If I had to sum up this show in one word it would be “lucky.”
With classes starting at one o’clock, we arrived around 9:30 to set up and give Ax some time to settle in before we had to show. No surprise, I chose to skip the unjudged warm-up to just let him hang out in the stall and planned on having a nice flat school before going in the ring. My class—an open equitation “schooling” class—was scheduled to run second and I was listed about halfway down the lineup, so by the time we had the stall set and unloaded everything we had a few more hours until I rode. Somewhere in this time my mom convinced me to go shopping at the local tack shop because what else do you do when you are supposed to be showing? When we got back there was still a little over an hour left, so I pulled Ax out for a short lunge before I thought I would get ready. That lunge saved my life—I was just barely getting on when they announced that I was on deck and I spotted the ring steward looking around for me frantically. So much for that flat school.
I knew my course already but I hadn’t really had a chance to look at it in the ring and I got so caught up in not getting lost that I forgot to ask for canter until I was three-quarters of the way around my opening circle. Our lack of pace (AKA my lack of leg) and my not paying attention set us up for a refusal that was painfully obvious from three strides out. Sure, Ax probably could have been a trooper and jumped it from the slowest canter ever, but why the heck would he? It’s not like I warmed him up or anything.
We made another circle, got our pace, and had the best round we have had all year. I’m pretty sure we added in the line, but Ax was the most relaxed in the ring than he has been in a long time and we got every single one of our distances. Of course, I have no proof of it, but I can dream about it happening again. I knew I didn’t place thanks to the refusal, but I would have been happy to go home ribbon-less after that ride.
My mom and I stuffed him full of cookies, wrapped him, and left him to completely ignore his own pile of hay and eat out of his neighbor’s hay net for the rest of the evening.
This was the day I was most excited for—medal day. I just barely qualified, but with thirteen people in the class, I only had to get a better score than three other riders to get a ribbon. (I know that they say to focus on your own riding, which I totally was, but I also wanted a dang ribbon.)
Thinking that the day before’s formula seemed to work, minus the lack of warm-up, I decided to take Ax for a short lunge in the morning to chill out and stretch his legs. The 2’3″ Equitation class was scheduled third and I was fifth to last, so I had plenty of time to braid his tail, get myself ready, and have an adequate warm-up before heading to the ring.
Except for the first fence, all of the jumps in the Open were the same as Friday so I was mostly focused on keeping Ax relaxed for the Medal that was scheduled to run one class after. I was thankful for the lack of lines (our nemesis) and the swoopy turns in the course that kept us on our toes, but we just weren’t as flowy as we had been the afternoon before. The class had over 30 riders, so we didn’t place but I was happy with how we did. The class before the Modified Adult Medal was pretty big and I was slated to go second to last so I stuck Ax back in his stall to marinate in his Back On Track cooler for a bit longer.
The course rode well and I was, again, lucky that the only line was a bending and the course swooped slowly around the ring. Ax felt more relaxed than he had in the Open and didn’t panic like I did when I realized I was lost with only three fences to go and no one by the gate answered my plea of “HELP ME!” when I rode by. He was a rockstar and we walked out to the announcer saying we received a 73. I hadn’t been listening to the scores for the rest of the riders so I was thinking I would end up ninth or tenth, just barely in the ribbons, and wasn’t at all surprised when the three numbers they called back for the testing didn’t include mine. I was already so pleased with our round and was ready to be happy with any ribbon we could bring home, so when we went back in for the placings and I was called fourth the only words out of my mouth were, “holy shit!”
I’m pretty sure I had the ugliest face holding back tears during our little victory gallop. After having a rough season and hardly even making it to finals, I couldn’t have asked for a better ending. I can’t tell you how many cookies we gave Ax and how many photos I took that afternoon.
Sunday was hunter day and I was already dreading our adds in the lines in addition to waking up with a headache and and a not-so-happy stomach. After the two days before I really couldn’t ask for any more from Ax, so I was just going in to have fun and hopefully get a nice placing out of it.
We were to go fifth in the Open and the Classic, both of which were a good ways into the day, so I followed the same routine as the day before—a short lunge before a Back On Track marinating session. I made the decision to skip warming up as it was raining and pretty soggy out and I was feeling confident that I could get a good pace with a big opening circle.
The course started out decent, but I second guessed myself in the first line with an extra half stride, so I aimed to get a little more pace for the rest of the course in preparation for the Classic. Sounds like a viable plan right? Wrong. Coming to a single diagonal off of a long approach I realized too late that we would be a little long or we would chip. Going with my plan of more forward momentum, I asked for the long spot that was really just unrealistic. Sensibly, Ax refused, sending me over his head. I landed nose-first into the dirt before my body slowly flipped over my neck and I was face-down-belly-up with my feet above my head—I basically did a somersault, but my face stayed in the dirt. I wasn’t told until later in the day that people thought that they had just watched me break my neck.
Of course, the first words out of my mouth were “Is Ax okay?” and my second thought was “I am going to get a bloody nose and I have on brand new breeches.” Once I reassured everyone that all of my body parts were working, I told them that I was going in the Classic—I may get a ribbon with a black eye, but I was not about to end this amazing show with a face full of arena footing.
I can admit that I was nervous going back into the ring. I wasn’t worried that Ax would stop or that I would fall off; I was afraid that I would make another bad decision that would put us both in danger again. Due to my nerves, we went much slower than we should’ve and I’m pretty sure we added two strides in one of the lines, but we got a 63 in the first round. We followed it up with a pretty sloppy handy round that I am going to blame on my walking back to the barn in between rounds because I thought I didn’t make it to the second round and the adrenaline wearing off. We ended up with a fancy, ninth place neck ribbon which complemented my black eye and swollen face quite well, which was good enough for me.
Overall, even though I had what was dubbed the worst fall off the weekend, I was thrilled with our rounds (most of which were our best of the entire season) and our placings. The swelling will go down and the pain will subside, but the ribbons will forever hang on my wall. I am incredibly thankful for so much from that weekend—to my parents for trailering Ax to horse shows all summer and helping to the fullest extent, to my boyfriend for being an amazing help so I can do what I love, to the trainers who let me be part of their team and helped Ax and I through our classes, to the other riders who always asked how our ride was or wished us luck, for my health after Sunday’s fall, and for my horse who has more heart than I do.