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Lisa Marie Beckwith sent us this report of an AMAZING learning experience she had at the Thoroughbred Celebration Show at the Virginia Horse Center earlier this year.
Because sometimes you doubt yourself enough that you have to ask your instructor to take a photo of you in front of the sign to prove you at least made it there on your horse…
Sounds cheesy enough, right? But to the beyond broke, grad student whose getting by trading barn help for lessons on top of working a full time entry level pay job with only half a shot at placing, it’s pretty logical.
There’s been more than one show where the photo is all I came home with. I’ve groomed and worked many multi-day shows and been mindblown at the costs and the nerves of riding at that level. Somehow through the powers of time and space, the same day I arrived at the conclusion I wanted to try a three day show and actually ride above the schooling show level, was the same day I got a text from my wonderful coach asking me if I had intentions of attending Thoroughbred Celebration. TC is a show exclusively for Thoroughbreds and particularly OTTB’s, offering every discipline shy of vaulting and driving they are the nation’s only multi day TB show and happen to be right here in my state.
I’ve saved and worked extra for about two months now to get up the money to go, and said to myself being the overly frugal show lady “If there’s a lot of people in my class there’s no way I’m showing”. I’m the kid who is just fine getting 6th out of 6; for me the ribbon is a memory of the experience and a way to go back and revisit what I could improve upon for next time.
Everyone always lectures me that it’s about “the experience” but in my petty mind if I want an “experience”, I’ll hit the local schooling shows at $6 a class. If I’m laying down a few hundred dollars in hauling, hotels and the show then I better have a shot. Now that my wonderful mare has decided for now she’s going to stay sound (See our Winter Submission “We Get So Bored in the Winter, We Go Crazy… My Horse Literally Poked Her Eye Out – Cheer Me Up SmartPak Contest” on HJU) we, or at least I am ready for the big comeback.
We’ve had some hit and miss experiences (well, mostly miss…) at local shows determining that the new eye does not permit us to enter the schooling or hunter ring because there are horses zooming by our semi blind side. But perhaps we like dressage enough to commit.
My Cheesy Stall decor and hot pink horse
We made it there, cheesy decorated stall like a 4-H kid and everything; Riding in a borrowed dressage saddle, stalling at a beautiful facility the winter weather rolled in.
Sleeting as we pulled in and 26 degrees the next morning for my 8:14 Intro A ride time, I was just waiting for my mare to get angry, she hates weather, and she’s going to seek revenge one way or another. But I said to myself “There’s no way I’m not going in that ring, I don’t care if I forget the whole test. I’m here to show my girl is back and that we can do this. I spent too much money and too much hard work to let anything ruin this chance”
It became a huge emotional roll where I recounted the years of borrowing lesson horses and never placing at local shows, while the other girls rode their leased hunter horses around to champions. Always feeling like I wasn’t good enough to ride in a ring with them or even be their friend (they’re actually super nice people), and that this was my chance right here to prove that I can do this and am just as good as a rider. (Ironically enough, they were at the same show with their TB’s for the hunters and they did great!)
I made my coach take a photo of me in front of the horse center sign that was ringside just in case I didn’t place I at least had self-proof that I got in that ring and did it. I actually nailed my Intro A, or at least met my goal of scoring at Claire’s pre-surgery scores.
Due to the weather, the judge was bundled up in her hummer at C so she thankfully couldn’t hear me mumbling to myself everything I’ve ever been told about dressage in a lesson. I walked out of that test feeling cautiously optimistic, it felt good, Claire listened to me and we didn’t drop the last 1/3 of our circles off. Maybe I survived? My Coach very sincerely told me I did a great job and it was the best test she’s seen out of me these last 2 years. (I almost cried! I was so happy).
Intro A Test
We rode back to the barns and had two hours till our next test, I was reviewing the pattern for B and dying to get out there, I was feeling confident which is generally disastrous for me, as I forget to keep working. When I hear on the barn PA that there were a few no shows and that there was an opportunity to bump up to an open ride time. I grabbed Claire and headed out because I wanted this over! I did my B test, with what in hindsight was not enough mental warm up to get her listening. It wasn’t bad exactly… but it took half the test for her to get on my wavelength and we had a huge score change in the second half of the test. Not my best but I didn’t go off pattern which is half the battle some days!
