning!

Judge (coolly): Hello. Number 422.

Me: I have a bit of a hearing problem. Would you mind giving me some sort of signal so that I know that your whistle it is for me?

Judge (still coolly): Sure. How about this?

And she blew the whistle right in my face. SHE BLEW THE WHISTLE WITH ME STANDING RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER!

ME: That’s it? Wait, you want me to start? NOW?

Judge: Yes.

What the heck? That wasn’t nice! Crap! We gotta go Romeo! Go! Now I’m sure in actuality, I had enough time to circle the arena again, but because I wasn’t going to let not entering it in the allotted time be my downfall, I didn’t take the chance. Romeo sensed my panic and broke into a canter going down the far side away from the judges. Well crap. Get it together. Get it together.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

I entered the ring. Romeo still had his feelings hurt for not being allowed to trot around the arena (maybe I did, too). I spent the majority of my test trying to keep him from breaking into a canter. My dressage test consisted of remarks like “restricted,” “tension,” and “tight.” But my only proper mistake was the free walk. The arena seemed so much smaller than the others. We turned at M and headed diagonally across the arena. Halfway across, I realized we were headed toward K and not E. Uh-oh! I wonder if she’ll notice if we just leg yield over here to the right a bit.  The smile was uncontrollably back as I tried to edge Romeo closer to E. She noticed. The test read “error.”

We completed the test with my newly learned salute. Head, arm, arm, head. I smiled and thanked the judge even though I felt like she was rather snarky to me. I left the arena thrilled that I had remembered my test and was actually moving on to the next phase!

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

On the walk back to the barns, I told my family about my not-so-nice conversation with the judge. Later, I read the judges remarks on my test: “Both horse and rider can relax more.” Sure, sounds like a plan. How about you don’t blow your whistle in my face when I ask you for help hearing the signal! Need to relax more … you can relax this …

But never mind. Eventing is a marathon, not a sprint, and I had two more phases to go. I had a score next to my name which meant I was still competing. On to show jumping. With dressage behind me, all of my attention focused on those eight jumps in the arena.

Paper tigers. Sit Up and Kick. Kick and Sit Up.

A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: Has Anyone Ever Fainted Doing This?

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

Courtesy of Julie Maner.

 

Where do I start? The weekend couldn’t have been more perfect. Family, friends, teammates and even total strangers surrounded me in support. The weather was perfect, the horse felt great, the atmosphere was all I dreamed it would be. I think I’ll break down the weekend into several blog entries — an entry per phase! Because as I said last night, I have lots to say!

We left Maryville Friday later than we had hoped. I’m not used to playing the mom role (groceries, bedding, clothes, necessities) AND the rider role (horse, tack, supplies, hay, basically everything on the USEA Eventing checklist). I underestimated the time it would take to get everything loaded. With Romes in the trailer and Sampson, our faithful black lab, comfortably in the back seat, we finally hit the road at 1:30 making a quick stop at the University of Tennessee to pick up Emily.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

A flat tire tacked on a bit more time but Em and Richard are quite efficient at changing flat tires as we’ve had more than our fair share of them over the years.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

I was literally bouncing in the front seat as we made the turn into the Kentucky Horse Park at 4:30.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

“SQUEAL” became my favorite exclamation over the next few hours. I was dropped off to get my packet (SQUEAL!) while Em and Richard wound their way through the grounds to find Romeo’s stall. There were four of us who had been on the waitlist and got in at the 11th hour. Fellow Road Less Traveled teammate Katherine M. was to the left of Romeo, all-around badass Leslie W. was to my right and Jennifer R. (Romeo’s original owner) was next to Leslie. We weren’t stabled with the rest of the Road Less Traveled crew since we were late additions, but we didn’t care — we were there (SQUEAL!) and had our own barn on “waitlist row!”

With the sun getting low and the shadows getting long, I tacked up and met Erika at the dressage warm up area for a lesson in the very spot where we would be warming up for our dressage test the next day. I’ve gotta say, I thought our lesson was the best riding we had done throughout this entire process. There was bend, connection, calmness and accuracy. Romeo seemed quite happy to be there. Smiles from ear-to ear for me!

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

We proceeded to trot around the actual arena where I would compete in the morning, letting Romeo checkout his surroundings. As we did this, I started riding the test in my head.  Circle at B … wait, then what … circle at B … FOCUS! My heart began to race. I can’t get through the test. PANIC! Erika interrupts my crazed internal voice to say we needed to get back to the barns and walk the stadium course. Now??? Erika was coaching eight students with three rides each, and her life was scheduled to the minute. Time would would be tight tomorrow as our ride times were clustered together.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

With Romes in the hands of Em, Erika and I walked the course at dusk. The jumps looked huge. There were lots of switchback turns. Erika, saw my smiles disappear. Referencing my Amelia Earhart quote from an earlier blog entry, she said, “Paper tigers, paper tigers, paper tigers.” “Paper tigers,” I mumbled back.

Erika: You will want to canter into jump 1.

Me: What if I want to trot?

Erika: Then you better be sitting back and kicking.

Our mantra for the weekend then became, “Sit up and kick. Kick and sit up.”

I went back to the barn where Em had tucked Romeo in for the evening. He was perky and alert. All systems go on his part … I wasn’t so sure about mine. She and I went back and walked stadium in the dark. “He knows his job, Mom. You just have to tell him to do it.” Heavy sigh.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

In the cold, night air we broke all of the rules and had a crazed scooter race back to the campground. That was a moment I loved! Back at the campsite I told myself, One step at a timeFigure out the dressage test. With paper and pen, I drew it out again and again. Once in bed, I had Richard turn away from me so I could trace it on his back over and over until I fell asleep.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

I had quite the legion of support throughout the weekend.  We were joined by my mom, our oldest daughter and her husband and Presley, Ryan and Nicole, Nic and Jen along with an array of their relatives, my cousin Dale, one of my closest friends, Lisa and of course the Road Less Traveled Team and our coach, Erika. Plus, the world’s greatest cheerleader, Val.

 Sit up and kick. Kick and sit up.

A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: Still Smiling

Welcome to A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: A Prelim Mom’s Journey to Starter. I would like to invite you to follow along as I attempt to ride in my first … and only event, Jump Start Horse Trials in Lexington, KY. Sit down, pour a glass of wine (enjoy an extra one for me as I have all but given it up) and watch it unfold. Will I make it? Who knows! Should I even be attempting this? Who cares! There are no baby steps to be taken as we are short on time, but my not so trusty steed and I are taking it day by day. Come along for the ride!

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

I have lots to write, lots to say and lots to be thankful for but for now,  I am going to sleep.

BTW, WE FINISHED 4TH IN OUR FIRST EVER EVENT!!!!

Thank you for all of the love and support! The word “appreciation” doesn’t do it justice.

Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: The Rest Is Merely Tenacity

Welcome to A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: A Prelim Mom’s Journey to Starter. I would like to invite you to follow along as I attempt to ride in my first … and only event, Jump Start Horse Trials in Lexington, KY. Sit down, pour a glass of wine (enjoy an extra one for me as I have all but given it up) and watch it unfold. Will I make it? Who knows! Should I even be attempting this? Who cares! There are no baby steps to be taken as we are short on time, but my not so trusty steed and I are taking it day by day. Come along for the ride!

Emily Maner and Romeo.

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

— Amelia Earhart

Heels down, eyes up, leg on.

WE ARE GOING TO JUMP START IN 2 DAYS!!

