Every show jumper has a different way of warming up for a horse show, but how many like to go for a gallop the day before a big class?
Thatās exactly what Melissa Woodsonās off-the-track Thoroughbred Spring Heeled Jack needs, and thatās what he got the day before he competed in the NAL Low Junior/Amateur-Owner Jumper Final at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg, Pa., on Oct. 18.
āIf he can gallop a little bit before shows, he really enjoys that,ā said Woodsonās trainer, Mary Babick. āThen he comes to the ring ready to think about what heās doing. You canāt force him.ā
Woodson and āFrankieā had a single rail down in the final, making them the second fastest four-faulters to land in 10th place, but Woodson didnāt come to this yearās indoor season brimming with confidence.
A bad ride at the Devon Fall Classic (Pa.) a few weeks earlier shook both Woodson and Frankieās confidence, so Woodson was happy to have a positive ride in the final, even if she took the blame for the rail.
āIām certainly disappointed about the mistake I made that caused him to have a rail,ā said Woodson. āI want my horse to be successful. I love his story and I believe in him so much and it would have been an absolute blast to jump-off.ā
That story started for Woodson in June 2009 when she purchased the now-12-year-old gelding (Our EmblemāBafooz, Clever Trick) after Babick had found him at Frank and Mary Chapotās farm.
Heād steeplechased under the name Ten Pound Bay until he was 5 and was started as a lower level hunter and jumper by Joy and Kayley Kloss before Babick brought him to her farm for a client to try.
When the client wasnāt interested, Babick offered him to Woodson.
At the time, Woodson had been working with Babick for about a year. Sheād ridden as a child, but hadnāt shown much and was looking for a jumper.
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The first horse she owned as an adult was a chestnut Thoroughbred mare, so she was ready to take on the challenge that Frankie posed.
āHeās still a little wild,ā Woodson said. āHe tries very hard, but I would say heās everything good and bad about the Thoroughbred all wrapped into one. Heās incredibly brave, heās very smart with his legs, he has a huge heart, tremendous ability, but the bad side is that he doesnāt have great feet. We have a glue-on shoe specialist who [works on him.] Heās very hot and certainly not the ride for everybody. Every time he goes into the ring, he has a desire to win.ā
As a fan of Thoroughbreds, Babick knew Frankie would be a great match for Woodson. āYou have to look past the wildness in the beginning,ā she said. āWalking back from the ring, especially if heās had a clean round, heās naughty. Itās better to ride back than it is to lead him back! He just always wanted to try and when he would jump, he would show the right shape in his jump. He loves the game.
āI think the best horse-rider combinations are like each other, and he and Melissa are really similar,ā Babick continued. āThey really attack the worldāin a good way!ā and have a good heart. In the beginning, I told her, āYouāre going to have some tearful moments,ā because he used to do things like bounce through the one-stride or do one in the two.ā
According to Woodson, Frankieās show name is the perfect fit for the feisty gelding. The spring-heeled jack was a mythical creature from the Victorian era that was a sort of demon.
āIt was very tall and skinny and had big red eyes and it was breathing fire and jumped out from behind corners and harassed people,ā said Woodson with a laugh. āIt caused absolute havoc. It would run up to 10-foot walls and jump from a standstill.ā
Woodson laughed recalling her first show with Frankie. āMary said, āWhatever you do, donāt fall off because we wonāt be able to catch him.ā Of course, I didnāt know how fast he would turn left, and all of a sudden, Iām thinking left, he goes left, Iām hanging off the side, and I hear Mary scream, āDonāt fall off!āā
Woodson, 35, lives in Locust, N.J., and commutes to Manhattan for her job in finance. She tries to get out to the barn five days a week, but like many amateurs, struggles with job stress and riding.
She uses her 1 Ā½-hour commute to Babickās Knightsbridge Farm in New Jersey to wind down before her lessons.
āI think the hard part is making the transition between hard, fast, everything-needs-to-be-done-a-day-ago, to coming to the barn and trying to then listen [to instruction,]ā she said. āThat commute home, I try to take the time to decompress and be in the right state of mind.
ā[Mary] stays late at least three nights a week to teach me,ā she continued. āOur lessons donāt start until 7:30 at night. Iām lucky that I have a trainer thatās willing to do that for me, because most wouldnāt. I think she really believes in Frankie and really believes in me.
āOnce he figures out what you need from him, heās a very fast study,ā she said of Frankie. āHeās a smart horse and heās willing to help you get out of any situation you find yourself in. I think that if there were more people out there willing to try a Thoroughbred, they would see that same desire to go in and do a job and win for you.
āFrankie and I have grown together and I think weāre certainly unlikely individuals to end up at a horse show like [the Pennsylvania National]. I didnāt come from the background of a lot of these riders, but under Maryās care and instruction, weāre very fortunate that we found each other and that we could make it to this level. I think there are a lot of people that just didnāt believe in him.ā
Woodson is actively searching for another Thoroughbred jumper, but admitted itās hard to find a good one because when people find them, they want to keep them. Sheād like to move up a level because Frankie has the scope, but she also wants to keep his schedule light.
āI love this game,ā she said with a smile. āGoing into the ring with Frankie is like going out for cocktails with my girlfriends. I know no matter what, Iām going to have a good time, but occasionally, I walk away from the experience saying, āLetās pretend that never happened and letās hope nobody saw!ā ā