I returned to the saddle in March of 2016 after almost two years off as I got my ‘adult’ life in order. Since March, my equestrian life has been a whirlwind. From regaining muscle memory to buying my new partner in crime, Joey, I haven’t had a moment to stop and think. But while at our first show of the 2017 season this past weekend, I found myself spending some time in Joey’s stall reflecting on where we started and where we are today.
I bought Joey in June of 2016. As you can tell, he was a typical scrawny lanky OTTB. My coach had purchased him the November before and started retraining him, but ultimately threw him in the back field as she dedicated time to our ponies we were preparing for Pony Finals. When I started shopping, Joey wasn’t even on my radar, but after my coach suggested I ride him to get a better feel for what OTTBs more recently off the track felt like, I was in love.
The weekend after I bought Joey, we went to our first show. We just trotted in Adult Crossrails, but during our warmup we cantered little 2’ fences. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective and he was easy to work with. I knew I had something special on my hands.
We attended quite a few schooling shows in 2016 and worked our way up from trotting 2’ courses to cantering 2’ courses to showing in the 2’3” classes. While Joey was phenomenal, my heart yearned for more and it was obvious that Joey would never catch the eye of a Hunter judge in the AO classes on the rated circuit- so I decided to try something new.
This was a whole new world for me and we shot for a goal of competing in the Jumpers in 2017. Here we were, ready to make that goal a reality at the Irish Fox Winter Series Schooling Show at the National Equestrian Center in St. Louis, Missouri. We decided to do the Schooling Hunters on Saturday as a warmup and enter the .60m Jumpers on Sunday.
Saturday rolled around and Joey wasn’t nervous, but he was feeling himself. We settled on trotting in and cantering out of the whole course, which he did fantastically. This horse is so maneuverable and elastic, he will go forward and come back beautifully. We put in some gorgeous trips, in my opinion, but we were up against trainers riding five-figure warmbloods so we didn’t really stand a chance on Hunter Day. We left with just one third-place finish over fences and nothing in the flat, but I was beyond pleased with him and ready for the next day.
My alarm wasn’t set to go off until 6:00AM on Sunday, but I was wide awake at 5:00AM. My heart felt like it was in my stomach, I was beyond anxious. I have struggled with overbearing anxiety for most of my life but until now it had never crossed over into my horse show life.
I am a pretty confident rider and if my coach tells me to do it- consider it done. This morning, however, as my life was getting ready to change in what I felt was a major way, I felt like I was going to pass out or throw up- or both. Everything I had ever known, inside lines to outside to inside to outside, calm cool and collected, standing martingales, tan breeches- it was all about to be behind me.
When I saw Joey in the stall that morning, I felt an immediate relief in my chest. He looked at me humbly and pressed his nose against my face as I groomed him that morning. As we tacked up for our warm up, he seemed much more relaxed than normal.
When we made it to the Jumper ring and I saw this horrifying little jump with a man in a sombrero next to it, both Joey and I glared at it like it was the bringer of doom. After a good look at it, however, Joey paid him no mind for the rest of the morning. He cantered happily and comfortably around the ring, popping over every question I put in front of him with no concerns. The weight lifted a little more.
Remembering my courses brought me to a whole new level of fret. Why were these courses so hard? I recited and recited and recited until I knew I would be reciting my courses in my sleep – and into the ring I went. I was so focused on my course that I wasn’t really focusing on my ride, so as we approached the first jump of the course (the cactus) Joey took one look at it and said, “see ya!”
As we circled back I took a deep breath and put all of my thought into Joey and we sailed over every fence without a problem. Our first roll back in a show was beautifully executed and he did it without hesitation.
As we jumped our last fence, I shoved my right fist in the air with excitement and cheered, only to hear the judge blow the whistle twice….
I knew one whistle meant go to your jump off, what the heck did two whistles mean?
My coach was laughing and shaking her head outside of the arena and the jump judge let me know that I had completely blown past the second to last fence in the course. All I could think was, “are you kidding me?” My first ever course in the Jumpers and I skip a jump. Fantastic.
Trips two and three were much more successful even though I continued to make a few rookie mistakes, but Joey was a jumping fool and you could tell he was loving the career change. We ended on an absolute high and with a red and yellow ribbon to take home as well!
We didn’t get home until 9PM on Sunday night and as I lay in bed surrounded by my plethora of dogs and my husband, I excitedly tried to explain to him how much my Joey has changed in our time together, but words just couldn’t do his transformation justice. He has grown so much and his bravery never ceases to amaze me. He brings me so much joy and instills confidence in me every time I mount up.
We left that show having accomplished our goals and with a whole new set of goals to work towards. With Joey by my side, anything is possible, that is at least if I remember how to ride in the process.
Bio: Meagan DeLisle has spent her whole life clipping photos of horses out of magazines and dreaming of the day that her photo appears in one. She spends her days balancing her new marriage, a demanding career, and a desire to spend every free moment in the saddle.