I never thought I’d be a successful eventer. A year ago, my horse looked like a giraffe in the dressage ring, wouldn’t put his feet in water, and took off at a full gallop as soon as I shortened my reins to jump.
My horse’s name is Carpe Diem — Diem for short. It means “Seize the day.” He is a 9-year-old OTTB with a willing attitude and tons of power.
I competed somewhat unsuccessfully for two seasons at low-level schooling events. Diem’s bravery and physical ability alone powered us through. We had a lot of fun, but you don’t get blue ribbons for having fun. I thought I was holding this talented horse back, and we’d probably be stuck jumping 2’7” forever. His stall front was filled with green and brown ribbons and I was tired of dressage judges writing “Nice pair with potential” which felt like a nice way of saying, “Needs a lot of work.”
When I started working at SmartPak last winter, I moved Diem to nearby Valinor Farm, a barn with a serious eventing focus. After my first lesson, I saw a little spark of potential. All winter we worked on the building blocks of dressage and jumping. My trainer, Erin, was patient and insightful. We never jumped very high, but after several months, it turned from a frantic gallop after a crossrail to a calm, relaxed and happy 2’3” course (or a jumping a gridline with my eyes closed!).
When spring came, Diem learned how to canter through water and on the hills, and how to add or subtract strides in a line. In June, we competed in our first USEA recognized event. He had a meltdown in the indoor ring when he saw the judge’s table, and then I started riding the wrong test. But he jumped clean without hesitation on either course. I was thrilled with that. We had some really excellent cross country lessons, sometimes jumping Training Level fences; others ended with me on the ground. But I dusted myself off for a second recognized event, and this time we pulled the dressage together and finished sixth (I know, another green ribbon—but we earned this one!)
Over Columbus Day weekend, I competed in a schooling horse trial at the Novice level. The dressage test was our best ever, a score of 35—enough to put us tied for second going into the jumping. His stadium round was relaxed and quiet, and the cross country was phenomenal. He gave everything I asked for, and all of the scariest fences turned out to be our best!