A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: What Matters Is the Journey

Welcome to A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: A Prelim Mom’s Journey to Starter. I would like to invite you to follow along as I attempt to ride in my first … and only event, Jump Start Horse Trials in Lexington, KY. Sit down, pour a glass of wine (enjoy an extra one for me as I have all but given it up) and watch it unfold. Will I make it? Who knows! Should I even be attempting this? Who cares! There are no baby steps to be taken as we are short on time, but my not so trusty steed and I are taking it day by day. Come along for the ride!

Emily fitting Romeo in Loki’s dressage bridle

Sunday, September 24, 2017

I have officially wrapped up all of our jumping training … assuming we make it into Jump Start. On Sunday Romeo and I trailered over to the barn where Emily first learned to ride with the sole purpose of jumping The Scary Panel. They have always kept this particular panel up in their arena. It has a painted horse on it and is covered with the names of all of the young kids who have jumped it. Over the past 11 years, I have watched horse after horse struggle with The Panel. So, I knew that if I could get Romeo over it on the first attempt, anything at a show would be doable.

“The Scary Panel”

It wasn’t pretty but I got the job done. From there, we went out into the field and jumped seven or eight cross country jumps. You could tell Romeo was a bit nervous, as there were no other horses within eye shot. I have no idea why Richard following us on his motorbike was not comforting to him! We cruised over all of the jumps and I called it a day. I am a huge fan of ending it on a good note!

Heels down, eyes up, leg on

6 days to Jump Start

Monday, September 25, 2017 

Yesterday, I climbed up to the hayloft, retrieved three square bales of hay and drug them out to our makeshift arena. I’ve been watching cross-country videos from Jump Start (I’m doing everything I can to prepare!) and know that they have hay bale jumps on course. With Richard keeping an eye on us, we popped over the hay obstacle. No problem!!! We did it a few more times before wrapping it up. Both rides were short but for a specific purpose — present something foreign to Romeo and get the job done. Mission accomplished.

Heels down, eyes up, leg on.
5 days to Jump Start

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Today started at 5 a.m. I had my last jump lesson at Erika’s farm at 8, which is an hour away.  Out in the field by 6, I couldn’t find the horses. I walked that five acres from one end and back. By the time, I found them the horses were convinced I must be a mountain lion. Running (and cursing) ensued. It was not until Richard arrived, that we were able to bribe them into the barn with feed. I climbed in the truck with dew soaked pants and fought the rush hour traffic to get to her farm.

While sitting in traffic, I was reminded of Emily and how many times it was so easy for Richard and me to say, “You wanted to do this; go get him.” Sitting in the comfort of our own selves, it was so easy to play the parent card and say, “Just do it, buck up, make him!” What kind of a parent was I? This is hard. It is scary. And, it is DANGEROUS!  Not that I didn’t know all of this before, but again, I was on the sidelines where it was easy to be an armchair quarterback.

As this 40-day crash course is wrapping up (hopefully), something I wasn’t expected has happened. I expected to learn how to ride in a more polished manner. I knew I wouldn’t leave anything on the table. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. What I didn’t expect was to have the honor of peeking inside my little girl’s world — if only for a few weeks.

Throughout this process, I have found an even higher, more purposeful respect for Emily Grace. She is simply a bad ass. She has chased this carrot for years. She has ridden with bruises and cuts, in sweltering heat, bitter cold, winds and rains, when things were going well and when the chips were down, cared for and doctored her horses in the late night hours, and above all, she has ridden a 1000+ pound beast with a mind of its own. The beast has sometimes been her best friend and other times not, but she has always climbed back on the proverbial horse and kicked on. What dedication! What passion! It says something about one’s character to make such sacrifices.

As Richard brought the camping trailer home and backed down to the barn for me to load up, I went inside and prepared to make a new camping list of necessities. I opened the closet to find all of Emily’s show clothes hanging neatly in a row. You see, earlier this year, Emily set a goal. She wanted to ride in her first CCI1*. She started training in late January/early February. She drove home from college every few days to put all of the necessary training on her horse. She crossed every T and dotted every I. She acquired the equine passport, signed up for the memberships, drove her horse to the lessons, and competed in the lead-up events. I watched from the sidelines.

One week before the event, Loki stepped on a clip and developed a stone bruise. We moved heaven and earth to get him healed before the event; the farrier was there practically every other day and the vet too. It came down to the wire. Would we go? Would he get better? He did not.

Through tears, she withdrew from the competition. She refused to take the chance of her best friend, Loki doing even more damage to himself. It was crushing. I knew she was devastated. But now with me being on the verge of not getting into Jump Start — an event that I have done all of the work to get to — I understand even more how crushed she was. My starter is no CCI* mind you, but I feel for my girl even more now.

And so there are her show clothes; they are waiting for me and my turn. If I don’t get into Jump Start, it will hurt. Of course there is the North Carolina event but that was not part of my dream, part of my goal. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Emily Grace has taught me lots. What matters is the journey; the preparation, the knowledge, the passion. It will work out the way it is intended and life will go on with a new set of goals and dreams. Thanks Em for being the daughter you are and reminding me about the things that are most important.

Heels down, eyes up, leg on.

4 days to Jump Start

A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: Not Bad for a Middle-Aged Bucket Lister

Welcome to A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: A Prelim Mom’s Journey to Starter. I would like to invite you to follow along as I attempt to ride in my first … and only event, Jump Start Horse Trials in Lexington, KY. Sit down, pour a glass of wine (enjoy an extra one for me as I have all but given it up) and watch it unfold. Will I make it? Who knows! Should I even be attempting this? Who cares! There are no baby steps to be taken as we are short on time, but my not so trusty steed and I are taking it day by day. Come along for the ride!

Text exchange between daughter Emily and mom Julie.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

So here we are, one week out from Jump Start. This week started out tough for me. It was hard to get motivated knowing that I might not get to compete at Jump Start. I had to force myself to ride. You never know. It might still work out. 

My Tuesday lesson was cancelled due to storms but I managed to squeeze in a ride here at the farm before it hit. Lightning bolts were dropping nearby and the winds were crazy. Before taking a page from the Wizard of Oz, I called it quits. I received a call late on Wednesday, that I could have a last minute lesson with Erika at a nearby farm. I didn’t want to go. My back was still aching from Saturday and again, the wind had left my sails.

A friend sent me a cute message followed up with a bit about how she was living vicariously through me and how awesome it had been to watch me over the past few weeks. Arg. It’s so hot. I’m tired. I don’t want to catch, clean, load, haul, RIDE … I just laid there on the couch looking for any excuse. You’ve come this far. GO! I pulled myself up and reached for my riding pants. My granddaughter took notice and said, “Mimi ride the horse?” Yes, Mimi is going to ride the damn horse. 

The sun was setting once I arrived at the farm. To say we were spot on would have been an understatement. I was in control, counting, sitting back, looking up, leg on. Romeo wasn’t thinking twice about anything. He was game on too.  Erika was super happy. She was talking lots about how far we had come and how Romeo had forgiven my past mistakes. I was beginning to enjoy myself a bit when she then set up an oxer. For those that don’t know, an oxer is basically a vertical with a back rail — so the jump has width to it, not just height.

Erika: Next time through, canter into this one.

Me: Both of them?

Erika (giggling): Yes. Both of them.

It looked intimidating. I immediately became nervous. “You’ve jumped bigger,” she said. Fine. As I approached the jump, too many thoughts went through my head: Damn, that looks big. It’s getting dark, can he see it? I don’t wanna … Romeo saw the opportunity and stopped. And granted, I gave him every reason to. I will take 99% of the blame for that one, but for Pete’s sake would it kill you to take one for the team every now and then!?! The next hundred times over, we were successful but that nagging feeling was back. If all systems are not a go on my end, he won’t go. I flashed back to all of the times we “coached” Emily from the sidelines. “Don’t let him get away with it!” I understand now.

Erika had set up some colorful panels that I had ignored throughout the lesson. Tensions increased every time I circled past one. I knew what was coming next.

Erika: Well, are you ready to call it a day?

Me, eying the terrifying panels: You aren’t going to ask me to do one of those?

Erika: I need smiling Julie to do those. You aren’t smiling today.

Kudos for her for not pushing with what undoubtedly would have ended in more rattled confidence. We finished up with a bit of flat work and headed home. I’m pretty certain I was in bed by 9, replaying everything I had done wrong in the lesson.  One step forward. Two steps back.

I awoke the next morning with a new attitude and confidence. And, for the first time in weeks, my back didn’t ache!

I texted Erika: Smiling Julie is back.

Heels down, eyes up, leg on.

9 days to Jumps Start

or

16 days to Windridge

 

Friday, September 22, 2017

The sun rose on this morning with me trying to find my horse (I mistook him for a cow), and we headed to a nearby farm with a lesson from Grand Prix dressage rider Jim Koford. Did I really need to spend the money on a “Jim” lesson? Probably not, but I have watched Em do it for years. Again, I have sat on the sidelines and listened, taken video and learned. I want the entire experience! We exchanged niceties and I showed him my test from the weekend schooling show.

Me: I’m not too concerned about bend and connection. All of that stuff is a bit over my head. We only have one week. I’ll take remembering the test and accuracy.

The next 45 minutes were spent working primarily on bend and connection! Note to self about Jim the trainer … he’s gonna teach whatever he wants to teach. Other than not recognizing one of my circles, “What was that? Is that some move in your test?,” I think he was impressed. Not bad for a middle-aged, bucket lister who has never ridden dressage! I learned loads and am quite confident I will forget to apply all of it in the show but I’m thrilled I took the lesson and even more so that I didn’t make a complete fool of myself!

On the way to my massage, the radiator blew up in the jeep and left me stranded on the roadside. On the ride home with my knight in shining armor:

Richard: Why do you keep smiling?

Me: Because I’m happy.

As of 4:30pm, I have moved up to 4th place on the waitlist for Jump Start. Just saying that makes my heart race. What if it doesn’t happen? I’ll be so bummed. But then again, what if it does? Other than walking to the mailbox and putting the entry in the mail a few days earlier than I did, I have done all I can do. Romeo starts on ulcer meds in a few days to counter any chance of belly stress and colic, the farrier came today — two weeks early to make sure his feet are good, Romeo is sporting some fancy socks to help lower any chance of bacteria causing a cellulitis flare-up, and I have ridden my ass off.

Romeo’s socks

While cleaning out my car today, I found my old to-do list; the one I mentioned in my first post.  I laughed because it has been trampled and tossed aside. I glanced at it; pull weeds, hang pics in Em’s room, paint pool furniture, develop pictures. All of this has been forgotten. For one month, I have concentrated on me … something outside of my comfort zone … something to be proud of. Whether it be Jump Start or Windridge, it’s almost here and I am ready.

Not bad for a middle-aged bucket lister.

Heels down, eyes up, leg on.

7 days to Jump Start

 or

 14 days to Windridge

A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: So, Here We Are. We Wait.

Welcome to A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: A Prelim Mom’s Journey to Starter. I would like to invite you to follow along as I attempt to ride in my first … and only event, Jump Start Horse Trials in Lexington, KY. Sit down, pour a glass of wine (enjoy an extra one for me as I have all but given it up) and watch it unfold. Will I make it? Who knows! Should I even be attempting this? Who cares! There are no baby steps to be taken as we are short on time, but my not so trusty steed and I are taking it day by day. Come along for the ride!

Little Emily kicking on.

September 16, 2017

The last 24 hours have been filled with a whirlwind of emotions. Yesterday, I competed in my first schooling show since I was in the second grade, which means it was also the second one of my entire life.

My biggest problem heading into it wasn’t memorizing my dressage test, nor was it being brave for show jumping. No, you see, when I sweat, my glasses slide off of my nose. You may laugh, but this is a problem for us glasses wearing folk! Richard stopped on the way to the show and purchased a pair of croakies to hold my prescription sunglasses in place. He is the greatest husband in the world. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t tighten enough to secure my glasses. So big decision — do I ride the test constantly pushing my glasses up my nose, or do I take them off and ride in a blur. What the heck … let’s go for blurry!

Moving on, I became a bit paranoid as we drove to the show.

BANG!

Me: What was that? Someone hit us!

Richard: No one hit us.

Me: Yes they did! What was it then?

Richard: It’s the horse.

Me: He kicked???

My mind races; Romeo never kicks in the trailer. The only time he did that was on our first outing to Erika’s barn years ago. He was colicy when we arrived and was kicking at the trailer. OMG, he’s gonna colic. OMG! OMG! I was quite certain bad things were going to happen.  The vet lives right down the street from the show. I wonder if he is in town? Will a shot of banamine do the trick? I have to compete today!!! ARG!!!! We arrive. There is no poop in the trailer! OH NO!!! For my non-horsey friends, pooping on the trailer is an important thing. Poop is good. Always be aware of the poop!

Anyway, he unloaded, looked around and started to graze. I quickly confirm with Erika that if he didn’t feel well, he wouldn’t be eating. “Right?” “Correct,” she says. Em and I tacked up and headed to the dressage warm-up.

Em: You look tense.

Erika: Breathe

I’m not! I am! I was enjoying myself; really, I wasn’t nervous! Trotting around in the circles; enjoying the moment…it was all good.  After our ever-so-talented saddle fitter, Kate rode her test, it was my turn. Wow, I get to trot around the outside of the dressage arena just like Em does. I even flashed a big smile as I trotted past Em and Richard! I stopped at the judges and introduced myself, told them it was my first dressage test ever and I couldn’t see or hear. I can’t say they cared but off I went to trot some more. The whistle blew, and I entered the arena.

I’m pretty certain we nailed the center line, but after that I can’t remember much to report. I felt pretty relaxed, playing out each section in my head. I wasn’t looking for bend and connection, which is a good thing because the judges said we had none. What I was going for was accuracy, and other than not using the corners when I should have, we were very accurate! We had another great trot down the final center line and a good, square halt. Smiles from ear to ear, cheers from my favorite groupies, and my first ever dressage test was over!

Moving on to the next phase, show jumping. My “fix it” husband had fashioned a rubber band around by croakies to secure my glasses so at least I could see the jumps clearly! I walked the course with Kate who later quizzed me on the colors of the jumps as well as their locations. Another walk with Erika and it was time to go.

Romeo and I made our way down to warm up. We popped over the cross rails with no problem. I don’t know why, but vertical jumps make me a bit nervous. Erika sensed my tension and started talking me down. Breathe. Breathe. This is what you want to do. Enjoy it.  With a deep breath, I headed for the warm-up vertical. I got my distance wrong, but Romeo took a long one for me. As we landed in a heap on the other side, I felt my back snap. Great. Note to self: schedule an extra massage this week. 

We rode it a few more times and got it right. That was enough for me. Let’s do this … before I’m paralyzed; both mentally and physically! We approached the arena just in time to see a young girl being led out in tears. See? It could be worse. You aren’t crying … yet. 

