Ainsley Jacobs
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Ainsley Jacobs

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About Ainsley Jacobs

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

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Lessons Learned: Odds Against Us –The Show That Wasn’t

Sometimes things do not go as planned, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something of value to be gained. In this week’s Lessons Learned, republished from our sister website Horse Nation, Ainsley Jacobs discusses just that.

This course looked like so much fun! Bummed I didn’t get to jump it. Photo by Ainsley Jacobs/Ride Heels Down.

I really do learn a lot from failure. We have been trying to get a Training 3-phase done for seven months now, and it just keeps not happening.

Back in April, the cross country course flooded and we had to do a CT instead. There was I had hoped to go to, but JJ wound up lame with a hot nail. After killin’ it at the American Eventing Championships, I was ready to try again with a show in September but a bad abscess meant I had to scratch a day or two before. This time we almost made it, but I’m starting to think the Universe just doesn’t want us to get a Training 3-phase done…

I was really intent on “getting it done” before the end of the year, so when I realized I could go to Poplar Place Farm‘s Harvest Classic Schooling Show, I was so happy to have one more chance!

Except that my awesome coach, Lauren Turner of River Birch Farm was going to be in Ocala that same weekend for a Horse Trials. I very hesitantly asked her if I ‘could go run my first Training 3-phase’ without her and she actually agreed, saying that she felt I was prepared and she was comfortable with it. Okay, cool – having a trainer would be ideal, but the fact that she believed in me enough to be able to do it on my own made me feel great.

JJ and I worked on fitness in the weeks leading up to this event. It was SO nice having a “gas pedal” again after finding out the reason he had been so lethargic lately was because he was anemic! The Red Cell supplement was working, JJ was happy again and I was ready.

And then it started raining in Atlanta the week before the event… And, Lauren realized she needed to be in Ocala earlier than expected to do her jog, which meant I wasn’t going to get my usual Tuesday jump lesson with her to prep. No big deal, JJ is a STAR in stadium so I figured I’d pop around a course myself to freshen up – but the rain meant that couldn’t happen.

So, the Friday before The Big Day, we headed down to Poplar not having jumped in two weeks, not having had a lesson in a week and a half and with no coach. The odds were against us, but I was committed to seeing it through. What could possibly go wrong? I figured either we would succeed or I would die trying – I never considered the fact I wouldn’t even get to try!

The rain hadn’t stopped all week, and Friday was no different. My awesome friend Beth arrived with her handsome OTTB, Andy, and we got the boys settled in since we had decided to do this event alone, together. I knew I needed to go walk my XC course so I could safely and accurately pilot JJ around (and check the footing) so Beth and I ventured out into the wet together.

My shoes were immediately soaked completely through, and it was so cold that my toes pretty much instantly went numb. It was brutal. The ground was slippery, the take offs/landings from most jumps were already torn up from people schooling earlier (but fortunately my Training questions were fairly unused since it was a small group running at that level) and overall it was really sketchy. I was thinking about skipping schooling altogether, but figured I could at least get on and let JJ look at things and see how he felt and make a decision based on him.

And, like the brave, badass eventers that we are, Beth and I tacked up and headed out – right as the rain picked up and got even worse. We decided to trot the course as a warm-up and check on the boys’ stability in the slop. Andy had big studs in, but JJ’s shoes aren’t tapped sooooo we went without ’em (note to self: studs!!).

They both trotted off eagerly, and I have to admit there was a point in the misery where we were trotting side-by-side and I actually thought about how much fun it was to be out there with my barn bestie. Having her alongside me actually made it enjoyable! 🙂

Anyway, we popped a little Beginner Novice fence to “test the waters” (literally, puddles were pooling everywhere!) and JJ was game. I did a very short warm-up simply because I wanted to get the schooling over with and go dry off, so we started hitting the Training questions midway through the course.

I wasn’t able to give JJ the bold, forward, confident ride I had wanted because the terrible footing dictated a more careful, conservative ride, but we DID manage to get through most of it fairly easily. There were two that he wasn’t sure of where he stopped and needed to check things out before going (willingly) over the second time, and that’s fine, considering how crappy the conditions were.

We jumped everything. We jumped the gigantic, maxed out #3 solid. We jumped the scary skinny bench into the woods. We jumped the substantial corner set slightly on the downhill. We jumped the upright solid on the crest of a hill that dropped off big time on the backside (and rode like a massive down bank) straight into a skinny chevron.

We jumped the bending line of big doghouses. We jumped the boat at the marina and rode the quick bending line that dropped into the water. We even jumped our first legitimate Trakehner, even though it was super inviting and not at all scary looking. We did it all – not pretty, but functional – until we came to the log box on top of the big hill.

We ran up and JJ just slowly came to a stop, despite me kicking and cropping. We tried again, same response. Third time, I rode confidently and defensively and used every trick I could think of – he still stopped. Ironically, each time, he immediately put his nose on the box to show me “I’m not scared, I just can’t do it.”

I wasn’t sure what was up, but figured maybe he had enough of the footing and didn’t feel it was safe. And, based on how well he communicates, I figured there was a reason – I just wasn’t sure what it was. I tried him at a slightly smaller jump with a better approach – he still wouldn’t jump.

Four refusals in a row. I didn’t like the idea of putting so many stops on my horse, but didn’t want to fight about it. I figured I needed to cut my losses before one of us got hurt. So, we started heading back. There was a Tadpole jump in the XC warm up – he still said no. He made an executive decision, and we were DONE. The small crossrail and vertical in stadium warmup (with better footing) he cleared easily, though. Weird. But, at least we had finally gotten over something and I decided that was good enough to end on.

Back in the barns, we both got dried off, cleaned up, got somewhat warm, and I checked that JJ still had both shoes on. I told him he was a good boy and that I was proud of him for jumping everything he did in the horrific conditions and that we would work on #13 another day. All in all, we had completed 21 of the 22 jumping efforts on the Training cross country course – without a coach, in slick disgusting slop and without studs – and for that I was grateful.

I also made the decision to drop down from a Training 3-phase to just a Training CT because I was glad we made it through schooling unscathed and didn’t want to push our luck since it was supposed to rain all night and I didn’t expect the footing to get any better.

My husband had generously come along to this event to suffer with me (and to be the “responsible adult” in case I wound up getting hurt since I was technically alone) and we grabbed dinner before checking in to our AirBNB for the night. I had booked a room in an absolutely beautiful historic home from 1903 and it was like stepping back in time.

The hosts, Polly and John, were so welcoming and I was really grateful to have a dry, warm place to crash for the night. If you need a place to stay while showing at Poplar, book their home – you won’t be disappointed!

Saturday morning, the rain had finally stopped and the forecast showed sunshine a perfect riding temperatures in the high 50*s for the day. Yes!! Wanting to get started, I pulled JJ out of his stall and jogged him up the barn aisle just to make sure he was okay after schooling.

He wasn’t.

There was definitely a slight “something wrong” on the right front. It was very subtle, but it was there. I ran into my friend Sarah MacKusick Mills of Iron Star Equestrian who had come up from Florida for the event, too, and she validated my suspicions.

I immediately marched to the show office and scratched.

I also immediately started going down the shame spiral of shitty horse-moming. Did I make the wrong decision to school last night? Was JJ hurt because of something I did? I felt AWFUL and took him on a walk to eat some grass to apologize.

He really didn’t seem very lame, though, and was happy to trot all around… an hour or so later, I pulled his Back on Track Quick Wraps off (which he had been in all night) and OH. MY. GOD.

He wasn’t lame – IT WAS JUST A LOOSE SHOE!!

I really wish I had noticed the night before, when I still would have had time to get a farrier out, but hey – I am just so glad it was something simple, and really incredibly proud of how well JJ performed in some of the worst footing conditions I’ve ever seen. It was absolutely atrocious, and even without studs he still gave me some very good efforts.

I didn’t catch it when I checked his shoes earlier because the BoT wraps were hiding his heel, but his right front had come slightly unset. By then it was too late to call a farrier to come to the venue so it was definitely game over for us for the weekend, but I was SO relieved that he wasn’t actually hurt!

Y tho? 🙁 Photo by Ainsley Jacobs/Ride Heels Down.

I definitely feel better knowing our weekend ended because of a shoe and not something serious, and learned my lesson not only to check ’em after XC but to make sure they’re still set correctly! 😉

Even though we didn’t get to run the Training 3-phase this year like I wanted, we basically ran the entire Training XC course by ourselves (except jump #13, which I now know was JJ telling me “hey dumbass, my shoe is screwed up and I am not jumping”) in the worst conditions I’ve ever seen, and we both survived safely. That’s a win as far as I’m concerned!


LESSON LEARNED

It’s not enough to check that your horse actually has shoes after XC (like I learned back in January) – you’ve got to check that they’re still set correctly, too! Also, don’t assume lame is lame. Lame could just be a twisted shoe. 🙂


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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Lessons Learned: Solving a 15 Year Mystery at the Lucinda Green MBE Clinic

Taking a clinic with a world champion eventer is a great opportunity to learn and develop as a rider. It also provides the chance to ask a question that’s been burning for over a decade.

When I was in college (about 15 years ago), my friends and I loved playing the Lucinda Green’s Equestrian Challenge eventing video game. During the cross country portion, she yells something that sounds like “Betsy!” and we’ve always wondered what she was actually saying. So, when I heard that Lucinda Green MBE was coming to Atlanta for a clinic, I immediately signed up – yes, I wanted to ride with her but mostly I just wanted to get an answer to our question. 😉

The one and only, Lucinda Green MBE! Photo by Dr. Holly Breaux.

I signed up for the Training group even though I wasn’t feeling confident about our ability to succeed there, but my wonderful coach, Lauren Turner of River Birch Farm, assured me we would be fine – especially since Novice is a bit easy for us now. I had planned to spend the month before the clinic preparing, but, uh, that didn’t happen.

JJ got a week off after the AECs, we did one easy Training CT and then he pulled a shoe and stepped on the clip in our jumping lesson the following Tuesday… so, we never got that last clear jump round that we needed (*sad trombone*) and he got two more weeks off to recover from the inevitable abscess that followed. Poor kid. 🙁

He got another week (so, basically four in a row) while I was gone for a work trip and then we did the best we could to get in some last-minute fitness before the clinic.

