While the top equestrians were gathering to compete in London earlier this month, I was busy getting ready to compete, too. It was my first show in over a year…
August 1, 2012: Its 3:00 on Wednesday afternoon. I just need to wrap up a final work project and head home to change into my show gear, collect my daughter Nicole (11), and her friend, Mia (11), and book it to the barn. The warm-up begins at 4:30 and there’s plenty to do to prepare. I am pushing it on time, a pretty typical situation for anyone balancing work, family and hobby, I’ll bet.
Suddenly, the sky turns black. The winds pick up and torrents of rain pelt my office windows. A part of me is relieved. “I can put off the inevitable for one more week,” I think to myself, “and along with it the stress of being in the show ring again. “ The other part of me is going to the show – no matter what.
The rain was an eerie reminder of my first horseshow (ever) over a year ago. I had just bought my horse, Jaliska, and she was “young and hot” and I was “old and green.” Not a good combination, I have since been told. Our class of 12 one meter fences was taking place at Fieldstone Show Grounds in Halifax, MA.
It had been pouring rain for days prior to the show and was still raining that morning. The jumps, as
brightly colored as they were, looked ominous set against the dark backdrop of the stormy sky. The ground was soaked, puddles were everywhere. I put on a brave face but was out of my element, and I knew it, having just started a formal lesson program only eight months prior. This wasn’t supposed to be my first show. I was scheduled to compete at two other lower level venues, but the first was cancelled due to a late spring snowstorm and for the second, Jaliska’s legs had swelled from training so we bowed out.
My thoughts snap back to real-time as I whip my minivan into the garage and rush into the house. “Nicole, you and Mia get ready. It’s time for the show,” I command. “And put on your sneakers,” I add, noticing her flip-flops. (Nicole and Mia, right)
“Are you sure it’s not cancelled?” she asks, looking at the downpour outside. “Not sure,” I reply, “but we’re going.”
I rush to my room to get dressed. I pull on a navy polo, tan Pikeur breeches, tall socks, and a black Ariat belt with its silver spur shaped buckle. I was ready in record time.
“Please turn off the video games in a half hour,” I yell to my son, Bobby (13), as I’m heading out the door. “I’ll be back by seven thirty,” I add. I quickly usher Nicole and Mia into the van, and we are off.
The storm continues its fury with the rain pounding the roof of my van making it hard to seeout the windshield. Yet in no time we’re pulling into the show grounds. I roll down my window to speak with the man who is directing show parking. “I’m a boarder,” I tell him. “Oh,” he says, “just go ahead and park then.” Crowds of riders and horses are milling about as I maneuver toward the barn.
I’m fortunate that my barn hosts the show. The Wednesday Night Summer Jumper Shows at Apple Knoll Farm are infamous in Massachusetts. In good weather, upwards to 150 riders descend upon the small town of Millis from miles away to partake in the fun.
I liken the show atmosphere to that of a carnival. Outside it’s bustling with horses unloading from their trailers, riders waiting their turn in the show ring, many wearing brightly colored saddle pads with matching horse boots and hats. The indoor is alive with young equestrians and novice adults competing against one another for the coveted ribbons. The snack bar, my daughter’s personal favorite, is loaded with candy and chips, hot dogs, pizza, and cold drinks, along with a container of mints and carrots for the horses.
I pull into the lot and park. I have been so focused on getting here that my nerves haven’t overtaken
me, yet. So far, so good. I head over to the outdoor to memorize my course. Arrows guide you through a series of numbered fences and jump combinations, just as they are set in the ring.
My mind once again flashes back to that memorable day of my first show in May 2011. Jaliska and I trot into the ring. The bell rings and the clock starts, we have seconds to get to our first fence. We circle and pick up a canter. Jaliska pulls, yanking on the reins. I’m holding her too tight, aka, for dear life, and she doesn’t like it. I point her towards the first jump; she sees it, locks in and picks up speed. Oh no, here we go! She reaches it. We’re deep, but undeterred Jaliska catapults over it, clearing the top rail by at least 18 inches. My body bounces back like a rag doll, a sign of my poor, novice, form. The rest of the course happens so quickly - an Oxer here, a line there - that I seemingly blink and the next thing I know I’m on the ground. I wasn’t thrown; I just kind of gave up holding on after Jaliska launched over the tenth fence.
I shake off the memory and notice the rain has stopped and the sky is clearing – a good sign. I’m glad I stuck it out; I head into the soggy ring to “walk the course,” recalling this advice given to me from several riders when interviewing them the week before for “show insights.”
My friend, Julia, offers to tack up Jaliska. I thank her and head to the office to sign in and pick up my number. When I return, Jaliska is gleaming. I hop on and we head to the upper ring to jump a few warm up fences. Once there, Jaliska’s calm demeanor suddenly turns. She doesn’t like it up on the hill with all the activity surrounding her. She rears, and then spins around, prancing and snorting in defiance. I’m at
a loss as to what to do with this crazed beast, when a calm voice tells me to “bring her to the dressage ring.” It’s Adrienne, my trainer.
I do as told and am instructed to “get her on the bit.” I obey and Jaliska drops her head. After a few circles she’s manageable. “Head to the ring – you’re ready,” Adrienne says.
I swallow hard.
We walk over and almost immediately our number is called, do or die – here we go. In we go. The horn blasts. Jaliska and I head to the first fence, and we sail over it. The rest goes pretty well and we end clear. I take a breath. The horn blasts again; I made the jump off. Fortunately, since this is a schooling show, they call out the order of fences for me as I didn’t have it memorized. Quite frankly, I never thought I would make it so I didn’t pay it much attention. We clear the jump off in pretty good time.
The end result – a third place ribbon! OK, I could add in that there was not much competition as many
riders decided NOT to travel in the rain, but that would just steal my thunder now, wouldn’t it?
So my first show in over a year is under my belt. With it, Jaliska and I have our first ribbons together.
My take away from this year-long experience is that it's best to set achievable show objectives from the start. To that end, I have put pencil to paper in planning out my 2013 show season goals for both me and my horse as is suggested in Peter Leone’s new book: “Show Jumping Clinic.” I'm looking forward to reviewing it with Peter during my visit with him at his equestrian estate, Lionshare Farm, next week!
Stay tuned for all the details in my September column…
About Quest for the Prix
Victoria Waters’ column chronicles her trials and tribulations, the good the bad and the very ugly, in learning how to ride and compete at the top level of show jumping – a Grand Prix competition, as a middle-aged novice to the sport. Follow her Quest for the Prix at www.facebook.com/questfortheprix, www.questfortheprix.com or contact her at Victoria@questforthprix.com
About the Author
Victoria Waters, CEO of Green Education Foundation (GEF), a non-profit organization, is committed to creating a sustainable future through education. GEF provides free curriculum and resources to K-12 students and teachers worldwide with the goal of challenging them to think holistically and critically about global environmental concerns and solutions.