I entered the arena and told the judge I had never done this before and to let me know when to go. She laughed, and said it was her first time, too. “Why don’t you make one circle around and go?” she suggested. And we did. The video speaks for itself — I had a blast. I could hear Erika giving me instructions (which is allowed at schooling shows), some of which I actually replied to out loud as we popped over the obstacles! Romes was a good boy, getting a bit strong on me once, but never questioning a jump.  It wasn’t pretty but we got the job done. I managed a high–five to Erika with trembling hand!

We packed up and were home in plenty of time to watch the Vols throw away the Florida game. Despite the loss for the Vols, I was on cloud 9!

Heels down, eyes up, leg on.

13 days to Jumps Start

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Still on a high from successfully completing a two-phase schooling show yesterday, I excitedly texted Erika asking her what the plan was for the next 10 days! That’s right, it’s closing in on us! I was completely caught off guard by her response.

Erika: Do you know you are on the wait list?

I’ll spare you the narrative here but full-on panic ensued. I registered in plenty of time. I sent the money and forms. How could it be full? It turns out that many of my fellow Road Less Traveled eventing team riders didn’t get in either. Jump Start is a very popular event and basically my hands are tied. The remainder of my day was spent fighting back tears. Every option and scenario playing out in my head as I spent most of the day alone while Richard baled hay. Once home, I laid out my options to him through a trembling bottom lip:

1)   I can do nothing and hope and pray I get into Jump Start. I am currently 5th on the list at a packed show, so this feels pretty improbable.

2)   Go to Windridge, an event in North Carolina, a week after Jump Start. Although I had my heart set on riding at the majestic Kentucky Horse Park, it’s still an event, and it would still qualify as an accredited horse trials. I could still mark this journey off of my bucket list. Unfortunately, the RLT team wouldn’t be there competing, and Erika can’t go to this event. So, Emily would have to step in as my coach.

3)   Register for River Glen, our local event, in November. River Glen has agreed to have a starter division assuming 10 people register for it. But, there are no guarantees that it will happen. What if I put all of my eggs in this basket, and then they end up not having it?

4)   I can wait until next May and go to the Kentucky Horse Park. This is really a non-option for me.  My back can’t take the regular impact associated with jumping. And sweet Romeo is no spring chicken. I have poured so much $$$ toward keeping my body moving as well as his. Who knows what condition we will be in nine months from now?

Have I mentioned what a great husband I have? He has spent the last four weeks going to get take out, dealing with a messy house and the availability of clean underwear has been limited. To say I have been distracted is an understatement. Without thinking twice, he made the decision for us.

“Let’s go to North Carolina. You have worked too hard and put your heart and soul into this. River Glen is not a consideration because we can’t be certain about it. If you want to go to the Horse Park in the spring, we will go then, but you need to do this now. I know how your brain works. You will be miserable if you wait. Hell, if you get into to Jump Start, we’ll just do both!”

Thankfully Windridge has extended their deadline a week which gives me more time to find out if I stand a chance of getting into Jump Start. Of all of the scenarios that could stop us, this was not one I had remotely considered. It’s like a punch in the gut, but I’m looking for the positive. Romeo is sound and feels good. I am enjoying weekly massages and am constantly reminded of how blessed I am.

So, here we are. We wait. But while we wait, you can still find me on my horse, training for my first event.

Heels down, eyes up, leg on. 

12 days to Jump Start 

or

19 days to Windridge

A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: Squeezing Calves = Speed

Welcome to A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: A Prelim Mom’s Journey to Starter. I would like to invite you to follow along as I attempt to ride in my first … and only event, Jump Start Horse Trials in Lexington, KY. Sit down, pour a glass of wine (enjoy an extra one for me as I have all but given it up) and watch it unfold. Will I make it? Who knows! Should I even be attempting this? Who cares! There are no baby steps to be taken as we are short on time, but my not so trusty steed and I are taking it day by day. Come along for the ride!

September 12, 2017

I didn’t want to ride today. Thanks to my granddaughter, I was battling a daycare stomach bug. But I knew it had to be done as I have worked on the jumping components with Erika but not dressage. I am choosing my days very deliberately now. After this lesson, I will only have time to fine tune what has been taught and hope for the best.

Battling waves of nauseousness, Romeo and I headed to Merry Hour. We had a lengthy walking warm-up as to save the stomach bouncing for my lesson! I rode the test for Erika. Hopefully, we will have time in the next two weeks to work on connection and bend but for now it was all about accuracy; when to ask for transitions, how to aim at letters, the judges vantage point and those darn circles. Or in may case, ovals.

We broke the test down and worked on making the circles round and using the corners. Don’t throw up. Don’t throw up. It was a good lesson, leaving me with lots to lay awake at night and memorize. Erika asked me to ride it one more time using all of my new tools.

Nailed the centerline, circles not so egg like, got the correct lead on canter. Yippee!  We were almost done. Canter down the side, downward transition to trot and then a walk. Wait…WHAT IS HAPPENING???  Romeo was getting faster and faster! We went reeling around the corner toward the judge’s box (Erika). Trot!!! Trot!!! What the hell, Romeo??? I quickly run through my checklist. Oh crap! Squeeze with thighs to slow him down, not calves. Damn it! Having turned my brain on autopilot, I quit thinking about each move. Things were going so well.

Erika:  What was that?

Me: Curse, curse, curse! I was squeezing with my calves, not my thighs.

Erika gave a small grin and a shake of her head. Calves = speed. Grrrrrrr. Stupid, stupid, stupid mistake! I picked up where we left off and other than that sudden bolt of speed instead of a downward transition; it wasn’t a half bad test.

We made it back home before serious stomach issues overtook me. I am looking forward to the schooling show this Saturday. I received a funny phone call this week from the show organizer asking why don’t you just jump the Beginner Novice course? Because I don’t want to die! I explained the situation at Jump Start. The dressage test is a higher level than the jumping components. My brain is too overloaded and old to mess with memorizing two tests. “You won’t qualify for a ribbon but we can do it.” Well, OK. I’m sure it would have been a blue one! Ha! 

A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: Only Three Weeks to Go!

Welcome to A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: A Prelim Mom’s Journey to Starter. I would like to invite you to follow along as I attempt to ride in my first … and only event, Jump Start Horse Trials in Lexington, KY. Sit down, pour a glass of wine (enjoy an extra one for me as I have all but given it up) and watch it unfold. Will I make it? Who knows! Should I even be attempting this? Who cares! There are no baby steps to be taken as we are short on time, but my not so trusty steed and I are taking it day by day. Come along for the ride!

September 7, 2017

Today, I talked Erika into meeting me at another nearby farm, Cedar Valley. I had told her I wanted to work on stadium, but once I arrived, I changed my mind. The weather was amazing: crisp and cool. The view from the dressage arena was too nice to pass up. Forget jumping, that’s too stressful on a day like this. Unfortunately, Erika didn’t agree and we headed to the jumping arena.

Em and Loki were also along for the ride. At this point, Em has decided not to compete at Jump Start. This has been a difficult decision for both of us. It was part of my dream that she compete with me, of course not in the same division, but I had imagined us walking horses together, braiding manes and giving pep talks to one another. Fortunately, Em has her priorities straight. She is taking an extremely hard accounting class this semester and couldn’t dedicate the time needed to prepare for the show. She will still be there by my side at Jump Start but studying in the down time.

Back to today’s lesson — I was determined to not have any refusals. With just three weeks to go, I can’t afford to have my confidence shaken. I need to learn from all of my previous mistakes and be consistent by applying what I know. I think Erika may be right — while Romeo is a good boy and basically a school master, he will not take a jump if he doesn’t feel all systems are go. He has confidence issues. That can be a problem because you can’t guarantee he will be a team player or bail you out if you become just a passenger and not a rider. I have to remember this. I can’t let adrenaline and nerves take over. I have to approach each jump as though it is the first.

