After our second show, we had a bit of a reprieve. The horse camps I was working had a week off, and all 3 of the counselors, as well as my trainer, scattered for a few days. While I was at home visiting family, I made sure to stop by my home barn and chat with my trainer there. I showed her videos and pictures of The Mare, and gave her the date of the next show in the series, in case she might be free.
She hasn’t seen The Mare since she left to come to Otterbein with me over 2 years ago. The last time she saw my horse, we were still an uncoordinated mess (to say the very least). She runs a pretty successful lesson and show barn, and she rarely has a free weekend. It was pure coincidence that when I shared the dates of the July show, she was free on that Sunday of the show. I was ecstatic; she would finally be able to see us in action, in person!
Through a series of events and life getting in the way of things, as the show drew closer, the possibility of us actually going to the show were getting slimmer and slimmer. My coach was potentially going out of town, no one else was going, they didn’t have stalls so we would have to work out of the trailer…but I was genuinely disappointed. I had one opportunity left; not only for my trainer from home to see us, but one last time to get in the ring before I move for vet school.
My coach is a wonderful person, and she compromised with me; we would still go on Sunday, that way my trainer from home could see us go. I would take it.
I had clipped The Mare and cleaned her up earlier in the week on the off chance we would still go, but I did spend an afternoon getting her on the trailer after her shenanigans at the end of the last show.
We loaded up on Sunday morning without a hitch, and made our way to the show grounds. The day before had been sweltering, with a heat advisory for most of the day. I was hoping we could get in the ring before it got too gross. We planned to do all of the 3’6″ divisions, ending with the High Child/Adult Classic, since I had renewed all my USEF/USHJA memberships (and since they go at the beginning of the day, gave us a better chance of getting done before the heat set in).
We arrived at the show grounds, and (since the grounds are still under construction) we couldn’t see where anyone else working out of a trailer was parked. So we parked the trailer with the rest of the trailers, and made our own space (luckily, The Mare doesn’t really care). We tacked up quickly and got to the ring to school before they closed it to set the course.
We kept the schooling fairly brief–since we didn’t have a ton of time–but I could tell that the heat was already taking a lot out of The Mare, although she still seemed super game. We caught a glance of some of the courses, so we practiced some of the turns and got out of the arena to give The Mare some down time before the jumper ring started.
As we took The Mare over to the washracks, my trainer from home called–she’d made it to the grounds and was looking for us.
And in probably one of the coolest moments I’ve gotten to experience, two of my worlds collided in an instant. One woman, who started me in the sport, who cultivated my love of horses into something more, ignited a curiosity in horse management and care and is a large reason I want to become an equine vet, who introduced me to the Morgan horse and supported my crazy idea to adopt a green horse (and helped me in more ways that I could ever describe with The Mare). Another woman, who took my riding foundation and turned it on its end, expanded my knowledge on the ground and in the saddle more than I could ever have imagined in just four years, who has challenged me in ways I didn’t know were possible, and who has transformed The Mare and I into the duo that we are today. IN. THE. SAME. LOCATION. In that moment, whatever would happen the rest of the day didn’t matter; two of the most influential people in my equine life were by my side.
We finished tacking up and headed over to the ring.
I repeated my course back to my trainer and went in the ring. This was the schooling course, and we’d had one warm-up fence before going in the ring. I’m sure the pressure of it being the last show, and having both my trainers present was getting to me (or something), but it was a little sleepy overall. We got our butt in gear by the end of the course, but we had some rails flying. The lines were set for a real horse stride, and The Mare and I needed to be on it if we wanted a clear round. I walked out of the ring a little annoyed with myself, but ready to take on the next course.
I went back in the ring almost immediately, after hiking my spurs up and getting a pep talk/kick in the butt from my trainer. Per usual, I don’t ride like something has happened, until after it’s happened. So after a less than stellar course, we brought our A-game for this course. We sailed around the ring, double clear, and I walked out beaming. We took a minute to let some other horses get in the rotation for the ring before going in for the last course. I got some water, offered some to The Mare, took a moment to remember my next course. It was rapidly getting hotter and more humid. I had to work pretty hard for every jump of the second course; the heat was tolling on The Mare more than I had anticipated.
“That was great! I jumped every jump for you” beamed my trainer from home. Both my trainers spent some time chatting while we both caught our breath. My coach had my phone, and she passed it off to my trainer from home to video the last course, the Classic.
“You’re going to have to put your coat on for this class”
I stared at her. “Not optional. And button your collar up”
“But I’ve left it unbuttoned in other classes before, do I really have to do the collar too?”
