The day after I got dropped off at college, my mom and brother started the drive to Florida to meet my dad, who had taken a new job and moved October of my senior year in high school. They have since moved up to Virginia (obviously) but while they were in Florida, I had the amazing opportunity to show one of my mom’s client’s horses at HITS Ocala. This is not a horse I was super familiar with, but whenever I visited my parents in Florida over breaks, I usually got to ride her at least once or twice, and she’s always a lot of fun.
Celi (sounds like Kelly) is a fun and scopey ride, but she’s also a red-headed Irish mare, and all that comes with the territory. When she’s on, she’s on, but when she’s not feeling it, or has decided she’d rather not do what you’re asking, she’s pretty stubborn, and she has a tendency to make decisions without your help.
Because of her *ahem* strong personality the week had its ups and downs. When we pulled up, I helped get everything set up and settled, while my mom took Celi out for a brief ride just to make sure all of her buttons were in working order. She was a little dull and stiff, and we opted to show the next day in her three ring but otherwise she was pretty OK. HITS Ocala has this awesome racing track that covers most of the property and goes around most of the rings, so the next morning, we just hacked around it since we didn’t have a turnout paddock. We had a couple of nice little hand gallops and a little lateral work just to make sure we were acquainted and sort of listening.
Our first class was a little training class–I think we did the level 1s just to go around over something small (about 2’9 I believe) and it was a little hairy here and there, but nothing terrible. We had a couple of time faults in this class because my goal was to make sure my horse was listening and letting me make decisions, and HITS generally has a fairly conservative time allowed in their jumper classes. Once that class and the level 2s finally wrapped up, we went back for our medium Ch/Ad class. (Yes, HITS offers Lows at 2’11, Mediums at 3’3, and Highs at 3’7, and it was awesome.)
Warming up, my horse was brave and her normal self, and since we’d been schooling 3’6+ at home the week before the show, the jumps didn’t look at all intimidating. We walked in the ring and picked up our canter no problem after I made her bend and soften a little instead of locking her jaw. We came around the turn to our first line, and my horse petered out. There was a black and white oxer at the end of the line, and nobody thought to warn me that “Oh yeah, black and white? She hates those.” The “scary” jump, plus the size, and our less than perfect course before all convinced Celi that I was not fit for the job, and we creeped over the first jump, she tried to stop and cowboy kicked to the next jump, and we swam through the oxer in a huge way, but never stopped moving forward. Since we hadn’t crossed our path or gone backward, it only counted as four faults and my mama/trainer yelled at me to keep galloping since the timer hadn’t been paused.
We trucked along to our next few fences, albeit a little sticky and sucked back. But when we came around to a 2 stride in-and-out, Celi put on the brakes again, and this time stopped before she swam. I gave her a couple of whacks, and we came back around. I was super in the back seat, determined that if we just made it through the combo, I would pull up and tell her she was good, and then we could make a new plan. But Celi had other ideas. The athletic little red head cleared the oxer by a mile, and then managed to come to a stop in the 2 stride without knocking a rail or leaving altogether. At this point, we were eliminated, but to make a point that she HAD to listen, I still gave her several spanks (which she blatantly ignored) and poked her with my spurs, making her gallop and move forward, before we pulled up and left the arena. We then went back and forth over a much bigger oxer (set around 3’9ish by the time we finished) in the warm up until she was listening and polite again.
Since she’d been kind of a snot, and had no excuse to be that worried about 3’3 when she normally shows 3’6+ with much wider oxers, and schools 4′ at home with my mama, we opted for my mama to hop on and do the level 3 training class that was running as soon as my class finished. It was again hairy, simply because the horse was still backed off, but had Mama not skipped part of her jump off course, I’m fairly certain she’d have won the class.
At this point, Celi was done for the day, so we watched classes and 25k prix, puttered around, and I bought new tall boots (the boots I still ride in!!). I trucked around in my new boots all day to break them in, and by Saturday morning, they were broken in and ready to go. The new plan was to skip the warm up class, and just do the Low Adults. The point of the show was to simply have fun, and not necessarily to have a big training break through, so easy seemed to be the better option.
Each day of the show we moved around and Saturday we were in a huge ring right along the driveway with weird looking dark footing, but that Celi much preferred to the smaller arena we’d been in the day before. Saturday’s class was speed, Celi’s favorite. Though I was nervous, we’d had our conversation, plus the jumps were smaller, and she felt pretty good. As it turns out, there was no need to worry. I picked up a gallop, rode a little aggressively to the first two jumps, and after that Celi got into her groove and rocked around the long speed course without issue. In a class of 30+ we managed to pull of a 5th, despite her small build at only 15.3 and a huge arena that definitely put us at a disadvantage.
After this awesome trip, I was feeling so much more confident in my own ability and my horse, and I was generally in a much better mood. We again watched classes and I took pictures. Saturday there was an East v. West Hunter Classic which was super cool (they even pinned all 24 entries, and the Low Junior Classic. As a side note, those juniors go stupid fast. It was exciting and terrifying all at once.
As much fun as I had Saturday, Sunday was my favorite day, because Sunday was Classic day!!
As big as the ring on Saturday was, the Grand Prix field we showed in for our Classic was immensely large. The time allowed for our first course was 90 seconds, and about half the class didn’t make it to the jump off based on time faults alone–hopefully that provides some perspective. As impressed as I was, I could also tell that Celi was quite impressed with the jumps everywhere, and since it was a Classic, most of the jumps had max height and spread, which meant a few of the jumps were pushing 3’3. For the first time all weekend we also had both a double and a triple in the course, with the triple going by the VIP tent.
All in all, there were 12 obstacles, and factoring in the combos, there were 15 efforts, with the very last obstacle being a bending line from a square oxer in the shade, to a 1 stride double, that had an oxer in, and a vertical out. At the end of a long and exhausting course that zigzagged back and forth across the Grand Prix field several times, this was a real test.
Jump 1 we hit quite nicely, and landed galloping to jump 2. Because I didn’t quite trust my horse yet in the course, she got a little tap at the fist jump, and when I felt her suck back to jump 2, I gave a bigger tap. Like the good girl she knows how to be, she left the ground and marched on to do 3 and 4 in a serpentine across the field. As it turns out, my eye was a little long to jump 2, which was why she tried to slow and fit in another stride, but she really hates getting deep, so maybe this was still the better option?
By the time we had worked ourselves back down to the end of the field for the triple, I was a little concerned that we were cutting our time close, so I opted to cut inside a few jumps with the hope that I could keep my horse moving out of the tight turn it would create back to the triple, so that we’d have enough impulsion to get through. By this point in the course we were really rolling and clicking, and she locked on and sailed right through with only a light guiding rein.
Next was a weird broken line from the triple and then a roll back to the last bending line that started with one of those darn black and white oxers, but we popped right over with a little tap reminder, and I let her carry us down to the double. A few strides out I realized we were coming in really strong, but by then it was too late to do much, and I had to hope Celi would be careful with the vertical on the out. As we jumped in, I also realized that there was a photographer almost directly in our path, and I mentally begged Celi to go around.
Lucky for us, the judge gave me a solid minute to walk and catch my breath since I was pretty much dying–as fun as Celi is, she can be a bit of a freight train, and the course was awfully long. When the judge finally blew the whistle, we picked up our gallop again, and Celi went into jump off mode. As we cleared jump 1, a huge gust of wind blew and knocked over a jump we were going to be cantering by to get to jump 2, and the judge whistled. Thoroughly confused, I pulled up, and the jump crew ran in to fix the jump, while the judge called me over.
I was informed that since the jump had blown over just after I crossed the start line, I would be allowed to start over. This was very nice, but I was also bummed because we’d hit the first jump so nice that I was feeling really good about the rest of the jump off. Nonetheless, we started over, and while it wasn’t quite as perfect, it was still a very nice distance, and we continued around the jump off going really fast, and I’m honestly not sure how much I was actually in charge.
With 3 jumps left, I was feeling really good about our time and our turns, and came around to the one jump we hadn’t done in our first course. You can just barely see the huge CWD standards in the background, but for whatever reason, Celi was too busy staring at the standards, and clobbered the top rail. In an effort to be the fastest four fault time, we booked it and cut so close to the last line that we jumped the in at an angle, and still managed to leave out a stride in the line.
We truly galloped away from the last fence, and then took our time pulling up with lots of pats and love for a fantastic jump off. Once all was said and done, we ended 12th out of 30 or so juniors and adults. Not too shabby for a catch ride that was a bit tragic when the weekend began. And based on our time, if we hadn’t pulled the rail we’d have been somewhere in the top 3.
After the Classic we stuffed Celi full of cookies, watched the 150k prix, and finally packed up and went home. Though our issues were partly Celi’s not cooperating, I was glad I’d been able to figure her out so that she felt that she could trust me to make decisions. It’s easy to hold a grudge against a horse that doesn’t always give 100%, but those are the horses we learn the most from, and the ones that are more likely to give 120% if you only know how to ask and be worthy.
Though I’ve been to several A shows in Texas, HITS was a whole other world in comparison, and yet was somehow more affordable than many of our Texas shows. Though we don’t have anything like this close enough to make it feasible right now, I’ve definitely decided that I eventually need to live close to a big winter circuit after such an amazing experience. If you ever have the opportunity, I highly encourage you to show at least one weekend at a big fancy circuit, because even 2 years later, I remember every little detail, thanks to the incredible impression it made.
All photos taken with my camera gear, by my mama.