Friday afternoon, JJ and I headed on down to the lovely Ashland Farm property where the clinic was being hosted. We unloaded, promptly met a wonderful couple – Kay and Michael – who were both riding as well (Kay in my Training group and Michael in BN) and got ready to have some fun!

Day One was stadium jumping work out in the field so Lucinda could get an idea of how we also handled the terrain. She focused a lot on footwork and communication, tons of tricky slices and bending lines and other challenging courses, and I’m pleased as punch to report that JJ excelled! He’s always great with his feet and is super handy thanks to his stock horse breeding.

At one point, Lucinda even called him a “brilliant little horse” and I have to say, she’s right!

We only had two “oops” moments: the first was a pilot error on my part where I just totally missed the line to a big log and he was surprised at the last second so he (rightfully) stopped and the other involved us smashing a jump pole in half. The latter was a part of an exercise where we jumped in to the center of two jump poles set in a chevron shape, resting on a center cavaletti riser block.

We had tried something similar a few years back and JJ literally bellyflopped/faceplanted and we went down hard (my chiropractor later told me I had likely fractured my hip in that accident) so I had some lingering nerves going into this, of course, but after basically a deja vu of what happened the last time (minus the falling-on-his-face part, thank God) which resulted in the pole getting broken, JJ was perfect through it the next few times.

After snapping a jump pole in half, we found redemption! Photo by Dr. Holly Breaux.

Anyway. I had arranged to stay at a nearby AirBNB that night so I didn’t have to drive 1.5 hours home. JJ had his own AirBNB over at Montclair Stables, where Kay and Michael also board their horses. When they realized I was “alone,” they very generously invited me to out to dinner which was a ton of fun, and then followed me to my AirBNB to make sure I was not going to get murdered to death.

Spoiler alert: I did not die. 🙂

I wound up not getting much sleep that night since there were dogs barking (OMGSTFU) but was excited to get on with Day Two of the clinic – cross country!! Our group wasn’t scheduled to go until 3pm, so after I fed JJ and took him on a walk at Montclair, I went over to Ashland to watch the Beginner Novice group go and to have lunch.

After, I headed back to Montclair, picked JJ’s stall, got him and all of his “luggage” loaded back up and we drove the ten minutes back to Ashland. When I got on, I knew he was tired and I was lagging, too… but I guess that helped because neither of us had any nerves!

The cross country portion of the clinic was a total blast. Lucinda had us continuing on the previous day’s concepts. We started walk-jumping a log (which JJ apparently found incredibly challenging and basically refused to do, ugh) and then worked on relaxing up/down banks.

Next, she gave us a few courses to run and he conquered every question effortlessly, including a jump set on the top of a little crest (so, jumping downhill) with a sharp right turn to a preliminary corner. He was perfect, and later when we came through the coffin, I heard Lucinda through my headset make a comment about “that is the only horse to do a proper coffin canter!”

Yay, JJ!! ♥ In reality, my desire for self-preservation is what helps us get that right. Haha.

Overall, it was a fabulous clinic and an absolutely amazing opportunity to ride for Lucinda Green MBE.

Full disclosure: I am an uneducated American and assumed that meant something like “Master of British Eventing” or whatever but I Googled it because I was curious and – turns out – it’s actually an incredibly prestigious title of honor bestowed upon a British citizen that means “Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.” WOW, impressive!!

Lucinda was a great instructor, firm yet kind, and it was obvious she wanted to give us all opportunities to succeed.

Finally, we finished up at the water complex. Other than a small 6″ step down which doesn’t really count, we had never dropped in to water before. Like, ever. I don’t know how we’ve gotten this far in our eventing without having to do it, but the idea of it made me want to hurl.

I don’t particularly like down banks, and I don’t really want to experience getting dumped in the water, so… yeah. But, I told myself to “suck it up, buttercup” and we gave it a go and guess what? JJ did it like he had been dropping into water his whole life! I was SO proud of him!! It was a lot easier than I expected.

Okay okay, it’s small, but it’s our first legitimate drop into water! Photo courtesy Marble Hill Farm.

Somehow, I had made it through two days without remembering to ask “the question” so, as we wrapped up at the end of the clinic and she asked if anyone had questions, I jumped at the chance. I prefaced it by saying it was something very weird, pulled out my phone, played a video recording of the “Betsy!” sound clip and asked…

Her response to my 15-year-long mystery? “I simply have no idea. It was most likely an error in the recording studio.” Other riders gathered around, intrigued, and no one else could figure it out either. It was the most perfectly imperfect answer and I haven’t stopped laughing since!

To wrap up an amazing two days of eventing inspiration, on the walk back to our trailers, my friends Beth, Anna Rose and Eileen (who had all come to audit), were having a “picnic” and so JJ and I stopped in for snacks. He enjoyed a glass of rosé, some cheese and crackers, hummus, popcorn and a donut for his hard work and as a thank you for not embarrassing mom. 😉

Oh, and that whole “me not feeling like we were ready to be in the Training group” thing? Yeah, we freakin’ CRUSHED it! Credit goes to JJ and to Lauren for preparing us so well. Thanks, team.


LESSON LEARNED

Some mysteries are best left unsolved.

Lessons Learned: AEC Recap, We Conquered Kentucky!

Seventh in Beginner Novice Amateur, and 2nd in the Adult Team Challenge – wow! Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

After a week at the Kentucky Horse Park in my Ride Heels Down vendor booth and hanging out with JJ, it was time for the real reason we came – competing in the USEA American Eventing Championships!

We had qualified by accident (read the story behind that here) at Beginner Novice, and after we scored a 34 on our last Training dressage test, I figured we might have a decent chance at finishing well.

Friday morning I got up extra early, headed to the horse park and threw JJ his breakfast. I had bathed him the night before and – magically – he managed to stay clean so no last-minute scrubbing was needed. I tacked him up, cut the tags off a brand new, special outfit that I had been saving just for the occasion, got dressed and got on to walk down to dressage warm-up.

JJ felt connected, had good energy and was actually somewhat listening! Coach Lauren was there for me with some great advice and helped make the most of the prep time. Soon, our number was called and we trotted right in to the main arena for our turn to be judged.

Overall, the test was good. JJ was damn steady in the bridle and soft through all the bending portions. He did take one canter step in a corner where we were supposed to be trotting, but that’s just him being super balanced and doing his typical “I want to help!” thing. I quickly brought him back down, and we got through the rest without a bobble.

When we left the arena, I wasn’t sure what to think but my coach was standing there with a HUGE smile on her face and said it was one of the best tests we had ever ridden. I was glad I had made her proud, and felt like I had ridden as best I could.

Usually I don’t like to know my score until the very end of an event, so even though Lauren said we were fab, I didn’t want to check… a few friends sent “congrats!” texts and messages which I strategically avoided, but one popped up on my phone and I saw that we had gotten a 33.5 – ack!

I had no clue where we were in the overall standings relative to the rest of the 34-horse class, but gotta say I was a bit disappointed that we scored almost exactly the same as our last Training test, despite being two levels lower. Oh well… I did my best to just “suck it up, buttercup” and moved on to the next phase of fun – cross country!

I had heard a bunch of people talking about how they had gotten lost on their XC courses, so I tried extra hard to make sure I knew where I was going. I did a course walk with Lauren and everything seemed straightforward. Since we’re used to jumping Training at this point, I knew JJ was going to rock it as long as I did my job up there.

I woke up on Saturday feeling okay. I had studied the course map and gone over it a thousand times in my head, but was still worried about getting lost. I fed, groomed, tacked up and tried (unsuccessfully) to convince myself I wasn’t nervous. Eventually, I got on and headed down to XC for my 9:54 am ride time.

Warm up went really well, and we left the start box with JJ super eager to get going. He was a little pissed that jump one was teeny tiny, and he got a light crop tap on the shoulder to warn him against any silliness, but he went easily through the first eight without any trouble at all. I had no choice about the jumps – he was taking me and we were GOING!

Meanwhile, my fear came true – I did a crap job at being the GPS. I got mixed up coming in to the first water and almost missed it completely, but finally saw it at the last second and was able to correct and get through without any issues. (Guess I shoulda walked the course a second time!)

As we were coming into the last section of the course, I checked my watch to see where we were on time. I realized – horrified – that it had not started counting down like it was supposed to. JJ had been running lightly and easily, but I know even his relaxed XC pace can still be quick, so I did a fast guesstimation and decided to hit the remaining jumps at a more collected canter type pace.

I was so relieved to hear the announcer confirm we were safe and had gone double clear as we crossed the finish line, even without my watch working!

The Head of the Lake! I was having fun but JJ wanted more of a challenge. Photo courtesy Xpress Foto.

We even got to splash through the famous Head of the Lake like it was a kiddie pool, which was such a super fun experience! I tried really hard to smile for the photos, but it’s tough to mouth-breathe *and* smile. I only managed to remember to smile here because I heard my friends Carol Tresan and her daughter Devon (who gifted me a gorgeous pink bling brow band for dressage!) cheer me on as we went through. Thanks, ladies!

I guess the navigation fail and watch mishap were just the Universe’s way of giving me *something* to stress about, since the jumps themselves didn’t worry me at all. Because it’s not cross country without at least a little anxiety, right? 😉

Knowing we had earned the right to jump stadium on Sunday in the harrowed Rolex Arena, I got up extra early to make sure I had time to braid. I still had no clue where we were in the standings, but Lauren estimated when my ride time would be and I realized that, with the reverse order of go, it meant we weren’t sucking. The pressure was on!

Going in to warm-up, I was still oblivious of our place. Lauren was in charge of managing my time and I’m so grateful that she did a perfect job of warming us up. When we moved to the second warm-up arena right before we headed into the ring, I saw my number on the board and realized we were 12th. Wow!

Finally, it was go time. We trotted in to the massive arena and JJ was like “WHAT IS ALL OF THIS?!” I was like, “It’s stadium jumping, that’s all.” Then he passed a sunflower jump and was like “OHMYGOD NO,” and I was like, “You better get over it quick, because you’re going to have to literally get over it in about a minute.”

