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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HITS Prep

Francis heads to the showgrounds on Thursday!

I wish I had a fun prep post like I did for Loudoun, but uhhhh…..I don’t.

I honestly forgot that the show is this week until just now. Oops? I guess now is as good a time as ever to figure out what we’re doing for prep:

Oh wait. Nothing. We’re doing nothing to prep.

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Seriously though, I think we’re in good shape! Despite looking like he’s fresh from the slaughterhouse (homeboy is covered in scrapes and cuts from “playing” outside), Francis is shiny, in good muscle, and has been working hard lately. Our tack is clean and neat, my show clothes are ready to go, and my entry has been in for weeks.

Basically I’ll pack my trunk, polish my boots, and off we’ll go.

I’m extremely happy about this- that a big horse show is not some huge intimidating event we have to go out of our way to prepare for. All the work we do on a day-to-day basis is the prep work and we can just ride that wave right to Culpeper. That’s a testament to the training and care Frankie and I get from Trainer and Assistant Trainer.

Here’s the plan: he will show up Thursday and Trainer/Assistant Trainer will likely hop on to let him stretch his legs. Not so much a schooling ride since he’s invariably well-behaved, just a chance to see where he is and get the muscles moving.

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I will show up Friday morning and we will do our division class: Low Adult Jumper (II.2.b). Saturday we’ll do the same thing (II.2.c), and then Sunday we have two classes to round out the Low division (II.2.c and II.1). Sadly there isn’t a classic for the Lows! There is a 1.10m Adult Classic on Sunday that I’m going to plead with my trainer to let me do, though I have a feeling she’ll tell me to slow my roll and enjoy our season at 1.0m. But I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t fling myself into situations with minimal preparedness.

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Overall I think we’re going to have a great week! We have riders doing a wide variety of classes- our superstar junior is doing the Big Eq and jumpers, we have a re-rider making her rated show debut in the maiden adults with her hunter, we have an ammy doing the 3′ hunters, and yours truly in the jumper ring. All fantastic show buddies and excellent horsewomen.

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Gonna be another great show!

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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Chapter 6: Our First Rated Show at HITS Culpeper

Hello beautiful people.

I would apologize deeply for my radio silence (yet again) by exclaiming that I’ve been sick as a dog, crazy busy at work, and just plain lazy, but you don’t need to hear that. (I’m feeling much better despite the lingering cough, work is still busy but I’m learning how to manage it, and I gave myself a kick in the ass to get movin’.)

You’re here to hear about our first rated show! And if you’re not, then too bad because that’s what I’m talking about today. Get with it.

I had my lesson last Wednesday thinking very positive thoughts: it didn’t matter that I was sick and exhausted and couldn’t take a full deep breath! My pony would take care of me! It’s fine that I accidentally took the drowsiness-inducing meds before hopping on! Beastly is a saint!

I’m formally removing my petition to have the Big White Unicorn canonized. Not that she was bad, but she is definitely the type of horse to get her confidence and gumption from her rider. When said rider is flopping around barely conscious and alternately flapping the reins/pulling at her face? Yeah, she’s not going over any of those jumps.

I’m surprised I didn’t fall off, because she ducked out HARD so many times. A couple were dirty stops where she was being lazy, but the majority was me not sticking to me guns. We eventually ended on a good note, but that was probably our worst ride to date.

I was feeling SUPER not ready to show on Friday. All my trainer could tell me was that “you have to have a bad dress rehearsal before the real thing.” Somehow that didn’t seem super comforting.

But Thursday I had a great school where I basically rode Addy in circles til she was sleepy, gave her a nice bath, prepped everything, and went to bed at 9pm.

Friday was show day! Up at 4am and at the barn by 4:45am. Beastly had naturally slept in her poop, so we got to re-do the bath from Thursday. She then got to run around the indoor for a while to get the beans out of her system (thank goodness, she was tearing around in there like crazy). She loaded on the trailer like she does it every day, and we were off! I actually really need to get a video of her loading, she turns herself around and backs right into the narrow slot like one of those self-parking cars. She’s such a champ.

Once there, we got checked in at the show office, used the permanent bathrooms (not porta-potties! So classy!), and went to walk the course. Bonus side of long legs: course walking is my normal stride, not big goofy steps. The course was really cool- none of the turns were that crazy, some cool combos, and nothing was too spooky.

