Katy Groesbeck: A horse with a heart the size of Montana

Horse Nation blogger Katy Groesbeck and her “Little Worty Wort” had the weekend of their lives at the Event at Rebecca Farm, finishing the CIC3* in 2nd place.

By Katy:

The Event at Rebecca Farm, 2012

The 2012 Event at Rebecca Farm was a truly incredible experience full of hard work, great fun, and amazing teamwork and camaraderie.  It was also a roller coaster of emotions from start to finish, and I must say that throughout the event I frequently questioned my voluntary decision to pay (considerable amounts of money) to willingly subject myself to intense nausea, anxiety, and stress.  But I suppose if I was sane or rational, I would be an eventer in the first place!

My journey to Rebecca Farm started in May.  Memorial Day weekend, Wort won the Advanced division at the Spring Horse Trial at Woodside, which was our final qualifying ride to enter the CIC3*** in Montana; it wasn’t really until that point that I was even sure I would be sending an entry.  Optimistically, I had already sent in my application for the USEA Rebecca Farm Travel Grant; I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford attending the event, qualified or not, if I didn’t receive grant money.

So all through June I waited. And I waited. And I waited. Not wanting to get my hopes up too high, I tentatively kept making the arrangements to go to Montana while obsessively checking my email in the hopes of hearing from the USEA Grant committee.  I made umpteen packing lists, most of them cross-referencing each other or even being entirely duplicated.  One list even said, “Make new list,” and at that point I knew my OCD was in full-force.   Finally, though, at the end of June I got an email informing me that I would receive $1,300 – just the right amount to cover my travel bills!!!

And then three days later, my horse was off. I had never seen my horse limp in all his 15 years, and I cannot explain the knot in the pit of my stomach or the total feeling of dread I felt when Wort came up lame on his right front during our conditioning ride that day.

Trying not to panic, I packed his feet and wrapped his legs and gave him three days off (and sent panicked texts to everyone I knew). I tried to distract myself, which worked for about 10 minute intervals at best.  We were set to leave for Montana in a week, and I still had no idea if we’d be making the trip, though admittedly at that point my main concern was Wort’s health and soundness and not on the show.  But after three days Wort was right as rain, though I still didn’t really take a deep breath until the vet came out and gave us a green light. Finally, I knew we were set to go! (And meanwhile, the vet has my number listed in her phone as The Girl Who Cries Wolf).

The two day drive from Los Angeles, CA to Kalispell, MT was a tad grueling, involving a 10 p.m. departure on Saturday evening to avoid the heat of the day and a 2am departure from Ogden, UT the following travel day. By the time we pulled into Rebecca Farm on Monday, our internal clocks were mildly skewed but the horses looked great. (Melanie Mullens, who hauled Wort and I out, had brought her horse to run their first T3D -they finished 6th!)

Tuesday and Wednesday seemed to drag by; “show” and “down time” just don’t seem to go together in my brain. But the extra time gave Dougie Hannum and Grant Showalter of Four Star Equine Therapy a chance to work the kinks out of Wort and get him feeling in tip top shape after the trip.  Gary Severson, The Saddle Doctor, also made some adjustments to Wort’s saddles.  I can assure you that I have these three men to thank, in part, for Wort’s great performances!!

Thursday eventually arrived – time for the first horse inspection!! Due to the extreme generosity and hard work of Bill Olsen, The Best Guy Ever (full, official title), stable-mates Jordan Taylor and Emilee Libby (CCI2** and CIC2** competitors, respectively) and I all looked polished and professional for our jogs – and we all passed! It’s amazing to me how nervous you can get and how time seems to halt as you wait for the verdict: “Accepted.”  And if you ever were to analyze the Preparation Time: Jog Time ratio, you would certainly start to question why we do what we do.

Friday dawned and immediately my nerves set in.  Jordan and Emilee and I all took our horses out for morning rides before our tests; with Coach Hawley in London, the three of us took turns coaching each other and being the eyes on the ground.  For me, this turned out to be a very relaxing and comforting system, and I have to say that the whole weekend was an impressive team effort.  I have to give major kudos to Jordan, too; she suffered the heartbreak of being whistled out of the arena after her mare took a few momentary bad steps. The vet confirmed later that the mare was OK, but at that point there was nothing Jordan could do. Like a champ, Jordan worked her butt off the entire rest of the weekend and I didn’t hear her complain once. I’m not sure I would have been able to do the same, had I been in her shoes!

After TWO rather lengthy rides Friday morning (which didn’t seem to put the slightest damper on Wort’s energy level AT ALL), I made the decision to get on only 15 minutes before my test and go straight in. As I walked over to warm up, I could feel Wort was just as fresh as if he hadn’t been ridden in days.  When I went around the court before the bell rang, he was spooking and near to bolting. I had close to zero brakes and he felt like a pogo stick. Perfect.

