Lessons Learned: Odds Against Us –The Show That Wasn’t

Sometimes things do not go as planned, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something of value to be gained. In this week’s Lessons Learned, Ainsley Jacobs discusses just that.

This course looked like so much fun! Bummed I didn’t get to jump it. Photo by Ainsley Jacobs/Ride Heels Down.

I really do learn a lot from failure. We have been trying to get a Training 3-phase done for 7 months now, and it just keeps not happening.

Back in April, the XC course flooded and we had to do a CT instead. There was I had hoped to go to, but JJ wound up lame with a hot nail. After killin’ it at the American Eventing Championships, I was ready to try again with a show in September but a bad abscess meant I had to scratch a day or two before. This time we almost made it, but I’m starting to think the Universe just doesn’t want us to get a Training 3-phase done…

I was really intent on “getting it done” before the end of the year, so when I realized I could go to Poplar Place Farm‘s Harvest Classic Schooling Show, I was so happy to have one more chance!

Except that my awesome coach, Lauren Turner of River Birch Farm was going to be in Ocala that same weekend for a Horse Trials. I very hesitantly asked her if I ‘could go run my first Training 3-phase’ without her and she actually agreed, saying that she felt I was prepared and she was comfortable with it. Okay, cool – having a trainer would be ideal, but the fact that she believed in me enough to be able to do it on my own made me feel great.

JJ and I worked on fitness in the weeks leading up to this event. It was SO nice having a “gas pedal” again after finding out the reason he had been so lethargic lately was because he was anemic! The Red Cell supplement was working, JJ was happy again and I was ready.

And then it started raining in Atlanta the week before the event… And, Lauren realized she needed to be in Ocala earlier than expected to do her jog, which meant I wasn’t going to get my usual Tuesday jump lesson with her to prep. No big deal, JJ is a STAR in stadium so I figured I’d pop around a course myself to freshen up – but the rain meant that couldn’t happen.

So, the Friday before The Big Day, we headed down to Poplar not having jumped in two weeks, not having had a lesson in a week and a half and with no coach. The odds were against us, but I was committed to seeing it through. What could possibly go wrong? I figured either we would succeed or I would die trying – I never considered the fact I wouldn’t even get to try!

The rain hadn’t stopped all week, and Friday was no different. My awesome friend Beth arrived with her handsome OTTB, Andy, and we got the boys settled in since we had decided to do this event alone, together. I knew I needed to go walk my XC course so I could safely and accurately pilot JJ around (and check the footing) so Beth and I ventured out into the wet together.

My shoes were immediately soaked completely through, and it was so cold that my toes pretty much instantly went numb. It was brutal. The ground was slippery, the take offs/landings from most jumps were already torn up from people schooling earlier (but fortunately my Training questions were fairly unused since it was a small group running at that level) and overall it was really sketchy. I was thinking about skipping schooling altogether, but figured I could at least get on and let JJ look at things and see how he felt and make a decision based on him.

And, like the brave, badass eventers that we are, Beth and I tacked up and headed out – right as the rain picked up and got even worse. We decided to trot the course as a warm-up and check on the boys’ stability in the slop. Andy had big studs in, but JJ’s shoes aren’t tapped sooooo we went without ’em (note to self: studs!!).

They both trotted off eagerly, and I have to admit there was a point in the misery where we were trotting side-by-side and I actually thought about how much fun it was to be out there with my barn bestie. Having her alongside me actually made it enjoyable! 🙂

Anyway, we popped a little Beginner Novice fence to “test the waters” (literally, puddles were pooling everywhere!) and JJ was game. I did a very short warm-up simply because I wanted to get the schooling over with and go dry off, so we started hitting the Training questions midway through the course.

I wasn’t able to give JJ the bold, forward, confident ride I had wanted because the terrible footing dictated a more careful, conservative ride, but we DID manage to get through most of it fairly easily. There were two that he wasn’t sure of where he stopped and needed to check things out before going (willingly) over the second time, and that’s fine, considering how crappy the conditions were.

We jumped everything. We jumped the gigantic, maxed out #3 solid. We jumped the scary skinny bench into the woods. We jumped the substantial corner set slightly on the downhill. We jumped the upright solid on the crest of a hill that dropped off big time on the backside (and rode like a massive down bank) straight into a skinny chevron.

We jumped the bending line of big doghouses. We jumped the boat at the marina and rode the quick bending line that dropped into the water. We even jumped our first legitimate Trakehner, even though it was super inviting and not at all scary looking. We did it all – not pretty, but functional – until we came to the log box on top of the big hill.

