The only thing that changes faster than the weather in March is fate on horseback. This past Friday, I was feeling very prepared in all three phases for Lizzie’s first preliminary run of the year at Southern Pines (N.C.). I needed to ship over on Friday, and being that she is always a bit green about water, I figured I would stop on the way and just pop her through a cross-country water a few times.
The sun was shining and it was a glorious 70 degrees. While the farm was bustling, I hacked onto an empty cross-country course, save one groom out walking a horse. The only jumps by the water were beginner novice and novice, just a few roll tops and coops, but I wasn’t there to school gallop tables so that was fine.
I decided to canter over a few coops, then take her in the water a couple times and head out. As I warmed up my one-star horse over beginner novice jumps, I was just enjoying the quiet moment with my horse.
And then I was on the ground, spitting out dirt. Did I just FALL OFF? I look around, and there is Lizzie standing frozen a few feet away, staring at the horizon. I glance behind us and see the coop we had just jumped, standing all of 2′ high, and I remember having a perfect spot and a quiet take-off. What the hell just happened?
The benefit of getting old (apparently) is that you are unaware you are about to eat it. I haven’t fallen off in 2 1/2 years, but the last few times I did and every time when I was a kid, I had a full moment to realize what was about to happen, think a solid expletive, and mentally prepare for impact.
This day I had nothing—I was in the air over a jump and then I was eating dirt! I guess my reactions are slower.
I got up, walked over to Lizzie and grabbed the reins, thanking her for this small show of mercy, as I didn’t want to chase her all over the property. Two ladies appeared with a loose dog, and as it turns out, they had come over the horizon with the dog running ahead right as I was landing. Lizzie must have spooked something fierce, I came off, and she stood staring at the culprits.
What bad timing. I was just here to school the water! I landed head-first into the ground, so I improvise a concussion check: I hold up two fingers and happily acknowledge I see two fingers, I turn my neck both ways, and I debate what else to do as every time I have a concussion I insist I don’t have one right after it happens.
So I settle on saying the alphabet backwards, as I can hardly do that stone sober, and once I get from Z to P I decide I am OK. I remount to a horse that is completely unflustered, and realize how flustered I am!
I canter over a few more coops, holding a double bridge and with my heels so far forward they are almost on her ears. No more falling off today! Then we go through the water a few times with little fanfare, I untack, and I begin my drive to the show.
During the drive, I had 3 1/2 hours to sit and think about how I just fell off over a beginner novice jump and will be running around a preliminary course tomorrow. I am pretty good about talking myself off a ledge, but once I settled in at the venue and went to walk my course, I couldn’t help but notice how the big tables I had to jump at the end of the course were many multiples of what I fell at earlier that day. I went to this event solo, so there was no coach to hold my hand or tell me I will be fine or warm me up. Whatever, it will be what it will be.
I did dressage the next morning, and despite Lizzie refusing to walk in all her excitement, it was a good test. I then ran out to cross-country on foot to walk the course one more time, gave myself a long pep talk, tacked Lizzie up and headed out on course.
She was fabulous! I know what kind of day it will be at the first fence, and she galloped right to it and took a bold spot, which meant it would be a good day.
I was conservative with my time because I did NOT want to run out of horse by the time I got to the big tables at the end, and this was her first real gallop of the year. When we crossed the finish flags with 30 seconds of time, and she spent the walk back to the barn piaffing and throwing her head, I realized I was overly conservative. But it’s eventing, so I would rather end with fuel left in the tank than run out of gas three from home.
The next day was our usual nemesis: show jumping. To be honest, I was actually excited. Having done the bigger class at the jumper show, I felt confident I could miss something fierce at one of these fences and still live, so with life and death off the table there was little to fret over!
She was a bit tired in warm-up, but I didn’t freak out, I just reminded myself that I have spent weeks learning all of her rides. Today, I needed to do the ride for tired Lizzie.
We went in the ring and she perked up, so I immediately switched to the ride for hot Lizzie, and off we went. It was a great round, and while I choose to add in the two related distances, she left the rails up with room to spare!
We had one rail when she jumped me out the tack a bit (can you imagine?!) at a big oxer and my hefty butt came down mid-jump, causing her to tap the front rail with her hind end. Otherwise, pretty spot-on! It was our best round at the level, and the planets must have been in perfect alignment because we moved UP two places after show jumping.
So on Sunday, we got a pretty pink ribbon and to canter around the victory gallop. Go figure, Friday in the dirt and Sunday in the ribbons. I still had that double bridge and extra secure leg for the victory gallop, just in case. Man, horses keep you humble!
One of the Chronicle’s bloggers, Kristin Carpenter juggles the management of her own company, Linder Educational Coaching, organizing the Area II Young Rider Advancement Program out of Morningside Training Farm in The Plains, Va., and eventing at the FEI levels. She grew up in Louisiana and bought “Trance,” a green off-the-track Thoroughbred, as a teenager. Together, they ended up competing at the North American Young Riders Championships and the Bromont CCI**. She’s now bringing another OTTB, Lizzie, up through the ranks.