A story I wrote about our winning class on show day:
I recently jumped a hunter course at a show. It was my first time jumping a full course on the horse I was riding and the first time he had done it in a couple of years. I knew we had the ability but I was nervous after a rough go in the previous Hunter Hack class.
Allonsey knows his job well but if left to his own devices he rushes to the fences. I’d half-halted too aggressively going to the second fence in the line, felt like I’d lost his rhythm and forward motion and closed my legs on him before the fence to get him pushed up a little. I got nervous and ahead of him; a bad habit I developed as a kid. With my weight too far forward when he got in deep and still made the jump I was off balance and bumped him with my spurs. Fortunately, for me he’s a pretty honest horse. He made the jump, but gave me the what-for on the other side with a big buck. I managed to keep my seat…barely. It was my fault, not his, and realizing my mistake I made a plan to correct it in our next class.
When they called our number for the Warm-Up Hunters, we entered the arena and picked up a nice forward trot. We had to start on his less flexible side so our canter transition wasn’t as clean as I hoped. I got his frame back in a small circle and looked out to find our first jump. This time I counted the strides in my head to the fence and as I felt him start to increase his speed I tightened the outside rein slightly, sat back and left everything else alone. Our first two fences were over before I knew it. His body was straight and his lead correct, I turned to look across the diagonal. Another two stride line was ahead of us and I felt him start to pick up speed again a couple strides before the fence. I checked him again with a tiny half-halt. This was the line we’d screwed up last time and my heart was in my throat. Again, he was almost perfect. He likes to get in deep which I’m not used to since my mare tends to jump everything from too far. It does give him a nice round basque over the top of the fence though and probably looks much nicer than it feels.
Our next turn down the far rail took us to a three fence combo. Again, my nerves jangled. This was our first three fence line together. We’d worked into a rhythm by now and Allonsey didn’t even need the half-halt this time. We took each fence one at a time, breaking it down into easier pieces. I kept my head up and watched the far arena fence as I’d heard so many trainers tell me over the years. Again he felt a little deep to me at the last fence but since I’d remembered to sit back I rode it well giving a little release with the reins as his body came up to meet mine.
Only one fence left and I looked out to make the turn wide but straight. My hips moved in time with Allonsey’s even strides and I found the path in front of me. Coming up to the last fence my heart was racing fast enough I don’t even remember much other than it felt clean. We completed the course, dropping to a trot in a small circle before leaving the arena.
Allonsey’s owner, Alyson rushed over to congratulate me. “You guys looked really good,” she said and I knew she was right. I was relieved he had trusted me not to make the same mistake twice. A horse that doesn’t hold a grudge is a valuable thing in a showing partner.
“Look at this,” I said to Alyson holding up my hand. My whole body was still shaking from the adrenaline coursing through me.
“You okay?” she asked.
“That’s why I do this,” I grinned. “In five minutes I’ll be coming down off this high and it feels amazing. No matter what I’m proud of us for getting back in there. That was so good we’re definitely done for the day.”
I hopped down to watch the last two riders in our class run through the course. There was one late entry that I was worried about. Her run was pretty clean. As the announcer started to call the places I kept listening for her number as they called out the places. When we got to third and I hadn’t been called I started to get nervous. When neither she or I placed second, my heart sank. She had won and I hadn’t placed at all? I had really thought we did better than that. I was in the middle of reminding myself that it was only one person’s opinion when the announcer called out the winner.
“In first place we have Anna riding Allonsey.”
My face broke into a big grin as I reached up to hug Allonsey’s neck. “Come on guys. Let’s get that ribbon and head home.”