A Day In The Life: Timeline Of A DIY Grand Prix Day

Jun 24, 2015 - 3:59 PM
Photo by Montag Photography

5:15 a.m.

Time to get up! Nikki needs breakfast, and she’ll be quite upset if she’s not one of the first ones to eat. Momma Pope and I can be out the door in about 15 minutes (most of which is wasted by me looking for socks).

We hurry out the door and hop in the truck. Momma drives while I try to put on my boot rubbers in the constraints of the passenger seat. We call this the early morning pretzel routine because I am incapable of thinking to put the rubbers on before we are en route to the Mid States Summer show in Mason City, Iowa for the $20,000 Grand Prix.

5:30 a.m.

“Did you remember everything?” 

“YES, Mom…”

 5:32 a.m.

Just kidding, forgot my white breeches and need to go back to the hotel room to get them. (Don’t worry, I do have pants on).

5:40 a.m.

Arrive at horse show. Nikki is glaring at us. I quickly mix up her food—2 quarts of Triple Crown Complete, 1 quart of Nutrena Perform, throw in a scoop of her joint supplement and a scoop of electrolytes. Apologize profusely to Nikki while she waits. She’s nickering at me and pawing because she is starving and is quite sure she’ll drop dead at any second. Avert crisis by dumping grain into her feed bucket. While she’s eating, we take her water buckets out, dump them, and scrub the insides.

5:50 a.m.

Nikki finishes breakfast and licking her bucket clean. Time to take her out for some grass while Momma mucks her stall. I take Nikki out into the aisle, give her a morning granola bar (she likes oats and honey ones), take off her wraps, and powerwalk out the door. Nikki is a believer in the “New York minute” and walks much faster than I do. She needs to get to the grass because she hasn’t seen food in forever and can’t wait another minute.

5:56 a.m.

Nikki is still on the hunt for the perfect grass. She is dragging me around between occasional bites of grass, looking for where she wants to start.

5:57 a.m.

Found clover. Commence lawnmower activity. We will not move from this spot for at least 20 minutes. I watch frisky horses getting longed while Nikki stuffs her face.

6:30 a.m.

Momma Pope texts me and says I can bring Nikki back to her stall if I want. Nikki strongly resists this idea and plants her feet, mule-style, and refuses to move. She’s not done landscaping.

6:40 a.m.

Nikki is starting to slow down in her eating a bit. She decides she wants a neck scratch and a cuddle session.

6:41 a.m.

Actually, she didn’t want to cuddle. She wanted to sneeze on my face. Thanks, Nikki.

6:45 a.m.

We’re walking back to the barn now. Nikki is happy to walk slowly, and has what we call “the droopy lip smile,” where her lower lip is hanging down. Looks like a nap might be in order—after she has a long drink of water.

6:47 a.m.

Nikki is settled in her stall, and is all set with a bucket of alfalfa forage and a flake of hay. I head up to the ring to see if the course is posted yet, even though the prix doesn’t start until 5 (I don’t like waiting, can you tell?). 

It’s not up yet. Momma and I decide to get breakfast.

6:50 a.m.

While waiting for breakfast, I notice a bin of Cow Tales candy. I like Cow Tales. Momma sees me eyeing them and tells me that if I win the grand prix, she’ll buy the entire box for me. Why yes, I am food-motivated just like my horse. Stop judging me.

7:30 a.m.

The day hasn’t started yet, so it’s a good time to sit on my trunk and get some studying in. Nikki helps by dropping a mouthful of hay on my textbook.

7:40 a.m.

Nikki decides that I’m not paying enough attention to her and takes it upon herself to play with my hair. She is dropping hay on my head, licking my hair, and rubbing her nose in it. Studying is not going well.

7:43 a.m.

No longer satisfied with my ponytail, Nikki has started carefully pulling strands out of the binder. I am ignoring her.

7:45 a.m.

No more ponytail.

7:46 a.m.

Nikki is begging. Still studying.

7:47 a.m.

Nikki resorts to getting a mouthful of water and dribbling it on my leg. She doesn’t like organic chemistry any more than I do, it seems.

7:55 a.m.

Nikki knocks textbook onto the floor. I surrender. Put textbook away. Get Nikki some more of her alfalfa forage. Head down to the ring to support barn mates who are showing.

8:45 a.m.

Course is not posted, but I decide to walk the lines that are currently set just in case they’re in the prix. There’s a course walk for the .85-meter jumpers in about 10 minutes. I don’t like walking the grand prix course when it’s set because I don’t like seeing the height of the jumps in relation to me. Yes, I’m a weenie.

8:55 a.m.

I walk while the .85s are walking. Weenie status, confirmed.

9:30 a.m.

I decide to take Nikki for a tack walk. I like her to be super fresh on grand prix day, so I don’t want to work her on the flat, but I can get her moving around and loosened up just walking and doing some lateral work.

10:15 a.m.

Before we head back to the barn, Nikki has to go around to everyone she knows and hit them up for treats. She’s quite sure she deserves treats just for being her.

