Lessons Learned at Pine Top

Photo by Erin Cheever. Photo by Erin Cheever.

Every day with horses presents an opportunity: to learn, to listen, to recognize. Sometimes our horses hint. Sometimes they guide. And sometimes they offer us the chance to answer the question ourselves through their guidance. My question revolved around the move-up to Intermediate. Are we ready?

Garth and Deszi are very different horses and very different rides. They vary in every possible way, from build to personality to style. Yet different in many ways, they are similar at their core. They share the same heart and commitment to their partnership with me. Although their differences vary, together they present the same lessons I as their rider must learn from.

After lessons with Allison Springer, I have been focusing on softness, lightness, and suppleness on the flat while ensuring a correct and effective position. It sounds simple doesn’t it? These fundamentals have brought to light some missing pieces within my training of Garth.

Deszi, though different in manner and style, has begun to reflect some of the poor habits I have with Garth. If I intend to perform well and train my horses competently, this must change. In one week, the three of us have become more trusting of our communication, open to feedback from one another, and softer. Garth scored a 31.1 in the Open Preliminary, and Deszi led the Preliminary Rider with a 28.9.


Photo by Erin Cheever.

I also think it is time to consider an equipment change — the bits that worked for Garth and Deszi last season are now too much. I consider a positive indication of their training, strength, and of our communication.

I must practice more work over fences — and large fences. However, I struggle justifying jumping them over this size often — I do not want to compromise their soundness. Yet, I need the experience and the opportunity to correct my riding through application. With both, I need to monitor and support the canter to the fence more efficiently and effectively.

Garth is willing and very athletic that he often gets us out of difficult spots purely through his capabilities. Deszi prefers a slightly open distance to the fence, yet if either of our balance is off a bit, the quality of the jump effort is compromised. I am very eager to hear the opinions of instructors as I pursue additional education.

Cross country was big, bold, and the largest course I have run since Pine Top in 2015. Both horses were incredibly honest through the combinations, and were willing and confident throughout the course. Garth cruised around the course with a smile, happy to be back in the game one year after his last competition. His jump efforts are big and genuine, costing us time in the air. He is quick off the ground, and quick off the leg.

I need to trust his ride to the fences more — allow the half halt to support the balanced stride, and then ride the canter to the fence – not ride the distance to the fence. He was clear jumping and incurred time penalties.

Deszi cruised across the terrain easily, eating up the course. She was efficient over the fences, but still a bit reserved with her response off the leg. Similar to my realization with Garth last year, it is time to trust Deszi. It is peculiar having a quiet Thoroughbred, and I must trust the forward ride with her around the course.


Photo by Erin Cheever.

Intermediate will come, and I have little doubt that it will come this year as expected. However, I have more homework to do beforehand. Safety is paramount – for myself and my horses – and I want it to be a smooth, simple step forward in our careers.

I was fortunate to have many of my ladies join us for the day, offering support and much-appreciated assistance with my two rides. Erin Cheever served as Super Groom (and photographer), Kathryn Wakeman was videographer, and Katie Belhumeur and Doug Gowen cheered us on through cross country. I often compete alone, while serving as my own groom and support system. It was a treat to have so many familiar faces there to lend a hand, and support us throughout the day!