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The power phase started up the diagonal oxer, right turn down the single and continue out the gate, up the two-stride, down the diagonal line in 5, up the one-stride to six out. Then if you were clear the speed phase started, and it continued to the end oxer, rollback over the blue waves, left to go quarter-line bending out over the gold, rollback again over the blue waves, then hard right to end over the same jump as the power phase.

At least in theory. We had a great warmup, but I was still nervous going into our first class. My girl picked up on that, and we had a stop at the third fence and again at the in of the one stride. Not dirty stops, but I was staring at the jumps. So she said “OOH what’re we looking at?!” And stopped so she could see too. Womp womp. Note to self: we are not trying to get to the jump, we are trying to get over the jump. Stop staring at the jump.

So for the second round I grabbed a crop, they put spurs on me, and we changed the way I rode. We’re always holding her back and trying to keep the control, but we threw that out the window this time (to a certain extent…I still wanted control). The goal was to get the momentum going and have her carry me to the jumps so that stopping would just be too difficult. I was to let go of her face, guide with my legs, and let my horse do her goshdarn job.

And wouldn’t you know, when I got out of her way and encouraged her forward, my pony LOVES her job. She was thundering around with her ears pricked and I could feel her hunting down the next jump! We completed the power phase clear and continued straight on to the speed phase- we was one bobble at the first rollback where I didn’t set her up and she didn’t see the jump early enough so we had to circle and come back at it. We then finished off the rest of the course on a big huge step, which was crazy fun. I was beaming when I left the ring!

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Still beaming like an idiot ten minutes later. No, the bay is not a pony. Addy is just a very big girl.

Even with our circle, we got around 48 seconds in the speed phase- the winner was around 41 seconds, so we weren’t that far off! I think if we hadn’t circled we would’ve been in the ribbons for sure.

I had the option to do one more class, but I called it a day after that. I was feeling great, Addy was feeling great, and I want her to associate these shows with getting to have fun doing what she loves best- jumping over colorful sticks. So we only did the 2’ and the 2’7”. Big step back in height, but huge step forward in learning how to communicate.

We then spent several hours hand grazing before she got to take a nap on the trailer, I did some shopping (bought a pair of breeches that I didn’t really need, but I reeeeally wanted them so close enough), and we watched AT totally beast the TB hunter division. I also spent way too much money getting one of the pro pics of us in the 2’ division. It was stupid expensive and the jump was super tiny, but I wanted a memento of our very first big show together. I’ll share it when it comes in!

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Addy liked watching the Grand Prix ring. She told me she wants to do that next show.

All in all, it was an incredible day. The hustle and bustle of the showgrounds, the feeling of being in the big jumper ring, getting to hang out with my pony all day, and every single other thing about it was amazing. Would I have loved a ribbon? Obviously. I don’t pay all this money without some hope of recognition. But I wouldn’t trade a single part of that day because holy moly we learned SO MUCH.

A few takeaways:

  1. Let go of her face! Picking and picking and pulling is never the answer. Have enough feel to guide, but push her up into the bridle instead of pulling.
  2. Forward is good. It’s not what we look for in the hunter ring, but it will save our butts in the jumper ring. Let her turn into that snowplow and beast around the course. She’s naturally careful, stop worrying about that as much.
  3. Carry a stick and use it on the approach. Not necessarily hard, but just as a reminder that yes horse, you do have to go over this obstacle. She likes the reassurance that I’m up there and paying attention too.
  4. Get in the rumble seat. Forget that hunter half-seat. Forget that equitation perch. Get my ass in the saddle, sit up, sit deep, and drive. It’s ok to get left behind a little bit at this height- focus on getting the horse over the jump. This is not a horse that needs some minor steering, this is a horse that needs me to be in the driver’s seat during every stride.
  5. Deep breaths! Every so often I made a point to breathe and smile on course. It made a world of difference keeping me and the beast relaxed and having fun.

So there you have it. We survived our first rated show and LOVED every second of it. Addy didn’t blink an eye at all the craziness going on- loudspeakers, buzzers, 120398 horses up her butt in the warmup ring, tractors across the street, anything. Beast mare don’t care. Time to start saving my pennies so we can go to more!

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Forever kisses

PS- I’m super bummed that I have no videos of either of my rounds. I would’ve loved to look back and review how we did!