10:20 a.m.

We walk back to the barn. Nikki scored two mints, a horse cookie, a bit of carrot, and was offered an apple that she declined. She is very proud of herself.

10:45 a.m.

While Nikki chills out in her stall, I polish my boots. I use Kiwi polish, followed by two coats of Lincoln polish, and by the time I’m done, my boots are gleaming. Nikki is unimpressed.

12:30 p.m.

Lunch time for Nikki! 1 quart of Triple Crown Complete.

2:30 p.m.

Nikki gets her first of two Equissage treatments. The second comes after the class. There is much licking, chewing, and yawning. She loves her Equissage!

4:00 p.m.

I want to start getting Nikki ready around 4:30 for the 5:00 start time, so I start thinking about getting my stuff together and getting dressed. I change in her stall; it’s easier than changing in porta-johns. She pointedly ignores me.

4:30 p.m.

We start getting Nikki ready. One of us curries while the other picks out Nikki’s hooves and brushes her mane and tail. I put her “socks” (a thin layer of Vetrap) around her front pasterns to keep her overreach boots from rubbing her. Regular bell boots are no match for Nikki; she slices through them, so she goes in custom trimmed Davis boots. She also wears neoprene splint boots and Eskadron hind boots. We don’t go for anything fancy here.

4:40 p.m.

Nikki knows we’re getting ready for a class, and is holding up one hind foot, waiting for someone to put caulks in it. As soon as we are finished with that foot, she has the other one up and ready. I have finished putting her saddle on, and she is standing with her mouth open, waiting for her bit.

4:45 p.m.

After a final swipe of hoof polish, Nikki is all set to go. I get a leg up from Momma Pope, who is wearing a backpack with anything you could possibly need in it, including the video camera and a big bag of cookies for Nikki. Nikki is powerwalking and jigging on our way up to the ring.

5:00 p.m.

Nikki has made it abundantly clear that she is not tired. I will be by the end of this ride. She is raring to go! We jump our first of about four warm-up fences, a vertical at about 3 feet/0.95-meter.

5:10 p.m.

We jump our last warm-up jump, a vertical at 1.15-meter (maybe 1.20-meter if we’re feeling ambitious). She is a little backed off because it’s very muddy out, so I don’t want to jump any big verticals or any oxers in the schooling ring. I learned last year at the Minnesota Harvest Show that I can send Nikki into the ring having only jumped a few small fences, so I opt to do that here as well since the footing in the show ring is better than in the schooling ring. Momma Pope sprints off to her optimum filming location that she found earlier in the day.

5:13 p.m.

Nikki wants everyone to know that she cannot stand still under any circumstances. We get the go-ahead to go in, and she explodes as she goes through the gate. We halt and back up so I can try to remind her that I would like to be able to slow down on occasion. Her response is to jig while she waits for the bell. As soon as the tone sounds, she is cantering. I think if her ears were pricked any more, they’d be touching each other.

On Course

The first two fences are verticals on a bending line that I didn’t walk. I like to ride off my eye on bending tracks, and this one ended up being seven strides for us. We overjump fence 3, the first oxer on course.

As we come around to fence 4, a smaller vertical, I see the distance and start thinking about the upcoming combination, which has been riding shorter than it walked. The oxer out is fairly wide, so I am thinking about packaging Nikki up before we jump in so we don’t land too far into the line.

The “thump” of fence 4 hitting the ground reminds me that I shouldn’t be thinking about jumps that are coming up until we’ve finished the one we’re at. Sigh…

5AB works out fine. Wish I’d spent that time thinking about fence 4.

Fences 6, 7, and 8 are a bending S-line that I walked about 30 times because I couldn’t decide what my plan was. I opt to really shape the first portion of it in a steady five strides and then go direct and gallop a bit for the longer five in the second portion. Some people have done four to five, and some people have done five to six, but I think five to five is my best option. I don’t want to do four in the first line because we’ll land too strung out. I also don’t think I can get six in the second line unless I haul Nikki to the left to then go right. She doesn’t much appreciate that.

Fence 9 is a plain vertical on a perfect bending seven strides to an oxer-oxer-vertical one-stride-to-one-stride combination.  I have watched two people have substantial issues there, but I’m not too concerned because I know Nikki is really scopey. As long as I stay out of her way, we’ll be fine. And we are.

Fence 11 is a triple bar using rails that, for whatever reason, we always jump really high over. Nikki doesn’t yank her knees up as much as I’d expect, but her body is so high up that it doesn’t matter. Fence 12 is a Swedish oxer that comes up right out of stride for us. We finish on the 4 faults, tied for the lead at that point.

5:17 p.m.

As we exit the ring, a trainer tells me that we lost a shoe at the triple bar. That must be why we had such a funky take-off. He gives the shoe to me and goes to find the farrier, who meets me back at his truck. Nikki has no idea what’s going on and is alternating between trying to go to the barn and trying to go back up to the ring.

5:30 p.m.

