IT HAS BEEN DONE. The hunter princess has survived her very first event. It was not done with grace, it was not done with class—but thanks to coffee, beer, and mostly beer, we completed all three phases!
This event was as much about going to my first horse show by myself as it was about entering my first event. I grew up in a very traditional boarding barn that traveled to shows with our in-barn trainer, and everything was very organized and orderly and ran like a very, very expensive but exceedingly seaworthy ship.
Turns out paying for expensive boarding/training/shipping as a recent grad on a journalist’s salary is not in the realm of possibility. Granted, I could perhaps have afforded to pay a day fee for some coaching at the event, but along with riding my hobbies include a bull-headed denial that I need help with anything, I am independent Wonder Woman, I maybe once called my mom to ask how to boil an egg in college BUT THAT WAS ONE TIME and I’ve since boiled MANY eggs myself.
So I signed up and entered this event and spent a lot of time Googling event things and pestering friends about different rules and courtesies that were expected at events. I use Google as a trainer between my occasional lessons far more than I care to admit, and it leads me down some crazy unhelpful rabbit holes about 50 percent of the time, but is free 100 percent of the time, so I give her some slack.
Leading up to the event I was jumping in the ring about twice a week with flat work of varying degrees of success the other four days (4-year-old horses and focus are mortal enemies), and I had gone off property to cross-country school twice in the past month. I tried to watch some YouTube videos of beginner novice dressage tests, but they were even more boring than watching three-foot hunter trips, so I just memorized my test, re-read the tack and bit rules in the online USEA book, and declared myself fit for competition!
My dressage and show jumping went Saturday and cross-country was Sunday, so on Friday evening after work I asked my friend/vet/amateur eventer extraordinaire Alyson Baber (she went up to preliminary on a Quarter Horse/Arab cross!) to help me walk the cross-country course in exchange for tacos and margaritas (you can pay amateur trainers this way, professional ones are a little less receptive to it. Something about can’t pay the electric bill with a margarita.)
The course was insanely long for an out-of-shape potato like myself to walk, and I asked Alyson multiple times why we had to actually walk up to the fences we could see from across the field, because potato would like a burrito ahora, but she rightfully insisted. I was pleasantly surprised by a couple of fences that looked downright hunter-y—they had me feeling right at home save for this terrifying table with cutouts and green felt on top (adorably titled “the pool table”) and the rolltop right after the water.
But this was all two phases away! It would be fine I’m sure, maybe. I don’t actually know but I live in the present, and present Annie needed some chips and salsa. So after a delightful dinner I turned in and set my alarm for 4:50 a.m. because some hilarious prankster put me in the 8 a.m. dressage time slot.
I severely overestimated how good I was at hooking up a trailer and braiding, both things that other people were always responsible for when I was in hunterland. I recently bought a trailer, and as my peppy orange Ford Escape only has enough tow capacity to haul my horse on roller skates, I rent a truck from UHaul for little weekend adventures/show travels. It’s trashy, but also a little brilliant, admit it. Or don’t admit it, it’s actually a huge pain in the ass to pick up and drop off and is not on my top 10 list of best ideas.
Part of me really wanted to make my eventing colors orange, black and white and just let people assume I was sponsored by them, but I had already taken the leftover paint from putting racing stripes on my trailer and painted my crash vest, show coat lapels and jump boots blue and gray, soooo…..too late.
Turns out hooking up a trailer in the dark by yourself takes a half hour when you’re this good, and even button braiding takes another half hour and still looks terrible. I looked at my watch when I had three button braids left, not including the forelock, and realized that If I was loading into the trailer now, I would get to the horse park with just 45 minutes before I had to be in the ring and showing. I hastily threw the last three chunks of hair into half braid, half tiny messy buns, decided I would leave the forelock down (people do that, right?) and threw my stuff and my horse on the trailer and headed out.
I pulled into the horse park at 7:15, drove painfully slow over the stupid speed bumps that I’m sure were put there to make me late, and threw the truck into park in front of my stalls at 7:20. I had not checked in yet, didn’t have my number, didn’t have shavings or more than the bag of hay I shipped with, wasn’t dressed to show, and Moji wasn’t groomed yet, just braided. SO WE WERE DOING EXCELLENT, THANK YOU FOR ASKING.
I ran to the office and grabbed my check-in packet then ran back to the barns and became a tornado of productivity, brushing Moji while stuffing my hair in a helmet and throwing his pads on while wiggling into my coat and tall boots. My apologies to my barn 13 neighbors, who based on their facial expressions as they watched this UHaul delivered disaster unfold before their very eyes correctly judged my entire situation and self to be crazy. I see you, and I also wish I was not doing it this way, so we have that in common!
Luckily Barn 13 is right next to the ramp up to the show rings at the park, so I power walked on up to warm-up where I knew I was in trouble because the check-in girl did a double take at my bridle number and said “You know you’re going in the ring in like, five minutes right?” I tried to laugh it off with a HA HA, I know, silly me running late, thinking just maybe she would take pity on my dumb, dumb soul and move me down in the order. That’s a totally normal thing in most classes at horse shows, and totally not a thing they even think about doing a little bit in dressage land. I got my tack checked, trotted twice around the warm up and cantered, annnnnd it was off to the show ring!
