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June 13, 2014

Somebody Pinch Me

Jumping clean and being second in our first grand prix back after 10 months away from the show ring was beyond my wildest dreams!

Well.  How to start this blog post?

Best comeback week ever? No, too cheesy.  Best mare ever? True, but I say that in every post, so it’s not really news. I’m struggling with finding a way to convey my excitement through words. Let’s go with…

I never expected our first foray back into the show ring to be so successful and so much fun. We’re in Mason City, Iowa, showing at the Midstates Summer Festival. Nikki and I last showed 10 months ago, so my expectations for last week were fairly low; I wanted us to be confident and lay down some good trips, but I wasn’t expecting any miracles. Ten months is a long time—plenty of time for me to forget how to ride properly—and given that this was my first show since surgery, I knew anything could happen.

Anything could happen apparently includes having the best, most consistent week we’ve ever had, jumping a clear round in every class, finishing no lower than third in any class, winning the welcome stake, placing second in the grand prix with a double clear round, and ending up as open jumper champion.

Really though, someone pinch me.  I must be dreaming.

Going It Alone

This was the first horse show in 13 years where Kip wasn’t training me, and due to some scheduling

A quiet moment with Nikki
back in the barns.

conflicts, Elzabeth wasn’t down in Mason City until Friday. This meant that I was on my own with Momma Pope, and meant that for the first time, I was training myself and Nikki.

Getting Nikki to the ring is pretty simple, to be honest; we have a set program with her in the schooling ring and Momma P and I are both familiar with it. Nikki jumps a couple of small oxers, ends on a big, ramped oxer about six jumps later, and then jumps one or two very tall verticals. I’ve walked a lot of courses by myself, so I was fairly confident in my ability to make a reasonable plan.

However, I’ve often found that while I can make a reasonable plan, I can’t always execute it.

Throughout the week, I (mostly) followed the plans I made. Nikki and I started out the week in a 1.30-meter class, our usual warm up. The course was quite straightforward and we finished on a double-clear score. Nikki felt great and I was thrilled to have such a positive round for our first time in the ring. We finished third, which was fine with me, although I did think it would be nice to win a class!

Lessons Learned And Questions Answered

We did the welcome stake the next day and were the first clear round over the course.  The jump-off yielded two lessons:

1.)   You can still win a class with 4 faults in the jump-off, so it’s important to keep riding to win even after having a rail down.

2.)   If there’s a part of your subconscious trying to remind you that there’s a reason you don’t normally gallop flat-out to the last fence in the jump-off when it’s an option, listen to your brain. It’s trying to remind you that you can’t count on being able to slow down.

We had a rail in the jump-off, and we galloped to the last fence to leave from a distance that I’d rather not repeat ever again, but it was enough to bring us the win that day. It was nice to win; I haven’t won a class with Nikki in quite a while, and I’ve never won a stake or a classic, so it was a new notch in our belt.

 Additionally, there was a line in the welcome that tripped us up last summer: a triple bar followed by five tight strides to a very quiet vertical-vertical one stride combination. Last year, we didn’t answer that question well and slugged the out of the in-and-out; this year, we were able to do it properly.

Set Up For Success

Nikki and I on course.

The ring in Mason City is both beautiful and a little tricky to ride in. It has a hill at the end with several different bank options, including a stepped bank, and has enough room for jumps to be set on the top of the hill.  Both the welcome stake and the grand prix utilized this option, which meant that we had to canter up and down hills and catch jumps off short turns after going up or down – good things to know how to do, but not things that I’ve practiced much at home! 

I’m glad that Nikki and I do a lot of hill work, it set us up for the hill and while Nikki was a bit confused the first time we went up, she trusted me and went forward, so we did the hill without any incidents.

This is one of the first horse shows that I’ve been to where I feel that the management really goes above and beyond to help exhibitors to be successful. The ring has a water jump for the first time and not only is it an option so riders can choose whether to do it or not, but there are a couple of clinics each week so any rider can learn to jump the water in the show ring without being in a class. 

I think it’s great to set riders and horses up for success at a jump that most people don’t get to practice. There are also opportunities for riders to school over the various banks so no one is caught by surprise in a class. I wish more horse shows offered these chances instead of having the “sink or swim” mentality, although I can see the reasoning behind that as well.

Grand Prix Excitement

The grand prix was on Saturday afternoon, starting at 5 p.m. That morning, I took Nikki out to walk under tack and actually ended up galloping her out for a while to get her a little quiet. I’m pretty sure I was the only open jumper rider to ride my horse down in the morning, but I knew that if we went in the ring with that much energy, I might be in trouble toward the end of the course. Nikki lights up when she goes in the ring anyway, and if I don’t have some degree of rideability beforehand, I can almost guarantee that the end of the course will get a little hairy because she’ll build and I’ll be suckered into engaging in a pulling war with her.

The course was interesting (and long—the time allowed was 119 seconds!) in that it was pretty technical and had an option at the water. I could jump the water or a fairly unattractive wall at about 1.35-meter. The water had a rail over it and Kip always told me that as long as you have a good water jumper, a water with a rail is basically a free jump since only the rail is judged. Nikki is a great water jumper, so that was the option I went for. Much to my surprise, Nikki jumped it a little like a spaz, so we will be taking advantage of the open water schooling sessions next week!

The last line in the first round was a triple bar followed by four short strides to a tall vertical.  As we came around the turn, my first thought was “don’t screw up now,” which is normally the kiss of death for me. Maybe since I’m out of practice, I didn’t mess myself up thinking that, and we landed off the vertical as the first clear round of the night. 

I really don’t know how to express how excited I was—one of my main goals for this year was to jump around clear in a grand prix, so to accomplish it at our first show was unbelievable. I decided that in the jump-off, I would opt for a conservative clear round. I was the first to jump off, so I would rather go for a clear round and put the pressure on those behind me than go for a fast round and have a rail. 

Ultimately, we were too conservative, ending up second, but I’ll take it any day of the week. This whole show was a dream come true, and I never expected that it would go so well and so smoothly.

Going Forward From Here

Well. I need a new goal! I think my new goal is to be consistent. Blue ribbons are wonderful, but I really want to focus on riding the best I can. If we happen to end up at the top of a class because of it, that’s great, but I don’t want to have more rounds like the welcome stake, where I felt that Nikki won despite my riding. 

This was one of the most consistent shows we’ve ever had, finishing with only one rail over the entire week, and I’d like to duplicate or better that.

It’s so important to me that I remember that I’m doing this for fun. Showing back east felt so high-pressure sometimes, and none of that pressure is here because at least at this show, I’m training myself. I’m so glad that Nikki and I can reflect our many years of working with Kip in our performances—I think it says a lot about Kip’s training and about my mom’s work keeping Nikki fit that we were able to have a week like we did. 

We wouldn’t be here without them, without Elzabeth getting me in shape and keeping me from being too hard on myself, and without the wonderful team who keeps Nikki going. And of course, I wouldn’t be anywhere without this incredible mare who blows my mind every time she steps in the ring. I am so, so lucky and so grateful for her.

I don’t know if this post does my level of excitement justice, but I hope it does. Last week was unreal to me. It feels like a dream, and I’m scared that I’m going to wake up soon and none of it happened. 

What a horse, what a team, what a week. Wow. I hope that I can keep it together this week as well!

Emily Pope, 23, 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 rides with Kip Rosenthal and Elzabeth Lampert.

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 all of Emily's blogs.

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