Nice and tidy with those knees, he did his job flawlessly. Photo courtesy Xpress Foto.

Waiting on the final results was actually a huge relief. We had finished, and I had survived without falling off. I never wish a rail on anyone, but it was really exciting as my friend Brooke Webb from The Vista kept me updated on the placings as we moved up, Up, UP!

The course and jumps weren’t a challenge for us, but the atmosphere added difficulty. It wasn’t pretty, and it was actually a lot tougher than I expected with so many things to look at, but I am so proud to say that JJ put his little game face on and, despite all the distractions, we finished double clear!

Ultimately, JJ and I finished 7th of 34 entries in the Beginner Novice Amateur division, ending on our dressage score which sure felt like a win to me! We got an absolutely gorgeous purple ribbon for our efforts, enjoyed a quick photo session and did a victory gallop with the rest of our group. FUN!!

I had signed up to ride in the Adult Team Challenge, too, because why the heck not? Later that day after the results were in, I was amazed to see my Area III group, the Belles On The Bit, had finished 2nd out of 14! JJ had left earlier with Lauren (no point in them waiting around) so I hustled back down to the Rolex Arena for the ATC awards presentation and got an awesome neck ribbon (my first) and a great goodie bag… and then I did the victory gallop *on foot* with the rest of my team and their horses.

I was absolutely EXHAUSTED by the time it was all over, but it had been 100% worth it to be able to take home a Top Ten finish at my first AEC. Vending and competing was tough, but thanks to my trainer, Lauren, my team and to my husband, Erik, who made sure JJ got lots of hand-walking and grazing time, it was manageable. Lauren’s coaching was critical to our success, and I am so grateful to her for helping us be able to finish as well as we did.

Throughout the week, so many great people stopped by my booth and I made a bunch of awesome new friends. I really enjoy meeting and cheering on the other riders, and I’m thankful to everyone who came by to support me as well. And, of course, the biggest thank you goes to the United States Eventing Association and all its sponsors for a truly memorable event!

(For those interested, we had been 16th after dressage, 12th after cross country, and 7th after stadium – a move up of nine places!)


LESSON LEARNED

If you have the chance to go to the AEC, do it!! It doesn’t matter what level you’re at – just getting there in itself is a huge accomplishment. Also, don’t do the victory gallop on foot. I’m still out of breath!


RESULTS

Date: August 26-September 1, 2019
Location: Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY
Division: Beginner Novice Amateur Championship 3-Phase
Type: USEA Recognized Event, American Eventing Championships
Final Score: 33.50
Result: 7th + 2nd in the Adult Team Challenge!

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Lessons Learned: Sharing is Caring — Another Training CT

In this week’s Lessons Learned, Ainsley Jacobs reminisces on the importance of sharing when it comes to showing horses. Where would most of us be without it?

I think I’ll keep him. 🙂 Photo by Abigail Goodwin.

After learning that we had qualified for the American Eventing Championships, I wanted to get one last cross country schooling session in before JJ and I left for Kentucky, so we hopped on down to Chattahoochee Hills to do that and pop around a Training CT as well.

A work trip the weekend before the show meant I didn’t sit on JJ for an entire week. He let me know he had plenty of energy to spare in our first ride back, a jump lesson on Tuesday, and again during our flat lesson on Thursday. That ride, though, wasn’t what I had hoped.

To be honest, the Thursday lesson was shit. There’s some crap going on in my personal life and my mind just wasn’t there, which is weird because, usually, everything else disappears when I’m at the barn. This time, though, it followed me around the arena. My coach reminded me of all the little things I knew I should be doing but just wasn’t capable of comprehending at the moment. She was patient with my sudden regression of riding ability, and I appreciated it. And JJ did a great job participating despite my lack of being involved. My heart just wasn’t in it.

Friday I hauled down to Chatt, got JJ settled in, and tacked up for what was supposed to be a “light cross country school” to prep for the AECs. We wound up schooling a good portion of the Training course instead. All of which was fun and not at all scary, and did a ton of ditches and down banks (our weak points) and even the most trakehner-y faux-trakehner we’ve ever done. It was exactly what we both needed to get a boost of confidence.

That evening, I crashed at my barn bestie Beth’s house since she has a wonderful farm only five minutes away from Chatt. Her awesome husband, Josh, cooked us dinner and we relaxed and caught up since we don’t get to see each other nearly as often as I’d like. I promise I was a responsible adult and only had one drink and even went to bed early, but I woke up the next morning with a horse show hangover before the show even got started… hah!

I was exhausted and surprisingly sore from cross country schooling. So, after throwing JJ his breakfast and getting set up for the day’s fun, I enjoyed my favorite non-riding part of an event and took a nap. My fabulous coach Lauren Turner of River Birch Farm called about an hour later and asked me to come walk the stadium course again (it had changed slightly since we walked it the day before), but I bailed and went to eat lunch instead, then took another nap. #priorities

FINALLY, it was time to get ready for my 2:41pm dressage ride. JJ had enjoyed a good nap, too, so I woke up him and tacked up. We walked on down to warm-up and got started. He’s been great about trot lengthenings lately, but kept breaking into a canter in warm-up. Oh well, no biggie. Everything else felt solid, so in we went.

For the first half of our Training Test A, I was being chased by a bee right next to my ear and I was more focused on not dying rather than riding. The rest of the test went fairly well, and I purposely chose to keep our free walk and our trot/canter lengthenings conservative so he didn’t break gait. I felt like it was a mediocre test, but was pleased with how steady JJ was in the bridle overall. And I was pleased the bee did not kill me. 🙂

(I didn’t find out until the end of the day, but we had scored a 34.1! I didn’t care at first, but then I realized not only is that a better-than-average score for us, it’s actually a REALLY good score for us especially considering we were riding Training and not Novice!)

After more downtime, JJ and I headed down for our 4:38pm stadium ride. Unlike our last Training CT where I felt outclassed in warm-up, this time I felt confident and totally at ease. JJ was practically laughing at the warm up fences, and after a bit of a delay, we headed in right around 5:00pm. (Did I mention how effing hot it was? Because, holy crap, 5pm in GEORGIA in AUGUST is NOT FUN.)

It was a pretty twisty course, but that’s where JJ excels with his great cornering and automatic lead changes. Coach Lauren had reminded me to ride forward to the 5AB one-stride combo, so I did and it was textbook perfect. So, when we came to the 9AB one-stride combo, I guess my brain wrongly assumed it would be as good without any real effort… BIG shout out to JJ here for saving my ass and carrying us through safely and cleanly even though he had to add a chip. The GPS (as I call myself) glitched and I was grateful he had his autopilot mode engaged. 😉

Other than my “derp” moment, JJ was foot perfect the entire course and nailed every distance. We had a few lucky rubs but only took one rail at the end with a very slight hind-end tap, and I came out of the arena smiling and laughing because he had made it so much FUN. I still can’t believe that Training is so easy now after I used to cry in Beginner Novice warm-up.

I can only hope that everyone, one day, gets to enjoy a horse like JJ who makes jumping such a real joy.

We wound up finishing third, and I had an absolute blast. I was SO proud of JJ and how well he did, despite the heat.

Throughout the event, I noticed a theme… sharing.

Thanks to Lori & Jon Goodwin for sharing their time.
When I first arrived, my box fan wasn’t working. I thought it was the outlet, but it turned out the fan had died. And, with it being August and all, I really didn’t want to compete without one for JJ… but my River Birch family generously stepped up and made sure JJ got what he needed by making a Walmart run to get me a new fan.

Thanks to Abigail Goodwin sharing her equipment.
I forgot to pack my dressage pad after washing it last time, and Abby rescued me. I returned the favor my loaning her a sun shirt and a cross country watch. 🙂

Thanks to Beth Clymer for sharing her home and hosting a horsey slumber party.
Getting to spend the night hanging out with one of my closest friends was a real treat, and saved me a ton on not having to get a hotel. Plus, the dinner her husband cooked us was a nice surprise!

Thanks to Ansley Benfield for sharing her friendship, and her muscle.
I met Ansley at the 2018 Area III Championships when JJ tried to join her and her horse, Dawson, on XC and we’ve been friends ever since. She didn’t have her team to stable with this time out, so she was an honorary Team River Birch member for the weekend AND she helped me load my trailer in a hustle once the day was done and there was a storm moving in.

Thanks to Lauren Turner for sharing her excellent coaching and support, as always.
Because I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her.

And, of course, thanks to JJ for sharing his heart with me. ♥
He’s pretty dang perfect.

Here’s video of our super fun stadium round:


LESSON LEARNED

Share. Share your gear, share your snacks, share your horse, but most importantly, share your kindness.


RESULTS

Date: August 3, 2019
Location: Chattahoochee Hills in Fairburn, GA
Division: Training CT
Type: GDCTA Recognized Event
Final Score: 34.1 + 4 = 38.1
Result: 3rd

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Lessons Learned: We’re Great at Being Average (Area III Champs Recap)

“We’re average, but at least we’re consistently average.” In this week’s Lessons Learned, Ainsley Jacobs discusses feeling average as she continues to compete on JJ in eventing.

Decent dressage, but still needs work. Photo by Eric Nalbone.

I just got home from the USEA Area III Championships at Poplar Place Farm and it was definitely a weekend of ups and downs. Metaphorically, that is. I didn’t actually fall off this time. 😉

A month ago, I went to Poplar to run the May Horse Trials at Novice to “prep” for this event and had a really disheartening finish. I was hoping for redemption this time out, but it was – unfortunately – a bit of the same.

I hauled in on Thursday, had a quick flat school in the evening with coach Lauren Turner of River Birch Farm and went to bed feeling optimistic.

Friday’s dressage ride time was scheduled for 11:22am, and I was grateful because it had been brutally hot all week and I was roasting. We kept warm-up short, which JJ seems to prefer, and I trotted on in to knock out our Novice Test B.

JJ was pretty relaxed, too, and spent a lot of time doing this. 🙂 Photo by Ainsley Jacobs.

