Behind The Photo: When “Hell Week” Saves The Day

Apr 21, 2022 - 2:56 PM

It’s a long-standing tradition at Sharon White’s Last Frontier Farm in Summit Point, West Virginia: Every January, the stirrups and reins come off, the longe line goes on, and riders spend a week focusing on balance and stability with a little bit of vaulting thrown in. The aptly named “Hell Week” is the brainchild of White’s longtime mentor Jimmy Wofford, who has tested riders’ courage and strength for decades.

At the Ocala International Festival of Eventing, held April 14-17, in Ocala, Florida, White’s working student Lea Adams-Blackmore got to use the skills she’s honed over the past three years when things went awry in her intermediate show jumping round with Frostbite.

“It’s really funny because I’m very consistent until I mentally am not, and I’ll do something, and [Sharon] is like, ‘Why’d you get weird?’ ” Adams-Blackmore said. “And ‘Frosty’ is such a good jumper and should really never have rails, so if it’s ever an issue it’s generally rider error.”

Adams-Blackmore’s “weird” moment came at an oxer-vertical-oxer line.

“The standards were kind of big,” she recalled. “The way it was sort of boxed in from the standards, something about it was very intimidating.”

LeaAdamsBlackmore-EllaDetwylerPhoto
Though he had no bridle and his rider, Lea Adams-Blackmore, had no stirrups, Frostbite jumped out of the line successfully. Ella Detwyler Photo

Though she gave Frosty a chance to look at it when they first entered the ring, when they turned toward the fence, she felt the 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (VDL Zirocco Blue—Zanna, Corland) take a peek.

“Instead of letting him take his time and let him look at it, I was like, ‘Eh, no, you’re just going to run at it and leave it out,’ and then Frosty, he definitely found some magical fifth leg and managed to get us out of there alive, but I ended up on his neck and pushed the bridle right over his ears,” she said. “But then he just kept on going.”

Frosty took five strides to the vertical, jumped it and continued out over the second oxer in another five strides, all without a bridle.

“I thought for sure I was going to fall off,” she said. “There were many moments where I’m like, ‘That’s the end of that!’ I kind of saw the ground coming pretty quickly, and then all of a sudden I wasn’t on the ground.”

But participating in Hell Week instilled instincts that allowed her to stay in the saddle through the sticky moments.

“I for sure would’ve been on the ground if not for Hell Week,” she said. “It really helps your balance and stickability. Just like a lot of core stability and learning how to balance without your stirrups.”

Instead of turning toward the triple combination afterwards, she turned the opposite way and managed to get Frosty stopped so she could slip his bridle back on. Once she got everything situated, she finished her course with just 8 faults to add to her division-leading dressage score of 23.9. They followed it up with a clean cross-country run to finish fourth in the intermediate rider division.

“He was very good for continuing to jump, very good for not dumping me when I probably deserved it,” she said.

“Many, many people came up to me after we finished and were like, is he for sale? Nope, this horse will never be for sale,” she added. “We tend not to sell horses that keep jumping when the person puts them through an oxer and then loses their bridle.”

Adams-Blackmore, 20, grew up in Norwich, Vermont, and had competed to the preliminary level before purchasing Frosty as a 4-year-old. She joined Last Frontier Farm’s team in 2020, just a few days before the start of Hell Week. White has held the annual week of intense rider training at her farm for years, originally with Wofford hosting it and later running it herself. While its reputation for producing plenty of sore muscles preceded it, Adams-Blackmore went in focusing on its benefits.

“I heard that it was actually really, really good for making better riders and making you more independent in your seat and less reliant on things like stirrups or reins,” she said. “You have to learn how to find your balance on your own.”

She and Frosty moved up to intermediate this winter, winning their first two outings at the level. She’s aiming toward the CCI2*-L at Bromont (Quebec) this summer with a goal of doing the CCI3*-L at Tryon International (North Carolina) in the fall.

“When I got him, he’d done a little bit of jumpers, but he was pretty feral,” she said. “We did our first intro, and he’s only ever competed with me since I’ve had him, so we did a lot of learning together.”

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