Thursday, February 10, 2011

Moment of Glory

Everyone in the h/j world has heard of George Morris. If you have been riding hunters or jumpers and have not heard of Mr. Morris, hereafter referred to as GM, you must have been living under a rock for the last few decades. GM won both the AHSA (now USEF) equitation medal finals and the ASPCA equitation medal finals in the same year, 1952, at the young age of 14. He won a silver medal in the Olympics in show jumping, rode on many winning Nations Cups teams, and won numerous Grands Prix. He went on to become one of the most successful coaches of all time for hunters, jumpers and equitation with his famous Hunterdon stables. In recent years he has served as chef d'equipe and coach of the U.S. showjumping team. To sum it up he is a living legend in the h/j world.


Of course I idolized GM as a kid. His students won everything and his book "Hunter Seat Equitation" is one of the definitive books on the subject. My copy of Hunter Seat Equitation was tattered from being read so many times. Imagine my excitement when I learned that the one and only George Morris was going to be judging the equitation classes at my first show doing the Big Eq classes.


I was a nervous wreck warming up for my first class. As it was my first time doing the Big Eq I was naturally a bit intimidated, and of course I wanted to ride my best in front of Mr. Morris. I remember my trainer telling me in the warm-up arena "just breathe." Easier said than done!


I entered the ring in a sitting trot and my horse felt very on. He could be a very difficult ride and I could usually tell as soon as I went in the ring and did my courtesy circle whether it was an on day or an off day. My connection to the bit felt elastic, my horse felt so supple and my position felt tight. We had a perfect, crisp transition from sitting trot to canter and we were on our way to the first jump. I concentrated hard on breathing.


The first jump was a single vertical and we absolutely nailed it with a perfect distance right out of stride. This was pure luck as I was doing nothing but aiming my horse towards the jump and not actually making any attempt to see a distance. Three strides after landing we executed a perfect, correct back-to-front lead change and went around the first turn. My horse's rhythm and balance were perfect. I kept concentrating on breathing. The next line was an oxer to a vertical and again it was just perfect, everything right out of stride with no adjustments. We landed on the correct lead and cantered into another turn.


We headed across the long diagonal to the one stride in and out. The long approaches tend to be my nemesis, way too much time to think about things. I concentrated hard on remembering to breathe on the long approach, and actually managed to look at the jump a few strides out. Again there was that perfect, out of stride distance sitting there waiting. My position was rock solid, quiet lower leg and soft, following hands.


As we landed from the in and out I started to relax a little bit. It was one of those rides where everything goes absolutely right. My horse's beautiful rhythm and balance had been exactly the same from the first canter stride. Everything felt so perfect. Next we did a rollback to a single oxer and then we had a bending "S" line of three jumps. I remember jumping into the bending line and having a really soft contact in the air over the first jump so we would land on a soft curve to the middle jump, and doing the same over the middle jump. We could not have jumped through that line any better.


My horse and I were functioning as one and we definitely had our mojo. I was starting to have fun and actually enjoy the ride. We headed around another turn to a single vertical and I remember getting a bit cocky and I started counting down my strides to the jump from 10 strides out. My horse's rhythm was so perfect it felt like I could pick out any distance I wanted from 20 strides away. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 - another perfect jump.


Only one more jump to go, a long turn and then a long approach to a single oxer. I was heading into the corner and thinking "I can't believe this. I can't believe I am going to lay down this kind of trip in my first real Eq class. I can't believe I am going to win a class in front of GM. This is so much fun. I am rocking this course."


I guess I got a little too caught up in my thoughts and self congratulations because suddenly I realized my horse was not actually heading towards the last jump but about to go past it. I frantically tried to save it and get our line back and get his eye on the jump but it was too late. I got him moved over but only about a half stride before the jump and he was like "you're crazy kid. I can't jump from here" and slammed on the brakes.


I went over his head and landed on the flower box. Apparently I didn't let go of the reins either and as he started to back up while I went flying forward I pulled the bridle off his head. I lay in a crumpled heap on the jump holding the empty bridle in my hands while my horse went trotting around the arena. After a few seconds of trotting around he decided he just wanted to leave and agreeably walked over to me. I put the reins over his neck and led him on the walk of shame out of the arena.


The ring crew was busy straightening up the jump I had just crashed. My mom and my trainer were waiting for me at the in gate. My trainer pointed out the obvious, that my course was flawless until that point and then asked me what had happened. I mumbled out something about forgetting where I was on course and getting distracted.


At this point my memories of this day differ greatly from my mom's. She says she didn't make me do this but trust me, when you are a teenager things like this scar you for life. And I am scarred for life over this incident. Apparently when my horse slammed on the breaks I said "oh crap!" right before I went flying through the air. My mom told me I needed to walk back in the ring and over to the judge's stand and apologize for my poor language.


I looked at her horrified. She clearly had no idea what she was suggesting. I had to walk back through the ring in my dirty breeches to apologize to GM? My mom was giving the "don't argue with me" look. I turned around and headed back for my second walk of shame. I trudged across the arena in my dirty breeches, riding crop still in one of my gloved hands. "Mr. Morris, I apologize for saying 'oh crap' right before I fell off." He did thank me for the apology and told me I was having a beautiful ride until I fell off. I then trudged my way back out of the arena with my cheeks on fire they were so red.


Not exactly the moment of glory I was hoping for!

_______________________________


Thomas was absolutely determined that Grand was going to keep playing with him even though Grand wanted to go graze; he grabbed Grand's blanket and stubbornly held on


Grand was walking away and Thomas was still holding on


Homer, Hemi, Grand, Thomas (STILL attached to Grand) and Apollo heading across the field single file. Thank goodness for Horsewear blankets as Grand's blanket survived towing Thomas across the field unscathed.


Chance

Sebastian and Bella trotting through the pasture

Hoffy

Levendi and Homer
Jo, one of the World's Cutest Fainting Goats, and Asterik
We had some snow last night but I didn't get many snow pictures. It had melted by this afternoon (and I'm not complaining about that!) Below we have Clayton and Rampal
Asterik

Gus

Winston and Faune

Chimano and Romeo

8 comments:

EvenSong said...

Goodness! What a story! Did you have a second class to go back and make amends? (In that show or later?)
I had a similar crash--over the head, take bridle with-- in my first hunter class in a recognized show--unfortunately it was on the second jump! My non-horsey mom happened to be standing right there at the rail when the horse ("Hopscotch") proceeded to jump over the top of me! Mom swore she'd never come watch another show...and I don't think she ever did.

Love the sequence with the tenacious Thomas and the tolerant Grand.

Kate said...

Very funny story! I rode in a clinic with George Morris when I was in college, back in the long ago days.

KT said...

Wow! I never let myself get into the "I am totally rocking this class" mentality because that's always when I screw it up - I've had several similar experiences to yours, but definitely not in front of GM! I think he'd go to the grave if he saw my leg over fences. =/
The Thomas and Grand pictures totally made my day!

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

You had me on the edge of my seat!! A really good lesson about staying in the moment - sorry it had to happen in front of George Morris. I love his articles in Practical Horseman :)

Vivian, Apollo's Mom said...

You had told me this story, Melissa, one time after I had griped to you about a disasterous dressage show that I had experienced. You have written it so eloquently here that I truly felt your pain, just as if I had been there!

RuckusButt said...

Ah, it ain't over til it's over! At least you got to lay down such a nice run up to that point. And I bet your apology left an impression on GM, too.

raphycassens said...

Melisaa - Thank you for sharing that story. It was FANTASTIC!

raphycassens said...

Thank you for sharing that story - It was FANTASTIC!