“Just Go Ride.”

Great memento shot over the Ariat oxer. (Copyright Shawn McMillen Photography)

SmartPaker’s journey to the Capital Challenge horse show

Two weekends ago, I made the trip to Upper Marlborough, MD, to the Capital Challenge Horse Show. I received an invitation to the Ariat National Adult Medal Finals. It was a goal that I had set early in the year and was so happy when I found out that I had qualified. This was the first time I had competed at any type of big indoor horse show. My horse show experience as a junior really didn’t involve much more than the local circuit, and to quote a good friend, “I peaked at the children’s hunters.” The Capital Challenge was an amazing show—extremely well run, well thought out and organized. The property was beautiful with plenty of room to school and warm up. The bright fall foliage provided a picturesque backdrop to the large outdoor ring. I was able to show in the outdoor ring in the Adult Hunter division on Thursday. The footing was amazing and the ring was lovely to ride in. I was riding a horse named Cooper, who I had only had the opportunity to ride a couple of times before, so it was great to get into the ring and get a feel for him. He was a superstar. He is a very traditional type Warmblood who has more of a Thoroughbred look. His stride is massive, and he has a rocking horse canter and loves his job. He was a joy be around and to compete. After two successful trips I felt good and was looking forward to the Ariat final the next day.

Cooper! Isn’t he handsome!

Here we go! (Copyright Shawn McMillen Photography)

After some very early morning schooling and a light hack, Cooper and I were ready! Well, Cooper was ready and I was NERVOUS! The indoor ring looked extra impressive and I started to worry. What if I went off course? What if I chipped the first jump? What if I chipped ALL the jumps? What if I let myself and my trainers down? My trainer noticed that I was starting to look a bit pale and she gave me one of these speeches that football coaches give in movies. It went something like this: “Renee, you are prepared. You know your job there in the ring. You cannot expect to be perfect but you need to react to the things that happen while you are on course. So I need to you pull your shoulders back, lift your chin up and go in there and ride like we know you can. Just go ride. You can do it!” I listened to her words, took a deep breath and started to relax. I was second to go in the order so I watched the first trip, heard the score and then walked into the ring. Cooper raised his head slightly and pricked his ears. He knew it was time to compete. I asked for the canter and he picked up his lovely, “to-die-for” 12′ foot canter towards the first line. I found the right distance into the line and gently squeezed to make the 5 strides. I looked over my shoulder to the oxer off the right rollback turn and found it right out of stride. I slowed a bit through the next roll back turn to the oxer/vertical one stride but sat patiently with my upper body to the deeper distance. He easily jumped up over the oxer and smoothly over the vertical. I found a nice forward distance to the skinny jump away from the gate and had my eye up counting the 6 bending strides to the oxer. Cooper swapped to the right lead in front but got stuck in the cross canter behind. I knew that would be a big ding on my score but didn’t get too worried about that (I still had a job to do!) and turned my head to find the nice forward in to the 4 stride towards the in gate. We continue past the gate and up to the 1 stride and in a bending 7 towards the Ariat oxer. Cooper has a left drift and I didn’t hold my left leg enough so the oxer got a bit far away but I didn’t tip (well, not a lot anyway!) up his neck and touched the tack on the landing to get him back. As I rounded the corner to the last jump, I sighed a huge sigh of relief as I saw the distance right out of stride. I talked softly to Cooper telling him what a good boy he was as we completed our courtesy circle. I had survived! It felt great.

Ariat Finals course.

As I walked out of the ring, I started to replay the course in my head as I waited to hear my score. I was satisfied with how I had ridden and how I reacted when things didn’t go exactly as planned. The cross canter was definitely reflected in our scores but I wasn’t upset. I couldn’t have asked for a better horse there with me in the ring! After my trainer and I had a recap of the course, Cooper and I walked back to the barns. As he walked beside me, I scratched his nose and told him again what a good boy he was. He took good care of me and I couldn’t thank him enough for giving me such a great experience at my first Ariat Finals. After stuffing Cooper full of his favorite Paddock Cake treats, I went back up to the ring to cheer on my friends. Even though riding is an individual sport we all support one another through the highs and lows, lost stirrups and blue ribbons, chips and victory gallops. One of my barn mates even drove down from Baltimore to wish me luck (and attempt to video) from the stands. Thanks Cindi!

Yawn…. Cooper is tired after a long weekend.

It was great to watch the rest of the class and my competitive nature slowly took hold as I watched from the stands. It felt great to get the first one under my belt, but I’ve already set my first goal of 2013 and it definitely includes making it back to Ariat finals. I would like to thank Ariat for sponsoring the class and paying the entry fee for the exhibitors! It was a wonderful class and certainly one that I’ll look forward to next year.

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One comment on ““Just Go Ride.”
  1. Allie says:

    Loved this–needed this!

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Jen and Tally
Apparently I've been obsessed with horses since I was born, and I used to beg for pony rides on a regular basis. I started showing in 4-H, progressed to equitation and jumpers in high school and rode on the IHSA team in college where I also discovered the joys...

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