Hackamore Farms Horse Trial – Part I: Schooling Day
It has been 7 years since the last time I competed at the Beginner Novice show level with my full Clydesdale mare “Honey”. It seemed a bit fitting and nostalgic to finally re-enter this show division on her son Paladin. Paladin is a 5 year old Clydesdale x Saddlebred gelding who was purpose-bred to be my new event horse. After Paladins completion at the Winona Horse Trial in the Starter 2’ division, I felt like we were ready to move up into the Beginner Novice, 2’7” division. The move up would not offer any change in the difficulty of the dressage test. Also since we had been schooling jumps as high as 3’ at home, I was not so much concerned with the Stadium jumping as I was the Cross Country course and his general fitness. Due to a tendon scare around Memorial Day, that took him of commission for nearly three weeks and excessive rain forcing me to haul out in order to do any serious conditioning; getting and keeping Paladin at any level of fitness has been a challenge this year.
The Northeast Ohio Mini Trial Series (NEOMTA) offers a great opportunity to compete at number of farms and facilities most of which concentrated within a 45 minute haul from my farm in Ravenna, Ohio. Each farm show features a unique set of challenges that test the ability of the horse and rider. Most facilities offer an array of divisions to suit any level of eventing enthusiast. The entry level Intro division features basic straight forward and inviting jumping questions set no higher than 12”and a walk-trot dressage test. The highest level offered in the series is the Training division which boasts fences as high as 3’3” and a span upwards of 5’5” at the base. The Training division dressage test requires lengthening of stride at trot and canter, 15 meter circles at the trot and canter as well as a “stretchy” trot circle.
As a rider and horse combo advances upward through the levels, different types of cross country obstacles beyond that of the traditional fence or wall type solid objects are introduced. Some of these more challenging obstacles include up banks, water crossings, ditches, and drops. Furthermore, at the higher levels any one jumping question can incorporate more than one of these features into its design. When selecting the official course the event organizers take into account the time of year, preceding weather patterns and current footing conditions to determine a safe, but challenging course. With this in mind I have always found it easier to move up a division earlier in the year when the courses tend to be a bit more forgiving. As the year progresses many organizers lengthen the track and “max out” more of the jumping obstacles to accommodate the higher fitness levels of the horse and rider.
Our move-up event of choice was the Hackamore Farm Mini Trial held July 12th in North Jackson, Ohio. Hackamore Farm is the home of Jennifer and William Milliner and Milliner Concepts LLC. This creative and constructive team produces stunning stadium and cross country jumps, as well as dressage rings, websites and farm signs. The Milliners are incredibly hospitable and well organized in how they run their farm and events. I feel that Hackamore Farm is an excellent show venue to put young or less experienced horses to the “looky” test. The array of brightly colored and unique jumps that Hackamore Farm offers would not be of the natural sort, typically found in the hunt field. It is also an ideal venue for bringing along the family including grandma, grandpa and the little ones, as all phases are easily accessible via a short walk from the trailer parking area over level terrain.
One of the nice features of the NEOMTA is the fact that the facilities offer an open schooling day (weather permitting) prior to the event which gives horses and riders an opportunity to work through all of the cross country questions and work out any bugs the horse might have prior to the actual competition day. For schooling day I enlisted the assistance of my cousin Jake, who received a crash course in eventing on our drive over, along with instructions to catch my horse first if I were to become detached unexpectedly, then deal with me. After checking in we walked the course together discussing strategy and noting any areas where the footing was soft.
I picked out my token “trash talk” fence, a formidable white lattice “U” shaped wall with some pine brush along the top. The approach was up short steep clay and gravel hill that leveled out on grass about two strides out from takeoff (I am starting to see a pattern here with my disliked fences). We headed back to the truck tacked up, spritzed on some Fly Spray and headed out. After warming up I popped over a couple schooling jumps, headed over to the start box and set out on course. I was pleased that Paladin sailed over the first half of the courses jumps without issue. One of the interesting early fences was a dark brown log cabin complete with shingled roof of which he popped right over.
Things were going smoothly but we would not be exempt from elimination and disappointment as “baby” horse mode had kicked in. One of the unique challenges of Hackamore Farm is a stream that runs through an area across the back of the property which was also about the halfway point of the designated course. The area is wooded and Paladin was having some issues with the bright areas of sun peeking through the canopy of trees and the different colors and types of terrain and footing that we encountered. Our first stopping point and challenge to overcome was a drop with fresh white limestone along the top and landing areas. After refusing to walk up to the limestone at all, Jake stepped in and lead us down a couple times until Paladin was confident of the question and we were able to take it on our own.
Next up was a red clay wash that was cause for a bit of balking and then the first stream crossing. Again Pal was not so interested initially but amicable to enter with the assistance of Jake. After first time he was then was perfectly confident on his own. Down a trail along the stream and over a sizeable fence adorned with red and yellow flowers without issue. The next question was a somewhat steep but short downgrade back into and across the stream. This is the one obstacle that even with Jakes assistance Paladin had drawn his line. I had even tried taking him back around and coming in from the opposite side then up the grade, he was completely fine with that, but as soon as we turned around to go at the crossing in the correct direction the brakes were set and nothing was moving that horse forward. I felt thoroughly deflated, pondered if it was worth even continuing forward, as this would mean certain elimination come competition day and it wasn’t even technically a numbered obstacle. Jake chimed in and encouraged me to keep going, so we went back around and back through the first water crossing and continued on with the remainder of the course. Including the white lattice jump that I was concerned about on our walk… and guess what it was fine!
The second half of the course featured a fun Train jump, barrels with cow print, and a sizeable fruit stand that was empty on our walk but had been filled and decorated by the time I got to jump it. After I had finished schooling the rest of the course I untacked and offered Pal a drink and gave him a fresh coat of fly spray. We then set out together with horse, halter, lead and a training whip to explore the problematic water crossing. I traipsed through it going the opposite direction, Pal happily splashing through beside me. Walked him up the ramp on the other side, turned him around, he immediately planted his feet and leaned back. I gave him a tap, tap, tap on the rump with the training whip and as soon as he stepped forward, I released and gave him a “good boy!” asked for another step forward tap, tap… he submitted took steps forward and I released again giving him another “atta boy!” He then picked his way down the ramp and splashed on through the water. I walked him back and forth through it another two times without any additional bulking and called it a day. The only way I would have felt any better about our schooling day would have been if I had tacked him back up and made it through the water on him successfully. But, by then my breeches were soaked from the knee’s down (I so need a pair of Country boots!) and I was beat.
I stopped by the stadium ring and chatted with Jennifer prior to leaving. We discussed Paladins sticking points, and how the footing was holding up towards the back of the property after weeks of incessant rainfall. She had mentioned that that she would review the footing after schooling show day was done and may have to close off some of the course which would likely include the water crossings. I felt a renewed sense of relief after this news and resolved to show up Sunday and do our best.
Stay tuned for Part II: EVENT DAY!
What’s in my trailer?
Tufflex 5’ Training Whip – perfect to have on hand for an impromptu ground training session!
Mosquito Halt – hands down the roughest, toughest, skeeter beatingest bug spray out there.
Trailer Aid – Better to have it and not need it, than… you know how it goes. No really, I’ve had one in my trailer since 2001 and finally got to put it to use just last year, so safe, so easy even a girl can use it!
Pro Choice Trailer Door Caddy – Keeps my trailer essentials neatly organized and easily accessible.
Sloggers Rubber Shoe – Easy-on rubber shoe is waterproof, comfy and comes in a number of colors!