Last week was a super one for James, his Boy, and I. We were lucky enough to be out at Kocher Farm in Pennsylvania Furnace, Pennsylvania, at the Lion Country Horse Show. The show is held just a stone’s throw from State College, the home of Penn State University. The bucolic valley the college is situated in has been called Happy Valley since a study in the late 1980’s listed the area as one of the least stressful places in the US to live.
This could be why:
A few years ago my daughter Sophie and I went to a hunter/jumper show called HITS Saugerties, which was the very first away show for us both. Last week was Noah’s turn. I was supposed to show too, but my mare, Sugar, decided she’d rather have her coffin joints injected. So last week the focus was on Noah and James.
Noah and James did well on their first day of showing, a warmup division called Hopeful Hunter (such an optimistic name!) so our trainer asked if he wanted to do a 2’6″ derby class the next day. What the heck, we figured, it would be fun. Pfffffftttt!!! Had I known what it cost to enter the class, I would have given it a pass. This is where our lack of show experience came in — I had no idea the class fee for a derby was waaaaaayyyyyy more than for a normal hunter division. Ignorance is bliss, I guess.
Because this was his first attempt, we had no expectations whatsoever, which translated to absolutely no show nerves. We got to the show early and took James out for a good graze, then a nice long hack around the grounds and some neighboring fields. When it got close to class time they did a relaxed warm-up and then headed off to the in-gate to memorize their courses. As it was the Fourth of July and Crazy Hat Day, the girls from our barn had decorated each other’s and Noah’s helmets, so as he headed up to the ring Noah looked like a bedazzled General Patton. (I was really surprised he let the girls do that because he’s kind of a keep-it-under-the-radar kind of dude, but I could tell he felt very happy to be included and part of the team.)
The competitors and their horses were allowed to walk the course, which was a new one for me. Show management called it “course familiarization.” So off Noah and James went, along with a slew of other combinations, to get a gander at what they were being asked to do. Noah and James walked the entire course as they planned to ride it, walking each line, no cutting corners. Noah brought James up to every fence so the horse could get a good look at it. I laughed because I could see Noah’s mouth moving, and could imagine what he was saying, “James, this is the hay bale fence. We jump over it. We don’t eat it.” None of the fences seemed to worry James. In fact, he seemed more interested in eating them, sampling a hay bale, and frond of evergreen, and an arborvitae. After the course inspection Noah hopped on and the pair jumped a few fences to prepare for their round.
Noah and James went in to the ring and proceeded to lay down the best round I’ve ever seen them do. (I’m actually lucky I saw it. I had every intention of taking pictures but then realized I couldn’t see a damn thing so I ditched the camera and just took memory pictures with my eyes.) Their rhythm was relaxed, their distances spot on, and they nailed all the high options to score some bonus points. Noah was light and following with his hands (something he’s been working on) and this translated into a very happy, relaxed James. Noah left the ring absolutely beaming and patting James profusely. His smile got even bigger when their score was announced as an 85, putting them in second place.
We had a moment or two of anxiety over the next round, the handy round, as it required them to do a trot fence, which they’d not practiced that much at home. Their handy round was not quite as smooth as the previous round (dang trot jump!) but they still scored well enough to remain in second. Holy crap!! The kid had just completed his first derby (admittedly a baby one – not the height of the national or international derbies) and had gotten a second place! He actually got to be in a victory lap, which was way cool. Needless to say there was much rejoicing, and James was given many treats and pats, another long graze and an extra long massage from Mom. What made the day extra special is that our barn-mate Carly and her wonder-mare Kalifornia Dreamin’ won the National Derby later that afternoon – it was an abundance of awesomeness!
So James, an OTTB with 3 racing starts, no placings, and no lifetime earnings, now has a Derby start to his name and a lifetime earnings of $450. Granted, it was the Kocher Farms Derby, and not the one in Kentucky, but we don’t care. We’re just as proud of him.