Megan vs. Stuart Horse Trials: The grand finale

And now for the thrilling conclusion you’ve all been waiting for. Words by Megan Kaiser; photos furnished by Michelle Hopwood.

Be sure to tune in to Thursday’s Eventing Radio Show for an interview with Megan about her adventures!

From Megan:

The weekend went well–there were high points and low points that may end up seeming more comical as time passes, but the way I figure it I have one more outing at Stuart before there are no voices from above causing trouble for me. The last time I was there as I entered dressage, Mr. Brian O’Connor announces the end of the world due to lighting. This year what I hear in the cross-country start box goes something like this, from a wonderful volunteer: “Three, Two, One:  Have a nice ride.” As the word “ride” leaves his mouth Brian O’Connor pipes in over the PA, “Loose horse coming toward warm-up.”

I made it over one and we’re going up the rise to the second–six strides out the jump judge jumps up waving her arms. I knew it was coming, so I yell “OK, got it” and pull up. My guy is totally confused and we walk, I look around for the horse, I see Doug Payne riding his huge guy by the pond (you know the one that got the 13.2 on his last outing in Training – yes, a 13.2), we look, we walk, no loose horse yet, also no shade for us, keep walking, keep looking (for horse and shade), and here it comes: a palomino going straight for the warm-up, which means straight for Doug. I start yelling to him to let him know that he is about to get run over. The palomino convinces another horse, whose rider thinks they are only going for a casual walk, to join in the fun, and both go running by Doug. Now all three are going down the lane when the palomino goes in the pond–completely under. He struggles but does get out on her own–now the poor thing is totally drenched and rattled but is rather easy to catch at this point. I look over my shoulder and here comes a golf cart full of people barreling over the hill–I’m pretty sure it was her people.

We all take a deep breath and here goes Brian again: “Loose horse heading toward warm-up.”

So, the way I figure it next time I do Stuart Mr. O’Connor will make some sort of announcement as I go into the ring for stadium (as we are moving to the next phase with each outing) and it will throw me for a loop–but then the time after that, when I do Stuart again, the stars will align and there will be silence when I enter the ring or at least happy things being said over the PA.

Now, back to us hanging out before jump no. two: The jump judge tells me they are calling an ambulance as a precaution for the first fall and it’s going to be at least 15 minutes. At this point we go find shade, I also see a person not in riding clothes leading a horse toward the warm-up and make the assumption that he is our second horse that wanted to go swimming on his own, but he wasn’t clever enough not to get caught before making it to the pond.

Fifteen minutes later, we are back on course and on our way.  And the second jump wasn’t bad to be held at–we weren’t totally in the middle of things, and there was a white roll top then a bit of a gallop to the next set of jumps, so we were able to pop over that and have some time to get back on track before the next jump.

All went great. There was a nice round of cheering after the ditch from the bystanders–I’m not sure if it was because I did get a bit verbal one stride out and he didn’t even look at it (I’m not surprised by him not looking at it – the “GEEETTTT” was really more for my motivation, not his) or maybe that is where the last riders had come off and they were happy to have a customer complete it?

The log at the top of the hill rode great. Out of anticipation for the immediate downhill I slowed up a bit too much before it, but he didn’t care; he was a rock star.

Michelle Hopwood,

He cooled out better than I did, and with hot ponies in the hot sun we packed up and headed home to put them in front of their fans. The scores weren’t up but we all felt we did just fine.

I found out later that I ended up with 10 time penalties. My watch had been 45 seconds under optimum. No riders in my division had time penalties and only two from all of BN did. Both riders with penalties had refusals, and the one with three refusals ended up with 6.4 penalties. Six riders had one refusal and one rider had two, all with no penalties. I chatted with the TD on Friday–I knew I missed the protest period, so it was for my education and I learned that I need to carry a second watch to time the hold. Lesson learned. Deep down I know we were fine on time and if you have seen my guy blast around any course you would agree, but in the end what is important is that everyone (human and equine) was fine. I can’t imagine the stress and chaos for the organizers/TD/volunteers/trainers and everyone else with an ambulance on the way and two loose horses (one in the pond) all in a matter of minutes, so I’m not surprised that when they regrouped they had different hold times for me and had to go with something.

Backtracking to the official sport of summer: dressage. What a lovely warm-up. He was bending and relatively soft and supple. A touch more forward than at home, but that’s OK–usually it’s worse.

Can I stop there? Please?

Fine–so the thing is, two of the dressage rings are down a short path and behind a hedgerow, so you get called back when the rider before you enters the ring. Somewhere between the warm-up and the ring he lost his mind and I just couldn’t get him back in the four minutes before the test. The most dominant comment from the judge was “tense” and I agree completely.

Michelle Hopwood,

Michelle Hopwood,

On to stadium… what a good boy. He locked on to number eight on our turn to four so that wasn’t a pretty turn and then we got long to four and pulled it but that was my fault. He also really would have like to have gone right after we finally did get to jump eight and we were supposed to go left, so that wasn’t the most attractive corner but once again we made it. Overall I was so happy with him. And I have to say I finally rode the entire course and not just the second half.

Michelle Hopwood,

So we had a great time and this is what I learned:

  • It can be really hot in July.
  • Even though braiding a five-year-old’s hair is similar to braiding a horse, it is not enough to keep your skills in tune when you haven’t actually braided for real, with yarn, in several years. Children move more than a horse on cross-ties but there isn’t as much braiding to do.
  • A word of advice for you first-time white breech wearers out there: Put them on with whatever undergarments you plan on wearing before the morning of the show. Actually do this a week before, just in case you need to revise your plan and do some shopping. But I did it–I wore them and was pretty darn clean for dressage. I even wore them for XC and was relatively clean for that as well.
  • YouTube is great, and not just for bunny show jumping, and my personal favorite: dogs greeting their soldiers when they return from active duty. Say you want to watch someone ride your dressage test? Need a quick brush up on how to tie a stock tie? Yep, that’s there too!
  • Second Career Thoroughbred program and OTTBs rock!  Snake Hunter, winner of the Second Career blue ribbon, got a cash prize and a pretty cool saddle pad.
  • Wear two watches during cross country: You may have to time a hold.
  • My old man still has it–he was warm after jumping but not that bad considering the heat and terrain. Stuart is hilly to say the least and I know this so we have been trotting hills like crazy for about two months, but he was certainly was fit enough and I’m so proud of him.
  • It can be really hot in July.

Michelle Hopwood,

A big thank-you to Michelle Hopwood for providing us the beautiful photos for Megan’s story! Based in Rochester, NY, Michelle is available for weddings, corporate parties, family gatherings, dog shows, horse shows, portrait work–anything that you want to capture and save for the future. For more info, visit

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