I’d be totally lying if I didn’t admit to being way nervous about XC, but for totally a different reason than in times past. Virginia is extremely hilly and Leo doesn’t have stud holes (that’s about to change), so we figured he’d be fine as long as the course was on the drier side. Which it was when I first walked it. Then it poured two days before and the whole Virginia Horse Center was sloppy. And the one day divisions ran and TORE UP the ground before and after all the jumps. Then it poured AGAIN the night before. Trainer B and I were scheduled to walk it the morning of my XC, and I steeled myself for the possibility of having to scratch.
But while it was definitely a bit slippery, it wasn’t as bad as it had been before, so we decided to go ahead and run. And I was puuuuumped.
Leo knows when it’s XC time. As soon as we turned the corner and he spotted the course, he was like YAAAASSS QUEEN and put on his fancy pants. We warmed up mostly alone on the flat across from the crowded jumping area, then when that cleared out a bit, headed over to jump a couple. Where Leo promptly tried to run away with me 3 times. And then flip his lid when another horse decided he couldn’t EVEN deal. So it wasn’t the greatest feeling on the way to the start box, but as soon as we were on course, Leo was ALL business.
The horse was so perfect there’s not even words to describe how much fun I had. He went right into the water, didn’t so much as blink at a single jump and our real only imperfection was doing the 4 stride in, um, 3.
We had one speed fault, but an otherwise amazing clear round!
And my awesome people got some great video
He definitely came off XC strutting his stuff and almost as proud of himself as I was of him. And while he definitely loves some XC, when I got him home and he dropped to his knees to roll, then got distracted by all the grass and tore off mouthful after mouthful until I forced him to get up.
So, I did a thing and went to another horse show without telling anyone. I have this super weird hang-up where I don’t really share my plans with anyone- likely from the days of P where I would tell everyone, then I’d get a big ol’ E and have to explain it. But LiveScores always outs me in the end!
Anyways, so I entered Leo in the BN Rider two-day division, since that didn’t have too many entries in it (I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be disappointed to qualify for AECs), but due to a lack of entries, they combined us all into one giant Open division. Le sigh.
We were stabled in Barn 7, which has stalls lining the sides of the barn, and a small arena in the middle, and is connected to the Reel Arena, an indoor sandwiched between barns 7 & 8. Our division’s dressage happened to be assigned to the Reel Arena and I thought, “Yes! I’ve got an advantage.”
Except…no, I didn’t, as Leo HATED the barn, hated the covered arena, and everytime I’d walk him past the chute that led to the indoor, he’d freak. He repeatedly refused to go in his stall after walks/handgrazing, and I had to resort to sending him forward with a lunge whip to get him in. Literally the only time the horse took a deep breath was when I would take him outside and away from the barn. He was clearly so unhappy that I actually considered withdrawing and taking him home. And this was with a tube of UlcerGard per day.
But I figured I’d take it one phase at a time and see what happened. We’d start with dressage warmup and if he didn’t lose his marbles, we’d do the test. Rinse and repeat for each phase. While he was definitely more tense than usual for warmup, there were no explosions, so we headed down the chute and into Leo’s first indoor experience! Where he took one look and went:
BUT the horse pulled himself together and obediently did everything I asked (except the free walk…still non-existent), to score us a 35.3. Unfortunately I never got around to picking up my test so no idea what the breakdown of scores ended up being. I can pretty much guarantee all the comments are about tension though.
We only had about an hour before SJ started, so Leo went back into his stall (willingly, for the first time) to stand in front of the fan while I switched out his bit (he goes in a loose ring KK Ultra for dressage and a nathe for SJ/XC) and pulled out his braids. Trainer B’s awesome groom had done a beautiful job braiding but I figured I’d need some mane to grab. AND put on my new-to-me Lund grippy reins that Mandy oh-so-generously sent to me so I could actually hold onto my reins in the air (seriously, thank you, girl! Lifesaver). Then it was time for….dun dun dun…SJ warmup. Trainer B and I had discussed how to avoid Rabid Antelope Warmup Leo, and Virginia had just the answer for us. While the main jump warmup was being held in the Wiley Arena, the actual SJ courses were all in the Dee Dee Complex. The end of the Dee Dee Complex was fenced off as a “holding area” for the rider who was next to wait in while the rider on course finished up. There was a single vertical in the holding area, so we ended up w/t Leo in the Moore Arena, which is the covered next to the Dee Dee Complex, then when I was on deck, going to the holding area where I jumped the vertical 3x before cantering straight in to do our course.
No shenanigans, no explosions, just a perfect warmup that led straight into the most rideable course I’ve ever had on him. A little TOO rideable, ackshually, as when I half-halted between jumps 3 & 4, which was supposed to be a seven stride, he came way back, then we put in 8 and the distance out just wasn’t there. But the line from 5 to 6 worked perfectly, he jumped 7 beautifully, then I did what I do best and buried him to the oxer into the 2 stride. Because of course I would.
Still, I was thrilled with him, thrilled with me, and maybe a bit weak with relief that Rabid Antelope Warmup Leo hadn’t reared (literally…no pun intended) his ugly head.
XC, aka the whole reason I love going to Virginia International, was the next day!
After our disastrous (to me, because I overthink things) SJ showing, I spent the night questioning if I should run Leo XC. Maybe I just needed to go home and work on stuff some more. Maybe he needed to get “fixed” by Trainer B before I attempted to jump him again. If you can’t tell, I desperately don’t want Leo to be a stopper.
My XC time was 12:47 so I spent the AM packing, helping the team and trying not to think of how a couple fences would definitely get me eliminated on P. Old habits die hard, yo.
Luckily on my way down to XC, which was quite the hike from the barn, I rode with another adult ammy in my division and we got to chat about our horses, which made me way less nervous about the potential for Warmup Leo to return. And thankfully warmup wasn’t super crowded and I was able to nip in the bud a few antics and have a not-so-bad warmup, despite the announcer saying things like “elimination” and “jump 3 has ANOTHER stop,” and “a big spook at jump 12” (the table with wings). I was wishing for some ear plugs at that point.
Then it was our turn and we were off for our first BN together!
Except…that water. Oh my, the water. I was SURE they were going to give me a 20 for that. Leo’s always been a little iffy about water, but has seemed to be ok with “regular” looking water, aka, not dyed. He’s given me no issue in either waters at Carolina Horse Park, and gave me no issue in Virginia. But he HAS taken hard looks and/or done the sideways thing at Trainer B’s water, and at both HTs in Florida- all which are dyed turquoise. He jumped that oxer thing so well that it didn’t even occur to me that he wouldn’t go, so it really took me by surprise.
The rest of the course? In love with my horse. Jump 3, which claimed all sorts of victims at BN-T, Trainer B proclaimed to be perfect. The winged table? He didn’t look twice. He’s always seemed good with ditches, but has never seen one like this where it was wider at one end and narrower at the BN side (still kicking myself for not realizing the hanging log was an option), so I sat back and squeezed and he was like, “Oh, faster? Okie dokie.”
Now, it wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and here’s why. I have NO IDEA how fast I’m going on this horse. Like, none. He’s floaty so I think we’re zooming, then I see video and we’re moving in slow-mo. I didn’t wear a watch on course and I thought for sure we were going to get speed faults (I always did on P). WE WERE THE SLOWEST PAIR IN OUR DIVISION/SECTION.
And I guess because we didn’t go BACKWARDS at the water, they didn’t give me a 20, which saw us move back up to 6th!
We were scheduled to show jump at 6:15 PM Saturday evening, but the heavens opened up around 3:30 and this massive storm hung over us for what seemed like forever, pushing everything back by 1.5 hours. It was a mess- stalls had lakes in them and the arena footing was just slop. Something I’ve never ridden Leo in until that point.
Trainer B and I were able to walk about half the course before they started sending riders in, so I stayed to watch a few rounds to know where I was going. And then I had to walk away. I watched about 7 rounds, and in all 7 rounds horses and riders were slipping, pulling rails, and just generally not having a good go of things.
Like, one pair came into the arena as the previous pair was finishing up and the horse ENTERED REARING. Lucky for the horse and rider who were ending their course, that horse didn’t seem to notice. Then the rearing horse jumped jump one and, oh ya know, RAN AWAY with the rider. Legit ran away and they galloped three laps of the entire arena before she managed to pull him up. Then she just left the arena. I felt so bad.
Since the schedule was so messed up, they were just putting riders in order as they came to warmup, so I threw Leo’s tack on to get in line. And wondered if he was perhaps a bit tired, because this is what he was doing the entire time…
But I quickly found out when we stepped foot in the SJ warmup arena that that whole “stall-licking-because-I’m-so-calm-and-bored-with-this-whole-thing was a LIE.
If there is any footage of the first half of my “warmup,” I’ll pay through the nose for it. I didn’t even recognize the horse under me…as he was flinging himself (and me) around like a lunatic. Yes, I had THAT horse. I wished I could trade for the horse that *just* reared and galloped. At one point, when he took a nanosecond of a break from ping-ponging around, a trainer on the rail said with incredible sympathy, “I’ve been where you are. You’re doing great.” The look of pity in her eyes was touching, but I had no time to dwell on it because Leo had caught his breath and off we went for round 6? 7?
And there’s Trainer B in the middle of the arena going, “Ok, now canter!”
But he was right. And Trainer B had already warned me about “Warmup Leo,” but after dressage warmup, I thought he’d been exaggerating and Leo clearly loved me too much to put me in harms way. So…lesson learned. Once I stopped just trying to survive and started making him do things my way, he was like, “FINE,” and we got down to work. Plus, by then the warmup area had calmed down quite a bit (not sure if everyone else had just went to do their rounds or if they left to avoid Leo and I), and Leo got a bit more chill.
But then I found I had a different problem, in that I couldn’t keep a grip on my reins. My Lund ones had finally gone to their death and since they are apparently no longer in business, I went with a type that looked similar…BUT IS NOT. I had gloves on and it was honestly like I had greased my reins.
So here I am, already in my head because I can’t grip my reins, I’m riding a rabid antelope, the footing is a mess, I’ve seen multiple horses slip and slide, and oh yeah, have I ever SJ isn’t really my thang?
Needless to say, Leo is a saint (yes, I’m aware that I just called him a rabid antelope like one sentence ago) because I had NO steering and he still jumped everything. I spent at least 5 strides after every fence trying to get my reins back, and pointed him at fences all wrong. I had explicit instructions to never move him up to a fence- to either sit or whoa a little so he learns to back off fences- and to fences 4 and 5, all I could see was the long one. So while, umm, ewww, at least I didn’t let my (incorrect) instincts take over. But the 2 rails were 100% my fault. I was most disappointed in how I rode the 2 stride. One and two strides are so hard for me, but in the SJ lesson we had the day before leaving for Chatt, I absolutely NAILED the 2 stride. Womp womp.
So the two rails knocked us down to 9th and I spent the hours between 2:00 AM and 4:30 AM watching the above video in slow motion and beating myself up because I definitely, totally ruined my horse forever and it’d be better for him if I didn’t take him XC the next day. And maybe I should sell him to someone more deserving. Ya know. All rational things that one thinks in the middle of the night.
But at the same time, I was the teensiest bit proud of myself. Show jumping has always been my worst phase and I still went in and did the thing, despite being more than a little suspicious of my horse’s mental state.
So as I mentioned, Leo and I had a great ride around the grounds the evening before. He was surprisingly relaxed and I was happy to get on for dressage warmup on Saturday to pick up right where we’d left off.
After a 20 minute or so warmup, we headed down to the rings, where Leo took one look at the XC courses in the distance and went:
Luckily the judge gave us a little bit of time and a couple laps around the arena gave me 90% of Warmup-Leo back. Which, as you can see, was still AH-MAZING.
Submission: 7.0 (this one made me laugh)
Rider: 6.5 Score: 30.3
Now, I will say, I thought a couple of the marks were a bit generous. I’m not sure I would’ve scored his canter transitions as an 8 and 7.5, respectively, but then again, I’m not a judge so what do I know?
His free walk has always been pretty non-existent, but also something we haven’t worked a ton on at this point. I was so proud of his medium walks, because he has a tendency to fling his head in the air randomly at the walk, but held himself together. And I could feel the halt wasn’t perfect, but I also wanted THAT halt on the books, before it devolved into this:
So plenty to work on and improve…as always. But considering his average score over his show career of four events is 35.95, I was over the moon with the 30.3.
That’s right. While P’s been busy having an extended vacay and thanking me by racking up MOAR vet bills, Leo has been in Florida kicking booty. And I FINALLY got to see him.
I drove down with the owner of Trainer B’s home base farm super early last Thursday AM and made a bee line for his stall before the car came to a complete stop. And I’m fairly certain he remembered me, as he promptly tried to climb out of his stall when I stepped back out.
Trainer B flatted him and it was all I could do to not pull him off and take him back over myself. But I showed a magnitude in self-restraint because Leo was going to his first Beginner Novice!
Things Leo has remembered:
Things Leo has learned:
-And…How to stand super chill on the trailer while all your friends get on and off for their ride times (hallelujah)
Since he was in the lowest division of all the horses entered that weekend, he had the last times of the day. And even though the show grounds had calmed down by the time he was getting ready to go…he still hadn’t been off the farm since arriving in Florida in December. So it could go either way.
But this was his dressage:
Which looked to me like a huge improvement over the last 2 (and only 2) times he’s been to a show and done dressage. But the judge noted tension in like every movement so he scored a 38-something. Whatevs. I love him.
Then a few hours later was SJ. I legit held my breath when Trainer B pointed him at jump 1, a “big” oxer. But Leo never even hesitated.
He had 2 rails down behind, likely due to distraction, but LOOK AT HIM
What impressed me most was how he handled it. No, no one wants rails, but Leo USED to get super upset and leap in the air then try to bolt when he’d hit one. And being a Super Ammy, uhhh, calm yo’self. But he made the jumps look so easy (though that’s likely due to Trainer B).
The next day was XC and now Leo hasn’t jumped a full XC course since Virginia with me, and Trainer B only has a few plain logs and a corner in his field. Honestly, the course looked a little spooky (to me, seeing it through a green young horse’s eyes) with TWO waters, both dyed a shade of blue he’s never seen before. But OH MAH WORD, he absolutely nailed it.
The only thing that would’ve made me happier is if I were riding him (duh), but I’m super thankful to Trainer B for making it happen. He had a lot of rides that 4 day show, and did even more coaching, and with Leo going last at the end of loooong days, it would’ve been easy- and understandable- to not give him great rides. But that clearly didn’t happen, and Leo was able to get yet another solid experience under his belt.
There’s one more show for Leo in March and the tentative plan was for me to go down there again and ride him, then compete, but the show starts the day we’re supposed to be closing on our house, so likely I won’t make it down there again and Trainer B will ride him. Then after Carolina International, I’ll get my horse back and be able to boop the snoot on the daily!
I really dragged this one out, didn’t I? Well, it was my first hurrah since March and my last hurrah for quite awhile, so sorrynotsorry. Plus, I was waiting for show pictures but at this point, 11 days later, forget it. Literally everyone that I know who showed at different venues that same weekend had their pictures within 48 hours and mine still haven’t been uploaded. They have like 1/10 of the competitiors’ pictures up under the VA folder on their website, and it’s been that way for 2 days now.
But anyway, we came out of SJ with Leo getting all the pats from everyone because he was SUCH A GOOD BOY, and then Trainer B and I headed up the hill so Trainer B could do his BN show jumping and I had to get to XC. I stopped by the arena so I could get my XC gear out of the golf cart and was fully prepared (externally, at least) to head to XC alone, but Trainer B persuaded the other competitors and the stewards to let him cut in front of everyone else and do his round so he could come with me to XC.
Seriously. Best Trainer Ever.
During that interlude it was discovered our rail had dropped us from 2nd to being tied for 6th so there were some jokes made about going for optimum time, which Trainer B quickly squashed. He wanted me to stick with the plan of trotting the first fence, then cantering only if Leo was balanced and not rushing. Any sign of rushing or pulling and I was to do a downward transition, even walk or circle if I had to. He said coming out of XC with a better trained horse was more important than what the results looked like on paper (FINE), told me to ignore the fly bonnet message (P’s “Go Fast” bonnet) gave me a few last minute tips and we headed to the start box.
Leo was super game, didn’t so much as peek at jump 1, landed in a beautiful canter and we set off on quite possibly the most gorgeous XC course I’ve ever been on.
While the round wasn’t perfect- he definitely got a bit rushy after some of the jumps, requiring quite a bit of trotting and one circle after jump 6, and then there was the little debacle on our way to the last jump where the pair behind us had gone balls-to-the-wall and galloped past us with no warning (she apparently got reamed out afterwards)- but I just had a blast. There was no question in my mind that he was going to jump all the jumps and even the water didn’t back him off.
He was clearly enjoying himself and I just wished we could go around and do it again and again.
The time penalties added quite a bit to our score, dropping us to either last or almost last, BUT, had we not had time penalties, we would’ve ended up 5th. Had we not had time penalties or the rail, we would’ve held onto 2nd. Which in such a big field, with nearly half the field consisting of professionals (seems a little weird for Starter but whatevs), is sort of amazing.
And as we walked back to the barns, Trainer B reaffirmed that this was, indeed, Leo’s final Starter.
And Fun Fact: the horse we were tied with after dressage has gone prelim/1* with Lainey Ashker. Leo is a champ.
Simply put, it was the best possible way to end the year. Leo gets a break now and will head to Ocala with Trainer B at the end of the month while I try my best to get P back in some semblance of shape before his break while I have surgery and have to take my break.
Ok, so at this point Leo and I had been at the Virginia Horse Center since Thursday afternoon, where on that day I worried the entire time how or if I was going to ride my horse. One of the reasons I’d put off telling Trainer B I’d wanted to ride was because we’d had two, ahem, interestingeducational lessons leading up to the show, and I had this ridiculous fear that if I’d told him I wanted to ride, he’d be all, “I mean…should you?”
But on Friday I bit the bullet after seeing how tiny the XC jumps were, we switched as Leo’s rider, and I did dressage on Saturday, which had us tied for 2nd place, 2.2 points away from first. Now all I had to do was jump my horse over a course of jumps for, well, the first time ever (his 2nd course ever), and possibly even canter fences…another first, seeing as Leo, aka Spider Legs had been solely trotting fences up until that point.
Then my nerves were slightly abated when I heard the announcer say that the horse trial divisions (the show was also running CCI1/CCI2/CCI3 divisions) would be doing stadium up in the arena Leo and I had just done dressage in the day before. So whew. At least it’s an arena he’s already been in.
Until I went with Trainer B to check out the CCI3 SJ course in the big Grand Prix arena in the middle of the Horse Center and saw course maps posted for the FEI levels…AND STARTER.
How cruel does one have to be in order to run the 3* and STARTER in the same giant GP arena?
I considered asking the show office if I could just stick him in BN. After all, we’d done the same dressage test as the BN division- just slide my score in wherever you see fit, mmmkay? I’ll totes jump bigger fences if it means I can do it in a quieter arena. To give you an idea of how nuts the area the GP arena was, when I was standing near it with Leo earlier in the day, FIVE loose horses (in the span of less than an hour) galloped directly past us, as that arena stands directly in the path from all the other arenas/XC back to the barns.
But I digress.
The warmup was next to the coliseum, and while Leo was a little on edge at first, he actually warmed up super. Didn’t do even a little bolting after any of the jumps and was fairly steady to each fence, even the oxer. So with that, we went into the GP arena with the instructions to trot the first fence, immediately do a downward transition, trot the 2nd fence, then play it by ear after that. If he rushed before or after a fence, immediate downward transition. If he was balanced and relaxed, let him canter.
He had a rail at jump 2 because I simply held on too long, but it was so fun to feel his confidence grow as we went along. They had the ground poles set about 6″ in front of each jump, so he whacked at least 3 of those, but the rest of the rails stayed up. And check out that flying change in between jumps 4 & 5!
I was thrilled as we came out, even more so as we headed up the hill to Trainer B’s SJ and my XC and Trainer B said that’s what he needed to see before moving him to BN.
So after finally making the decision to ride (for goodness sakes) and officially making the switch from Trainer B to myself, Leo and I had a most perfect ride around the Virginia Horse Center. It was filled with over crowded arenas, spooky indoors, loose horses, blaring speakers, flapping tents, zooming golf carts, barking dogs, falling jumps…to name just a few stimuli. So why was it perfect? Well, because for how insane everything was, Leo was most decidedly NOT insane.
The team had 5 horses showing: Trainer B was riding one in BN, one in N, and one in the 3*, another student was riding in the T, and I was the last ride of each day in the Starter. Which normally would drive me crazy, having to sit around all day waiting to go, but in reality I didn’t have even a second to get nervous, as we were running around all day, every day. I walked the 3* XC course (which made me really laugh at my Starter fences), helped in the vet box, tacked/untacked/washed horses, etc…thankfully there was ALWAYS something to do.
I did manage to pre-ride Leo Saturday morning before our 3:40 dressage time, and despite almost being run into multiple times from multiple angles, and him picking up the wrong lead going right twice (first time in awhile that’s happened), he felt pretty good and I was just happy he was still holding onto his sanity.
When it was our turn, we headed up to warmup and Trainer B told me I needed to win the dressage (which made me laugh out loud), and we worked on getting some semblance of a stretch out of him, then headed down the hill and into the dressage arena.
Where Leo immediately went, “Ummm, WUT” and got all tense.
But other than a bobble right before we went in (and I immediately circled before he spooked), we went in and rode Leo’s 2nd ever dressage test (video has captions w/scores):
The collectives were:
With the final comment: “Be more forward to help solidify a better frame; show more bend.”
For a score of 35.0
I felt his nervousness throughout, but was super happy because umm, hello, he picked up the right lead, we stayed in the arena and I really felt as if I rode the test, rather than my usual sitting like a passenger, thinking about what was coming up next. So while obvi we wouldn’t win the dressage (there were 19 people in the division), Leo and I had both survived- his 2nd dressage test ever, and my 2nd in over a year.
Then the texts started coming from friends:
I really didn’t want to know my placing after dressage, and would’ve been happier had we been last, but it was seriously cool to know that despite the tenseness I felt, the judge liked Leo enough to score him as well as she did.
Unfortunately, dressage was all we got to do that day, as both SJ and XC were being run on Sunday, so I got to sit and stew all night about how the only time Leo’s ever done a full jump course was at Windridge with Trainer B, and how I’ve never actually cantered a fence on Leo and the last time we had jumped was a grand total of 3 fences nine days prior…
So when we last left off, after waffling back and forth about who would ride Leo at the Virginia HT, I finally submitted the entry under Trainer B then tried on show clothes.
Well, I had decided that damnit, I wanted to ride. So I prepared a speech and practiced said speech on the way up to a lesson, fully prepared to deliver it once we had wowed Trainer B with how amazing we were.
Then neither Leo nor I could get ourselves together over GROUND POLES without one or both of us freaking out. So I figured it wasn’t quite time to pull out the speech, and went home slightly defeated.
So the next lesson, I had just resigned myself to let Trainer B ride him, seeing as it was 1.5 weeks away from the show and we were still working on canter transitions. Then I packed all my show clothes (because…psycho) and off to VA we headed.
We arrived Thursday afternoon, and I got Leo settled, then tried to find time to sneak off to go look at XC, which I figured would be my deciding factor. If there was something on course that I thought would be super spooky, then I’d let it be and have Trainer B ride. But soon after I arrived, we all headed off to dinner and of course while we were out it started POURING, so when I got back on the grounds, there was no way I could see any of the jumps in the rain and the dark (believe me, I tried and looked like a drowned rat for my troubles).
The next AM, I got to the barn, we fed all the horses, did stalls and then I snuck out to go RUN the course before the day really started. If you don’t know, the rule for recognized HTs is that only the competitor can ride the horse on the show grounds, and the schedule for that day had Trainer B doing dressage in the 3* and then after that, riding his other 2 horses + Leo that afternoon. So I finally had to make the decision.
And…XC was tiny. So tiny, in fact, that I mistook a few Novice fences for Starter (2’3″) and was even a bit disappointed in how little everything looked. But of course, the size of the fences wasn’t the point, just getting Leo to understand the job was. But still.
But that clinched it for me. Now I just had to tell Trainer B he’d lost the ride.
As we walked to dressage, he said we’d go check out the Starter later on. I figured that was as good an entry point as any and said, “Well, I already walked it.”
Trainer B: And?
Me: It looks tiny.
Trainer B: Too bad you’re not riding.
Me: I know.
Trainer B: Do you want to ride?
Trainer B: Seriously?
Trainer B: Do you have your stuff?
Trainer B: Even your show clothes?
Trainer B: They might charge you $25 to change it.
Me: Actually it’s $50.
Trainer B: Did you plan this?
So we made it official in the show office, then I hopped on Leo and we had an amazing ride around the enormous show grounds to prepare him for the madness of dressage the next day.