I’m happy to report that the test felt nice. Not fabulous, not awful, just nice. He said “okay, sure” to everything, didn’t fuss, fight or toss his head at all (which is a huge improvement for us), and only tried to show off his signature “trot when we should be walking” move once. I was pleased overall and thought it would be an improvement from our usual mid-30s score.

That evening, Poplar’s owner Launa Des Portes treated us to free pizza and beer, which I thoroughly appreciated, then Team River Birch had a relaxing cookout (yay second dinner!) at the camper. After, I headed back to my hotel to shower and get appropriately nervous about cross country.

After JJ stopped at the down bank at our last event, and an epic trail riding accident last weekend (long story short: we were out with friends, tried to cross the Etowah river and one horse literally cannonballed in, practically landing on top of JJ, who bolted and wound up withers-deep in the water and had to swim upstream against the current to get us out. I was SO glad I had my Western saddle to hang on to, but the other rider wasn’t as lucky and wound up with a badly broken leg. The horses, miraculously, were fine.) I wasn’t sure if JJ would even go into the water… and we had two water crossings to navigate on our course.

I told myself not to dwell on the past, and hope that JJ wouldn’t either, and chose to give him the best, most confident ride that I could. We headed out of the start box, tackled the first beefy jump on our course, and immediately had a disagreement about which way to go.

It seems JJ remembers Poplar’s old course, which had been the same for years, so when I asked him to turn left through the woods, he told me I was an idiot. I finally convinced him to do a NASCAR impression, we turned left, popped the second jump and then… more discussions about navigation. So, we basically serpentine-d into jump three, and had to have a brief pause to “reset the GPS” and remind him who was in charge of steering. Hint: not him.

Jumps 4A-B were an up bank out of the water and a fence a few strides after. I felt him lighten in the bridle for a split second as he hesitated going in, but I closed my leg and told him it was safe, and he listened. I felt his confidence kick back in a stride or two into the water, and it was smooth sailing (pun intended) after that.

Every other jump, including the small corner, was great. He was bold over the ditch through the coffin and actually let me steer for the rest of the course. Unfortunately, the “conversations” early on cost us, even though we galloped quite a bit, and we were a few seconds over optimum time… so 4.40 penalties got tacked on to our dressage score on an otherwise clear (and totally awesome, easy peasy) XC run.

With “the hard parts” and my fears about JJ’s lingering water issues out of the way, it was time to focus on enjoying the competitor party – and stadium jumping. The course was really twisty, but somewhat similar to what we had run last time… the same stone wall that JJ stopped at last time, too, was also on course as jump #1. It was “do or die” time.

Sunday rolled and I had a feeling we were well out of the ribbons due to dressage and the cross country time, so I just wanted to get stadium over with. After a less-than-ideal warm up, we headed over to watch a few rounds go before it was our turn. The course was tough and people were taking rails left and right. JJ felt ready, though, and I wanted to go out on a high note.

JJ had opinions that the fences should be bigger. Photo by Eric Nalbone.

Coming in to the first jump, JJ got two light crop smacks on the shoulder to remind him not to think about ducking out – and he didn’t! He was totally perfect over the scary stone wall, effortlessly cruised around the rest of the course and didn’t take down a single rail. We had done it – we finished out the event strong with a double clear round.

…Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to move us up to a ribbon placing. Ultimately, we finished 11th overall as we had scored a dismal 34.60 in dressage. There were 16 in my Senior Novice Rider Championship division, and only five in the Novice Horse Championship class… looking back, I sure wish I had registered for that instead. Because maybe then we would be going to the AECs. 🙁

Regardless, I was so proud of JJ and so pleased with his performances all weekend! He really was wonderful, and I’m always happy to finish with him safe and sound. He doesn’t know he didn’t win… and as far as I’m concerned, he’s the best horse out there.

On my side, though, the honest truth is I’ve been eventing now for five years, and even though I haven’t won a 3-phase yet, I still go into every single event genuinely hoping that “maybe today will be the day, maybe this will finally be *my* event” …and it never is. I keep thinking it’s possible, and my friends all tell me I “don’t suck,” but the reality of looking at the results tells me otherwise.

I’m starting to think I shouldn’t bother with the recognized shows anymore. It’s a LOT of money to consistently wind up mid-pack or last and that takes a lot of the joy out of it for me. I might just stick to schooling shows – they’re cheaper, I can just have fun and there’s no pressure of [not] qualifying for AECs to get me down. I think I’m going to take off July and August from showing (because Atlanta summers are HELL), regroup and then see what happens… this sport is fun, and I want to actually enjoy being average without being disappointed, too.

IRONIC TWIST-OF-FATE UPDATE: The Tuesday after the event, at which point I had already given up on qualifying for the AECs (at Novice), my friend and fellow River Birch Farm teammate Abigail Goodwin informed me that I DID in fact qualify… at Beginner Novice. Wait, what?! It seems I had gotten the placing requirements for BN settled last summer (finished third at the 2018 Area III Championships and also scored a 2nd – which was upgraded to 1st due to my amateur status – at a Horse Trials a month later) but never completed the “three clear XC rounds” requirement since the 2018 AEC was in Colorado and I knew I wasn’t going so I didn’t care. But, unbeknownst to me, those XC rounds didn’t all have to actually be at BN… so when I went clear at our first USEA Novice Horse Trials this year, I actually completed the requirements for my BN qualification and I’ve been AEC-bound since January without ever knowing! HA!! And I never would have even bothered to check if not for Abby, so all the credit goes to her. 🙂


LESSON LEARNED

We’re average, but at least we’re consistently average. And hey – someone’s got to be at the bottom of the bunch so that someone else can be at the top, right? Maybe this is just my place in life… to enable others to succeed. *shrug*


RESULTS

Date: May 31-June 2, 2019
Location: Poplar Place Farm in Hamilton, GA
Division: Novice 3-Phase Championship
Type: USEA Recognized Event
Final Score: 39.00
Result: 11th

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Lessons Learned: Putting the ‘Rain’ in Training

In this week’s Lessons Learned, Ainsley Jacobs takes a look at what she learned from competing in less-than-desirable weather and footing conditions.

JJ being perfect, as usual. Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

Although it was originally supposed to be our first Training 3-Phase, I’m happy to say that our second Training CT is in the books!

The week before, coach Lauren Turner got the flu (poor girl!) and was laid up in bed during our usual Tuesday lesson. Thinking back to the last time I suffered the same fate, I didn’t know if she was going to make it to our event that weekend (and wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t), so I mentally prepared to have to run my first Training 3-phase on my own. Not that I wanted to, but the fact that I didn’t immediately start crying and talk about scratching shows how much stronger my mental game has gotten.

Fortunately, Lauren recovered quickly and was able to give me and JJ a good flat lesson on Thursday. After, I packed my gear and trailer and headed home to enjoy a nice dinner with a good friend who had come in from out of town.

That night, one of the worst storms in recent years rolled through the area, complete with torrential rain, insane lightning and a few tornadoes. I, however, was blissfully unaware due to the fact that I had enjoyed a massive milkshake at dinner and – wanting to prevent any sugar-induced sleeplessness – had wisely arranged a meeting with my good friend Ambien. 😉

Friday morning I woke up well rested (storm? what storm? LOL) and headed over to Beaumont Farm to hitch up. It was still raining, and I was really glad I had packed everything (including hay) the night before so I didn’t get too soaked. My lesson buddy, show partner in crime and fellow business woman extraordinaire, Mary Campbell of Mare Goods, met me there and together we got our kids loaded.

The drive to Chatt Hills wasn’t bad, I just went slow to account for the conditions, and we arrived on time. However, as we pulled in, I noticed the teeny tiny little creek that usually doesn’t even register on my radar had overflowed and had completely flooded the road to enter the facility. I thought briefly about “just going for it” but didn’t want to risk being one of those idiots who got washed away and wound up on the news – especially with the horses in the back.

Almost immediately, though, my knight in shining Kubota appeared, and one of the facility’s workers assured me that I could take a small bypass – even though it was also flooded. He had smartly marked the road with stakes so we could stay on the path, and had measured the water at only about 12″ – we should be able to clear it. So, I powered on and forded the river with my trusty Ford. We didn’t float away (or die of dysentery), so that was a plus.

The river had flooded a large portion of the XC field, so schooling wound up being cancelled. Bummer.

That’s 3′ of water, washing away my 3-phase hopes and dreams. Photo by Ainsley Jacobs/Ride Heels Down.

With the day a wash out, I settled JJ in and froze my ass off – the forecast had originally shown temps in the 70s, but it wound up being in the 50s (with 40s predicted for the overnight) and I was woefully under-dressed. And wet. And miserable.

To make life better, our River Birch Farm team had dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. ‘Cause cheese dip is the remedy for everything.

During dinner, Lauren gave me a “course walk talk” and ran through every jump with me and how to ride it… because the plan, at that moment, was to still run XC. That meant I would be doing my first Training 3-phase without having schooled it first, like a recognized. Oh lawdy. Cue me wanting to throw up.

(I gotta mention: my husband, Erik, was planning on coming on Saturday to watch, but when he heard how wet and cold I was, he drove down late Friday night to come to my rescue with a bunch of dry, warm clothes so I wouldn’t have to wait on him the next morning… #herohusband)

So. The Chatt Hills team had hoped the river would recede by Saturday morning, but when we woke up, it was STILL RAINING and the flooding had actually gotten worse. They made the call to cancel XC completely and run all the 3-phase divisions as CTs instead. I was partly relieved and partly disappointed, surprisingly – I really wanted to try that Training XC course!

Anyway, with my 3-phase hopes and dreams (temporarily) on hold, we got ready for dressage. A friend of mine from the racecar world/my day job, Joe Charles, and his totally awesome daughter, Danielle, came out to brave the weather to watch. Danielle rides hunters and is curious about this eventing stuff, so it was really fun to have her there and get to show her a bit of what we do. 🙂

JJ and I headed down to the sandbox and it was, to put it mildly, not our best work (I feel like I say that a lot?). He was totally jazzed from the unexpected cold snap and the wind, and I just tired to manage it as best as I could. We had some really nice moments in our test, including a fairly decent left lead canter lengthening, and some really giraffe-y moments, including going back to a collected canter after said lengthening. G, halt, salute, celebrate that it’s over.

We had about an hour to kill between phases, so JJ snuggled in his stall and I did the same in my car. Finally, it was time to go down to jump so we could be done and go home and get dry!

The warm-up arena for stadium jumping quickly devolved into a combination shit-show thanks to the wind and the wet, and pretend hunter arena as we were all hollering “on your inside!” “taking the outside!” so we wouldn’t kill each other as we passed. It was somewhat comical. One girl had her hands full managing a clearly freaked out young horse (seriously, she did an awesome job) who was bucking, kicking out, rear-spinning, and generally actin’ a fool. At one point he tried to get JJ involved and my saintly little horse was just, like, ‘meh, that’s too much effort’ and trotted by without flicking an ear. Love him.

As we were going around, I’ll admit there was a moment where I felt really intimidated. Here were all these fancy, purpose-bred, purpose-built eventing machines with their long legs and fabulous physiques… and my compact little stock horse. I felt outclassed, like we were pretending and had no right to be there.

I’ve been working a lot lately on the mental portion of my riding, and recognized that negativity as soon as the thought popped into my head. I quickly told myself to STFU, and reminded myself that we had worked just as hard as everyone else and YES, we actually DID deserve to be there. Instead of being intimidated by them, I chose to (hopefully) believe they thought it was cool that we – the underdogs – were there, too.

After an okay-ish warmup, we parked by the in gate and waited to be called by the lovely Aly Rattazzi who was managing the chaos. The cold began to set in again, and I realized that my car accident broken foot was completely numb. Uh oh.

There was a stone wall at jump #4 that went straight towards some scary, flappy flags that a lot of horses were stopping at, so when we went in to wait for the bell, I made sure to show it to JJ – and he didn’t care one bit. We started our course and he felt really great, despite the slippery, wet footing sucking away some of his energy.

As we approached #4, he seemed okay but I gave him a crop tap on the left shoulder just in case, since he usually ducks left… but the little bugger ducked out to the right instead!! I stayed on, thankfully, and circled back to it only to have JJ go over flawlessly, like he had seen it a thousand times. Whatevs.

Despite not being able to feel a thing in my left foot, we made it through. We finished up the course with no other issues, ending with one rail, the one refusal, and some time for having to make the circle. People even said our round looked good – although I’m not sure if they were being serious or just being nice. 😉

Overall, I was really proud of JJ. I know he is starting to max out at Training, and he really tried so hard. Despite the cold, the wind, the rain, and the less than ideal footing, he gave me a great effort and that’s all I can ask for.


LESSON LEARNED

We have worked hard for it, and we absolutely deserve to be here. Also, PACK ALL THE THINGS.


RESULTS

Date: April 20, 2019
Location: Chattahoochee Hills Eventing in Fairburn, GA
Division: Training CT
Type: GDCTA Recognized Event
Final Score: 46.60
Result: 7th

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

Lessons Learned: Doubling Down on the Drops

With another event coming up soon, it was time for Ainsley Jacobs and her horse JJ to hit the practice field to work on some trouble spots: down banks and ditches. What did Ainsley learn?

Practicing the double down banks. Photo by Carol Lane Tresan.

We’ve got another event coming up this weekend (yay!) so today coach Lauren Turner of River Birch Farm took JJ and I out for a quick freshening up.

We started out on Wise Horses Farm‘s gorgeous race track since I definitely need help with my gallop position. I had never really been taught a correct gallop position, just kinda did whatever felt right while we were on XC – and it wasn’t all that great. So, Lauren went over the basics with me and I let JJ have a little run while I worked things out.

Turns out, I had been doing it wrong. Lauren instructed me to put weight in the outsides of my stirrups, hold a bit with my knee and focus on tightening my inner thigh – lightbulb moment!! It hurt a bit (since I’m not used to using those muscles in that way) but I felt a lot more stable.

Oddly enough, though, when I told JJ it was okay to run, he responded “meh” and didn’t really move out under me. I had really wanted to go flat out since we had an amazing racing surface to be safe on, but instead we had a nice little hand gallop that felt somewhat uninspired. Oh well. I guess if there aren’t jumps around, it’s not worth his time.

Galloping: we were doing it wrong. Photo by Carol Lane Tresan.

After about fifteen minutes on the track, we headed into the “infield” where a brand new cross country course had been built. Lauren wanted to touch on our trouble spots (down banks and ditches) to make sure we went into this weekend feeling confident.

…We started over some Training questions… seriously. That was the warm-up! And my little horsie said “yay, let’s go!” without any hesitation. Who is he!? I’m so proud of the partner he’s become!

Next we moved over to the banks, and Lauren had us go up and down. She reminded me to keep my eyes up and look out ahead, and suddenly the down bank (which is our absolute weakest part of XC) felt much less awful! Amazing how that works, huh? This whole “Eyes Up” thing is a game changer. Anyway, she then had us do a two-stride double up bank to a hanging log, circle back around and come down the double – and it was easy! I loved it! Dare I say I actually want more down banks now? Eep.

Finally, we headed to the ditch area and did a small coffin a couple times before heading to the water. We splashed through, popped a couple jumps, and finished up with a little drop in. I kept my eyes up (like Lauren said) and JJ went right on in like he had been doing it his whole life. I really need to start trusting him more.

By this point, JJ’s blood was up and he was ready to RUN (oh, NOW he’s ready to gallop…) but I wanted to keep things light, since he’s getting older (nearly 16 now) and we have an event coming up I figured it was best not to push things. Instead, we (reluctantly) cooled out and called it a day.


LESSON LEARNED

My “Heels Down, Eyes Up” and “Trust Your Horse” t-shirts exist for a reason – riding is a lot easier when you actually follow that advice! Haha.

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Lessons Learned: Hunter Wisdom from Buck Davidson

I was SO proud of JJ for how he stepped up to every question! Photo by Danielle Ayan | eye-on-images.com.

Coach Lauren Turner of River Birch Farm arranged for us to have a private clinic with legendary international event rider Buck Davidson while we’re here hanging out in Florida and JJ and I were lucky enough to be able to attend!

Yesterday afternoon, we trailered over to Buck’s beautiful barn and got going with our warmup. He started us off in his jump arena and we worked over poles to focus first on straightness. It was an interesting exercise to get back to basics and expose all of our weaknesses, and I liked how Buck paid attention to doing things right rather than rushing into anything.

Soon we progressed to actual jumps, and JJ and I volunteered to go first. He was, of course, absolutely wonderful and did everything I asked and made me so proud. Surprisingly, I had no nerves whatsoever riding for Buck, probably because I was too busy having so much fun! (I learned last year that there’s no point in being perfect in a clinic, so maybe that was it, too.)

Later, we moved into the cross country field to tackle some solid obstacles. Buck told us that, with the exception of three or four questions, everything was set at Training height or higher and, incredibly, about 85% of the stuff actually seemed like stuff we could do.

He gave us a few small courses to run, and JJ was wonderful. He put us over a brush jump that was larger than I was comfortable with and I definitely didn’t ride it straight enough or confidently enough so JJ stopped, but he gave me plenty of warning so I stayed on, came back around, and popped it easily the second time.

We also tackled our very first corner (and JJ was a BOSS!) and a few other “scary” fences that were crazy stupid fun – we had a blast!!

Our very first corner, and it was fantastic! Photo by Danielle Ayan | eye-on-images.com.

I’m super grateful for the opportunities we’re enjoying the privilege of being a part of this week, and highly recommend to anyone considering coming to Ocala to absolutely make it happen!


LESSON LEARNED

The hunters are right! Don’t let your horse think the last jump means he’s done – finish every round with a proper closing circle to help prevent him from quitting early when it counts.

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

Lessons Learned: Nailed the Novice Coffin

It’s not a picture of the coffin, but this chevron is still damn cute with the matching pink flowers. Photo by Xpress Foto.

Earlier this year, my coach Lauren Turner of River Birch Farm offered to put together a field trip to Florida for her team. I had so much fun wintering in Ocala last year that I said yes, of course!

We hauled down to our ten-day temporary home at Wise Horses Farm (owned by Olympian Ronald Zabala-Goetschel) on Thursday, got the horses settled in to the absolutely gorgeous facility, and got some rest.

Friday morning, JJ and I had a flat lesson with Lauren and got a much-needed tune up. JJ also got a much-needed bath, as he was so filthy that he had leaves stuck to his sides after rolling in the pasture – seriously.

Saturday morning we loaded up and drove the 1.5 miles to the Florida Horse Park. (Have I mentioned how insanely perfect this location is?!) Lauren suggested we try a new strategy for JJ’s dressage warm up where we keep it super short, and I’m pleased to say that it paid off. He was much more cooperative during than usual, appropriately relaxed, and I left the arena feeling like we had put in a really good test.

After, we came back to the trailer, I tied JJ in front of his hay bag, and went off to watch Lauren run her Training cross country. When we came back later, he was still there and looked half asleep, but one of my teammates, Carol Lane Tresan, told me he had gone on a pretty epic adventure.

It was really windy, and apparently one of the trailer’s tack room doors flew open and scared the crap out of him but he stayed put… until a saddle pad flew out a few seconds later and went right up between his hind legs under his belly. Can’t blame him, but he absolutely lost it and snapped his safety tie and took off galloping around the ship-in area! I am SO grateful that Carol was there keeping an eye on our horses, because she was able to catch him and keep him safe. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU CAROL!!

Anyway, a few hours later and no worse for the wear, JJ and I made our way down to stadium. The course was surprisingly simple with no filler and no flags (so grateful for that, especially with the wind!) and JJ went well in warm-up.

I know sometimes he takes a rail in stadium (which is weird, because he generally doesn’t at home) so I tried to “keep him sharp” by making him take a rail in warmup instead… and he wouldn’t! So, I felt good and went in when called.

The first seven jumps were darn-near perfect, and I was super pleased. There was a final line of an oxer to a two-stride oxer and vertical combination, and coming around the corner into the line I tried to hug the rail and get him as straight as possible but somehow still knocked the rail on number eight. Le sigh. We got through the next two clean, though, so it was only four faults.

