Six months have passed since I last set foot on the jump field at Altamonte Show Stables. Back in October, I had the opportunity to ride in a George Morris clinic on the grounds of this beautiful property and my clinic experience didn’t quite play out as planned. You can read my account of that adventure in parts I, II, and III.
But here I was on a gorgeous day in April tacking up my four-year-old RRP Thoroughbred Makeover mount, Flashback Justice, in preparation for my first ride back out on the picture-perfect grounds of that jump field. I was slated to ride in a clinic with Brody Robertson on Friday and Saturday and a fun day of competition on Sunday in Altamonte’s annual Eventing Derby. Even though little baby Flash was only ready for crossrails, I still felt a bit of dread growing in the back of my head.
Would this weekend be a replay of the last time I rode in this field?
So many things have changed since my last time out on this field. I have taken a step back from my dreams of big fences and blue ribbons to work on myself as a horseman. George tasked me with 50 hours of riding as homework at the conclusion of our time together and I have been striving towards just that and more.
For the past two months, my main focus has been on Flash and preparing him for the RRP Thoroughbred Makeover. The old Meagan would’ve definitely stressed about taking a step back from bigger fences and returning to crossrails. However, I am taking this as an opportunity to better understand how to communicate with my horse and work on my equitation in hopes of attending this year’s George clinic as a better rider.
After Flash had adjusted to his new career jumping sticks, Jen Robertson suggested I bring him up for the clinic weekend. As a jumper rider, eventing isn’t exactly my forte but I knew the weekend would not only be fun and educational, but also great prep for Flash with the field hunting division in mind. So my trainer, Cassie, and I packed up our two green beans and made the trek to St. Louis.
Flash was a little excited by the new environment on day one, but all in all was pretty good for his first time ever off the farm or jumping in a field. Brody was phenomenal (as always) to work with and took his time with our horses, carefully explaining every detail along the way. We popped around crossrails and small verticals and I was feeling good.
And then there was the teeny tiny Christmas tree oxer. Situated downhill, the fence itself wasn’t all that scary but Flash wasn’t quite sure how he felt about this whole jumping at a downward angle thing. He hopped to the left, then the right, and finally came to a halt right in front of the fence. I jostled around in the saddle a bit, my right foot coming loose from my stirrup, but by golly I stayed on.
“Well, Meagan,” I said out loud as I re-positioned myself, “if your dang heels would’ve been down that wouldn’t have happened.”
Brody just smiled, responded with a yep and sent me back out on the track to come again. With some encouragement from my part, Flash sailed over the once spooky fence and stopped on a straight line without fuss.
“Good, he is done!” Brody called. “We can’t get greedy with these youngsters and keep asking them for more and more.” That resonated with me. For years now if a horse did one thing great, I was ready to move on and ask them to do something else equally as well. There must come a point when we are satisfied with one accomplishment being good enough and call it a day. So with lots of patting and kisses, we hacked back up to the trailer alive and well.
Day two was even more impressive. My young horse was very adjustable and cantered around happily. We jumped our little course and again, Flash took a little look at the oxer with the tree standards. We used his “mental momentum,” as Brody described it, to our advantage and completed the course three times in a row successfully before retiring him for the day.
And then came derby day. I woke up to the sound of rain pitter pattering around my hotel window and I felt my stomach drop.
Just like day three of the George Morris clinic.
Flashbacks of coming off for the second time that weekend back in October tumbled around in my head as I lay motionless in my hotel bed. That sense of dread began creeping back into my mind, but I quickly curbed them. I was ready this time. I was not over-facing myself or my horse. I could do this. I WOULD do this.
Despite some issues being tied to the trailer (Flash gets to meet the patience pole to learn that it is okay to stand tied for long periods of time) he seemed to be ready to work. I got on an hour early and just hacked around, letting him acclimate to the hustle and bustle of the day on a loose rein. He took several deep sighs and plodded along without a care as the rain dotted my tan breeches. I felt myself take a deep breath as well—we were going to be okay. This was not going to be a replay from my last experience in the field.
First was our dressage test. While it wasn’t perfect the judge wrote, “very capable pair,” on our scorecard along with some other encouraging notes. Who knew Flash could be somewhat fancy?
Then it was time for our jumping round. The course was very inviting for young horses with some bending lines, a nice big rollback, with the option to tackle the water complex and jump out of the bank after the last fence for fun. After talking with Cassie and Brody, I decided to trot into the first fence and just see where life took us from then on out. We entered the start box and Brody gave me the thumbs up.
“Have fun!” Cassie yelled.
And we were off, trotting a nice straight line towards the first little x. Flash cantered away nicely and I decided just to go for it. We cantered the remainder of the course, aside from one fence set on a downhill angle which I opted to trot to keep Flash confident, although he didn’t even seem to care. We went around to our last three fences and I could hear George in the back of my head, “be brave!” The last time I jumped a bank, I ate dirt, but I trusted my horse and decided to give it a try. We trotted into the water and up to the bank (which he had never seen before) and he popped out without hesitation.
I thought I was going to throw up or cry happy tears, but we had survived. I had gone all weekend without dying. I couldn’t stop loving on my baby horse for how brave he had been all day.
And then Brody said, “Why don’t you two do it again?”
“Would that be getting greedy?” I asked, secretly hoping Brody would agree with me and tell me to pack up and go home.
It may not have been the Grand Prix and it may not have been perfect, but he’s still the winner in my eyes ❤️ now he just needs to spend some time tied to the patience pole and get over his whole issue about being tied 😂 #ottb #ottbsofinstagram #thoroughbred #thoroughbredsofinstagram #retiredracehorse #equestrian #showjumper #showjumping #adultamateur #adultammystrong #flashbackjustice #retiredracehorseproject2018
Instead he shook his head, so back out I went on the track. Flash seemed to be enjoying himself a bit too much the second time around. We ended the course taking out a stride with me giggling and squealing, “too fast Flash!”
As I looked at the Reserve Champion sash around Flash’s neck, I couldn’t help but feel more proud of that crossrails ribbon than any other in my collection. This weekend I had learned a lot, helped my horse have a great first outing, and conquered my fear of returning to the jump field at Altamonte. While some might think I had taken several steps back by returning to crossrails, I think overall I am one step closer to my goal of being a better rider and developing my young horse in the long run.