I had a great weekend on Oct. 25-27 with my 5-year-old off-the-track mare, Khaleesi (Lizzie). I chose to take her to the training three-day at the Waredaca Horse Trials (Md.), because I personally found the long format to be such a strong tool in Trance’s development.
Lizzie struggled with her confidence when she first moved up to training a couple months ago, and I hoped that the roads and tracks and steeplechase would give her the confidence to attack the cross-country course. Further, I didn’t want to wait until her first one-star to find out how she show jumps on Sunday after a big course. The training three-day offered a perfect chance to test her boldness on Saturday and her recovery on Sunday.
For Lizzie, this competition was the biggest atmosphere she had been around, and staying in temporary stalls was a new experience for her. I was the last rider of the entire day to do dressage with a ride time of 5:05 p.m. The test for the training three-day is in a large ring, and equivalent to the preliminary test with leg yields and five lengthenings.
Lizzie warmed up beautifully, and my goal was to put in a very consistent, accurate, and obedient test. She was a bit too fit to push hard for brilliance, but I knew we could get every other point because she truly performs in the dressage ring. She went into the big atmosphere and put in a perfect test for where she is at in her training.
After we finished, Brian O’Connor kindly told me it was his favorite test of the day, which put a big smile on my face. We scored well, and were in second out of near 40, and less than a point behind first.
While I was thrilled with her marks, I was not kidding myself about cross-country. For all four phases of endurance day, she would be working for about an hour. I didn’t know how she would mentally or physically handle that pressure.
Further, the course was going to really challenge her confidence. There was a big angled line early in the course, a coffin with a skinny brush out, a big bank one-stride to a hanging log, a jump in water, and a log/drop into the second water with a bending four strides to a corner. For a baby horse, it was a lot! I knew that even if we didn’t finish the day, I was proud of how far she had come, and it would give me a LOT of feedback headed into next season.
And she was perfect. When you ride some horses, they are always looking for exit doors. If you get a bit off your line, or if the striding isn’t perfect, many horses always chose the exit and run out or stop.
With some of the really rare horses, you find they are flag hunters. Trance was that way, and more than once when we got into trouble he managed miracles to get through the flags. Not only was Lizzie confident around by far her hardest course yet, but she also started hunting for flags.
At the coffin, I lost her left shoulder a bit in the turn to the skinny. There was an exit door open, but she lurched right and got through the flags. At the bank complex, I picked one time too many, and there was an exit door open for the stop. She instead did some crazy footwork, leapt up the bank, and charged for the one stride to the log. At the last water, she dropped in, immediately locked onto the corner, and went dead straight over it. She made my job easy, and that is the absolute best feeling a horse can give you on cross-country.
Not only that, but after almost an hour of work we took an option late in the course (even I thought a keyhole was a bit much!) and she still came in 10 seconds under time. That is an athlete!
I don’t know if it is a coincidence or a major benefit of the long format, but both Trance and Lizzie began to take fences at a gallop, and got upper-level bold, the first time they did long formats. My 5-year-old baby horse that balked at gravel a few weeks ago FLEW around steeplechase, then stormed around a tough course like it was easy. She became aggressive on cross-country, and assured me that she is truly my horse for the future.
She also moved into the lead. I didn’t know if we would make it this far in the competition, and I couldn’t believe she had taken first place with her double clear. I don’t tend to let placings affect me much, so I can’t say that it made me excited or nervous or anything, really. An event is three days, and my goal first and foremost was still to make sure this horse had confidence at the end of it all.
The show jumping went in reverse order, which was fine by me. She warmed up well, and I could not believe how good she felt after the previous day. Show jumping has been our weak link, and we have been known to pull four rails, so I was just praying to not break that record.
She went in and jumped her heart out. We had a rail at Fence 2, but she saved my butt at Fence 5, and the second half of the course is the best we have ever jumped. We finished fourth! Out of almost 40! I was just so proud of her that I still haven’t stopped smiling.
In February my heart was breaking because I let go of my dream of going advanced when Trance sustained an injury the week before our advanced. We had been entering advanced for a year (all thwarted by injuries), and I had been riding him for 11 years, and I mourned having to move on to a new chapter for both of us.
My coach Skyeler Voss insisted that I enter Lizzie in a beginner novice to lift my spirits, even though we couldn’t really canter a circle. I did, and she had her eventing debut on March 3. I never could have imagined that seven months later she would make light work of a training three-day, and that so soon after giving up the ride on Trance I would experience that feeling again. That flag hunter feeling. That “I got this, mom, even though you messed that up” feeling.
It has been an incredible year. Lizzie is more than I could have ever hoped for when I bought her sight unseen off of a YouTube video of her in a field. Only in hindsight do I realize how much we both needed each other, and how perfect the timing was. When I was crying in February, I didn’t realize that the horse that could heal my hurt and restore my dreams was sitting in the stall next door. I am so proud of her, and so in love with her, and I can’t wait for what’s to come.
One of the Chronicle’s bloggers, Kristin Carpenter juggles her riding with running her own company, Linder Educational Coaching, running the shows and events at Morningside Training Farm in The Plains, Va., and riding her two horses, In A Trance and Lizzie. She grew up in Louisiana and bought “Trance,” a green off-the-track Thoroughbred, as a teenager. Together, they ended up competing at the North American Young Riders Championships and the Bromont CCI**. She’s now bringing another OTTB, Lizzie, up through the ranks.