What would you say to a 57 year old man who decides he wants to take on a new equine sport Jumping, while giving up another sport, endurance in which he had some rewarding experiences including winning two Nationals championships? A line about new tricks and old dogs comes to mind.
Previously, when I had broached this idea to my wife Tracy, she had pointed out the many good reasons, I should forget this nonsense. In the spring of 09 I mentioned it again and this time she said, “well why not go for it?” Endurance had become a business for us. I own a company that makes adjustable endurance saddles and she operates an endurance horse training center, Flight Leader Farm. Perhaps we were both ready for a change of scenery on occasion. But why jumping especially at my age?
I have always loved that momentary feeling of weightlessness, catching some air when skiing off a ledge, or jumping a hill on a dirt bike. The words of Tom Petty song echoed in my head,” learning to fly is the hardest thing, cause what goes up must come down”.
My first attempt at learning to jump had occurred 30 years earlier when a hunter jumper barn had opened near my country home in East Texas. I bought a Jumping saddle and booked a lesson. My lesson involved trotting over ground poles,. I came here expecting to jump, and no jumping what so ever was involved during my hour lesson. This wasn’t what I had in mind, and I didn’t go back.
Fast forward to my next lesson in March of 09 in my home of El Paso TX. My Instructor ask me a few questions about my previous riding experiences, and I told her about jumping logs and bushes with this mare on the trail and why I thought she could be trained to be a jumper.. She had me ride around in the arena for a few minutes. As watches me ride circles, on my 16 Hand Anglo Arab mare, a deepening frown grows on her face.
“What are you doing” she asks with an exasperated tone?
“You are in a 200′ x 300′ arena and you are flying around like you are trying to win an endurance race” Clearly you can ride, but this is not a foundation for jumping” Jumping is about stride control and you must learn to slow way down. As we trotted circles, in what I thought, was now a slow, working trot” she barked, “slower, let’s start from the beginning and give you horse a chance.”
At least, at the end of this lesson, she let me trot over some small jumps.
And this time I at least understood how much I didn’t know.
Same time next Thursday I ask?. We began as many lessons as I could work in with my busy travel schedule. And at home, I began doing what is commonly called flatwork. Rather dull, compared to my gallops through the brush or along the river, but I knew I was starting over, and the end result would make me a better, more skilled rider.
My horse seemed to love jumping as much as I did. After a month of riding about three times a week, we were going over 2′ jumping in various patterns and starting to get sense of what the sport was all about. I read two books on jumping and one weekend I built four of my own standards, and set them up, in our arena and was excited to show my wife what we had learned. She took her camera and snapped some pictures as I went over my new jumps for the first time. Wow, she said, “I think you and Lisette have found your niche.”
Even though we were only jumping 2’6′ Lisette was clearing them by a foot and as I looked for the first time at photos of me jumping, I was proud of the progress we had made In only six weeks.
The next weekend there was a small local schooling show in nearby Las Cruces NM .and I decided we would go and enter the 2’6″ jumping class. AS I waited my turn after a smooth warm up, I must admit I had some stomach butterflies. I turned away from watching the first rider, and made small talk with the rider next to me waiting her turn instead of watching the first rider ride the pattern, as I should have. I was convinced I had it memorized correctly, and had mentally visually myself riding it, to etch it clearly in my mind. When It came my turn I took a deep breath an off we went. My mare bravely took each jump, heisting slightly only once, as we approached a double with lots of brightly colored artificial flowers. We went clean, and I approached the judge and she politely said, that was a beautiful ride, however you missed the last jump.. Somehow I had not seen it on the pattern, being over on the other side of the arena sort of hiding, by another jump. And my overconfidence, that I had the pattern down pat, made me feel a little foolish, but hey that’s what schooling shows are for right?
Looking at the AHA web site I saw there was the Zia classic show in two weeks in Albuquerque NM. I must point out here, my wife did not share my confidence I was ready for class A show. But show day found us headed north having gotten our late entry in just under the wire. The show office people were so nice with my many questions. And I found my stall and begin getting ready for my first class, the HJ warm up, not judged. I had entered both HA working hunter over fences 2’6″ and HA jumper 2’9″,both preceded by a half warm class I was a little surprised to learn I was the only entry in the warm up class, and felt under the microscope as I entered the outdoor ring surrounded by people. My horse felt my tension, and she too was much “higher” than normal, and seemed to feel all the eyes on us. The first jump went smoothly, but as we approached a double, complete with a fax brick wall, an lots of flowers, she locked up with a last minute refusal, almost unseating me. I sat calmly on her, in front of the jump and exactly in front of the judges stand. I turned her around, circled and approached again squeezed my legs slightly and visualized us sailing over the jump, and two strides, then over the next. This we did, and smoothly finished the pattern, and exited the arena in silence.