With that, we were off. Not to sound repetitive but consistency for me is the key; gather your thoughts, one, two, one, two, sit up, kick! Trot poles set, cross rail rails, verticals, trotting between jumps, cantering between jumps, going one direction and then switching (to keep Romeo from assuming), two jumps in a row, three jumps in a row, four jumps in a row and more! More smiles! My stone-faced prelim daughter said to me, “I really should try to smile more.”

Even as Loki galloped and bucked around the arena trying to engage in some horseplay, we managed to compete a seven-jump course. YAY! We can do this Romeo! I know we are going to have some hiccups in the coming weeks but hopefully, we will keep moving forward and arrive at Jump Start with confidence and consistency.

 

Heels down, eyes up, leg on.

23 days to Jump Start

September 8, 2017

It is done. We are committed. And I got a massage!


Heels down, eyes up, leg on.

22 days to Jump Start

September 9 & 10, 2017

I’ll make these entries short and sweet. Yesterday, we worked on dressage at our farm, and Richard called the test for me. We have progressed enough that I have to stop doing the actual test and work on individual components since Romeo thinks he has it memorized … and he does not. Breaking into the canter before we’re supposed to is not a way I want to gain points.

Today, Em and I walked hills on our horses, and I rode the test once. She seems pretty impressed. Although I have never trained to be an eventer, I have listened to the instruction she has received for over 10 years. The questions I would ask about Em like why can’t you shorten the reins, or what’s up with that leg, or sit back … I’m now seeing how easy it is to be an armchair quarterback. But, I do feel like it has given me a leg up (ha, ha) as to know what I am doing.

I may not have logged many miles in the saddle, but I have certainly logged plenty of mental miles while standing beside my daughter. And my husband … he can read a dressage test! He knows where I am and totally gets what I am supposed to be doing. Supporting Em all of these years is making it possible for me to mark this off of my bucket list. I guess the biggest news I can report this week is that the halter, the one that taunted me, is no longer hanging in our bedroom. It is either on my horse or hanging outside of his stall where it should be. What a ride this has been. Only three weeks to go!

Heels down, eyes up, leg on. 
20 days to Jump Start

Read more on Julie’s blog here

A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: Up, Up and Away!

Welcome to A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: A Prelim Mom’s Journey to Starter. I would like to invite you to follow along as I attempt to ride in my first … and only event, Jump Start Horse Trials in Lexington, KY. Sit down, pour a glass of wine (enjoy an extra one for me as I have all but given it up) and watch it unfold. Will I make it? Who knows! Should I even be attempting this? Who cares! There are no baby steps to be taken as we are short on time, but my not so trusty steed and I are taking it day by day. Come along for the ride!

Monday, September 4, 2017

It was Labor Day, and Romeo and I were on the road early headed to River Glen for another cross-country schooling. This time I was nervous. I had a sense of dread, not fear, just a sinking feeling. I figured if it didn’t go well, Erika might be inclined to say we were not going to be ready by the end of the month and pull the plug. W

ith butterflies in my stomach, I tacked up Romeo. My jaws hurt. Stop clenching your teeth. Without Emily to double-check everything, I was even more insecure. I enlisted Erika’s help with the jumping boots (not dressage boots) and she also presented me with a crap strap to use for the day. For those of you who don’t know, a crap strap, as eventers call them, is a simple leather strap that is fitted around the horse’s neck. It comes in handy when you lose your balance or need something to hang on to as you’re careening through the fields yelling, “Oh crap!”

A small hiccup in our plan was that Erika and I had completely forgotten that she had borrowed my cross-country vest and it was back in her trailer an hour away. Julie P. (another member of the Road Less Traveled) offered me hers. Julie P. and her horse, Bosco are amazing. Bosco is pretty much Superman. He is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and I am quite certain he can leap tall buildings in a single bound. This being said, Julie’s cross-country vest has a Superman logo on the back. I am not worthy. It’s a bird, it’s a plane … oh wait … it’s just Julie and Romeo.

We headed out to warm up. This time the group consisted of young girls — girls who had been training in some form or fashion of a horse discipline for years, or possibly their entire lives. No pressure. I think I’m going to throw up. I asked Erika at what point do the butterflies go away. “Never” was her reply. I tried a page from my son’s Zen lifestyle. Meditate. Breath in through the mouth, out through the nose. Enjoy the moment Julie. Apply what you know. I faintly heard Erika ask, “Are you taking deep breaths?” I nodded.

For the past week, I have relived my two jumping refusals. I have played them over and over in my head. I lay awake at night visualizing sitting up, heels down and counting my trot steps to each jump. It was my turn. Don’t just take off and go. Take a minute. Remember to sit back and when you think you are sitting back, sit back more. Count out loud. Heels down. Got it. Now, you can go. The other girls might have thought I was crazy as I gathered my thoughts and took a moment; it was just a small log on the ground. One, two, one, two, one, two. Jump! We did it! No problem! Cheers and applause coming from the sidelines encouraged me to do more!

Next jump. One, two, one, two. Success again! I could hear Erika yelling when I had reached “the point of no return!” This was extremely helpful. At that point we were committed to the jump. Heels down, eyes up, KICK! We tackled every obstacle put in front of us. I was even able to get the trot back a couple of times! Butterflies turned to smiles — lots and lots of smiles. I bet I look like a person straight out of a mental institution. But I was having fun.

More importantly, I think Romeo was having fun. He took a few stutter steps here and there but Erika explained that he wasn’t questioning the jump — he was finding the distance for me. I was staying out of his way but still giving him all of the right signals to jump the obstacle! Feeling confidant, I even followed Katherine, a fellow team member, up a bank: more smiles and cheers! Erika asked if I wanted to attempt the beginner novice back-cracking combination again. No need to push my luck or my back. “No, thanks.”

Our first up bank!

I found myself going through the water, up a hill and toward a jump. You could tell Romeo just thought we were going for a hack. Hands wide, sit up, count, LOOK ROMEO! And he did! Success!

Remember when I said I can sound like I know a lot about eventing but don’t really know a lot? Well, I’m used to my Preliminary level daughter doing trot and gallop sets to prep for shows so while taking a break, I asked Erika about conditioning Romeo.

Me: So, how much galloping should we be doing to get him in shape? Em is going to do the conditioning for me.

Erika, aghast:  NONE!

Me: What? Why?

Erika: He’s a thoroughbred. He’s naturally fit. He’s fit for starter just by the work you’re doing. You want him to be fit for the job but not too fit or he could possibly overpower you. We don’t need him to be anymore athletic than he already is. A trainer once told me that you want your horse to be on or near the same fitness level as the rider.

Me: Oh. Wait? What are you saying? I’m slow, old, and not very talented? Snicker. I’m not sure that’s a compliment but I get it. He’s a thoroughbred. No more conditioning. Mark that off my list! Does this mean I can skip the gym this week? 

We shared a good laugh and moved on. There was one jump to go, the dreaded red barn thing that we had trouble with last week. More butterflies. I have to get comfortable with this. I have watched cross-country videos from the starter division at Jump Start. They have lots of these barn things on course. With Erika in my ear, “Open your left rein, MORE, POINT OF NO RETURN!, KICK!”  One, two, one, two, one, two. We were over it! We did it! Granted, he jumped it with a few feet to spare (no doubt memories from last week’s correction) but we did it! Grabbing the “crap strap’” I did a victory lap. More insane smiles! Stop smiling you crazy lady! 

My approach to the barn thing.

To top the day off, those dressage boots from my first cross country lesson were still sitting on the jump I’d put them on two weeks ago AND I remembered to grab them this time.

With that, my second cross-country schooling was over. I get it. I understand why these girls keep going back. The freedom of flying, the sound of the wind, seeing the mane fly, the ears perk, becoming one with a 1000+ lb beast! My words don’t do it justice. When everything clicks, it is an amazing feeling! I couldn’t wait to get on the road to call Richard … and I didn’t stop smiling all of the way home. Good job, Romeo. Up, up and away!!!

Erika (and her dog, Sunny), me, AC, Katherine, Julie and Lisa.

Heels down, eyes up, leg on.

27 days to Jump Start

Read more on Julie’s blog here

A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: Oh Julie!

Welcome to A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: A Prelim Mom’s Journey to Starter. I would like to invite you to follow along as I attempt to ride in my first … and only event, Jump Start Horse Trials in Lexington, KY. Sit down, pour a glass of wine (enjoy an extra one for me as I have all but given it up) and watch it unfold. Will I make it? Who knows! Should I even be attempting this? Who cares! There are no baby steps to be taken as we are short on time, but my not so trusty steed and I are taking it day by day. Come along for the ride!

Romeo enjoying a carrot from our garden.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Our farrier, Jeremy was here today so another day off for Romeo. And I had my granddaughter all day, so riding did not happen. I scheduled a massage for Friday and will pick up the muscle relaxers tomorrow.

Heels down, eyes up, leg on.

30 days to Jump Start

 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Today, Emily came home to ride with me. Thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Harvey, the farm was too soggy to do much work so we opted for a hack and some hill work. As I prepared dinner, Em went to catch the horses and tack up. I glanced out the front window to see Romeo trotting away from Emily. He’s my horse now. Hee Hee!

After a trip back to the barn for feed, she had him. Off we went. If it weren’t for Loki’s antics, it would have been a pleasant ride. First Loki spooked at the cattle (which he sees every single day), next it was the newly paved road. He must have thought it was a river of lava or a big snake; he snorted, and bent his neck and showed the whites of his eyes the entire way to the field. Once there, he spooked again … at our dog, which is under his feet every day. Romeo spooked at the cows but only because Loki did it.

The other times I felt like he wanted to tell Loki to just “relax.” We tried a bit of trotting but Loki wanted to relive his racing days and I was quickly reminded of my aching back. We decided to end our ride before Loki went over the edge and Romeo and I became collateral damage.

Tomorrow is another day off as my best friend’s daughter is getting married. It’s time for Richard and I to put all of those ballroom dancing lessons to good use!

Heels down, eyes up, leg on.

31 days to Jump Start

 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Today, Romeo had the day off and I got a much needed massage.

Me: No need to work on my arms and legs. Let’s just concentrate on my lower back.

Rhonda (my massage therapist): You have a one-hour scheduled; that’s a lot of time to spend on just your back.

Me: Trust me.

She gets to work…

Rhonda: OH JULIE!!!

Needless to say, for the next four-weeks, I have a standing appointment!  My rejuvenated muscles and I had an awesome time at the wedding and we danced our tails off!

Heels down, eyes up, leg on.

30 days to Jump Start

 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The conditions here were still too wet to do much of anything on our farm so Romeo and I loaded up and headed back to Merry Hour to practice the dreaded Beginner Novice dressage test. Emily was to meet us there and read the test and give me pointers. We arrived before Em and so after a good warm-up, I thought I could go ahead and start working on the test. I pulled the paper out of my pocket and tried to focus.

OK, for all of you young bucks out there, getting old can sometimes suck. Don’t get me wrong; I am in dandy shape (possibly the best of my life) but eyesight? I have no control over that. I strained to focus. Even at a full arm’s reach, I could barely make out the letters, much less the motions of the test.  Every time Romeo so much as took a breath, I lost focus! Quite the visual picture, I know!

My reading glasses were in the truck. Dare I go back and get them? What if someone comes in here and sees me riding around with my grandma readers on the end of my nose. HELL NO! I gave up and waited for Em to arrive. Heavy sigh.

Despite my vision woes, once Em arrived, we had a great little lesson. Trot the circles. Canter the circles. Oops, forgot that diagonal line! My bad!  Romeo tried to help. He thought he had the test memorized and knew when to trot, when to canter, and when to halt. Most of the time he was wrong but, I appreciated his efforts.

I have to remind myself that I am not looking for a ribbon; this is a bucket list item … a challenge. But what if we get eliminated in dressage? Not because of Romeo but because of me? My biggest fear: my 50 (almost 51) year-old memory. What if I get disqualified for forgetting the test?

Less than 30 days to go now. Gulp.

Heels down, eyes up, leg on.

29 days to Jump Start

 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Today, Em took the reins. I have decided that if I can spare my back any of the concussions that come from galloping about, I should. So, for now, Emily will work on his conditioning. i.e. making sure he is physically fit to run cross-country. Rambo (a mustang that we board) and I watched as they cantered across the farm today. He looked good to me!

Tomorrow is another cross-country schooling. Fingers crossed.

Heels down, eyes up, leg on.

28 days to Jump Start

Read more on Julie’s blog here

A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: A Twisted Version of Whack-a-Mole

Welcome to A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: A Prelim Mom’s Journey to Starter. I would like to invite you to follow along as I attempt to ride in my first … and only event, Jump Start Horse Trials in Lexington, KY. Sit down, pour a glass of wine (enjoy an extra one for me as I have all but given it up) and watch it unfold. Will I make it? Who knows! Should I even be attempting this? Who cares! There are no baby steps to be taken as we are short on time, but my not so trusty steed and I are taking it day by day. Come along for the ride!

Monday, August 28

Romeo is back on a daily dose of Previcox to help with any 17-year old thoroughbred aches and pains. Me? I am upping the Tylenol and calling in a muscle relaxer.

After he ate his breakfast, I found Romeo lying down in his stall. OMG! What’s wrong? Are you colicking? In all of the years we have had him, he has never laid down in his stall. I quickly took a picture and sent it to Em. “He just looks tired, Mom,” was her response. Sure enough, he popped up and actually looked happy to see me.

He patiently let me clean him up and we headed to Yellow Wood for our first real jumping lesson. We entered the arena to warm up. Another lady of “maturity” was riding her horse. She asked me if I had been riding long. “Sort-of. Sort-of not.” I tried to explain what I was doing and she grinned with a look of good luck with that.”  Later, I would see her sitting to the side watching my lesson…out of awe for my raw talent? I doubt it: probably more for a good laugh!

After a successful warm-up, it was time to get down to business.

Me: All I really want to do is jump about 8 consecutive jumps and see if I can get through it.

Erika: Let’s do some cavaletti work instead.

Boo hiss. That was no fun. I needed to redeem myself after that refusal yesterday. Bring on the jumps! I did as I was instructed and we jumped the cavalettis. We weren’t half bad! Other than some wrong lead issues and cross-cantering, we were ready to move on.

Erika: Start with this cross rail and canter down the line to the vertical.

Me: Why do I have to canter? I am planning on trotting in between the jumps.

Erika: You need to be able to canter in case you can’t get the trot back.

FINNNEEEE. As I rounded the corner, in what I thought was the correct posture and pace, I felt all was well. I’m still not sure how I really wasn’t prepared but apparently Romeo never saw the jump coming … that is, until we were directly in front of it. He stopped. YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME?!?! I got in one successful smack with the crop before I lost my grip and it went flying. In my rage, I continued to smack Romeo’s hind end with my hand. I’m sure it was like watching a twisted version of Whack-a-Mole!  I let him have it pretty hard. He bucked a few times, wheeled around and let me know he didn’t appreciate my correction. After the dust settled, I looked at Erika who was biting her lip to conceal a smile.

Erika: Ummm. Yea. That wasn’t his fault.

Me: Wasn’t his fault? What the heck?

The fury raging between my ears was so loud that I’m not quite certain if I learned anything about what I did wrong. Although I’m sure Erika will read this entry and we will revisit the situation.

Erika: Do it again.

We made our second approach. This time Romeo knew what I wanted.  Posture, eyes, heels, leg … JUMP DAMN IT!  Well, Romeo was now convinced the jump was on fire, had trolls living underneath or was the opening to the pits of hell. He jumped it but at mock speed and scope of a Training level fence. I held on but that was about it.

Erika:  Again.

Erika: Again.

Erika: Again.

You get the picture. The wheels were fast coming off the bus. There were no more refusals but the intensity was not coming back down.  We moved to another fence and set up trot poles before and after: this tactic seemed to help. We made it back around to the fire breathing dragon jump. It was a bit more controlled but still too much of everything.

After completing this sequence at least 100 more times, my first jumping lesson was over. Something tells me we will have more refusals but I would like to think I could figure out how to stop them. There is one thing I feel confident about; I have a good seat. Add to the list … schedule a massage.

Heels down, eyes up, leg on.

34 days to Jump Start

Baby Em and Romeo with a refusal at one of their first schooling shows.

Read more on Julie’s blog here

A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: I Trusted You!

Welcome to A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: A Prelim Mom’s Journey to Starter. I would like to invite you to follow along as I attempt to ride in my first … and only event, Jump Start Horse Trials in Lexington, KY. Sit down, pour a glass of wine (enjoy an extra one for me as I have all but given it up) and watch it unfold. Will I make it? Who knows! Should I even be attempting this? Who cares! There are no baby steps to be taken as we are short on time, but my not so trusty steed and I are taking it day by day. Come along for the ride!

Sunday, August 27

Today was my first ever cross-country schooling. It was Em’s and Loki’s (her horse) first outing since he had foot problems back in May. Needless to say, we were both pretty excited.

I hadn’t thought to ask Erika who would be joining us but much to my relief the first thing we saw as we approached was a red, cotton topped lady and her cute painted steed! Val! What a relief. I can fall off in front of her and not be too embarrassed! Erika and Jess, another adult amateur student, joined us and in record time we were headed out to the field to warm up.

After a bit of walking, I asked Romeo for a trot. That’s not right. What’s wrong? Is he bucking? Trantering? Is he broken? Oh God! He’s broken! The dream is over already! I got him stopped and quickly look to Erika for an explanation. Laughter between her and Val ensues. What the heck???

I look toward Em who coolly says, “You might want to take those hind boots off. I don’t think he likes them.” Seriously? I quickly dismount and remove the hind boots. Magically, he finds the ability to trot on. Later, I learned that Em had saved the jumping boots for Loki and she had put Romes in some ill fitted dressage boots. Note to self: Learn to tell the difference between jumping and dressage boots, and don’t forget to come back and get the boots once we’re done here.   

Our warm up continued with me cantering in circles, squeezing and trotting. No problem. I watched as the more advanced riders popped over jumps, Loki looked like a fire breathing dragon, excited to be back at it again. See, Romeo, we don’t have to do any of this. No need to get excited.

My turn. With instruction from Erika, we started jumping the things. There was no screaming but lots of laughter. Ok, there might have been a bit of screaming when Romeo latched onto and headed straight for a jump that was not only much larger but backwards! It was a laughable moment. We were having fun.  I felt good about it. My eyes were up and my heels were down. I’m not too sure about the kicking part but we were going over so it must have been right.

Em encouraged me to try a Beginner Novice combination. The first jump was spot on, the second jump … I don’t know. We went over it but I felt my back crack as we did. No need to call the chiropractor now.  

We were almost done. There was one more jump to go. It was a barn thingy. I knew this jump. Years ago, Em was schooling Romeo and I was on my horse, Loki. Em asked if we could switch mounts so she could pop Loki over it. I remember the look on her face. I remember Erika’s eyebrows lift as she said, ”Do it again.” It was the beginning of the end of my partnership with Loki.

Anyway, today, I didn’t like that jump. It didn’t look friendly. Emily sensed my hesitation. “You want to follow me over it?” I nod. Em and Loki went over. As I approached, my foot slid too far through my stirrup. ABORT! ABORT!  I pulled up on the reins and veered away from the jump at the last second. I heard Erika yell her disapproval! She explained that now Romeo would refuse it. For those of you who don’t know, Romes is kind-of known for refusing. Erika says he’s insecure. He has been accused of not being a team player. I don’t know what his problem is but for some reason, I thought he and I would not have an issue with this. It’s green as grass for Pete’s sake!

Little Emily and Romeo working on their refusal issues years ago: 

I approached the jump again, feeling more insecure than before.  Romeo felt the question in my confidence and he took advantage. He stopped. I went from fear to anger with American Pharoah speed. Thankfully, I had a crop (which I had tried to convince Erika I didn’t need). Romeo felt my wrath. How dare you??? I trusted you!!!  We circled back around and managed to get the job done.

It was determined that Erika needed to dust off her megaphone (Val and I can’t hear you!) and I needed to carry a crop … always. My first cross-country schooling was overI lived, although my pride and confidence were a bit shaken. I breathed a sigh of relief as we drove away leaving a bit disappointed and without those damn hind boots!  Before we headed home, Erika flexed Romeo and we decided to hold off on injections. He looked pretty darned sound.

Heels down, eyes up, leg on.

35 days to Jump Start

Read more on Julie’s blog here

A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: We Are Going to Have Fun … Right?

Welcome to A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: A Prelim Mom’s Journey to Starter. I would like to invite you to follow along as I attempt to ride in my first … and only event, Jump Start Horse Trials in Lexington, KY. Sit down, pour a glass of wine (enjoy an extra one for me as I have all but given it up) and watch it unfold. Will I make it? Who knows! Should I even be attempting this? Who cares! There are no baby steps to be taken as we are short on time, but my not so trusty steed and I are taking it day by day. Come along for the ride!

We are going to have fun … right?

Tuesday, August 22

I asked my trainer Erika to meet me at Merry Hour (a local farm) to ride in their indoor arena. I wanted the walls for security and stability. Cantering without screaming — that was my goal.

Flashback to my first lesson on Romeo in the spring:

Erika: Pick up your left lead canter.

I trot by with a confused look on my face. Our eyes meet.

Erika: You do know how to canter, right?

Me: Well duh … I know that when we go over a jump, he canters out of it and I don’t fall off.

Erika: My apologies. I thought you were walk, trot, canter.

Me: I am! I just don’t know how to do it on purpose.

Back to tonight’s lesson. Romeo was a good boy. I learned how to canter: on purpose. My biggest take away: squeezing my thighs makes him slow down. How counterintuitive? I would have thought squeezing would send him forward. Erika tried to explain the physics of it: energy from behind in canter, rounded back, squeezing breaks energy…. Squeeze thighs to slow down. Got it. Good to know.

The lesson ended with only one scream that I quickly squelched. I am officially W,T,C.

Romeo’s mane is pulled but I don’t quite feel like I am ready to wear a team shirt.

Heels down, eyes up, leg on.

39 days to Jump Start

Wednesday, August 23

I awoke and started my day. Dang. My shoulders … my back. Where did that bruise come from? Where’s the TylenolArg. I headed down to the barn. Today, we were on our own. We practiced dressage in our front field. When I say we practiced dressage, I mean we stayed in the boundaries, trotted and cantered around in circlesDid you read that correctly? We cantered … on purpose … with purpose. I was pretty proud of myself.

I squeezed and he trotted. See, I can take instruction. This is going to be a breeze! My mind wandered. I should really print off the intro test so we can practice. I need to call the vet and discuss injections, call the farrier and tell him about this madness (Romeo had just grown enough foot to put a nail in it), need to go to the chiropractor, check registration deadlines, sign up for CDCTS schooling show and clean this bit. Ride done.

Inspired by my superb downward transitions, it was time to see the actual dressage test. To my great disappointment, the USEA website said Jump Start uses Beginner Novice, test B. Beginner Novice? That can’t be right. Could that be a typo? It should be an intro test. I printed them both. That evening, with cardboard boxes and a sharpie, I made dressage letters for our makeshift dressage arena. Nicole was meeting me in the a.m. to help position them and read the test to me.

Day two of official event training was non-eventful but I had a new list! Where’s that Tylenol?

Heels down, eyes up, leg on.
38 days to Jump Start

Thursday, August 24

Nicole and I were in the front field by 10 a.m. The letters were placed.We opted for the intro test. Beginner Novice had to be a mistake. We ran through the test a few times. She had to trot the 20-meter circle on foot before I completely understood where I was supposed to be going. I’m sure drivers-by raised an eyebrow at our antics. In the meantime, Emily was reaching out to the show secretary and friends on Facebook to clarify which test was to be used. Late in the afternoon, it was confirmed: Beginner Novice B. Damn it.

Heels down, eyes up, leg on.
37 days to Jumps Start

Saturday, August 26

Romeo got yesterday and today off as we have two jumping lessons on the horizon. In the meantime, Emily drew the test for me. What the hell? The drawing was a mess. How can anyone remember all of this? I swallowed hard. We decided to drive the test on the four-wheeler.  Emily was not amused as I tweaked the gas to imitate a trot and gunned it (almost repelling her off the back) for the canter parts. Where’s your sense of humor? Heavy sigh. This is going to be more complicated than I thought.

Romeo watched from the safety of his run-in shed. Don’t worry Buddy. We are going to have fun…right?

Heels down, eyes up, leg on.

36 days to Jump Start

Read more on Julie’s blog here

A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: A Prelim Mom’s Journey to Starter

Welcome to A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: A Prelim Mom’s Journey to Starter, a new blog by Tennessee eventer mom Julie Maner: “I would like to invite you to follow along as I attempt to ride in my first … and only event. Sit down, pour a glass of wine (enjoy an extra one for me as I have all but given it up) and watch it unfold. Will I make it? Who knows! Should I even be attempting this? Who cares! There are no baby steps to be taken as we are short on time, but my not so trusty steed and I are taking it day by day. Come along for the ride!”

Photo by Julie Maner.

The Halter That Taunted Me

Last year, for my 50th birthday, a friend gave me a grooming halter. Save it for your first event. I hung it on a table in my bedroom and have walked by it multiple times a day for almost a year now. Emily, my one-star chasing daughter, once asked if I was ever going to use it. One day. In March, something unexpected happened: Emily’s first Novice horse, Romeo, came home. I continued to walk past the halter, sometimes lingering a bit. Could I really do it?

With no clear intentions, I took a few lessons. Romeo was patient. I promised Erika Adams, Emily’s coach, I would not wear a Road Less Traveled eventing team shirt until Romeo’s mane was pulled and I was able to ride without screaming. I think we enjoyed ourselves but life tends to get in the way: a grand baby, vacations, the never-ending to-do list, a lame horse, the gym, dance lessons, trying to give up wine … my list of excuses were long.

As I spent the summer marking things off of that list and adding to it, I thought more and more about Romeo. I thought about why he had come back home. Was it a sign? Richard (hubby) and I went to Scotland armed with only a travel book and Nicole and Ryan (unofficial daughter and her husband) to guide us through the country. After just a few days, Richard and I were on our own, exploring places unknown and more importantly, unplanned or researched. I returned rejuvenated. That was fun. What’s next? The halter taunted me.

Richard and Julie in Scotland. Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

I watched our friends, the Morrisons, map out a cross country motocross adventure that took them from the east to west coasts. I found myself looking for their Facebook posts. That looks miserable. Oh, how amazing! Wow! And just recently, I have closely followed Leslie Wylie’s journey to the Mongol Derby. I read about her preparation and followed her little red dot as she started and finished the race. HOLY COW! Now don’t get excited, I have no desire to ride a motorcycle or try my hand at breaking wild ponies, but it did beg the question: What are you waiting for? Damn halter.

I made a decision. I set a goal. Romeo and I would ride Starter at River Glen Horse Trials in November. Three months of training, that should be enough. Done. I’m doing it. Keep in mind, I have never ridden a dressage test, never jumped more than six consecutive jumps (and that I’ve only done once) and fallen trees in the woods are the extent of my cross country experience.

Julie, Romeo and Emily. Photo by Julie Pate.

People ask if I can ride. Ummm, I can sound like I do. I took regular lessons while we lived in St. Louis: a two-year stint. I couldn’t tell you what kind of lessons they were but I learned how to post the trot. In the 8th grade, we returned home to Chattanooga where a big, brown horse was waiting for me, at least I think he was big. Ironically, this same horse had once chased my brother, cousins and me through an open field near my grandmother’s house. My dad must have gotten a deal. Eventually, the adults convinced me he was saddle broke (a racking horse nonetheless) and before long, I was climbing on helmetless and galloping bareback through the fields pretending to be a beautiful Indian princess. With the advent of a driver’s license and boys, I outgrew Trigger and he went on to his next owner.  My husband has always humored my interest in horses and will even tell a stranger I can ride! He feigned enjoyment on our honeymoon as we rode horses on the beach and even swam with them in the Caribbean. Horses have come and gone on our farm. Most have been lawn ornaments but I have to own a horse — I live on a farm!

“Whaddya mean you can’t ride, Julie?” — the editor. Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

I must have done something right, because Emily chose to ride … with no encouragement from me. Que Richard’s eye roll. Always by her side, I have listened to lessons, walked the courses, studied the tests, watched the videos, and shared in the victories as well as the defeats. I know the terms: needs to be more forward, more bend, inside leg–outside rein and a million more. I have heard them all and sometimes, I am lucky enough to actually understand what they mean!

Emily, Richard and Julie with Emily’s Prelim horse Contender. Photo by JJ Sillman.

#1 horse show mom. Photo by JJ Sillman.

Fast forward to August 21. Eclipse day. Remember that decision: the one about River Glen? We realized — there is no Starter division!!! Don’t panic. You can do Hagyard Team Challenge. It cuts your preparation by two weeks but that’s OK. What? THERE’S NO STARTER THERE EITHER!  I’m left with a North Carolina event seven days into October or Jump Start at the Kentucky Horse Park, the first weekend of October. Inner conflict goes on tilt. I don’t want to die. Jump Start is only seven weeks away. Refer to the third paragraph if you have forgotten that I have absolutely no eventing experience … or any other respectable mounted equine track record.

A meeting of the minds with Richard and Emily followed by a “have I lost my mind” conversation with Erika and it is decided. We will shoot for Jump Start. What could possibly go wrong? Call it a bucket list item or something more — I’m in it 110%.

The 40-day countdown begins now. Heels down, eyes up, leg on.

Keep an eye on EN Blogger’s Row for future editions of “A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing” and check out Julie’s blog here