He really loves those gallop fences! Photo by Xpress Foto.

Having walked cross country the day before, I knew it was time to focus on that next task at hand. The course was, without question, the biggest and beefiest Novice course I had ever seen and I was feeling realllly apprehensive about it.

The jumps were large, there were two water crossings that weren’t even flagged, there was a full coffin (which included a “scary” jump that JJ stopped at when we schooled here last January), there was an up bank to the biggest down bank we’ve ever jumped only two strides later, followed by a second down bank with a quick left turn to a maxed out roll top plus brush, and even a chevron. I wasn’t sure we could do it, but I remembered the compliment Jeanie Clarke gave me last year when she told me we had no business being in Beginner Novice. She was right, and I used that as a confidence booster.

So, Sunday morning I awoke and prepped for day two. While JJ was munching breakfast, I dug around in my car and found a set of new stirrup grip pads I had bought but hadn’t put on my saddle yet. I have been losing my stirrups a lot lately, and just figured it was because I was riding like crap, but finding the grips prompted me to check my jump saddle stirrups… yep, they were worn almost completely smooth! So, I slapped those new babies on right away.

The weather was dismal and drizzly, and that sure didn’t help my nerves… but I trusted my coach, I trusted JJ, and I tried to trust myself. The moment I swung my leg up to head down to cross country, I realized the new stirrup grips had made a huge difference and I felt so much more secure! I’m happy to say I left the start box ready to tackle the tough course.

I (almost) can’t believe I’m saying this, but the course actually wound up being fairly easy AND fun! JJ was super and said “yep, let’s go!” to everything. He didn’t even try to stop for a drink in either of the waters. There was only the idea of a question about the jump out of the coffin which I expected and quickly quelled, and one little peek at the first down bank but he went off without hesitating. Everything else was basically perfection, and I may have actually smiled once or twice.

Coming into the second to last jump, JJ tried to slow down and I told him ‘no, we’ve got to keep going’ to which he responded “mom, seriously, we need a breather here.” I legged him forward, not wanting to stop until we were done, and we rocked the next two. As we crossed the finish, I glanced at my watch and hit stop on the timer… to see we had 32 seconds left until optimum, which was the exact amount I had calculated we needed less than to not incur speed faults! I had forgotten to look earlier – oops!

I thought it was so funny that we had gone cleanly (and easily) around our hardest Novice course to date only to screw it up with a speeding ticket, but was exceptionally thrilled to see that when the final results came in that we were actually double clear!! The speed faults time was 4:19, and that’s exactly what we did the course in! Clearly, JJ knew best when he told me we had to slow down. He’s a smart cookie, that kid.

Ultimately, we finished sixth out of 14 and I am so So SO happy with my handy horsie! We had scored 33.30 in dressage plus four for the stadium rail, but even without it we would have only finished fourth — which wouldn’t have been an AEC qualifying score anyway so that rail down wound up being totally irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

Next, we’ll spend five fabulous days at Wise Horses Farm flatting in their beautiful covered area, jump schooling the spacious course with the pristine footing, galloping the massive race track, training on the incredible cross country course, and working hills over all the amazing acreage before another event at Rocking Horse. This place is paradise, perfected.


LESSON LEARNED

Keep your stirrup grips fresh and you’ll actually be able to keep your stirrups. Who would’ve thought?

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

 

 

Lessons Learned: Our First USEA Recognized Novice

That Ride Heels Down saddle pad looks amazing. And JJ’s not so bad, either. Photo by Erik Jacobs of P.TEN Marketing.

I basically disappeared in December. We did our last event on December 1st, JJ had off the 2nd and 3rd to rest, and we had a lesson on the 4th. Then, from the 5th-8th, I was away at a trade show for work. From the 9th-14th, I was away for vacation. On the 15th, I was away at a wedding. There was general laziness for the next few days, and then I apparently was on Santa’s naughty list because I got the worst flu ever on Christmas and spent a full week doing absolutely nothing except being miserable and making noises like a dying cow. Needless to say, I did not ride. JJ, meanwhile, very much enjoyed his “winter vacation” and was annoyed when zombie mom was resurrected from the dead ready to get to work.

Like many good New Years Resolution-ers, I made the commitment to get JJ (and me) “back in the gym” with gusto. He (we) had gotten fat during our downtime, and I knew we both needed to up our fitness levels to survive our next event – a USEA recognized Novice in Aiken, SC.

I rode literally every single day from January 1st until our event yesterday (except for Monday, when our barn is closed) and it really paid off! We did light jump schools to keep his brain intact, hill work, trot/canter sets, some flatting, and just general moving around, and JJ was feeling a million times fitter by the time we shipped out early on Friday morning.

Side note and shameless plug: I Black Friday-bought myself an embroidery machine, so a few days before we left I was feeling fancy and slapped Ride Heels Down and Have A Great Ride logos on all my saddle pads to prep for the event. If anyone wants one embroidered with your own colors, you can get one here.

Anyway. We had been planning to go cross country schooling locally the week before the event, but it hasn’t stopped raining and that was cancelled – good thing, too, because when I got to the barn that morning, I found JJ had pulled a shoe loose.

We hauled four hours to Aiken, SC on Friday for a schooling session at The Vista instead. Their facility is absolutely AMAZING, and I had the pleasure of meeting manager Brooke Webb who was super sweet. We had a great time popping some Novice fences to prep and answering a few Training questions for funsies.

After schooling, we headed over to Terrybrooke Farm which was to be our stabling for the night and dropped off the River Birch Farm horses. We hustled over to Stable View to walk our cross country and stadium courses, then went back to Terrybrooke to feed, enjoyed a fun team dinner, and headed to the hotel to (try and) sleep… which did not happen.

My brain: Hey, what about the thing?
Me: No, I’ve already thought about the thing. We’re good.
My brain: …BUT WHAT ABOUT IT?

JJ making Training look easy while schooling at The Vista. Photo by Erik Jacobs of P.TEN Marketing.

I woke up groggy on Saturday and headed over to hitch up my trailer, grab JJ, and get to Stable View. It was literally FREEZING (seriously, temps in the 20s and 30s all day and overcast) and it was miserable, but I hoped the cold would give him some extra energy. To stay busy (and hopefully warm) I started grooming for dressage early. As I was picking his feet – surprise – I noticed something was missing … a shoe! The same one he had loosened the week before! UGH! So, we marched right over to the show farrier (shout out to Chris McElyea for being there for us in our time of need) and got JJ all fixed up.

Back in the game, we saddled up and walked over to dressage. It was our usual: gorgeous, soft, and relaxed in warm up but a fussy disaster once we stepped foot inside the 20×40. Le sigh. The judge, Kate Hutchings, was super generous, though, and her scores/comments were all very kind – it was much appreciated. We received a 36.70 for our efforts.

Over at stadium, JJ was more relaxed than usual during warm-up. He felt sluggish and super chill, despite everything going on around us. We hopped over a few things, he seemed to be listening, and that was that. We went in to Stable View’s big arena, and despite all of the things to look at, JJ didn’t feel like he was distracted or looky at all but he didn’t quite feel like himself – there just wasn’t any gas in the tank and I’m not really sure how to ride that version of him yet. So, it was not our best work and we had a rail. I was upset that I rode like crap, because I had wanted to do well for my coach, Lauren Turner.

Putting the poor performance behind us, we went straight from stadium to cross country. I arrived with only four minutes until my start time, popped a couple solids to let JJ know what we were about to do, and trotted over to the start box. We left with a leisurely canter so someone got a cowboy kick over the first jump, but after that it was smooth sailing.

For the first time in our history of eventing together, there were no arguments over pace. There were no questions about any of the fences. JJ had a lovely extended canter the whole time, said “sure thing, mom” to every question, and the whole course actually felt quite effortless, despite how wide most of the jumps were.

Our only issue was at the water complex … When we school, JJ likes to grab a drink and I hate denying him if he’s thirsty. So, as we came in to the water, JJ tried to stop and take a sip! I started kicking and yelling “no, go!!” and all I got from him was a mediocre trot and confusion about why I was suddenly bitching at him. Our next fence was two strides out of the water and we had to take it at a medium trot as a result, but JJ did his job and got over it like it was nothing.

Overall, it was a really great weekend. We haven’t run a full Novice three-phase since March, and this was our first USEA recognized, so I was really happy that we got through it AND that it was actually pretty easy. Ultimately, we finished 9th of 16.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t bummed that we went home without a ribbon, but we definitely didn’t leave empty handed – we successfully completed our first USEA recognized Novice three-phase event with a happy rider and a sound horse!


LESSON LEARNED

Check for shoes after running cross country!! Also, it might not be a good idea to let your horse think it’s okay to drink the water complex … heh.

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

Lessons Learned: Runnin’ in the Rain

Well, we just wrapped up another great eventing weekend and JJ stepped up once again to leave me smiling after it was all said and done.

After getting his clipping catastrophe straightened out a few days before to prepare for the forecasted warm weekend, we hauled down to Poplar Place Farm on Friday morning. My barn bestie and Mare Goods owner, Mary Campbell, was also competing, so JJ got to enjoy the ride alongside his barn bestie, Cali.

Mary and I, along with my husband, Erik, arrived early and got our stalls set up. When our coach, Lauren Turner of River Birch Farm, arrived with a few other students, we tacked up and headed down to school our cross country courses. The weather up until then had been fairly bleak, but the clouds parted and the sun came out just as we started and it wound up being a warm, incredibly perfect day.

(Side note: Friday marked exactly two years since I was in a bad car accident and my injured foot decided to remind me of that by celebrating with intense pain. I tried to stretch it out, but that didn’t work. Instead, I just rode through it and didn’t say anything. Ugh, that sucked. But hey, I was happy to be hurting and on a horse instead of hurting and in the emergency room again!)

We started out over some warm-up fences and they all went well. JJ was happy and relaxed, and Lauren soon had us pop over a couple Training questions which JJ answered perfectly. We then started to work through the course as a small group, one jump at a time, and JJ didn’t have a problem with any of ’em. It had been about three months since we had done any cross country, so I was tremendously pleased with his performance.

I can’t even with how perfect he is. Photo by Erik Jacobs of P.TEN Marketing.

As we progressed through the course, Lauren schooled us over all of our Novice fences and had us hit a few more Training obstacles. JJ made all of them feel easy and effortless, including our first ramp/skinny. He was a little *dramatic* over the ditch portion of our coffin combo but whatevs, I stayed on and we got it done.

A fun team dinner (my first outing with Team River Birch) capped off a great day, and I was ready to do it all over the next morning.

Unfortunately, the weather turned overnight and it went from wonderful to wet. It was pouring when I woke up, and the radar didn’t show any breaks in the clouds. Oh well. Good thing I brought spare clothes and my new Ride Heels Down waterproof jacket!

After JJ’s opinions about a long dressage warmup a couple weeks ago, I kept this one short. Twenty minutes, max, was all Lauren and I needed to get him tuned up. We went into the ring and threw down what I thought to be a fairly good (for us) test. Apparently, I was wrong – because we scored about the same as we do when we have a bad (for us) test, too, so who the hell knows. Dressage, you are an elusive and fickle beast.

Anyway, on to stadium – yay! There had been a brief delay for some lightning (because the rain didn’t stop all day long) so things were running a bit behind. Cross country wound up being canceled because the footing had deteriorated beyond the point of being safe from the nonstop deluge, so the three-phase divisions were being scored as CTs instead. The show office told me that they were currently running 2’11” jump rounds and that the Novice group could just head down whenever they were ready and go out of order, so that’s what we did.

Except that when we go to warmup, we were the only ones there and there was no ring steward. There was a small crossrail, a medium vertical, and an oxer that was definitely larger than Novice but seemed do-able and not entirely terrifying… I figured maybe it was Training, and if no one showed up to reset it, I would just jump it as is and get on with my day. So, we did a few laps to loosen up and as we were popping the crossrail, Lauren arrived and frantically told me to stop – they were still running Prelim, not Novice! …which means that “not so scary” oxer was actually Prelim, and the fact that I wasn’t scared by it actually kinda scares me!

So, we trekked back to the barn for a little intermission. JJ took a quick snooze under his cooler, and I waited until Prelim and Training had finished before going back down. Lauren schooled me over appropriately-sized jumps, and JJ was feeling GOOD. All the while, the rain was still coming down so hard that I had to squint to see where I was going. And it was COLD.

When it was finally our turn to go, I knew it was going to be a fun round. JJ was right there for me, listening and being a partner. There were a couple spots where I saw a distance and then questioned myself because I wasn’t sure of the footing, but he made the right judgement call each time and cleared everything flawlessly. I even think he had a bit of fun splashing around in the muck.

He is knees-to-nose perfect. Photo by Erik Jacobs of P.TEN Marketing.

It was over way too soon, and while I was definitely bummed about not getting to run a three-phase, I was super thrilled with how well our cross country schooling had gone the day before.

JJ gave me a big boost of confidence, and the Training stuff we tackled seemed easy. Looking at the pictures from the weekend, it’s clear that HE is ready to make the move up as he jumped everything with tons of room to spare… hopefully I will be ready soon, too.

In the interim, I’ve gone ahead and registered for my first actual USEA recognized Novice event next month – eep!!


LESSON LEARNED

We struggled for so many years, but I’m really enjoying this brief hiatus where it’s easy and we’re just having fun.

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Lessons Learned: Clipping Catastrophe

Sorry, JJ. Mom’s an idiot. Photo by Ainsley Jacobs of Ride Heels Down.

It’s always a good idea to leave things until the last minute, right? Something about “sink or swim,” or “do or die,” or “trial by fire” blah blah blah … Well, today I learned how to body clip, and JJ was my test dummy.

We have an event coming up this weekend (SO EXCITED!) and JJ prepared by growing the world’s fluffiest winter coat. Seriously. He’s SO floofy, in fact, that I actually had him tested for Cushing’s, just in case… the results came back normal (thank God); he just really is that much of a hairy beast.

Being that he got clipped in January when we were in Ocala, I figured I would clip him again this winter. Except that it’s been below freezing (literally) this week in Atlanta, so I didn’t bother. Except that now it’s supposed to be in the 70s this weekend at Poplar AND there’s a ton of rain in the forecast to boot.

So, what’s a girl to do? Clip at the last minute. Except that – other than little things like bridle paths and fetlocks – I’ve never clipped before. What’s the worst that could happen?

To prepare, I read articles online and brushed up on “clipping tips.” I had all the things. Clippers, check. Oil, check. Cooling spray, check. Spare blades? Nah, my clippers are fairly new-ish and have only been used for the aforementioned small jobs. They should be fine. #FamousLastWords

With JJ firmly asleep in crossties (bless his little heart) I dove right in with ambition and ignorance. I GOT THIS! I clipped a few big paths up his shoulder and everything was going fine until, well, until nothing. The clippers basically stopped working instantly and I wasn’t getting any clippage at all. None. Zero. Nada. WTF?

The blades weren’t hot, the clippers weren’t jammed, I didn’t get it. So I touched the blades. Uhhh… they’re not supposed to be round on the edges. Way to go, Ainsley – you needed those spare blades after all. Crap.

So, I called a nearby Tractor Supply Company, confirmed they had clipper blades, stuck JJ in his stall to take a break, and drove straight to the store… where I promptly found that they were out of my T-84 Andis blades. So, the nice sales associate helping me called a local Feed & Seed to check on their stock… and they were all out, too. Double Crap.

At this point, JJ looked like he got a haircut from a blind man with a butcher knife (bonus points if you know what horse movie that quote is in reference to!) and – although I briefly toyed with the idea of leaving him as is because I really don’t care about appearances and thought it would be funny – I knew it wasn’t fair to ask him to run a three-phase with his full winter coat still in tact.

Fortunately, there’s a small tack shop called Hamp’s nearby. It’s an absolute hidden gem and a favorite among local Atlanta equestrians. Hamp’s is known for having everything and for having great prices, too. I frantically called, and the gentleman assured me he had my blades in stock. Hamp’s to the rescue!!

I didn’t trust JJ’s woolly mammoth coat not to kill more blades quickly, so I bought FOUR. Yes, overkill. Yes, the guy (and other customers) laughed at me. Whatever. I DON’T CARE, MY HORSE IS A FUZZY MONSTER. I learned my lesson: it’s better to be over-prepared!

Anyway, long story short, Hamp’s saved the day and I was able to get JJ’s Irish clip job finished up in only about an hour. (For those keeping score, I wound up only needing ONE blade… so now I’ve got plenty of spares.) JJ was an absolute saint and stood as still as a stone the entire time I was working. He let me clip everywhere, from his belly to his man-area to his ears, without even so much as a muscle twitch. I really do have the best (most tolerant) little horsie ever.

Even JJ was surprised at how much hair came off him. Photo by Ainsley Jacobs of Ride Heels Down.

So, I’m happy to say I was able to end my clipping catastrophe by averting a crisis.

The clip job actually came out really good with practically no lines at all, and now I’m more comfortable with the idea of him competing this weekend in the humid nastiness. Fingers crossed the weather holds up!


LESSON LEARNED

Before you start, make sure you have spares. There’s a reason that professional body clippers exist. I am not one of them.

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

See more of Ainsley’s blogs on:

Lessons Learned: Plan B, Do a CT

Plan B can be fun, too. Photo by Ainsley Jacobs of Ride Heels Down.

Since our last Novice 3-phase was eight months ago, I was seriously looking forward to getting back out there again and working towards moving up to Training.

But, alas, my plans seemingly never work out anymore and I had to convert entry fees into vendor fees at Poplar Place Farm a couple weeks ago when JJ came up dead-lame with a hot nail the night before we were scheduled to leave. Ugh.

Anyway, I wasn’t upset about the change of events because I wound up getting some great unexpected exposure for Ride Heels Down and JJ got to chill out at home doing his favorite thing – eating. I had another event scheduled for a couple weeks later, too, so it was no biggie.

…except for when THAT event didn’t happen, too.

It’s been raining in Atlanta literally for weeks, nonstop, and it’s friggin’ cold. The arenas are now swimming pools. The ground is slippery and weird. The weather is just plain awful, period.

Fortunately, Beaumont Farm has a beautiful indoor arena attached to the main barn so my special snowflake and I can enjoy being bougie and we don’t have to venture into the miserably wet world. In all seriousness, I’m super grateful that we still have a place to train and work when the weather outside is frightful, and that JJ can still enjoy some indoor turnout when Mother Nature is being especially nasty. Call me coddled, whatever – it’s WORTH IT.

We had been signed up for a Novice 3-phase at Chatt Hills on November 17, but on the Tuesday before the event, the show officials made the difficult decision to cancel it – the conditions just weren’t going to be safe enough and it wasn’t worth risking horse or rider. I agreed with the call 100%, but I was definitely still disappointed.

Cue “boo hoo” venting post on Facebook.

Cue my brilliant friend Beth Clymer reminding me that there was another show that same day scheduled over at Ashland Farm hosted by the Hilltoppers Pony Club.

Cue the show secretary being amazing and allowing me to get in a last-minute late entry for a Novice CT.

Yeah, it wasn’t the 3-phase I had been hoping for, but at least we were still going to get out there to do *something* – YAY!

Saturday morning, I got up at 5:15 am and was at the barn by 6, which, thanks to daylight savings time, meant it was absolutely pitch black and freezing cold. Usually I can hitch my bumper-pull trailer in less than five minutes by myself, but because I couldn’t see a darn thing it took four times as long… next, I had to wake up poor JJ from his snoozefest, but made amends by throwing him breakfast and then sneaked him out the back of a completely dark barn. (Beaumont’s owners’ home is attached to the barn so I didn’t want to wake them by turning on any lights or opening the barn door.)

Anyway, 1.5 hours later we had arrived at Ashland and it was finally light out and starting to warm up a bit. JJ unloaded, munched some hay, and eventually we started our day with some friends and neighbors parked next to us – including Beth and her handsome OTTB, Andy. (We shipped-in for this show and worked out of my trailer and, once again, I decided to go alone with no coach to babysit.)

