James the Thoroughbred and His Girl Go to a Horse Show…
Over the winter my kids started riding James, an OTTB. If you’ve read any of my previous HJU posts, you might be familiar with some of the highlights and hurdles as James and the kids have adjusted to each other.
For my son, the challenge has been to improve his form and become more secure in the tack, because even though James is the most forgiving of Thoroughbreds, he’s not an unflappable Warmblood. For my daughter, the primary issue has been the move from a 13.2 hand pony to a 16 hand thoroughbred with a big step.
There have quite a few moments where I wondered if this pair would gel, but the child has pulled up her Big Girl jodphurs and persevered, and things are starting to come together.
To celebrate this we decided to take Sophie and James to a horse show. James and my son had already gone to one, with very good results, so Sophie was champing at the bit to see what she could do. (Yeah, no sibling rivalry here!) The pair have been jumping well at home, and my trainer decided it was time to enter into the Pre-Children’s Horse division. Soph had ridden in the division with the pony, but the pony height is 2′ and the horse height is 2’6′, and so it would be the first time she’d ride that height at a show.
Soph was pretty relaxed and calm when we got to the show, and she was wearing my lucky HJU ball cap for good luck. The hat has been signed by McClain Ward, Rodrigo Pessoa, Aaron Vale and Jill Henselwood, so we figured if that hat doesn’t good horse show mojo, nothing will. James came off the trailer calmly ( just another day at the office, thank you!) and after a bit of spiffing up the pair and her trainer headed off to the schooling ring.
Schooling went well, until it didn’t. Soph and James headed down the outside line to a natural vertical that looked as if it were set closer to 2’9″ than 2’6″. James seemed a bit impressed by the fake yellow flowers in the box at the base and jumped extremely big, giving the flowers a wide berth. His extra effort jumped his small charge out of the tack, resulting in about a foot of space between her tiny tush and the saddle. Honestly, the poor kid was about 15′ in the air. They landed, and Soph did what looked to be a voluntary dismount: her right leg stepped over the saddle, the left stayed in her stirrup, and then she bounced out and down, landing on her butt and bouncing underneath James. Bless James’ big heart, he did some incredibly fancy footwork and avoided stepping on his girl, then pulled up and waited patiently for everyone to reorganise.
There were some legitimate tears, but I’m proud to say Soph sniffed them back admirably, got back on and rode through them. Our trainer calmly used the opportunity to tell Sophie what form faults had contributed to the fall: lack of weight in the heels, a slipped back lower leg and a tendency to jump ahead. These are all issues our trainer has been trying to eradicate in Soph at home, and I think the fall was a bit of a wake-up call. Now she has a very real idea what can happen if one doesn’t pay attention to certain weaknesses and fix them. I could tell Sophie took the lesson to heart and tried her best to improve as much as she could – let’s face it, you can’t fix bad habits in one training session, especially if it’s at a show.
Once Sophie had regrouped our trainer had the pair take a few smaller fences, building confidence until it was time to face the offending vertical again. James was clearly not about to lose his young charge a second time, and all but crawled up to that fence and stepped over as lightly as a cloud. In fact, he jumped like that the rest of the day. Almost every time Soph saw a gappy distance, James pulled a rider-override and said, “Nope, kiddo, I’m chipping in. Get your heels down, your shoulders back, and wait it out.”
In my opinion, they did pretty darn well for a first crack at horse shows together. They had some awkward distances, and some very pretty efforts as well. Most importantly, Soph put her fall behind her, regrouped, and did her best to execute the plan her trainer set out for her. James could not have been any better, doing his job and clearly taking very good care to keep his girl in the saddle. When all was said and done, they came away with two 3rds, two 4ths, a 5th, and a 6th. The sixth place ribbon is Sophie’s favorite, because it glows in the dark. (I actually caught her sitting up in bed after lights out, basking in the ribbon’s soft light).
We’re calling the day a success, not because of the ribbons, but because Sophie came away with a sense of accomplishment and a sense that she can overcome some adversity and ride up to the challenge. I think her relationship with James has progressed a step further, as she knows he will ultimately try his best to take care of her and perhaps he feels she will do her best to keep her cool and give him the calm ride he looks for.
Here’s a video of one of their trips. We have a lot to work on yet, but I’m very proud what these two have done together so far. (Sorry about the quality – or lack thereof!)
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