RNC the OTTB: Hopefully a Jumper

It’s official; Mother Nature hates me. This week, for the first time in months, I had every single afternoon off. I had time to ride my horse every day – what a concept! Now, I use the past tense “had” here because nothing can ever just work out and we got slammed by a hurricane. So no riding time, but plenty of time for me to reflect on the show we competed in a couple of weeks ago. And there is a lot to go over.

First and foremost, I have to brag on my boy because this was his first jumper show off property! It was Ren’s second show ever, and the farthest he had ever been from home since he arrived in August. He trailed just over two hours to Serenity Farms in Folsom, LA to compete in the .75m Hopeful Jumpers and was all business from the moment he arrived. I wasn’t able to meet him when he hauled in on Thursday night, so I asked my friend who lives in the area to check up on him and maybe take him for a hack around the property. I warned her about how he can be in new places, and I made sure she knew that she was not obligated to do anything she wasn’t comfortable with, but Rency used that hack as his first opportunity to prove to me just how well he knew his job. He walked around the property, schooled in the arena, and even walked over some poles without a second thought. No lunging, no calming treats/paste. Just a focused little five-year-old on a mission.

Rency and I leaving the ring to organize ourselves after another round of refusals. Photo courtesy of Emily Maron.

The next day I arrived on the show-grounds around 7:30 AM and the property was already bustling. I was a little antsy knowing that the atmosphere would get to him but reminded myself that the exposure was what I was here for. We tacked up by 8:30 and were ready to warm-up. Upon entering the warm-up ring, Ren was a little hoppy, and I could tell that he knew what was about to happen.

As I schooled him, it became increasingly clear that Ren wasn’t feeling nervous at all; he was actually just really excited. Riding at the show was no worse than a ride at home when Rency is feeling fresh. He just wanted to play, so I focused on keeping his brain on me as much as I could. My trainer suggested a quick lunge session to give him an opportunity to play, so I put him on the line and let him go nuts. He focused quite quickly and was soon able to jump without an unnecessary celebration. I took that as a sign that he was ready, so I headed towards the ring.

I’ll be the first to admit; our trips were a mess. And the worst part was that it wasn’t Rency’s fault at all. He was ready to go, and he wanted to jump, the problems were all on my part. Looking back, I realize that he knew exactly what was going on. He knew it was time to perform, but through the lens of my own anxiety, I saw his readiness as craziness. I felt like we were absolutely flying through the course, so I pulled and pulled and slowed and slowed until Ren didn’t have enough power to get over the jumps, so he stopped.

Let me be clear; my horse is NOT a stopper. He isn’t dirty, and he will literally only stop if I tell him to, whether I mean it or not. It was a good choice on his part to refuse because based on the videos, he would have crashed through a couple of fences if he had tried to jump them. Yeah, we were going that slow. We buzzed out of the warm-up round with two refusals… and the second warm-up round… and the first trip… and the second trip… all weekend. We entered the ring seven times in two days and only completed one full course.

For our last round, I went into the ring with one thought in my head: get through the course at all costs. My trainer had been begging me to stop pulling him back and just let him jump, so I took a deep breath and willed myself to stay out of his way just once.

The second Rency realized that I wasn’t going to discourage him anymore and that he had the option to use himself like he wanted to, his confidence soared. He took that round as an opportunity to show me just what he could do, and for the first time all weekend, we really felt like a team. Words cannot explain how great it felt to leave the arena after that last course. Rency was happy, I was happy, my parents were ecstatic, and my trainer grabbed us a blue ribbon out of nowhere even though it was only a warm-up round. Despite all of the work he had done that morning and the days before, Ren caught a second wind after that final course. He could have jumped a hundred fences after that but settled for a walk back to the barn and a nice bath.

Rency and I hanging out with my sister and mom after our successful trip. Photo courtesy of Emiliy Maron

The show, in my opinion, was a huge success. Yeah, we got disqualified from pretty much everything, but looking back to Ren’s first time off property in November, I would have never expected him to even be able to function in an environment like that. Let alone compete. He was SO BRAVE, he knows his job, and he wanted me to know that too. My mental block is going to take time to overcome, but Ren showed me just how much trust I can put into him. And I can see now that he was begging me every second to give him an opportunity to show off.

With just under three months until the Makeover and a month until our next schooling show, I can’t wait to see where his confidence and capabilities can take us. Ren and I still need to learn each other, and from now on, I’ll be focusing my energy on supporting him. Hopefully, the next time I report back about a show, it will be full of details about our multiple, very successful trips. Until then, please send prayers that our arena drains quickly so I can get some work done in this lifetime.