JJ’s got a “sweet spot” in dressage where he’s willing and happy. If I push past that, he turns resistant and ornery. Typically I keep to a 20-ish minute warmup to prevent hitting the downward spiral, but the show was running late and unfortunately our warm up wound up being almost an hour. To say JJ was not amused was an understatement, but he still went in and did what I asked – although begrudgingly.

When we came down the center line, he knew it was almost over and suddenly morphed into a happy, forward, willing partner… he gave me an absolutely beautiful, perfectly straight and dead-square halt, which had me feeling great, until the very moment before I threw my hand down for a salute and he stepped out with his right hind like he was saying “Screw you for making me do this, mom.” The judge, who was already standing by that time, started laughing and said “He totally did that on purpose, just to be a brat!” Yup, that’s JJ. But that’s also why I love him.

I’m laughing because this would have been a perfectly square and straight halt … except for JJ stepping out with his right hind at the very last second to say “screw you for making me do this, mom.” Even the judge was laughing. Photo by Joshua Holt.

Anyway, we hopped around a fairly challenging stadium course later without a single glitch. Other riders had stops and rails, but JJ felt like a happy hunter and I was super pleased with him given the fact that we haven’t had a jump school in two weeks! He made it easy.

We wound up finishing 2nd overall, with 1st rightfully going to an absolutely lovely horse and rider combination. It was a super fun, super low-key day and I’m really grateful to have had the opportunity to get a quick off-property trip on the books before we try for another 3-phase in two weeks – hopefully that one doesn’t get canceled, too! Ha!


LESSON LEARNED

Life is mostly Plan Bs, but they can be just as fun as Plan A if you open yourself to it.

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Lessons Learned: Just Jump the Jumps

Our first training course! Photo by Lauren Turner of River Birch Farm.

To protest having to work hard in a recent dressage lesson, JJ threw a shoe in the pasture and wound up a little gimpy. Thanks to a week of rest and some farrier heroics, he was as good as new. Today, we had our first lesson (and our first jump session) in two weeks and we definitely stepped things up a notch.

I’ve learned that if I don’t jump JJ at least once a week, he gets a little overly, uh, “excited” about things and all I can do is try to hold on and mitigate the situation. This week was no different. We started out over a low vertical and JJ was cool with it, but once the jumps went up to 2’7″ he basically just ran around like a lunatic because he was so happy to be at it again. *sigh*

Usually, once he loses his brain, I don’t get it back until the next ride. This time, though, he surprised me (he seems to be doing that a lot lately!) by getting back into “partner mode” after a couple rounds and we were able to actually be productive. Coach Lauren Turner of River Birch Farm soon raised the bar (pun intended) to 2’11” and I was so incredibly grateful to have a rideable horse again. She gave me and my lesson buddy, Mary Campbell of Mare Goods, a few different exercises and courses, and once we had ridden them all fairly well, she started moving jump cups again…

When things went up to the black tapes denoting Training height of 3’3″ all my confidence went out the door. Sure, JJ was cooperating now but would he lose his mind again with the excitement of the “big kid” jumps? I had never jumped a training course before (only individual elements) and I was NOT feeling like today was the day to push my luck by trying it.

Lauren nicely told me to put on my big girl breeches, reminded me that this was something I wanted, and told me to just jump the jumps. She was right, of course.

So, away we cantered and over the jumps we went until we had cleared all eight of them in the round. JJ rose to the occasion and was receptive to my input. Not only did we not die, but the course was surprisingly easy, too! To make sure it wasn’t a fluke, we went again – and it was even easier the second time.

I couldn’t believe it – we had survived our first legitimate Training course. From starting the lesson with a bit of insanity to trooping around Training like an old pro, JJ’s going to be getting lots of cookies and I’m going to be smiling for weeks.

…and, as I drove home, I couldn’t help but laugh as I found myself wishing that Lauren had put ’em up just one more hole higher…


LESSON LEARNED

Sometimes we have a brain. And sometimes we don’t. But that’s okay, ’cause I have learned to ride every “version” of JJ there is, and we are a better team because of it.

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

Lessons Learned: Farewell to Beginner Novice

Flyin’ solo and feeling fine. Photo by Liz Crawley Photography.

When I unintentionally qualified for the USEA Area III Championships and then did well there, too, I decided to finish out the trifecta and try for a third score so that I would be eligible for a GDCTA year-end award and hopefully also earn a USEA Blue Ribbon.

There was only one show left that fit my schedule and met the timeline requirements. Beginner Novice has been easy for us for a while now (famous last words?) and I know JJ is getting bored with it, so I signed up for what I hoped would be my final Beginner Novice event at Chattahoochee Hills.

The two weeks prior to the event, due to work travel and other life-responsibility-type things, I was only able to get in two jump lessons and no other rides. I wasn’t feeling particularly prepared to do well, especially since we hadn’t done a flat/dressage ride in over three weeks, but I didn’t care since I was just going to have fun and my only goal was to (try to) finish on a number. I was also going completely on my own, with no coach and no husband, and basically just wanted to survive and finish with a happy, sound horse.

The Friday before the show, I went to pick up my trailer and get JJ loaded. Much to my dismay, the infamous tire that caused me to have to go to urgent care at my last event, was low on air yet again. (I had taken it two weeks earlier to have a leaky valve stem replaced as I couldn’t see any punctures and assumed that was what was causing it to slowly deflate… apparently, there was *also* a puncture. Ugh.) Fortunately, I had left myself plenty of time in my day and was able to quickly hitch up and drag it to a nearby tire shop to have it completely replaced.

An hour later, I returned to Beaumont Farm, got JJ loaded, and headed out for what was only my second time trailering, ever. I’m proud to announce we both survived no worse for the wear, despite 1.5 hours of travel time and Atlanta’s crazy highway drivers. We unloaded at Chatt, got settled, and went for a ride since I hadn’t sat on him since Tuesday.

To say JJ was “spicy” would be an understatement. He was so pumped that I could barely ride him. It was frustrating, sure, but I would much rather have that kind of a ride before the show than during it. A few people who know him were surprised by how he was acting, but I tried not to let it get to me.

Saturday was a new day and a new start. When I tacked up for dressage, JJ seemed a lot more relaxed. His work in warmup was completely opposite of what it had been the day before – he was calm, he was soft, he was lovely. It was also hot as hell out, and I didn’t want to overwork him since he was being SO good already, so we cruised into the arena with only a little bit of prep.

As we were circling to await our entrance at A, JJ spotted a horse on the XC course in the distance. His little ears pricked and I sadly told him, no, not yet buddy. As we headed down the center line, I could tell he was pissed. My willing partner vaporized and JJ said “screw you, mom, and also I AM A GIRAFFE.” It was bad, yeah. We had a couple moments of decency, but it was not our finest work. Oh well, a sand dancer he is not.

Later, for stadium, he was in a better mood since he could now do what he loved – jump the sticks. He gave me a perfect warmup and a perfect course, got all his leads and didn’t knock a single rail. It felt more like a hunter round than an event horse round, and when we crossed the finish, the announcer said we had gotten +1 penalties for time. Wait, WHAT?! For the first time in four years together my little speed demon horse had gone too SLOW! I couldn’t even believe it!

With only one phase left, Sunday was shaping up to be a lot of fun. I took a little nap in JJ’s stall after lunch and he snoozed next to me, then we got geared up to go. He didn’t seem to want to go down to XC which was odd, but once we had arrived for warmup he was back to normal and listened quite well to my aids. We were called to the start box, received our countdown, and off we went!

The first three jumps went unusually well. JJ had a good pace and was fairly quiet. After the fourth, though, I think he realized we were on an actual course and not just schooling and he kicked in and RAN! I let him have a few little sprints here and there, but we also had our usual discussions about balance and paying attention to mom before each jump. Overall, it was a lot of fun and one of our easiest XC courses together – we finished double clear.

The moment we crossed the finish line was really cool, because I got the validation that I had achieved what I had set out to do. We officially finished on a number and not a letter (although I didn’t know our placing because I had avoided looking so as to not psych myself out) and got our third and final GDCTA qualifying score. AND I had done it all on on my own.

After cooling out JJ and packing up my stall, I waited for the results to be finalized and stopped at the show office before heading home. Incredibly, when I looked at the results, I saw we had finished SECOND! (And first was rightfully won by my wonderful friend, Beth Clymer, and her handsome horse, Andy!) Even with our atrocious dressage, JJ and I had done it – we got our third “first through third finish at the same level within the same year” and earned our USEA BN Blue Ribbon.

(JJ abandoned me for our selfie!) No coach this weekend but I never once felt like I was “alone” thanks to all my wonderfully supportive friends that were there, too. And a special thank you goes out to MF Eventing for letting me be an honorary MFer and stable with them! (Photo by Ainsley Jacobs / Ride Heels Down)

Although I was flying solo this weekend with no coach, I never once felt like I was “alone” thanks to all my wonderfully supportive friends that were there, too. And a special thank you goes out to the amazing Lindsay Barrack of MF Eventing for letting me be an honorary MFer and stable with her and her girls!

When I was in Florida earlier this year, Jeanie Clarke told me “you and JJ have no business being in Beginner Novice anymore” and, honestly, I think she was right.


LESSON LEARNED

I’ve learned so many great lessons over the years having fun in Beginner Novice, but it’s time to push myself so and move on.

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Lessons Learned: Making the Most of It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


LESSON LEARNED

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

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Lessons Learned: LRK3DE From a Vendor’s Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LESSON LEARNED

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

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

 

Lessons Learned: Friday Fall, Saturday Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


LESSON LEARNED

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

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

Lessons Learned: Nothin’-To-It Novice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson Learned

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

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing.

Lessons Learned: Getting to the USEA AEC, Plan B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


LESSON LEARNED

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

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

I Survived Rolex … As a Vendor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


LESSON LEARNED

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

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs / P.TEN Marketing


LESSON LEARNED

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

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing

Lessons Learned: The Hardest Part of Riding Is the Ground

Our dressage was lovely! Photo by Ride Heels Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LESSON LEARNED

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

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

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing