My 14.1 hand baby!

My mare and I, competed this year in the Northeast Ohio Mini Trial series, which is a schooling series set up for Eventing (www.minitrialseries.org).  It includes some lower levels that aren’t USEA recognized, allowing competitors who want to get into the sport a way in without having to start off at the Beginner Novice level (which has max height 2’7” fences).

Since “Sandie” (AKA Hoofprints in the Sand) and I first learned to jump together, we’ve been competing in this series each year, starting at the bottom with the “Intro” level, which has a max height of only 18”. 🙂  That year we placed third in the series overall, got our very first blue ribbon at one of the events, and learned a lot of valuable lessons.

Last year, we moved up one level to the “Very green” level, with a max fence height of 2’0” and a walk/trot dressage test.  We ended up Champion of our division for the series and learned a lot MORE valuable lessons!

This year, we went up yet one more level to “Starter”, which is the final level before you start competing at the USEA recognized levels.  The max height of the fences is the same as Very Green level, but there is a canter in the dressage test (and BOY did ours need work!)  We pushed through and just found out we are Champion again this year in our division for the series (SO proud of my pony!!) 🙂  I loved Patricia’s idea about some lessons learned throughout your show season, so here are some of my favorite “lesson quotes” and how they apply to the horsey world!…

Sandie doing what she loves - jumping anything in sight!

Lesson #1:  You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. 

Most of the cross country refusals in our first year were caused by nerves.  In the second year, they were caused by new (scary!) obstacles and general lack of experience.

This year, they were caused by getting into a fight with my mare, just before the jump.  With the help of my trainer, after I started working on letting go of poor Sandie’s face about 2 strides out from the fence, the refusals ceased, and she carried herself better over the fences, jumping with more of a bascule and not so flat and choppy.

It’s amazing how staying out of her face, allows her to do her job! 😉

Lesson #2:  The starting point of all achievement is desire.

Does your horse like his/her “job”?    When I got Sandie, I had no idea what I wanted to do in the way of riding, she was just purchased as a trail horse (which is why it didn’t matter to me that she was a green broke broodmare!)  But as we grew together, I began to discover how quickly she caught on to certain things and eventually, how she felt about jumping.

She LOVES to jump.  If she’s in a bad mood, giving me her Little Miss Cranky Pants persona and I take her over a couple fences, she immediately perks up and the crabbiness is gone!  It’s amazing how well she has excelled in Eventing in a relatively short period of time, with a “green broke” rider in the saddle.  But I sincerely believe, it’s because she enjoys it.  And if that ever ceases, so will our showing.  I don’t ever want her to be a part of something she doesn’t enjoy doing.  I see too many people forcing their horses into disciplines the horse clearly detests.  So before setting out on a journey through the show circuit, why not ask your horse her desires?

Having some fun in the water complex!

Lesson #3:  A journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step.

We all have to start somewhere.  If you don’t rush things, and take them one step at a time, you’ll be surprised how far you can go!

My ultimate goal, is to take my mare Training level in Eventing.  However, as I noted above, we like to take things one step at a time.  My first year of showing was dedicated to the Intro level, followed by Very Green the next year, and Starter this year.  I’ve had my mare for 3 years now and she has only ever jumped over the 3 ft mark once.

We typically school around the 2’3”-2’6” level these days, and it took us 3 years to get there, because I want us to remain safe and build ourselves a base before moving up.

If you’d have asked me 3 years ago if I was EVER going to jump a horse in my life, I would have replied “Are you insane?!  That’s for people who have been riding their whole lives!” And if you’d have asked me if my 14.1 hand broodmare who had never jumped a day in her life was going to do Eventing at the Training level someday, I probably would have laughed you out of the barn.

That single step has turned into a 3-year journey with so many lessons learned, and so much fun along the way, and I sincerely believe that if we keep it up, going up one level at a time and staying at that level for the entire show season each year before moving on, that we can reach our ultimate goal someday!

The bottom line, is that I continue to learn more about my pony each day, about how she prefers to learn and what she enjoys doing.  I guess what I’ve learned most this year and the past 3 years with her, is that to be successful you need to possess 2 attributes – PATIENCE and the ability to LISTEN to what your horse is telling you.  If you do, then the sky is the limit.

Stefanie