Riches to Ribbons: Artie Meets My Ego

JN’s Thoroughbred Makeover blogger Amanda Cousins enjoys allowing her Makeover mounts to dabble in a little bit of everything. She recently took her 2019 mount, Artie, to his first Horse Trial, and found that they walked away with a lot more than just the experience. 

You can be a good horse trainer and a good competitor, but you can’t always be both at the same time.

At the beginning of June, I entered Artie in first recognized horse trials in Beginner Novice. I was pretty excited about the show since I felt like our flatwork was coming along great, and Artie was starting to pack on muscles and pounds.

Photo courtesy of Amanda Cousins.

Two days before the competition, we had a perfectly timed cross country lesson with Jimmy Wofford. This was great for two reasons; 1. Artie needed a structured and tough cross country school, and 2. Jimmy had a wild hair that day and had us doing some complicated questions that made the course at the competition a breeze. Height-wise we were schooling Novice fences which was a lot of fun and made Artie more mindful of his front limbs. There were a couple questions (like a house to a two stride, down a bank into water) that had my little hunter princess self holding my breath and praying Artie would pick up where my prayers left off #jesustakethewheel. It’s perfectly like Jimmy to know just where he can push his riders and horses, and for that, I’m eternally grateful because it might’ve taken me months to school something like that on my own.

Sunday rolled around, and I felt like I could conquer the world. After all, Artie and I conquered a tough Jimmy lesson, this should be a walk in the park! In the morning, I competed another horse in the Novice division and finished feeling like the world was mine for the taking. What wasn’t mine for the taking was the plans mother nature had for the rest of the day, as Artie and I had to compete to compete in heavy rainfall. As I bathed and braided Artie, I wondered why I was bothering getting him cleaned up when I should probably be finding some floaties.

Artie looking dashing, photo by Amanda Cousins.

Artie stood quietly at the trailer munching on hay and getting soaked while I got both of us dressed for dressage. We had a nice quiet trek from parking to the show area, and as soon as we got into view of the expansive cross country course, my quiet baby horse turned into beach ball of nerves. I gave it the old college try in warm-up trying to talk him off the ledge, but all he could think about was how there was rain in his ears and a really exciting field with jumps in it.

Needless to say, it was not the dressage test I was hoping for, nor did it look like our flatwork had come as far as I knew it had. I mentally tried to shake off my disappointment by joking that it took 35 years for me to have a reallllly bad dressage test. To which my dad quickly said, “No, your worst test was when you were nine, and your horse jumped out of the ring.” Touché dad, touché.

As I swapped my tack for stadium and cross country I just tried to focus on how great the over fences would be, because that’s the fun part of this whole thing anyway, right? Artie was still distracted by cross country while we were schooling over fences for stadium and was still not thrilled with the weather conditions. I walked into the stadium ring ready for redemption with a double clear and walked out disappointed yet again. We were clean on time but had two rails. I had a hard time finding the right rhythm that didn’t have him sucking behind my leg and also didn’t have him rushing the last stride. We couldn’t quite come to an agreement. A day later, I would realize that it was a really respectful course given the weather and Artie’s first horse trial. We were in control, safe and he gladly jumped all the fences.

Photo by GRC Photo

Despite the Old Testament rain, the footing on cross country was actually great. I popped over three jumps in the warm-up and marched over to the starting box. All in all, the BN fences felt exceptionally small and easy, there was one jump that the Novice course also used and this was the only fence that I could tell Artie carefully studied and jumped mindfully. BN is a really easy pace, but I’m practicing timed gallop concepts that’ll help me in the higher levels.

In my lesson days prior, Jimmy said that the riders who make time on cross country, explode out of the starting gate and have their rhythm within the first three strides. Despite not being worried about time, I went to work right out of the starting box. The first 5 jumps were a breeze, and we didn’t run into a hiccup until a large downhill after jump six.

A very wise friend once told me to ride with rubber reins because if they get wet from sweat or the water complex, they won’t slide through your fingers. I ingeniously put my rubber reins on my Novice horse’s bridle but never thought to swap them. So as I sat back and went to half-halt down this hill with gloves that were oozing water, my reins slid right through my fingers. I then thought, “well, I may get a speed penalty.” Thankfully Jesus loves me, and the downhill was met with an uphill that rated Artie perfectly and gave me time to tie a knot lower in reins, so they weren’t just a hood ornament. We ended our course with a glorious double clear.

Photo by Beth Takacs

I finished the day feeling disappointed that all of our work prior was unapparent to the general public. After some dry clothes, beer, and self-reflection, I realized that the real reason I was disappointed was because of how I did in comparison to the other competitors. I’m not motivated by ribbons, but I am motivated by competing against the best and being better, being my best. As a competitor, I lost, I wasn’t better than the best. When I took off my competitor hat and put on my horse trainer hat, I felt differently. I felt like I gave Artie the most positive experience possible, and while he was far from flawless, we finished better than we started, and he did everything that was asked of him. A competitor weighs success by their standings, a horse trainer weighs success by what their horse gained, and the two aren’t always the same. We have to keep sight of what really matters and where the successes truly lie. In the face of others’ successes and ribbons, we can forget the big picture and miss just how far our horses(and us!) have come.