Working the Kinks Out
The show season was in full swing. The Elevate Event Team decided that since the Kentucky Horse Park is only 30 minutes away, hauling in to the show worked better than stabling. The horses could go home to be turned out at night or rest in their own stalls. We had a nice place under the trees to park our convoy of trailers, put up the pop up tent and gather our support crew. While the walk to dressage was a long one, it was a tradeoff everyone seemed happy to make. Megan stayed busy at the shows, competing her three horses and coaching 3 to 4 riders a day. She could not do it without the help of her crew, because it really does take a village!
I soon learned that the move up to Preliminary is a big one. In the lower levels natural talent can take a horse far, but once a pair gets to Preliminary and upward, conditioning, ride-ability, and the partnership between horse and rider become more and more important.
Back in Kentucky for the summer, Megan incorporated more conditioning into Leo’s training schedule: trot sets, hill work, and galloping sessions. Karen O’Conner described Leo as “large and in charge” when she first met him and not surprisingly, she nailed it. As Leo gained fitness and confidence, the “in charge” aspect of his personality was becoming more dominant. He is also a very smart horse who is intensely interested in his environment. Getting and keeping his attention has always been a challenge and will simply take a lot of wet saddle pads and consistent training. In constant contact with Missy, Megan fine-tuned her training tactics and experimented with different bits, all the time working to find the key that will unlock Leo’s full potential.
Leo’s first competition at the Prelim level was Midsouth Pony Club horse trials in Lexington, Kentucky. The course, designed by Jeff Kibbie, rode well but had a few very challenging questions: one very tough angle combination and several skinnies, chevrons, big tables and a large trakehner. As I walked the course I didn’t say much but I was pretty nervous. To me the jumps seemed very big. Megan’s goal was to give Leo a solid, confidence-building ride and I had faith she would do just that. The pair finished 3rd with a dressage score of 22.6, no jumping faults and just a few time penalties on cross-country and stadium.
Next was Champagne Run at the Park, and here Leo experienced his first jump in the water. He had no problem with it and won the Open Prelim division with a 24.8 dressage score, clear jumping rounds and a few time faults on cross-country. While he was going well, Megan felt they had plenty to work on in the ride-ability department: less arguing and more listening cross-country. He had to come out of the start box ready to attack the first fence, and in stadium he needed to learn that the jumps were more important than what the folks outside the ring were doing! In the meantime, the other members of the Elevate Event Team continued to progress, hitting goals such as personal best dressage scores, confident cross-country rides and clean stadium rounds.
Come August, it was time to haul back up to Pennsylvania for the second boot camp, which culminated with a run at the Fair Hill International one-day horse trial. This time Megan brought two EET horses, Leo and Biggin (Rock Hard Attitude), and her student Mimi Richards with her horse, Whitfield. Tiffany Smith hauled Indy up from Louisville and Brigitte hauled up three horses, her own Harper and two of Twin Fox Farms’ horses. It was a full house at Blue Hill!
The weather was brutally hot the entire time the team trained and at the show the temps hit 100 degrees plus in the shade. The footing was hard and Leo was not impressed. He was his usual lovely self in dressage, earning a score of 24.5, but by the time stadium rolled around it was hot and he did not like the hard ground and slippery grass in the stadium arena. This is where his inexperience showed. His normal 12-foot stride shrunk to 10 feet and he just didn’t want to go forward. He had 16 jump faults and some time faults.
The XC course had been shortened so Megan decided to use the run as a training session. If he seemed to be struggling at all she would pull up and call it day. On course, Leo hit the “in” on a big combination hard with his hind legs and Megan pulled him out of the combination to check him. Concerned that everything was all right before she moved on, she asked the fence judge if Leo looked okay and trotted him around. All was well and they completed the course. He recovered very well, even with the heat and humidity, but her conversation with the jump judge resulted in a technical elimination. What I love about Megan is that she always puts her horse first.
The rest of the Elevate Event Team made a great showing at Fair Hill despite the beastly conditions. Tiffany Smith and her ever-dependable Indy finished 17th in a Preliminary division full of top name riders such as Boyd Martin, Philip Dutton (just off his Olympic medal win), Jennie Brannigan and Ryan Wood. Mimi and Whitty finished 6th in the Junior Open Training division with one of their best dressage scores and a double clear cross-country. Megan finished 6th in Open Novice on her Rock Hard Attitude, and Brigitte and Harper placed 14th in a very competitive Open Intermediate division on the hottest afternoon of the show. Exhausted but brimming with confidence and newly learned skills, the team packed up and headed back over the mountains to Kentucky.