Moji was really quite a calm super trooper of a baby horse for what the situation was. I don’t ask him to go in a true frame even when I flat him at home, I think he’s too young and given his half-Friesian self is prone to curling up behind the bit. I would rather he poked his nose out a bit, but he is usually at least on the bit after 10 or 15 minutes of work. So with just the five-minute warm-up, we were exceptionally giraffe-like and on a loose rein when I asked him to trot on in and start his test.
Moji’s ears were on prairie dog high alert the entire test, but he really quite adorably and honestly bumbled through the whole thing, trying his brave baby heart out to do his various little moves while also staring at the judge’s car, the competitor the next ring over, the road, the cars, the everything. He never once thought about spooking hard or spinning or going backwards though, and when it came time for the free walk I was able to give him the reins and he didn’t take off trotting—he stopped and rubbed his face on his leg.
I laughed almost audibly for the entire test—at myself, the situation and how adorable Moji was being. This was probably akin to cracking jokes at church in a dressage queen’s eye, because when combined with our decidedly un-dressagey test, it earned us a 48 and last place in the division going into show jumping.
I must say dressage reminded me a little too much of the subjectivity of hunters for my taste (cue DQ screaming at the comparison), so I’ll go home and work on it butttttt lets be serious: 2/3 of eventing is jumping, and 60 percent of me is water, so that just doesn’t leave much room on my hard drive for focusing on things like fancy prancing.
When my iBrain storage is full and it tells me I have to manage my storage in settings and delete something so I have room to binge watch The Office for the eighth time, fancy-prancing knowledge is going first. Followed by writing in cursive and long division, because our third-grade teachers definitely lied about how useful those skills would be.
So we got the highest score in dressage, #goTeamMoji, and I was pretty confident I could trick most of my show jumping friends into thinking that was a good thing, so we headed back to the stalls to get ready for our show jumping round! I was most confident about this phase, both because its most similar to what I have been doing my whole riding career and because Moji is quite brave and game over show jumps.
Not about to make the same mistake I did with dressage, I was ready super early for show jumping, which I was slated to do at 11:22. I blocked out what I wanted to get done every 10 minutes, like boots and coat on by 10:40, brushing and tacking by 10:50. I got to the warm-up exactly when I wanted to and then I looked at everyone in the warm-up and went #@$%$!@#$!@#$!@. I had forgotten my medical armband.
I forget everything all the time, so it doesn’t actually stress me out that much, you kind of just have to learn to deal with your dumb self or you’d be in a constant state of stress. I once forgot all of my show clothes, all of them, shirts, breeches, coat, collar, when traveling to a horse show. I’ve also forgotten my number at plenty of shows, and with the proper contrite look at the in-gate they’ll usually just radio the judge and be like “hey this idiot forgot her number, judge accordingly,” so I thought I could do the same here, maybe throw in a pinky promise to remember it for cross-country.
Not so, apparently, as the lady running the in-gate told me I couldn’t even jump in the warm-up without my body tag. So we trotted back on to the barns, where I then remembered that my armband was in my trailer, which if you’re familiar with where trailer parking is at the horse park, might as well be in Timbuktu.
So I led Moji up vendor row and we both stuck our big dumb heads in this lovely woman’s trailer and said “We have no money on us but we really, really, really need a medical armband to jump in like, 20 minutes.” She handed us a medical armband, opened us a tab and a fellow customer held him while I filled it out. I don’t know why they teach us stranger danger in schools, because strangers can be downright wonderful sometimes!
We trotted back on down to show jumping with considerably less time to warm up, but Moji was on his game. He warmed up exceedingly well, and my eye was surprisingly on point for the warm up, so after about 15 minutes we headed up to the show ring. Moji’s wonderful breeder Ela Ladwig was there to watch us jump, and she gave him some good luck cuddles before we went in the ring, which is just when my eye was like “Hey I’m going to go get a smoothie at the concession stand, you good?” And I was like uh NO will you please stay? And it was like “Nah, gotta stay fueled, I’ll BRB you’ll be fine.”
We were decidedly not fine. Moji has such a gem of a brain, he never thought about stopping, but BOY did he have to get creative to get himself out of the way of a few fences we got way, way too close to. We tipped three rails pretty lightly and then for good measure literally cantered through the final fence, taking all three rails down, but I was so happy with how game he was I really didn’t care. I was mad at myself for not riding better but the whole point of the outing was to get Moji around his first event, and to that end he essentially got himself around unassisted, and I was thrilled with that.
That left just one more phase—cross-country! While I was getting ready to go cross-country, I couldn’t get over how hilariously different the outfit you wear to go cross-country is versus what you wear showing hunters or jumpers.
Especially in the hunters, it’s all about the look—the braids, the shiny boots, the painted toes, the coat. I felt like I was about to go whitewater rafting as I strapped myself into my life vest and pinney, complete with the medical armband (that I didn’t forget! Though I did have to move it to my boot because it would not stay on my flapping noodle arm.) and Moji’s seriously intense tendon-guard boots. All function, no frills. I kind of felt like an Avenger putting my battle garb on versus a courtier on her way to hunter land.
Our cross-country warm-up went great, so well in fact that I was ready about 10 minutes too early. I couldn’t decide if I should walk around or if I should keep jumping, so I went to check in with the starting box and they said if I wanted, I could just go. Super!
A gentleman started counting me down from 60 and I started trotting a large circle behind the box, and before I knew it he was at 15 and giving me a look, like the you-should-probably-come-over-here-and-get-in-the-box look. All my eventing friends had warned me it was really easy to go too fast at beginner novice on cross-country, so not to go all Seabiscuit out of the box, so following a very dramatic countdown of 3, 2, 1, GO! I pressed start on my watch, picked up my reins, and sauntered on out at a walk. We trotted pretty soon after, and then Moji caught sight of the first log on top of the hill and bounded on up at a canter.
He was quite confident to Fence 1, which is why I was caught off guard when he started cantering sideways about 50 feet out from Fence 2. He was staring at the jump judge’s car like it was going to eat him, and I had to sit down and really dig in to him to get him to even realize there was a JUMP in front of us! That was sort of the theme of the beginning of the course, Moji looking at everything BUT the fences, me desperately trying to talk to him/kick him/turn his head to PLEASE GOD LOOK at the fence we were jumping.
After about Fence 5 or 6 of the 16-jump course Moji had the game figured out, and then it was my turn to voice the “I’m not so sure this is a good idea” opinion, because suddenly we were just RUNNING AT EVERYTHINGGGGGGG. Moji is a very, very soft horse generally speaking, but I was sincerely regretting leaving him in his plain baucher snaffle as he locked on to fences from further and further away and just tried to run at them. I imagine his inner monologue was a gleeful “Yaaaaaaaaaaahoooo!” While mine was a panicked “Ahhhhhhhhhh why?!!!”
Don’t get me wrong, I love a little speed, but this was a smidge excessive, so I reined Hi Ho Moji in and did a big circle before the couple of fences that led down to the water and eventually the finish. That settled him down quite a bit but felt quite weird as a rider to be allowed to circle on course and not get penalties!
Then came the water—having been a freight train for much of the latter half of the course, I assumed Moji would barrel on through the water and pop over the roll top on the uphill on the way out. So imagine my surprise when we canter on down to the water and suddenly break into the most spider-on-pogo-sticks trot I have ever felt.
It was like he was trying to stab the water with each hoof for some perceived injustice, a real “Et tu, Moji?” situation, and it was not helping our cause of cantering out over the rolltop. I just pointed his nose at it and hoped for the best, and wouldn’t you know it the pogo stick spider hopped right on over it.
One more fence and BAM—we were home fault-free! I really could not believe how fast the course went by—it was like a ride you get off and immediately want to get back in line for, and I was so incredibly proud of Moji.
I helped him when he had his baby moments over the first few fences, and from then on he was captain of his own ship, with some advice ranging from vaguely helpful to downright obstructive from me. I was so busy hugging him and talking to my friend Hannah who had come to watch I didn’t even see the volunteer walk up to give us, get this, a tricolor ribbon.
I really couldn’t help but laugh at that—I was in last place (well, someone got eliminated on cross-country, and someone had a few stops, so like almost last place), and we got a tri-color ribbon that simply said “competitor” on it. It was essentially a tricolor name tag and I loved it.
We took Moji back to his stall for some ice—I hear that’s a thing eventers do after cross-country—and BOY did he love it. I got the watermelon flavor and it seemed to be right up his alley—maybe we’ll try blue raspberry next time, more in line with our colors.
All in all, I couldn’t be more pleased with how well behaved Moji was at his first event. There is a lot that can be improved about me and work to be done in dressage, but it was a great first experience. I loved how friendly everyone was at this event—I asked a series of the dumbest questions all starting with “This is my first event,” and everyone went out of their way to help.
The dressage in-gate lady reminded me not to go in before the bell and explained how to pick up my fabulous high-score sheet, the people at the office explained how the cross-country times worked (I thought it was called a time allowed, and was very confused when I saw three times listed on the sheet), the start box person on cross-country explained where I could walk through the box before the countdown reached 10, a fellow competitor who happened to be in my division helped direct me on where to park my trailer, and of course I can’t forget the magical medical armband shop.
I’ve already signed up for my next beginner novice event in July, and thanks to all these people and their help, I may be infinitesimally more prepared this time around (and yes, I’m paying a trainer to help this hot mess for the weekend).
On we kick to the next event!
Ann Glavan is an editorial staffer for The Chronicle of the Horse. Originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Ann grew up competing at A circuit shows in the hunter and equitation divisions, first on her pony Is A Belle and more recently on her horse Happy Go Lucky. After two internships at the Chronicle, Ann joined the editorial staff in the fall of 2015. Read all of Ann’s blogs…
Last year, Ann purchased a 3-year-old Friesian-Thoroughbred cross to work with and eventually compete. Moji, now 4, has been under saddle for a little over a year, and he’s been to his very first local horse show, a Sinead Halpin clinic, and an event.