What a weekend at Maui Jim! I took Nemo and Hopper with me this week to compete in Chicago… It’s been a long, tiring, bug-filled week! (Oh the bugs! My arms and legs look like Ziggy—a leopard appaloosa with spots all over! The mosquitos ate me alive!) Maui Jim is quite a major outing, with major four star riders every where you turn… It was quite the place to be this year, with many of the biggest names in our sport showing up with their A-Game. Bruce and Buck Davidson were both there on a huge collection of horses, as well as Becky Holder on a slew of her top mounts. Many of the top names in the sport made the trek to Chicago to compete for the weekend, and all the divisions were jam packed with top quality horses and riders…. It’s always an honor to be in the midst of all that! It is a terrific, well run, top notch event, and a really neat outing.
I had originally entered both Nemo and Hopper in the CIC** at Maui Jim. Nemo is doing well since his pasture injury in April, but had missed a few of the gallops that I would have been relying on to fairly ask him to be competitive at that level. With his fitness not quite where it needed to be, the secretary at Maui Jim was terrific to drop Nemo down to the Open Preliminary division so that I might canter him around and school him for the weekend to bring him back to competing for the summer.
So ironically, my Advanced horse was running the Prelim, leaving my much greener and less experienced partner, Grasshopper, standing alone in the CIC**. Since I was entered on two horses in that division, Hopper had the unlucky draw of being the very first horse to go in the dressage. That is always an unfortunate position, as judges typically withhold their best scores to see how the division goes. Hopper was, however, able to win the dressage while being first out at his last Intermediate run, and I’m so thrilled with his progress and so proud of his hard work. Unfortunately, the weather was not promising for Hopper’s dressage test, and Hopp star was uncharacteristically nervous and tense in the dressage on Friday…. Of course, it didn’t help that there was thunder and lightning and pouring rain!!! He was fine in his test, but no where near where he typically is, as my dear friend has become very reliable in this phase (winning the dressage in two of his last three starts). The work was good but the test lacked any real pizazz, and I was frustrated with myself for letting him down a bit. He scored a 61.0 (FEI scoring, which equals about a 41.0 in horse trial scoring), which wasn’t terrible by any means (14 points under the qualifying requirement, so he was well under the req), but wasn’t up to par. I was dissappointed, but all you can do is pick up your skirt and carry on!
I was on a mission to redeem myself in Nemo’s test, and Nemo is still a bit rusty from his time off…. Totally sound, but he thinks it’s January all over again and wants to act more like a playful four year old than a fancy dressage horse! I decided to try to really go after Nemo’s test and attack all the movements, and I was so pleased with him. He was really quiet, through, and obedient, and he put in a really accurate test. He did a couple of really good medium trots and I tried to attack each and every movement of the test. I was so pleased with his first outing back! There were 25 very good horses in the Open Preliminary division, including many top professionals and team riders. I was very happy with his 31.9 in dressage, just 2 points off the lead!
Friday night brought even more torrential rains, and the course became quite soggy and wet. I walked the course carefully on Saturday morning to make sure the footing was safe for the boys, and decided that I could be quite clever in finding Nemo fresh footing for his 10am ride. The course would dry up a bit by Hopper’s 3pm run. Nemo was terrific!! I decided to just canter him around the course, avoiding the ruts that other horses were running in and getting him fresh footing everywhere I could. Just because I wasn’t going to go fast didn’t mean I couldn’t cut some distance off that course! Nemo was a HOOT!! He jumped every single fence on that course on the tightest line physically possible, with my experienced partner allowing me to angle some of the tables to the n’th of the degree. He jumped so well! One of my ICP friends said she was watching the prelim and that Nemo was the only horse all day to take that inside line to the water. Nemo was spot on everywhere… It is so good to have my dear friend back!!!! (Now if I can just keep him away from four board fence in the paddock….)
Hopper was an absolute doll in the two star…. When I walked the XC, I remember telling the girls that I’d much rather run him around the Advanced horse trial than the CIC** course… It was DIFFICULT!!! Several of the questions were strong advanced questions, and the course was very challenging. And we were the first horse on course! We arrived to warmup at the XC start, and a volunteer told me, “Since you’re the first horse, I thought you might want to know that we might be starting the CIC** late since horses keep getting taken out on the horse ambulance.” Oh my! That is not what you want to hear…. Hoping everyone was okay, I had to try to take care of my horse and focus on him–the only real thing you can help in that circumstance. Not a great confidence boost!
Hopper was again, like dressage, quite nervous in warmup, which is unlike him. To help settle his nerves, I rode him out of the box slowly and carefully to the first fence to get his mind on the game. He jumped it really well, and off we went. He jumped the brush log right out of galloping stride, as well as the big advanced log. That sent us to fence 4, the first major question, a max intermediate table without a front, so it was VERY airy (and caused at least one elimination and one rider fall), on a gallopy four bending strides to a corner. He was so good—he jumped the table beautifully and was terrific at the corner, and I gave him a huge pat for the terrific effort and off we went! Then a skinny, table, and log, all galloping fences on the way to the next big question at fence #8ABC, the first water. 8a was a big brush balanced on top of a big mound into the first water, which you needed to ride very forward except that you still had to ride to two toothbrushes at the edge of the water, so not too forward!! Hopper was so good at the mound—I couldn’t have asked him to jump it any better. Several horses climbed the brush, but I was so happy with how Hopp star jumped it. Then I set him up in the water for the one stride of toothbrush to toothbrush that set on the water’s edge on a lip. It must not have been hard enough as is, because when they stuffed the brush, they stuffed it on one side all the way up the flag about 5′ high so you seemed to only have 1/2 the width of a 4′ wide toothbrush to jump! Eeek—Hopper is more than 2′ wide!!! He set up really well in the water and I found my line and distance, he locked on the first toothbrush happily. He started to take off at our really good distance, but when he saw the 2nd toothbrush so close he put his front feet back down, unsure of what to do in between. I thought we had it, and in doing so managed to lose my right stirrup, but we regained composure and I came back around and rode the same line and he was terrific on the
2nd attempt, absolutely trying his heart out. (Trying SOOOO hard, in fact, that he cleared ALL of the brush!) At the upper levels, you’d rather them stop than do something stupid, and it was an incredibly honest stop. He just didn’t understand. When he cleared it on the second try, I gave him a big pat and galloped on to the trakehner and table. I came to the giant up banks still upset with myself for having a stop, but he jumped them so well and then down to the skinny at the C element that he restored all of my confidence that we belonged on the course. He galloped two more tables really well. Then, as I’m galloping along, for the first time in my career, I had a mosquito fly in my eye! Ouch! I rode the next table with my left eye completely closed in pain, and Hopper jumped it really well. Then quite a difficult combination with a skinny log on three forward bending strides to an intermediate corner…. Still with only one eye open. He jumped through it really brilliantly, and I turned right (still with one eye open) heading down to the 2nd water. I managed to get hit in the head with a tree branch on my left side while galloping, as I didn’t see it coming with my eye squinted shut! 🙂 Only in eventing… Hopper rode down the the second water really well, with a one stride of jumps with a huge drop into the water, then a forward bending line to the advanced table in the water. (The advanced only had a single drop and a straight line to this fence??) He was so good! I rode him a bit too much to the base of the big skinny table, and he jumped it really well… Two more galloping fences on the way home. Then I saw one of my fellow pros walking towards me on her horse on XC as I was galloping—I was perplexed, and thought “Is there a
hold on course?” But then I realized that I was the first horse on course, so I needed to go ahead and keep galloping. Wishing her well, I galloped the last three fences and Hopper was home safe.
I was SO happy with Hopper… just the one very honest stop, and a great round that I felt like was well within his means. The best part of the day for me was that he went in the heat of the day at 3pm, yet he only came into the vet box at 102 degrees (just about a half a degree warmer than normal resting temp) and cooled out really quickly. He found it all simple, and I had so much petrol left in the tank that, as I led him back on the mile long walk back to the stables, he was CANTERING beside me as I led him in the walk. Not tired at all!!! That is my #1 job as a rider—bring them home sound, without a scratch, lots of gas in the tank, and itching for more.
I found out later that afternoon that the course had taken it’s toll…. Of the 18 horses that set out on the xc, only 9 managed to complete the XC. Only 5 horses jumped without refusals. Many experienced riders and horses had walked home from the course—horses and riders that were well experienced and very capable. I was so proud of Hopper for being so good… What a tough course and what an amazing horse.
On to Sunday….. Both boys were fresh and fit on Sunday morning, though Hopper most of all. Wayne is notorious for having one of the biggest show jumping courses in the country, and this year was no exception. Hopper came into Show Jumping in 6th place in the CIC**! His weak phase has always been the SJ, as he’s a hard knocking horse off the killer truck who doesn’t care if he touches the rails. He was so good—we’ve had an amazing summer season, and I feel like we’ve become the old married couple who know what the other is thinking without needing to say it. He tried his heart out around the massive course, and he let me ride him very forward and make some great turns to cut off precious seconds. I was thrilled with him crossing the finish line, and it was even better to hear Brian O’Connor say
“Well folks, there’s your first double clean of the day!!” I was thrilled with how far he’s come. He was the first 0/0 showjump round of the day on that course, and was one of only 5 to showjump double clean in the CIC**. He finished a tremendous 6th place of 18, a good ten points out of seventh place. I was so thrilled with him!!!
Nemo show jumped well for a double clear, finishing on his dressage score of 31.9 and making him one of only four horses in the Prelim to finish on their dressage scores. He finished in 2nd place against a terrific field, less than a rail from the win.
Thanks so much to Howard, Chelsea, and Maddy for their terrific help and grooming this weekend. The boys looked terrific! I was so proud of both of them.