We ran up and JJ just slowly came to a stop, despite me kicking and cropping. We tried again, same response. Third time, I rode confidently and defensively and used every trick I could think of – he still stopped. Ironically, each time, he immediately put his nose on the box to show me “I’m not scared, I just can’t do it.”

I wasn’t sure what was up, but figured maybe he had enough of the footing and didn’t feel it was safe. And, based on how well he communicates, I figured there was a reason – I just wasn’t sure what it was. I tried him at a slightly smaller jump with a better approach – he still wouldn’t jump.

Four refusals in a row. I didn’t like the idea of putting so many stops on my horse, but didn’t want to fight about it. I figured I needed to cut my losses before one of us got hurt. So, we started heading back. There was a Tadpole jump in the XC warm up – he still said no. He made an executive decision, and we were DONE. The small crossrail and vertical in stadium warmup (with better footing) he cleared easily, though. Weird. But, at least we had finally gotten over something and I decided that was good enough to end on.

Back in the barns, we both got dried off, cleaned up, got somewhat warm, and I checked that JJ still had both shoes on. I told him he was a good boy and that I was proud of him for jumping everything he did in the horrific conditions and that we would work on #13 another day. All in all, we had completed 21 of the 22 jumping efforts on the Training cross country course – without a coach, in slick disgusting slop and without studs – and for that I was grateful.

I also made the decision to drop down from a Training 3-phase to just a Training CT because I was glad we made it through schooling unscathed and didn’t want to push our luck since it was supposed to rain all night and I didn’t expect the footing to get any better.

My husband had generously come along to this event to suffer with me (and to be the “responsible adult” in case I wound up getting hurt since I was technically alone) and we grabbed dinner before checking in to our AirBNB for the night. I had booked a room in an absolutely beautiful historic home from 1903 and it was like stepping back in time.

The hosts, Polly and John, were so welcoming and I was really grateful to have a dry, warm place to crash for the night. If you need a place to stay while showing at Poplar, book their home – you won’t be disappointed!

Saturday morning, the rain had finally stopped and the forecast showed sunshine a perfect riding temperatures in the high 50*s for the day. Yes!! Wanting to get started, I pulled JJ out of his stall and jogged him up the barn aisle just to make sure he was okay after schooling.

He wasn’t.

There was definitely a slight “something wrong” on the right front. It was very subtle, but it was there. I ran into my friend Sarah MacKusick Mills of Iron Star Equestrian who had come up from Florida for the event, too, and she validated my suspicions.

I immediately marched to the show office and scratched.

I also immediately started going down the shame spiral of shitty horse-moming. Did I make the wrong decision to school last night? Was JJ hurt because of something I did? I felt AWFUL and took him on a walk to eat some grass to apologize.

He really didn’t seem very lame, though, and was happy to trot all around… an hour or so later, I pulled his Back on Track Quick Wraps off (which he had been in all night) and OH. MY. GOD.

He wasn’t lame – IT WAS JUST A LOOSE SHOE!!

I really wish I had noticed the night before, when I still would have had time to get a farrier out, but hey – I am just so glad it was something simple, and really incredibly proud of how well JJ performed in some of the worst footing conditions I’ve ever seen. It was absolutely atrocious, and even without studs he still gave me some very good efforts.

I didn’t catch it when I checked his shoes earlier because the BoT wraps were hiding his heel, but his right front had come slightly unset. By then it was too late to call a farrier to come to the venue so it was definitely game over for us for the weekend, but I was SO relieved that he wasn’t actually hurt!

Y tho? 🙁 Photo by Ainsley Jacobs/Ride Heels Down.

I definitely feel better knowing our weekend ended because of a shoe and not something serious, and learned my lesson not only to check ’em after XC but to make sure they’re still set correctly! 😉

Even though we didn’t get to run the Training 3-phase this year like I wanted, we basically ran the entire Training XC course by ourselves (except jump #13, which I now know was JJ telling me “hey dumbass, my shoe is screwed up and I am not jumping”) in the worst conditions I’ve ever seen, and we both survived safely. That’s a win as far as I’m concerned!


It’s not enough to check that your horse actually has shoes after XC (like I learned back in January) – you’ve got to check that they’re still set correctly, too! Also, don’t assume lame is lame. Lame could just be a twisted shoe. 🙂

Ainsley Jacobs is an adult amateur based out of Atlanta, Georgia. She started riding huntseat equitation when she was eight, and has tried practically every discipline since then. In 2014, Ainsley discovered eventing and it changed her life! She purchased her first horse, JJ Spot, in February 2016 and chronicles their successes (and struggles) of learning to overcome literal and figurative obstacles in her blog at www.RideHeelsDown.com.

Photo by Erik Jacobs/P.TEN Marketing