Ok, so I knew that this fall wasn’t really going to be a competition season. Rather, it would be the first season for Fezzik and me together, and the first chance for us to get off the property and to learn what to do at a show.
To catch up on Laura and Fezzik’s journey, click here.
I won’t pretend that many of the things I learned during this process didn’t surprise me. Here is a breakdown of the most important.
1. What you jump at home is not necessarily what you jump at horse shows.
I found out pretty quickly that just because we were now comfortable jumping at Beginner-Novice height at home, we were not comfortable in the warm-up ring at horse shows at any height.
2. In some instances, it’s actually necessary to “practice” your warm up.
My trainer has found negotiation to be an effective strategy for working with me in the warm-up ring. For instance, she’ll tell me if I can get just three jumps done in the warm-up, I’m done. Occasionally, she draws a hard line, like when she told me that I have to jump the oxer without looking like I am being stabbed, or I can’t go in the ring.
3. Progress at home is not equal to progress away from home.
While I believed that my riding was improving at home, it was not at all a case of parallel progress when it came to showing. We did have a linear trajectory, however, and at each show, we got a little further along than the last.
4. Make the most of all of the time available to you.
For example, I like showing at Groton House farm. We are familiar with it and it is only about an hour in travel time, making it possible to go walk all the courses the day before. I have a lot of trouble memorizing courses on the same day I compete, but I have worked out a system for memorizing them if I can walk them in advance. I just have to mention—there’s an app for that! It’s called CourseWalk, and I use it extensively.
5. Heat is terrible. Period.
Along the way, it seemed like every time I would sign up for a show it would be the hottest day on record. I hate heat and Fezzik, my enormous draft-cross, hates heat. I learned to prepare homemade sports drink and to bring a half gallon of it—along with more water than I thought we could ever use, and electrolytes for Fezzik.
6. Use the crowd!
It turns out, some people are obsessed with huge draft-crosses. When you rock a particular phase at the horse show (and by “rock” I mean, get the whole thing done) it helps to have a fan club on the sidelines cheering your horse on.
7. Sometimes adversity can be a secret weapon.
I had a refusal on cross-country at Groton House Farm. I almost made Fezzik walk over it at the stop, but decided instead to get a good circle going and he popped over. We kept going and made it over the next few jumps on course. Then, we encountered another hard one: a light-colored log in the tree line. Fezzik suddenly repeated his “magic trick” and slowed to a walk one stride out.
The good news? I was damned if I would have another refusal, and this time, I made him walk over it, to the cheers of some of my barn mates (again, a fan club helps). I was told after by my trainer that the call-in for the fence went something like this:
“Is the rider clear over fence 11?”
“Yes, I guess so?…They walked over it.”
And so, we had completed the three-phase. (My next goal for spring: Complete a three phase without walking over a jump.)
8. Set realistic expectations.
Clearly, I’m not out to set the eventing world on fire. You don’t ride a 17.2-hand Percheron-cross and think you’re going to compete at Prelim. The short story is that I took up this sport as an adult—a hard place to start—and it’s never been about competing. It’s always been about the journey of working with my horse.
9. New partners take time to get to know.
I have a checkered history with horses but I only ever competed at the Beginner-Novice level. When I bought Fezzik two years ago, I was intending to take up where I left off. I planned to work on my partnership with my new horse while competing in Beginner-Novice and starting to work on some Novice-level questions. When Fezzik was injured just after I brought him home, however, I lost some of my skills (this happens when the only riding you do is walking for 10 minutes a day).
The good news? I found myself uninterested in riding anything else, which is a good sign that he was worth waiting for.
10. It’s totally fine if your main goal is just getting back to “baseline”.
Since the beginning, my relationship with Fezzik has changed from caretaker to rehabber and from patient to team. Sometimes when things didn’t go well, I found myself feeling more upset because I was struggling with our relationship. I wondered whether it would work out okay overall, rather than just struggling with a single performance issue.
What I want from my riding is to keep learning new things and expanding my comfort zone so that we can both go out and have fun. ‘Getting my sea legs back’ is my analogy for getting back to a partnership and a skill set that feels like a firm foundation—and from that, to move forward, one day at a time.
About the Author
Laura Strassman works in technology marketing and lives in the Boston suburbs. She has a long and checkered history with horses but currently owns a wonderful TB X Percheron named Fezzik. He is 17.2 hands, so aptly fits his name if you know the reference. Laura enjoys taking photos and creating video both for work and in her free time. Her favorite subjects are food, and of course, horses.