Turns out no one mentioned to Momma Pope that Nikki lost a shoe and I went to get it put back on, and she just found us after wandering around trying to locate us. Sorry, Momma.

5:45 p.m.

Good to go. Nikki jogs sound, and we learn that the 4-faulters are probably jumping off, so we head back up to the ring.

6:05 p.m.

It’s confirmed that the 4-faulters will be jumping off; no clear first rounds. We’re beginning to get ready for the jump-off. It’s a similar preparation as for the first round, but perhaps with an angle on the approach or a tight turn on the landing.

6:15 p.m.

There’s an unorthodox turn option going to the last jump and I am trying to decide if we are going to do it. Last year, I had an option like that and I didn’t take it, and I’ve always wondered if we would have won if I’d been a little more daring. I need to get comfortable taking risks in the jump-off.

6:18 p.m.

I decide to give it a shot. We are a touch conservative with our pace because I am concerned about losing another shoe, but we do several tight turns. We lose a significant amount of time in the air over fence 3 because Nikki jumps it like she’s in the Olympics.

6:19 p.m.

As we approach the second-to-last fence, I am set on our wonky plan. We either can jump fence 13 and gallop through the turn to roll back to the last jump off the left, or we can land and spin left right away, cut through the middle of the ring, and jump the last fence off the right. I think this will save time, and decide to do it.

Nikki has no idea where we’re going. I can’t get her to swap leads because she isn’t quite on the same page as I am. We end up going around fence 1 on our turn back to fence 12. I am pleased that we attempted the turn, but I know we were very beatable.

(Hilariously, on the video, you can hear someone swear when we land and turn like that; they thought we were going off course. I predicted people would think that when I walked the turn!)

6:20 p.m.

We finish with a clear round, which will ultimately hold up for second place. In the meantime, we have to wait and see how it goes for everyone else. This is my least favorite part. Cow Tales are on the line.

6:30 p.m.

There is not enough time to take Nikki back to the barn, and she is indicating that she needs to pee by looking longingly toward the barn and pawing with just the tip of her hoof. I ask at the in-gate if I can run her back, but am told that it won’t be that much longer until we’re done.

6:32 p.m.

Someone just beat our time. No Cow Tales for me. Starting to think I need to have someone standing past the finish timers waving Cow Tales at me and PopTarts at Nikki for that extra bit of motivation.

6:33 p.m.

Nikki has to pee.

6:35 p.m.

Nikki is getting a little peeved that I’m not getting the hint. SHE NEEDS TO PEE.


Time for presentations and victory gallop. Nikki stands with her ears pinned for the presentation photo, and then begs from spectators while we wait for the victory gallop.

6:43 p.m.

Nikki is quite sure that victory gallops should include galloping, and protests mightily when I don’t agree.

6:45 p.m.

Nikki jigs and spazzes out on her way back to the barn, waits patiently while I pull her tack off, and immediately darts into her stall. Ahhhhh…

6:47 p.m.

Now it’s time for the most important part of the day: PopTarts!  Two sleeves of them for Nikki today. She devours them and thanks me by licking my face, puppy-style. The tiny bits of PopTart and spit on my face are a really great look. I should market this.

6:50 p.m.

Bath time for Nikki. It’s a warm summer day, so Momma Pope and I decide to give Nikki a Vetrolin bath. She is still trying to lick me.

7:10 p.m.

We’re done with Nikki’s bath, and we’re heading back to the aisle. I am almost as wet as Nikki. Somehow, Momma Pope never ends up like this. Nikki stands, happily begging from people, while we get out her Sore-No-More poultice and standing wraps. This is a joint effort; Momma slathers the poultice on, while I follow it up with paper and then wrap Nikki’s legs.

7:40 p.m.

Nikki gets her dinner, which she dives into. Momma Pope and I leave to go get dinner for ourselves. I celebrate the day by having French toast for dinner, because breakfast for dinner is never the wrong decision. I also get a milkshake, which prompts Momma to change her order and get one as well.

8:00 p.m.

We go back to the horse show to do night check. At this point, we take the Equissage out again and run it on the “post-workout” setting that we’ve found works best for Nikki. She dozes while the machine runs.

8:15 p.m.

The Equissage is done, so we take that off and give Nikki some treats and kisses before heading out.

8:30 p.m.

We get to our hotel room. Momma grabs a shower, while I start the process of uploading the videos from today. In all likelihood, I go post on the Chronicle forums about how the day went.

9:20 p.m.

Videos are done uploading.

9:30 p.m.

It’s been a long day, and I am ready for bed! Momma Pope went to sleep a while ago; I am up watching the videos from today for the 50th time. I reluctantly turn them off and go to bed.

(4:30 a.m.)

(I wake up for an unknown reason, and start replaying yesterday in my head. I am now doomed to not go back to sleep. I pull my laptop out, dive under the bed sheets so the light from my computer doesn’t wake Momma, and watch the videos again, picking apart what I can do better next time… and so begins another early day!)

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 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 Emily’s introductory blog, “Taming My Inner Gecko.”


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