While wandering the warm up arena I spotted the lady stalled next to me, not anyone I particularly knew. Just small talk at the stalls, she was very friendly and had a cute grey gelding that was madly in love with my raging hormones mare. I heard her attempt Intro A earlier in the day, that her horse freaked out and she never made it in the ring. I could tell as she hand walked him down that she was nervous about another repeat. She hauled all the way in for 2 intro tests and had to skip the first one, I felt so bad for her. I saw her get on and he started prancing again, I was upset for her, and I’m trying to figure out how to help her. She’s such a nice lady!
All of a sudden this moment became about more than my tests, I’m always a super nice and helpful person but was trying to be committed to my rides for the morning. I was heartbroken for her and said to her “There’s no way you’re paying all this money to haul out here to not even get in the ring” (<- my totally broke self jumped out!) I looked over at the ring steward and said “You call that judge on the radio tell her I’m walking this horse into the arena because she’s not going home this way.” I proceeded to take my big mare and throw her next to the horse and told the rider “make your horse follow mine, she’s a trail horse, we’ll pony you in” With lots of nasty looks and agape mouths from the Dressage queens I took my ACTHA Trail Thoroughbred turned fake dressage horse and ponied that horse around the outer ring and around the Judge’s hummer.
The judge did roll her window down and I apologized for the lack of convention but that it had to happen, she smiled and let me carry on. I got her all the way around to “A” and told her “I don’t care if she hasn’t rung the bell get in there and walk around, this is about more than a test”. I tried to sneak my horse out the ring so she could ride but her horse wouldn’t have any of it and began the Lipizzaner moves again. She got really worried and tried to dismount, I shouted across the ring “don’t you get off that horse, don’t you let him win!” and tore off across the ring with my mare to come rescue her. He calmed down and we walked a bit then she got off and led him away. Not my most DQ moment… but it had to happen.
I wanted to cry for her, but she held her head high, proud of his experience (turns out he’s never shown before). I told her to stop at the gate and let the professional photographer get photos of her. Later, my coach helped her by riding him around afterwards and working on some of his nerves. I didn’t have much time to talk to her because next thing I heard, was the slightly flustered ring steward calling me for my Intro C test that I hadn’t really finished re-studying, nor had I even cantered my horse yet.
Cheesy Stall Decor with Pretty Ribbons!!!
I just went in and gave it a shot, I’ve never shown C with my own horse because sometimes we still buck to the left lead. I put in a heck of a test for being so mentally not ready, thank goodness Claire didn’t buck, she blew the lead but she didn’t buck. I like to think we just practiced a counter canter circle.
Walking back to the barns with my new friend who waited for me, my whole team met me and asked me how I thought I placed in A. I said 7th, justifiably because there were 8 in the class and I the girl ahead of me went off pattern. They laughed at me and said 4th, I was shocked, actually I’m just now processing that I got 4th. That was it! I wasn’t going home with just a photograph, I actually did it! I placed in a test at a bigger show with my hop along mare.
The entire show was a demonstration in friendship and kindness. I’m used to grooming at shows where no one will talk to you and it’s a snob fest, but at Thoroughbred Celebration people were actually nice! I spent the afternoon volunteering as the dressage ring steward since the afternoon help was missing. And had a blast! There were a few people who were nervous so I called tests for them and even video’ed rides for people. Turns out that the hunter classes were so full that the jumpers went late into the night and everyone in the jumpers stayed to reset courses and help.
Thoroughbred Celebration taught me many lessons this year:
1. I am actually a decent rider, I’m better than I think but that just means I have more to learn.
2. My mare was worth every penny to see her well this year, many told me to give up but I promised her forever and I meant it.
3. Always remember that there’s someone out there who will need a hand, whether it’s the show manager or a rider, there’s someone who could use help and it’s our duty as horse people to support one another.
4. And a picture in the ring is nice, because sometimes you need proof that you did it, you made it there with your horse and you’ll be back next time to beat them all. I’ve been there, you’ve been there, and I hope my stall neighbor comes back next year and beats my score by a mile! She deserves it.
Lisa Marie Beckwith