Despite his energy level, Wort put in one of our more impressive tests. There was clear tension in the walk (read, “jig”) work, but the fact that I managed to keep him in the arena at all made me pretty happy. I was absolutely stoked to be in second place, 4 points off of the leader Kristi Nunnink, after dressage.

And then Saturday came. I’m not sure how I lived through the day, truth be told. I was so incredibly anxious to run my course, every ten minutes I wavered from excitement to nausea and back again.  I must have asked Emilee about her opinion on studs twenty different times until she finally just did it herself (I can ride, I just can’t make decisions!). As I got Wort (or Wortimus Prime, as he is called on cross-country day) dressed in his battle gear and his FLAIR strip and Frilly Fillies earbonnet, I ran the course over and over in my head, imagining my lines and the flow of the course.  Finally I got my countdown to leave the box and Wort jetted out of there like he had a hot date with the finish flags.  He was a bit too eager to run, maybe: we sort of um, er, missed a stride (or two) in front of the second fence.  I was half expecting the officials to come running out and flag me down and end our day right then and there, but as they didn’t come leaping out of the bushes I proceeded with a bit more caution (and brakes) onto the next. Before I knew it, we were approaching fence 8a – the ditch wall of some infamy that ended more than one riders’ day.  Wort dug in hard at the base but kept right on going like he’d been jumping bottomless pits for years.  A few fences farther on was the first water, and I’ll admit that the keyhole jump had been keeping me up at night for a few weeks. But Wort jumped that, too, like he couldn’t have cared less. Once we were on the far side of it, I took a mental breath and relaxed a bit. Physically, I asked Wort for a bit more run and he answered eagerly and galloped on home with plenty of go left in him.

For the next hour I was on top of the world. The Apocalypse couldn’t have got me down.  And then……I remembered that we had another horse inspection the following morning. Now, I’m not one who’s ever questioned Wort’s soundness (until last week, at least) or been nervous that he wouldn’t trot out, but there’s something about the pressure of the situation that gets to me. Suddenly I was a nervous wreck all over again, to the point that I just let Jordan and Em dictate to me an icing/walking schedule so that all I had to do was follow directions. Wort, meanwhile, dug into his food and forgot the world (and flooded his stall with an iceboot). He clearly doesn’t consider Saturday at an FEI event to be any big effort.

Wort did jog out brilliantly the next morning, and then it was a waiting game for our 3pm show jump time. I got to watch Emilee walk away with the blue in the CIC2*, and then I promptly borrowed her newly-christened lucky SSG gloves.   As we walked the course together later, I just kept thinking to myself, “These jumps are ******* huge!!!”  But that’s not polite nor helpful to say aloud, so I kept my mouth shut and focused on remembering the winding course.  Only later did Emilee admit to feeling the same way (SO glad she didn’t mention that before!).

I was definitely tense in warmup, a situation that was compounded by the fact that I was warming up two feet away from Bruce Davidson. That shouldn’t get to me, probably, but it definitely does.  I can’t help but feeling like a total greenhorn in front of an umpteen-time world champion. Nbd or anything.

As they called me into the arena, I tried to clear my head and just focus on riding forward and rhythmically. Well, we got forward, at least. The rhythm…..not so much. I definitely will say that the size of the fences rattled me and I was not riding as relaxed or securely as I wanted, but thankfully Wort doesn’t seem to take offense. He did at one point seem to misjudge the height of a vertical or perhaps not distinguish it clearly from the vertical behind it; we punched that rail out pretty hard and I heard the crowd gasp.  As if this day needed more drama.  We took a second (mostly unlucky rail) at the oxer over the liverpool, and I knew at that point I had to really get my act together if I wanted to hang on to 2nd place. We did get the job done, though I came out of the arena immediately determined to improve my confidence and comfort in the showjumping; we don’t spend a lot of time over courses at home, mostly gridwork, and I regretted not getting one or two schooling rounds in before the event. Live and learn.

But mostly, I was ecstatic to have finished our first CIC3* with a wonderfully happy and sound horse, a qualifying score, a red ribbon, and even some cash. Wort really showed me that he could be a big-time horse and with just a little more mileage I think we could really be solid in all three phases; he certainly has the heart and the ability (actually, I’m pretty positive that it’s only me bringing us down).  I have a little homework to do, and now at least I have some money to put into more clinics and lessons before our next big outing, the CCI3* at Galway Downs in November.   I can’t wait to see what Wort’s future holds!  (Btw, his real fans now refer to him as ‘Little Worty Wort.’ I’m so glad his ego can handle that.)

All photos by Nancy Dein and Bill Olson.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *