A Look Back on Ocala

One year ago this week, I was down in Florida competing at HITS Ocala. It’s so bizarre- it feels like I was just down there last month, but it also feels like a completely different lifetime. Things were so different just one short year ago!

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For example, my leg did this a year ago!
Before heading down to Ocala: I had shipped in to one rated show (HITS Culpeper) but had never done an “away” show with my trainer. I was half-leasing Addy and had taken her in a few jumper classes, but mostly did the local 3′ hunters with her. I had daydreamed about competing on the A circuit, but was pretty sure I didn’t have the budget to make it there.

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Wistfully gazing at the GP ring at Culpeper
And then I got to compete for a week. And learn. OH BOY DID I LEARN.

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Learned to check for saddle slippage
I learned about how my barn runs things at these big shows. They’ve done it so often that it’s a well-oiled machine and I just had to listen to where I should be and when. I learned what I would be responsible for (clean tack and appropriate apparel) and what would be taken care as part of the fee I was paying (pretty much everything else). I had never experienced the “full care” package at shows and let me tell you- I love taking care of everything myself at home, but knowing your horse is clean and ready for you when you need him after your course walk is such a wonderful luxury.

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Masterful side-eye
I learned what the warmup protocol is when we have 2 trainers, 7 riders, and 4 rings to be in all at roughly the same time. How to prep my horse to make the most of the time I have with my trainer, what to wait for her to do with us, what to expect from our warmup before heading into the show ring. I also learned that apparently my trainer knows every single person at every single horse show, and guaranteed she’s already radio-ed the ingate about the trainer conflict. And that she is a master of switching from pony kid to eq junior to pro in the hunters to ammy jumper and back again at a moment’s notice.

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Switching from the jumpers to the eq and back again
I learned about the jumper ring. Holy crap, did I learn about the jumper ring. Each course walk was eye opening as I slowly figured out that fast and clear don’t just happen- there’s such a science and an art to it. The jump materials, the direction of the lines, the angle of the ring, during which part of the course each element comes up, the location of the in-gate, so many different factors came up as something to consider on course. At this point, I honestly couldn’t handle thinking about a lot of these independently- just making it around the course with the jumps in the right order was my main goal. But knowing that there was such a strategy to it made me hungry to learn more.

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However I did not learn to not lean on my horse’s neck

I learned about what type of ride I prefer. I got to ride two amazing, very different horses during the week- one who has since gone on to success in the hunter ring, and one who was an absolute firecracker. I got to briefly sit on several other horses to see which ones I liked best, and much to my surprise it was the firecrackers. My previously wimpy self was delighted.

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This one is now a hunter
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This was one zippy little mare
 

I learned about the horse show routine: waking up early, taking naps in the grooming stall when I could, hitchhiking on passing golf carts, hurry up and wait, get in line to add/scratch as early as possible, hurry up and wait some more, cheering for our other riders, going for a quick gallop on the track after our class is over because why not?!, getting the BIG margarita with dinner, helping zip up those mega tight tall boots, carrying a crop the entire time because guaranteed someone’s gonna need it, working through nerves, celebrating the good parts, figuring out how to fix the bad parts, watching the Grand Prix riders, exploring the beautiful barns.

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Hurrying up and waiting…and waiting…
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Catching rides on every passing golf cart
While chatting with some of the ladies down there, they joked that I would have my own horse in no time. I smiled and responded, “Man, I wish. I just don’t think the budget is there. Maybe someday!”

They must’ve seen something in my eyes that I didn’t- by the time I left the ring for my last class, it was already cemented in my mind. I needed to chase this feeling, and that meant I needed a horse to chase it on. Frankie joined the family a little over a month later.

A lot has changed from when I headed down to Ocala. I’ve gotten to show at the A rated shows, and have plans to do even more this year. I’ll be on the A circuit just like I dreamed. I’ve moved from the 0.80m/0.90m classes to the 1.0m classes to the 1.10m classes with near-future plans to dabble in the 1.15m. I get to help show other riders the ropes at shows instead of needing constant direction. I have less money, less social life, more muscle, more joy than at this time last year. My pristine, never-worn white breeches are now dirty and stained from use, and I’m still so excited every time I put them on.

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All these show clothes are now filthy and worn
It’s no exaggeration to say that my week in Ocala last year was completely life changing. I’m certain that I wouldn’t have bought a horse if it hadn’t been for that experience, which means I wouldn’t have competed where I have, which means I would’ve missed out on some of the greatest times I’ve ever had.

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#proud
It didn’t fit into my goals to go down this year- trying to qualify for champs means quantity of shows takes priority- nor did it fit into my budget- turns out buying a horse DESTROYED MY SAVINGS- but you can bet I’m already saving up to go to Florida again next year, this time with my own amazing steed in tow.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep hustling so that the next trip down there can be just as incredible as the first.

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Show Recap: The Big Kahuna

I swear, there has been a reason to my absence. I was in boot camp mode getting my butt in shape. And I was prepping my gear. And I was packing. “For what??” you may ask.

For those of you who do not follow me on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter: I had the chance to go down and show at HITS Ocala for a week!

My trainer goes every year and gave me a quote for joining (which my wallet spasmed at), but I basically said “screw the cost, this is a bucket list thing.” I’ve always wanted to go down and show in Florida, and by golly I was going to.

Spoiler alert: it was incredible. Life changing, fantastic, incredible.

For the first few days I leased this ROCKSTAR of a Dutch Warmblood named Poppy, show name Emblazon. Homeboy was only 6 years old, but I would’ve guessed he was 14 or 15. He was a total steady Eddie- nothing phased him for a second and he went around every ring like he had been there a thousand times. Fantastically uncomplicated and a wonderful teacher. We did the 0.90m/low adult jumpers and dabbled in the 3′ adult eq classes.

On Friday morning we found out that Poppy was going to be headed north a day early, so my trainer had me quickly hop on 3 other horses that evening to see if we could snag one for Sunday. This led to the running joke in the barn, which is that I fell in love with every single horse I sat on. Apparently taking me to try horses is like taking a child to a candy shop- I can’t decide which one I like best because OMG THEY’RE ALL SO PRETTY GRABBY HANDS ALL OF THEM PLZ. But I loooooved the feel of the mare that I tried (I think maybe I just have a weird mystic voodoo connection with mares), which is what brought me to Saturday: showing Poppy in the 0.80m, taking Poppy early in the order for 0.90m, then untacking him and taking a golf cart over to get the mare and taking her last in the order for the 0.90m.

Mareface was a 7 year old WBxTB named Victoriosa and I was IN LOVE. Smoothest canter you’ve ever felt, jumped clear every time, and crazy adjustable. Did I mention she went in a rubber snaffle and no martingale?

So Sunday I took her in the 0.90m Low Adult Jumpers. The course seemed fair, a couple turns and some combos, but nothing outlandish. And we landed off the last jump. And the bell didn’t ring. And you know what that means: JUMP OFF TIME!! We picked up the gear a bit and flew through the final sequence with room to spare. I was a hot mess and got her to some awful spots, but that saint of a mare just kept trucking and picked her beautiful feet up every time.

Homegirl got us second place. A beautifully clear round with the speed demon mare: I was ecstatic.

And then we geared up for our Low Adult Classic: 0.95m in the Grand Prix ring. This was another great course! I thought it was a very fair test with a lot of interesting elements- a couple spots where you could really shave your turn, some combos you had to power through, and a couple bending lines to pick up speed. And pick up speed we did. We had an unlucky rail on the VERY last jump that kept us out of the jumpoff, but apparently we hauled ass enough to be the fastest 4-faulters, putting us in 11th!

This was huge for me, and it’s for a very silly reason. It’s for the pants. Almost a full year ago, I bought a pair of white Tailored Sportsmans as a reminder to reach for my goals and work hard. And almost a full year later, I got to wear those whites in the Grand Prix ring in Ocala, even making it into the ribbons. I don’t think I’ve ever teared up about pants before.

This whole experience just shifted my perspective so much as a rider. Being in the saddle for several hours a day did absolute wonders for my balance and ability to change my seat. I’m much stronger and can be much more subtle with my aids.

It also made me recognize just how much I love competing. Not necessarily winning- though I’ll never complain about getting a ribbon- but getting out in the ring and doing my best to lay down a good trip. The atmosphere of focus and determination, the exhilaration of galloping up to that wide oxer, the knowledge that I can and I will do better this time than I did last time. I couldn’t wait to get in the ring for each and every round.

And I can’t wait to get in the ring again. I’ll be saving my pennies to take another week to show next year (either at Ocala, Vermont, Lake Placid, or one of the other big shows my barn goes to), but in the meantime I’ll be planning on getting out and showing at least once a month. Who cares if I have to go broke to afford it? The whole point of having money in the bank is to spend it on ponies…right?

I should have some more exciting news for you in the near future (and I promise not to leave you hanging for quite so long this time). But for now, check out my Instagram (@hellomylivia) or friend me on Facebook to see pics from Ocala!!!

 

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