The Kentucky Horse Park is filling up with talented ex-racehorses and the trainers who have devoted the past 10 months to bringing them along — Jumper Nation editor Meagan DeLisle reports with her project Flashback Justice. If you missed part 1, read it here.
The days go by a lot faster when you are on Makeover time and before I knew it, day two was just a memory. We spent the majority of our Thursday hacking around the property and helping Flash adjust to the commotion of the now busy showgrounds, but Thursday night was the start of a marathon like no other.
Like many of my fellow competitors, the financial burden of traveling for the Makeover required me to get creative with my budget. In an attempt to offset some of my expenses, I booked several clients for braiding prior to the release of the competition schedule and low and behold, all 10 of my clients were slated to show on Friday. So what did that mean for poor Meagan? It meant I was up at the barn at 10 p.m. Friday night to begin a long night of braiding.
Next thing I knew I was trimming off the excess yarn off of my last horse at 6:45 a.m. on Friday morning. I had officially been awake for a full 24 hours and still had to braid my own horse, tack up, put on my official dress and make it out to the Stirrup Cup at 7:30 a.m.
Basically, I was in deep trouble.
Thankfully, Kristen came to the rescue and helped me get ready in record time. As the sun rose in the distance, Flash and I made our way through the dark and sleepy horse park on our way to the Sunken Road field for our first competition of the Makeover. Flash let out a giant sigh as we cut our way through the dense fog that covered the landscape. I don’t think there could ever have been a more perfect way to start a hunt morning.
To my surprise, Flash was unalarmed by the growing number of horses around us. He sat happily, half asleep, in the middle of the field as I enjoyed a traditional cup of port courtesy of the local hunt chapter. “Today is going to be a great day,” I thought to myself.
We started off with our flat phase of the hunt test. Flash was in spectacular form and went around like a pro, so much so that we had a flat score of 33. The highest score on the flat was 38, so I was very proud of my baby horse.
Then it was time to move onto the mock hunt. The hounds ran around with glee, happy to be enjoying the beautiful countryside at the Kentucky Horse Park. I was thrilled to see Flash was unphased by the commotion around us. A handful of our competitors were struggling with the overwhelming nature of the hunt. We trotted off at a great pace and set our sights on the first jump: a log that was welcoming in height, but a bit intimidating in width. I could feel Flash focusing on the fence and was excited to show off his scope over fences, but as we approached I could see the footing on the take-off was pretty dicey.
Flash was going to jump, I could feel himself coiling up and ready to go, but as he prepared to take off I felt his back end slide and he planted his front feet firmly as if to say, “Mom … I just can’t.” I can’t fault a horse for his own self-preservation, so rather than get upset I just gave him a pat and we went on our merry way. My goal for the rest of the course was to have fun and to let Flash keep his confidence up. Some fences we skipped, some fences he popped over in his typical exuberant fashion. We galloped in the beautiful open field and I smiled. It was a beautiful day for a hunt.
All in all, I knew our scores were in the gutter and I didn’t care. My horse trotted through the knee-deep water with zero hesitation and a happy expression. We went around the final fence on course with lots of pats when a Steward caught my attention. I was afraid we were somehow in trouble, but instead she said to me, “You do such a good job with him. Way to go!”
And that is when I started crying … again … for like the fifth time on this trip.
We opted to scratch the individual final and just make our way to the schooling ring to pop over some fences on better footing. After sailing over them, we made our way back to the barn for a little rest break before our competitive trail class.
In trail, I just wanted to have fun. I could feel Flash was a bit frustrated from the morning’s activities and I just wanted him to be happy. The first obstacle was navigating the famous head of the lake and many of the horses were hesitating at the entrance because of the muddy down-ramp, but baby Flash sauntered right in without a care. “Excellent water!” Called the judge as made our way to the next challenge. Like the field hunters, some of the obstacles were too much for Flash today and that was okay. We gave everything a shot and then rather than let him work himself up, we would move on to the next task at hand. All in all, Flash completed the majority of the class beautifully and I couldn’t have been more thrilled with him.
As the day wore on, my sleep deprived state got the best of me. Kristen stacked a few bags of shavings together so I could curl up and take a much-needed nap before the potluck dinner, where several of our friends joined us for an evening filled with tacos and laughter. As the sun dropped below the skyline, Kristen and I hopped on for a late-night, bareback ride out in the field behind the barns. Just the fact that I could do that made me happier than any ribbon ever would. Here I was watching the lightning bugs light up the field, listening to the sound of my best pal softly munching on grass with no tack aside from a halter. That is when I knew that no matter what the scores said, I had won.