Next was my HJ class and I was the last to go. This time I carefully watched the other riders. The was one refusal, and one rail down, so maybe I would not be last place in this double judged show. My number was called and I tried to be positive, and relaxed as we circled to pick up the right lead and started to the fence. One jump after another sailed under us smoothly, with no hesitation even at the troublesome double, and it was over before I knew it. No rails down, and I pretty sure I had cleared all the jumps this time. I hoped I had gotten a placing, but as they named forth, third, second without calling my number I felt pains of disappointment but then the loud speaker said first place won by___, and I missed the number, but recognized they had said my horses” name, placed first by both judges!! I was stunned and elated at the same time.
The pattern for my next class, HA Jumping was clearly more technical, with more tight turns and precise riding required. AS I entered the ring the steward ask did I want to ride the jump off? I was a little confused ,and he explained I was the only entry in the class and if I got around without two refusals I would win, and I had the option to ride, or not ride the jump off pattern “No ,I said, If I get around that will be just fine.”
Again we went clear, and I found myself wishing I had some other entry to experience the thrill of competing in a Jump off for time.
I collected my prizes, and I must say, I never thought I would be so proud of these four pieces of blue ribbon.
Horse shows are different than endurance events, in some ways that my wife and I really liked. Like staying in a nice motel, with your horse in a stall, eating hot meals with clean fresh clothes, and most of all not getting up to saddle up and start at 5 am.. yep I could get used to this, she said.. So could I . We watched other Arab classes the next day before driving home.
It wasn’t long before I was studying the entry Premium of the Sport Horse Nationals in Sept in Lexington. I discovered there were no classes for HA jumping in 2’9″ height. Being a national championship there were only room for higher level jumping classes of HA Open, 3 to 3″6″ and ATR 3 to 3’3″. And there was only one other show I could find with those classes two months away in June in Santa Barbara Cal, with a preshow and region 2 championship. I just happened to be going the Sacramento Cal for the Western states Horse Expo, June 12-15 where I was a clinician speaking on saddle fit and working a booth for displaying my saddles. Why not take a trailer, and stay for the show?. My wife signed off on the idea and we would enjoy visiting some friends and a little down time between the events.
But could I get my horse and me jumping nearly a foot higher in 6 weeks? My trainer didn’t think it was a good idea, saying it normally should take a year to raise your level a foot. But undeterred I started moving the pins holding the cups up a little each week. With the help of my LA area Specialized Saddle sales rep Kathleen Green, I found a stable with jumps where I could board my horse, while we went north to the trade show. Upon our return, I took another lesson from an Instructor at the board barn. The loaded up and off to the Earle Warren Equestrian center in Santa Barbara. Every Lesson brings with it some new insight, and learning to jump, is really a lot about learning to ride better.
The air was electric we pulled in the Earle Warren Expo center and three arenas were buzzing with Arab show classes. This is going to be a bit different from Albuquerque.
I was at the bulletin board at 7am the next morning where they would be posting the jumping patterns. I managed to copy it and went back to motel and begin memorizing. I decided to enter both Open and ATR jumping classes as both would jump the same pattern. The Open class went smoothly except for a single refusal, at a double with a single stride between. I turned back and approached it again thinking come on you can o this and she responded with a perfect jump, single stride, and clean over the next oxer,finish with no rails down. I got a third and was happy with our start. It could have been worse .
The next class was ATR and Lisette never hesitated, beautifully jumping everything and when this class was over we finished second, also jumping clean in the jump off. The results were the exact same the next day in the region 2 championship show. A third and second, this time the ribbon said “reserve Champion”, and as we drove home to TX, I told my wife “next year let’s bring two horses.”
Since writing this story in 09, I took two horses to the region 8 sport horse championship in winter park colo in July, and won HA Open Jumper Champion on Lisette and won open HA Working Hunter champion on My palomino George.
David Kaden – Owner & Operator Specialized Saddle