Some Days You’re The Windshield, Some Days You’re The Bug

Sep 8, 2015 - 8:18 AM
Nikki herself! Photo by Alison Hartwell

Nikki and I had a bit of downtime between our two weeks at Mason City (Iowa) shows in June and our most recent excursion to Maffitt Lake Equestrian Center in Des Moines, Iowa. We’ll gloss over the six weeks off because there was quite literally nothing exciting that happened.

I suffered through some organic chemistry courses and worked on vet school applications.  Nikki found everything quite boring. There you go: our six weeks in a nutshell.

Impulse Buying Is For Gum

Not to be outdone by our miscommunication earlier in the year, which sent me into the dirt like a kamikaze pinwheel, I started off our preparation for this horse show by doing an excellent impression of a lawn dart, torpedo, or other fast-moving object that comes to a stop relatively quickly. Why? Because I apparently cannot count past five, and tried to leave a stride out of a line going to a very large Swedish oxer. Nikki (rightly) felt that was not a good move, and opted to let me try it on my own to see how it went for me.

Unlike when I fell off earlier in the year, this one didn’t shake me up at all. It startled me when Nikki made a mistake and I went down because of that, but this time, the only explanation for what happened is that I’m an idiot. But because I fell hard, it was time to replace my helmet.

I originally planned on just getting the same exact helmet that I had before; it fit well, although it wasn’t vented, and it was nice and traditional looking. But when I went to the tack shop, there was a helmet sitting next to the display that I kept looking at. Why?

It had sparkles on it. Blingy adornments went along the seams of the helmet. Much like a crow, I have a penchant for shiny or sparkly objects, although my riding gear is all distinctly conventional and conservative.

I decided to try it on, rationalizing the decision by assuring myself that it either wouldn’t fit or it would be prohibitively expensive, so it would just be a funny helmet that I’d laugh about later. So when it fit better than my old helmet and cost about the same, I was in a bit of trouble. I didn’t need a blinged-out helmet. But I did need a helmet, and this one was soooooo prettyyyyyyyyyy.

Moral of the story: impulse buying is for gum, not things like helmets.

Moral of the story, sub 1: I REGRET NOTHING.

Some Days, You’re The Bug… 

We started off at Maffitt Lake Equestrian Center with an open jumper class at 1.35-meter, where we had a conservative double clear round that ended up in second. We had an uneventful welcome stake, in which I made my turns too big, incurring time faults, and tried to make a tight in-and-out ride better for Nikki by really collecting her on the approach so she landed shallow and had room to get out. She had to work pretty hard to get out, which made her a bit irritated with me because it was yet another time where I tried to help and made her job harder. She would prefer it if I just steered. 

Actually, she’d prefer that someone put me in a straitjacket and tied me to the saddle, and just let her do everything. She’d probably win a lot more with that arrangement!

The grand prix classes at Maffitt are bigger than the ones at Mason City; Maffitt’s classes are USEF regional standard, so go up to 1.45-meter, while the Mason City ones are not and don’t usually go any bigger than 1.40-meter. I love jumping big tracks with Nikki, and she’s actually easier to ride on them because the jumps back her off a bit (plus I sit up more), so we don’t get into pulling wars as much.

When we headed in for the prix, it was incredibly hot (coats were waived; I actually showed in a polo shirt!) and the person before me had a bit of tough luck, so I was a little nervous. Nikki jumped incredibly, not even touching a jump—and I stayed out of her way. It felt like one of the best rounds I’ve ridden on her in a long time, and as we jumped out of an oxer-oxer two-stride combination, I knew we had it in us to go clear. I was riding well, she was going amazingly, and there were only four fairly non-technical jumps left.


Jumping her heart out. Photo by Alison Hartwell

But as we landed off the fourth-to-last fence, I felt a very jarring step… and saw Nikki’s left front shoe go flying. My heart sank.

Now, at Mason City, Nikki lost a shoe at the second-to-last fence, but I didn’t even realize it came off, and we jumped the last fence without issue. Now, we kept cantering through the turn while I tried to decide what to do; Nikki was already eyeing in on the next fence and making a bid for it, but she didn’t feel quite right to me, just a little tentative in front.

I pulled up. I wasn’t going to jeopardize her soundness and comfort, although it killed me to pull up that close to the end of a prix where we were going clear.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry back at the barn with frustration and disappointment, but there was no doubt in my mind that I made the right choice, especially when I was leading Nikki back to the barn and could watch her walking on the road back up. She wasn’t lame, but she was very careful about how she stepped on that foot.

My trainer back east, Kip Rosenthal, has said to me before that some days you’re the windshield, and some days, you’re the bug. That day, I was definitely the bug.

Seeing Where We Are

The show farrier and I spoke extensively about modifying Nikki’s shoeing setup so that we didn’t keep losing the left front shoe. We hadn’t had issues with that since starting to use Nikki’s Davis boots about five years ago, but this was the second grand prix in a row where that shoe came off, so clearly something had changed (whether it’s how she’s moving, or whatever) and we needed a solution. He consulted with my whole team and ultimately shortened up the left front shoe so that Nikki couldn’t step on it as easily and rip it off.

I gave her Sunday and Monday off and just let her hang out so that foot could cool down a bit, figuring I’d take her out on Tuesday and trot her in the ring to see if she was feeling okay.

Tuesday morning, I tacked her up with a bit of apprehension, and walked down to one of the schooling rings. She was walking a bit curled up and snorting a lot, in addition to giving everything the hairy eyeball. One thing was for sure: if she was feeling sound, I was in for a wild ride.

We trotted around on a loose rein, and she felt better and better as she went around and relaxed her topline a bit. Momma Pope said that Nikki looked totally fine, and I took a deep breath for the first time.  Nikki felt me relax, and then the theatrics began. Nikki could definitely have a career as a buckin’ horse if she wanted one.

I’m not sure if I would have lasted eight seconds, but I pulled her up before we got to that point, and then trotted (ON contact) for a long, long time until Nikki had all the sillies out. I wasn’t going to get after her for messing around, especially when no one else was in the ring so she wasn’t bothering anyone, and I was thrilled that she felt good enough to turn into a snorting spring-loaded monster. I was pretty relieved when we got that out of her system, though!

Some Days, You’re The Windshield

We jumped a clear round in the welcome stake and ended up in eighth place, but there really isn’t much for me to say about it since it was uneventful. I didn’t ride the jump-off very well; I tried to go fast, rather than just focusing on making the neat, efficient turns that I’m good at, and caused us to have a couple of rails. I may stick with my conservative double clears until I get more practice at galloping on course.

Grand prix day brought some cooler weather than the previous week, and a course that I thought was not as big, but was much more technical. I love technical tracks and answering those questions, so I was excited. Being in sync with Nikki is pretty much the best feeling ever.

We schooled pretty terribly. I felt like Nikki wasn’t jumping well, like I wasn’t getting her straight, like I didn’t have an idea of my pace at all… it was enough to persuade me to plan on going back to our schooling routine of just jumping a few small verticals and going on that. Jumping bigger jumps in the schooling ring is much more for my benefit than for Nikki’s, and it doesn’t benefit either of us when I psych myself out!

Fortunately for Nikki, when I school badly, I tend to go in the ring and ride really forward, thus staying out of her way. She jumped well and aside from one oxer that I took for granted and didn’t use enough leg at, resulting in that rail, it was a good solid trip…

We ended up in 12th, which is bright pink! I wasn’t as excited about the ribbon as I was about the fact that we’d made it through the week just fine. Even though we had issues with the shoe the previous week, and even though I’d ridden awfully in the schooling ring, we’d pulled it together and been successful. 

And for my amateur brain, that can be the toughest part sometimes: keeping all my mental ducks calm and quacking instead of having a Donald Duck freakout. In that aspect, this week was the windshield.

Check back in a few weeks to see how our next outing at Mason City goes!

Emily Pope, 24, started her relationship with Seize The Moment, an off-the-track Thoroughbred and a chestnut mare, in 2006 and they began in the junior hunters. Emily quickly realized “Nikki’s” talents lay in the jumper ranks, and they worked their way from the junior jumpers to the grand prix. She has ridden with Kip Rosenthal. 

Emily graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2013 with a B.S. in animal science, spent a semester studying aboard in Madagascar, and now works in cancer research. Read Emily’s introductory blog, “Taming My Inner Gecko.”

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