“This is the Classic, Danielle. You are doing real things! Look at all the pony kids in the Hunter ring with their coats on; you just have to make it through this one course”
Begrudgingly, I rolled my cuffs down and buttoned my collar.
“That’s a good start”, my trainer said approvingly, as she handed me my jacket. I put on my coat and immediately felt my temperature climb.
“I’m going to pass out” I whined.
“No, you’re not”. My trainer stated. “Are you ready to go in the ring? You know where you’re going?”
I recited my course, and wiggled my helmet around to try to get some airflow. I looked at her pleadingly as she stood at the in gate.
“C’mon…c’mon Danielle! Come here!” She grinned, patting her lap and beckoning to me like she does her dog. It was enough to get my to smile, and we walked in the ring.
I established a fiery canter pace for jump one, a big yellow oxer. Our next combination, a bending five stride line came up out of stride. Jump in, I saw my distance out, and all the sudden we were not sailing through the air, but on a crash course towards the ground. The Mare landed hard on the backside of the jump, downhill, and with enough momentum that I went off to the side, and then quite unceremoniously to the brand new footing.
The Mare didn’t move a foot after we departed, so I took a second to get back up on my feet as I grabbed the reins. I looked up to see my coach walking out to us.
“I saw my distance; it was five strides!” I quickly began defending my ride.
“That wasn’t your problem. These things happen” she said gently.
We walked out of the ring, unharmed (except our ego), and our dreams of a Classic were ended on Jump three.
Luckily, my trainer from home had caught it all on video. You could see the five strides I was supposed to be getting; the distance was there. At the last second, The Mare stuck a leg down, and ended up catching the rail above her knee, crashing through the jump and taking the rail with her. She landed hard downhill, and I was already leaning on her neck. It’s easy to speculate after the fact, but I don’t know if I would have been able to help her figure out her footwork had I sat up earlier or adjusted myself to stay on. I nearly landed on my feet, but at the last second fell on my butt, while The Mare stared unamused by the fact I was on the ground.
I was disappointed that 1. This was the very last class I was going to be in for a long time; 2. It was the most expensive class I’d entered that day; 3. My trainer had made an exception to take me to this show, and I went and fell off; 4. My trainer from home saw me eat dirt for the first time in a very long time; 5. I felt I’d let The Mare, myself and my trainer(s) down.
I was not disappointed in how I handled it. I was frustrated, but I knew it wasn’t my horse’s fault. And being the saint she is, we walked into the schooling ring and jumped a bit, and she didn’t think twice.
We packed up and trailered home. Because we managed to get done so early, I had the chance to show my trainer from home around the Otterbein barn as well (which she hadn’t had the opportunity to see). She left with nothing but praise for The Mare, my coach at Otterbein, and the facility itself. Despite the fall, I was thrilled she’d been able to see us before we left for vet school.
I had to go back to the show grounds to check my results and close my bill for the day. Standing the show office, one of the stewards walked in. “You okay?” I stared at him, a bit confused. “You took a spill in the jumper ring, I saw it”.
“Oh yea” I felt myself redden, embarrassed, as I blubbered through an explanation of what happened. “But we’re both fine!” I finally managed to stammer.
“Good, good. You are one of my favorite riders to watch in that ring. Keep doing what you’re doing”.
Turns out the first two courses of the day landed us 2nd and 1st, respectively. I chose some horse treats as my first place prize. I figured The Mare deserved them after I bailed on her in the middle of our course.
While it wasn’t how I wanted to end the summer of showing, I am honestly more upset about losing the $120 entry fee. I am not mad at The Mare, and I’m only slightly frustrated with myself. It wasn’t a stupid mistake, and it wasn’t her being bad, or me riding poorly. It was a small error, and at 3’6″, accuracy isn’t a suggestion; it is a requirement.
I have no doubt that without that snafu, we would have had a solid shot at winning the Classic.
I spent the whole trailer ride home apologizing for falling off, and my trainer deflected my apologies each time. “It happens. It’s fine. But it makes you want to go to another show, right?”
I looked at her incredulously. “I move out of the state in a few weeks, I’m not showing any time in the future”.
“I know, I know. It probably won’t be for awhile. But someday, you’ll be back in the ring”.
I have more blue ribbons from this half a season than any other horse I’ve shown. There are only two classes we didn’t walk away with a ribbon, and only two classes that we walked away with anything less than 1st or 2nd place. But more important than the colors of the ribbons, I met, exceeded, and positively smashed, every goal I had for The Mare and I for our shows. I know that we will be backing off for the next few years while I am in vet school, and I’m stoked I was able to have the experiences I did this summer.
And I know I’ll be back in the show ring. Someday.