I got a really cool email a few weeks ago. As a team medalist at Zone Jumper Finals back in August, I was eligible to apply for a “wildcard” spot at a Gold Star Clinic as part of the Emerging Jumper Rider program through USHJA. From what I understand, all individual medalists automatically earn an invite, and then they open up the wildcard spots to the team medalists for consideration.
I haven’t worked this hard on an application since college, y’all. It was a long and hefty questionnaire, an essay on my goals for the future, and then I needed a letter of recommendation from a show jumping professional (thank you Trainer!). They also allowed me to include “any other materials I’d like the selectors to consider.”
I immediately started making plans for a professionally shot and cut video, testimonials from everyone I’ve ever met as to my dedication, a music video about me and Frankie. You know. Normal stuff like that. I ended up going with a link to this blog and some of my favorite posts to be like I THINK SO HARD ABOUT RIDING ALL THE TIME and a cute pic of me and Francis.
All materials assembled (and after I dried my tears from seeing the nice things Trainer said about me in her LoR), I sent off my packet for consideration.
I’ll be honest, just being on the list of names invited to apply for a spot was enough to get me shaking and giggly. We’re fairly new to this still and don’t have the same mileage as a lot of the other riders yet, so making that short list is an absolute dream come true.
I just heard back: they had an unexpectedly high response of individual medalists, which meant that they weren’t able to accept any wildcard applicants- but I was invited to audit.
I forgot to mention: this clinic is down in Wellington. Florida. 15 hours away. Santa had told me that if I got a spot, my presents wouldn’t be under the tree but would be a commercial shipper for Francis. While I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to go audit and get the chance to pick Richard Spooner’s brain and watch Anne Kursinski ride, I can’t really justify the expense of changing flights/hotel/etc without also getting the chance to ride.
I have a couple feelings about this:
Really glad that there’s so much interest in the program. I think these types of “pipeline” programs that they’re promoting more in recent years are exactly what we need to get good talent to the top levels, and clearly competitors are responding that these are programs they like.
Bummed I didn’t get a spot. I’m only human! Of course I wanted to go ride and learn!
Relieved that if I didn’t get it, it wasn’t for lack of trying. I wasn’t outmatched, they liked my application, they simply did not have room. That’s entirely out of my control.
At the same time, a little annoyed that they didn’t end up taking ANY wildcards. Though at least they’re rewarding the wildcards with the auditing invite plus a Q&A with Richard, so they clearly are trying to still give something to us. This is the first year they’re implementing this program so growing pains are to be expected, and they have already committed to expanding it next year.
Thoughtful about my application. It asked some questions that I hadn’t really taken the time to consider before. I definitely don’t see the time spent on my application as a waste- it was a great exercise in considering where I want my future in this sport to go, and gave me a space to crystallize some thoughts I have on different aspects of the industry.
Wishful that I had more funds so that I could go and audit without affecting my show fund for the rest of the season.
Excited to set aside some money to clinic next year with a big name- not sure who or when yet, but now I’ve got the clinic bug and would definitely like to find one that fits my needs.
Motivated to earn an individual spot on the podium so they have no excuse not to let me in next year.
OK, so that’s more than a couple feelings! I’m a complicated person, clearly.
Frankie and I will be working hard to stay on their radar screen in 2018, and we’ll keep participating in as many programs as we can! If positivity and persistence count for anything (and I’m convinced they do), we’re gonna do some real cool stuff.
So. Um. I know I told you all that we were just doing the eq this weekend, some XC schooling next weekend, and maybe a pleasure division at a local show in October to wrap up our season.
But then this happened.
So we’re gonna go do that instead.
100% sure that I’m only invited because people that actually qualified decided not to go, but WHATEVER WE’RE GOING TO ZONES!!!! This was not even remotely on my radar as a possibility this year. Like, at all. Which of course also means that I did not budget for this and will have to get creative with how to pay for it. I only need one kidney, right? RIGHT??
Man, you guys. You know I get so sappy about Francis, but can you blame me? He’s helping me achieve all these dreams I could’ve never imagined. It’s our first year in the division, we just had our true move up in April, I was doing the 0.80m/0.90m only a little over a year ago. And now he’s taking me to Zones for the Highs.
Saturday was team day. Importantly, the outfit was white pants and the Kastel sunshirt they gave us with Zone 3 printed on the front. I’m in love with this sunshirt.
Let me tell you, Saturday was EVENTFUL. I was slated to go in first for my team as the second anchor (I was just as surprised as you are) so we walked the course as early as possible and then started warming up while they were dragging and watering.
And it was the worst warmup we’ve ever had.
We had the pace. My eye was there. And Frankie was just sticking over the jumps. If I hadn’t had a team depending on me, I would’ve scratched. And then Frankie threw a shoe about 30 seconds before I was due in the ring.
This required a wonderful coordination of effort from the warmup ring steward finding the shoe and radio-ing the in-gate to let them know what was going on, the woman running the in-gate moving me down in the order, the on-site farrier tacking the shoe back on, and Trainer pulling me aside for a kick in the seat.
To paraphrase: “stop riding like crap, you’re better than this. It’s a good thing we get a reset button right now. Get your head in the game.”
And then she told me something that I didn’t realize I needed to hear. She said, “Olivia, you have every right to be here. You qualified just like everyone else. You have just as much of a shot of going in there and laying down a clear round.”
I didn’t realize that I was feeling that Imposter Syndrome until she said that. Somehow she was able to read that in me and knew just what to say to get me motivated. She truly is an incredible coach.
So we went back to the warmup ring and had one of the best warmups we’ve ever had. No joke.
And Frankie threw the shoe again.
But by this point I was the last one to go in the ring, they were waiting on me to close the class, and my team needed me.
So we went in with three shoes.
And proceeded to lay down the fastest trip in the class with zero rails. Double clear.
To say that I was ecstatic about this would be a gross understatement. I was shaking with emotion as we left that ring.
And if you know me at all, you know that I needed a place to channel that emotion. So when one of my teammates (who is a total fixture on my circuit and wins everything and rides SO FREAKIN’ WELL and I love watching her at every show) came up to congratulate me on my round, I went straight in for the hug and literally said these words: “I LOOK UP TO YOU SO MUCH I LOVE WATCHING YOU RIDE YOU’RE SUCH AN INSPIRATION.”
Because I have ZERO chill.
God bless her she patted me on the back and handled the shaking psycho hanging on her neck very graciously. At this point Frankie had been whisked away to the farrier before we had to go back in for our second round.
And to anyone who says that sportsmanship is dead in the horse world, I’d like to invite you to come to Zone Finals. Because when word got around that my horse had lost a shoe, someone FROM ANOTHER TEAM immediately offered us a set of bell boots. The warmup ring steward gave us good juju. The woman running the in-gate gave us good juju. Everyone was helping out and pitching in and I wish every person who complains about poor horsemanship could’ve been there to see all of these people offering a helping hand without hesitation or agenda. I will never forget that sense of community and shared purpose.
But it does turn out that the shoe was unlucky, because we went in for our second round and dropped three rails. Womp womp. This meant that I was the drop score for our team for the second round. But at least I actively contributed in the first round! I actually liked my second round a lot better- it flowed more smoothly and I had a more rideable horse. One of the rails was definitely my fault, but the other two were just Frankie being sloppy with his hind end. I’m sure by this point he was tired.
Even so, our team scores left us tied for first with Team 3. Meaning it came down to a jumpoff.
Ho. Lee. Crap. SO EXCITING.
Team 3’s chosen rider went in there and laid down a super crazy fast clear jumpoff. Then our rider went in there and laid down an equally crazy fast jumpoff- she was faster by 0.05 seconds. But then- ever so gently- we heard the faintest *poof* of the last rail hitting the ground. The entire in-gate area erupted in screams and cheers and congratulations. Team 4 took the silver!
The ribbon ceremony was absolutely incredible. They played the Olympics theme song over the speakers, they took a thousand official pictures, they sent us off for a victory gallop, they put medals around our necks up on the podium, they took a thousand more official pictures. Oh man.
It was a dream come true. And true to form, Francis handled all the hooplah as if he’d been there a million times. Flapping ribbons? Horses running up his butt in the victory gallop? Loudspeakers and music and flags and flashes? Ain’t no thang for the Frankfurter. He very placidly cantered a lap and then happily went back to his stall. What a pro.
I’d like to give a shoutout here to my adopted barn moms- they took a thousand pictures (all the good ones here are from my barn moms) and cheered and supported and one of them literally cried watching me in the victory gallop. I felt so surrounded by love. I’ve got the best barn family in the world.
And it would be remiss of me to not mention the help I got with Frankie- our team made sure that he was shiny and groomed and tacked up whenever I needed him and worked their butts off to coordinate that around 7 other riders. They are rockstars who worked bazillion hour days without complaint the whole time.
I’ll wrap up Sunday quickly, since it was a bit anticlimactic.
I thought this was a fairly straightforward course for the most part, but the triple at 10ABC was the true weed-out spot. A to B was set SUPER long as a one stride. I got nervous when I walked it- Frankie has a big step, but as mentioned previously he does back off in combos. I think this was the big test of those who could go in there and lay it down perfectly, versus those who didn’t quite have it all together.
At this point in our career, we are the latter. It wasn’t a terrible course but it wasn’t our best either, and we did have to mad scramble out of the triple. Overall I’m proud of Frankie’s effort here and he listened really well. It had been a long weekend and I know he was tired, but he was definitely more fit than he has been in the past and was able to give me more powerful efforts. My big mistake in this course was that I rode the plan too strongly. I should’ve adjusted as we went through instead of trying to stick to a plan that clearly wasn’t working for the horse I had under me. My new mantra: ride the horse, not the course.
Between our 6 faults on Friday, 12 faults on Saturday, and then some additional faults on Sunday (I think 8 due to 2 rails?), we were out of the ribbons for the individual final. But one of my teammates from Saturday took home the Individual Gold! And despite squeaking in there with minimum points, we didn’t end up in dead last.
By that point, we were ready to go home.
What a weekend. I couldn’t be happier with how Frankie performed- we asked him for a lot of hard rounds at bigger heights with more difficult questions, and he took it all in like a total champ. It was certainly a physical stretch for us to have a full weekend of long courses and big jumps, but it was also a mental stretch. We had to deal with some snags and exhaustion and figure out how to keep trucking. It raised the bar for us in a whole bunch of different ways and I think we rose to the occasion.
We aren’t yet at the top of the pack in our division, but every round we go out there and the pieces come together a little bit more. Every round that goes well is due a little more to skill and a little less to luck. We’re making different mistakes. We’re fitter, stronger, faster, tighter than we used to be.
As always, we have a long long way to go, but we’re a lot further than we used to be. My heart is full to bursting with love and gratitude for this horse who so patiently teaches me so much.
This was such a monster of a weekend, I’m not sure how many posts it’ll take to feel like I’m doing it justice. At least 2. But I’m just gonna keep writing until I get everything down that I want to get down, and that’s gonna be a LOT. So strap in.
I’ll start with Thursday- the day before the show. I arrived around 7a to help set stalls up for the 8 horses we had joining for the weekend. Everyone chipped in and got things put away and we were done surprisingly quickly! Frankie naturally plopped down for a nap almost immediately.
We were required to be checked in by 10am- that’s when the USHJA people would be going around to make sure every Championship horse was on the premises where they were supposed to be. We had some excitement trying to find Frankie’s most recent vaccination papers, but luckily my Trainer is WAY more organized than I am and has a legit binder of everyone’s paperwork. We got his number hung on his stall with no further incident.
This was a pretty quiet day since I didn’t have any classes. We just had a brief lesson later in the day where we worked on some one-strides and tight rollback turns, all set fairly low so we wouldn’t tire Frankie out. He felt so awesome, really listening to my cues and slicing jumps like he’s been doing this his whole life.
Then my hotel tried to cancel my reservation because they were overbooked and didn’t even call me about it, so I had to channel my mother to get that sorted out. Long story short, I ended up with the room I booked after a lot of back and forth.
Frankie and I went for a couple walks later in the day to stretch his legs and let him see the show grounds, and you just know he was super spooky and nervous about it. HAH LOL. He mosied around on a loose lead and grazed and leaned in for scratchies. He’s gotten the hang of this whole “horse show” thing by now.
We ended the day with the official Zone 3 rider’s meeting with the Chef d’Equipes to talk about expectations for the weekend and receive our swag. I gotta be honest, it was super motivating to hear them talking about representing our Zone. I mean, I knew that’s what this was. But it kinda hit home to hear them talk about it. They gave us a brief demonstration of how to jog and went through our outfits for the weekend (you know how excited I get about outfits) and then released us.
On to Friday! And ohhhh man what a busy day.
We started with the jog first thing. Outfit for human was tan breeches, shiny shiny boots, navy polo with the USHJA logo on it, number tied around our backs, and hair up in a ponytail under our white Zone 3 hats. Outfit for horse was snaffle bridle and nothing else- no bonnet, boots, etc. Some people braided and they looked really nice. All of us groomed and primped and polished our ponies so they were super clean.
Y’all, jogging is hard. First we had to wait in line- stop/go/stop/go/stop/go as we slowly moved up, which is Frankie’s least favorite thing in the world. He’s happy to stop. He’s happy to go. He is NOT happy to wait around. Combine that with the sight of a gray mare in the distance, and I was flying a kite (Frankie is OBSESSED with gray mares). We were that embarrassing pair standing perpendicular/backwards/sideways to everyone else because he couldn’t take his eyes off that distant horse. Homeboy pooped like 14x in those 10 minutes.
And that was all before we even actually jogged.
Once we got to the front of the line, I had to start over because I asked him to jog too early (in my defense, they way they showed us the night before and they way they asked us to do it day of were slightly different). He may have run me over a bit. But I ran my little heart out to keep up with him and he passed easily. Not that I thought he wouldn’t pass, but having 2 vets and a bunch of USHJA officials staring at you is kinda nerve-wracking. I was very happy to go back and let Frankie cope with the loss of that distant gray mare while I went to the next rider’s meeting.
This was the meeting where they drew the order for the first individual qualifier round that day, and announced our teams for Saturday- which ended up being different from the teams they had announced last week. I ended up on Team 4 with 3 other ladies from Zone 3. Side note- they provided breakfast and coffee for us every day under this tent, which was totally awesome of them.
We had the option of doing a training session on Friday before our Individual round, and Trainer and I decided that it would be a good idea. They gave us a course and 90 seconds in the ring to use however we wanted- some people went in and trotted around for 90 seconds, some jumped the whole course, some just jumped one fence, some did a totally different course. As long as you only jumped the flagged jumps, and in the correct direction, you could do whatever you wanted. I opted to school over the liverpool and go through a one-stride combo to get the gears working.
I legged up to that liverpool and Frankie popped over it no problem. We’ve never encountered one in the show ring before, but I wasn’t surprised that he didn’t care. Homeboy never cares. We did circle around and go through to school that one-stride a couple times though. I needed him thinking FORWARD no matter what and he sometimes backs off when he sees all those poles. Not enough to stop, just enough to get kinda stuck. We ended on a good note. I actually bought an 8″x10″ photo of us from this training round- I look kinda like a barnacle clinging to Frankie, but he looks AMAZING. Seriously, like a million bucks. Trainer said that one is going on her gallery wall in the lounge #goalachieved.
After a break, it was time for our first individual qualifier round.
Overall- not bad. Two rails, which wasn’t great, but a fantastic time. It was faults converted, so those two rails just added 8 seconds to my time. Then we subtract the winner’s time so that the winner has a score of 0, and that left me with something like 6.15 faults. Meaning I actually went 2 seconds faster than the winner which is kinda cool. And the reason that we got such a great time is because we took every. single. inside. turn. (Funny enough, those turns aren’t where we had rails either).
You guys. We did every inside turn. This was a HUGE risk/stretch for us. We sometimes will pick one or two tighter turns to shave time, but the SS Frankenstein is not known for his turning radius. I was SO FREAKIN’ PROUD. We went inside Fence 9 to get from 4B to 5. We went inside 12 to get to 7. WE WENT INSIDE 4AB IN THE 3′ OF CLEAR SPACE TO GET TO 9. WE SLICED 11 LIKE A BADASS TO GO INSIDE 3 TO GET TO 12. Holy moly I wish I had a picture of 11. We were basically parallel to the jump and I asked Frankie to go for it and that sweet creature was just kinda like “this seems weird but whatever you say” and jumped it on the sharpest angle BY FAR I have ever asked him to jump anything.
Here are some pics of him being so excellent:
Especially once I heard that first rail go down, I asked Frankie to haul ass like a bat out of hell to get a good time. And that’s exactly what he did. Was it our smoothest, prettiest course ever? Absolutely not. We had to get scrappy in places. But we took risks we’ve never taken, we asked for a faster pace than I’ve ever asked for before, and my horse delivered. It was exactly the round we needed to set the tone for the weekend.
I found out who my teammates are for Finals this weekend!
And um. They’re like really, REALLY good.
The way it works is that they match the top point rider with the lowest (who is qualified), second highest with second lowest, etc. Seeing as I squeaked in riiiiight over the minimum required to qualify (mama can’t afford no more shows, sorry), I’m matched with the two top point riders in my zone and one other with lower points. But the girl with lower points is actually a beast too. I may or may not have stalked all of them on Instagram and found their show results on USEF.
You guys. They are all seriously so much better than I am it isn’t even funny.
I’m not saying this in a self-deprecating “I suck!” kind of way. I mean this entirely in a “holy crap this is so awesome I get to ride with some total badasses” kind of way. They all have way more mileage in the division, some really freakin’ cool horses, and I know I’m going to learn TONS from them.
Don’t get me wrong- Frankie and I are planning to show up and lay down some powerful trips. I’m not just happy to be there, I want to be there and be competitive- and we’re in a much stronger place to do that than we ever have been. Frankie is fit and spicy and raring to go (and by spicy I mean he swished his tail once over a jump this weekend WATCH OUT WILD MAN but yeah that’s sassy for him). We’re not going to be phoning this one in.
But I’m also realistic about our abilities compared to the other pairs- we’re not going to be anchoring the team with my blisteringly fast times. So I have to come up with other ways to anchor the team.
I am going to be The. Most. Enthusiastic. Teammate you have EVER heard of. I am going to cheer all our rounds like a crazy person, dress our horses up in war paint (single-handedly if I have to), bring the wine, drink the wine for our underage teammates, all of it. If everyone on my team doesn’t feel like a powerful amazing woman at all times, I am not doing my job.
If you can’t tell, I’m really really really really excited. It’s going to be AMAZING.
This week’s schedule:
Monday: Frankie gets new shoes and fresh feets. It’s his day off to play with his buddies and rest. I’ll take the time to polish my boots, pack my bags in advance, and do any final prep to my own gear.
Tuesday: we have a lesson, and this will be our final jump school before the competition.
Wednesday: I’ll flat around and probably go for a little trail ride; all tack will get a deep cleaning; Frankie gets a bath and neatened up- bridle path, mane pulled, etc.
Thursday: we trailer over at an ungodly early hour- we have to be on site 24 hours before the jog Friday morning or something like that. We’ll have a lesson on-site to get us tuned in.
Friday: jog in the morning (we’ve been practicing) and rider’s meeting to make sure we all know what’s going on. First individual qualifier round (1.10m) in the afternoon after the regular classes have gone in the GP ring.
Saturday: team day! Two identical rounds at 1.15m in the GP ring, again in the afternoon. Frankie’s previous owner and trainer are both coming to see him!!
Sunday: individual final day at 1.15m. Only the top 20 riders at this point are invited to compete in this class, and I plan to be one of them.
It’s a pretty busy week ahead so you may not hear from me on the blog, but stay tuned for updates on my Instagram (@hellomylivia) and on my Facebook page (….also Hellomylivia)- I’ll be keeping up with these throughout the competition!
I can’t wait to tell you all about how much fun Frankie and I will have anchoring our team.