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Ocala Pre-Circuit Week 1

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Last weekend was the first of two pre-circuit shows at HITS Ocala! I’ve been eagerly awaiting getting back in the ring since my last show with Little Love back in August. It’s been so long! We spent the fall and early winter confined to the indoor, going back to basics and training with the Equitation kids. That meant LOTS of flatwork, very small cavaletti exercises and the occasional 2’6” – 3’ course over spooky flower boxes, gates & hay bales. It was an incredibly productive “off-season” and I can see real improvement in my flatwork. But I think everyone at the barn was more than ready to get outside and jump some real jumps.

Our view most of the fall/winter

Little Love shipped down to Ocala in early December, and had some time to settle in before I arrived about a week and a half later. My trainer rented a permanent barn on the show grounds, so we have our own tack room, wash stalls, paddocks, ring & jumps. It’s a really nice setup that allows the horses to feel like they aren’t living at a horseshow.

A view of our ring. Looking good, Ocala!

I flew down on a Thursday night, and planned to show Friday – Sunday. This is my third winter going to Ocala, and it felt exciting to get back into the travel routine again. I always leave work around 3pm to catch an evening flight out of Boston that gets me to Orlando by about 8 or 9pm. Then I go and pick up my rental car for the 1 ½ hour drive to Ocala. This year I finally jumped on the podcast bandwagon (I know, I’m embarrassed it took me so long), and I can already tell it’s going to revolutionize my travel – that late-night car ride from the airport is such a drag.

Side note: does anyone else feel rusty at traveling after not flying for a while? I sure did. I got to the airport and realized I forgot my neck pillow, noise cancelling headphones, and my trusty antibacterial hand wipes. These are super important – my mom taught me to carry them on all trips so I can give the plane seat and armrests a good wipe down. Gotta do everything you can to avoid getting sick!

Luckily all the travelling went according to plan, no delays, traffic or cancelled flights. Ocala weather, however, had other plans.

The next morning brought the MOST TORRENTIAL rain I’ve ever seen IN MY LIFE. I hope the caps convey how I feel about this. I AM NOT EXAGGERATING. Still undeterred, I made my way to the barn on the show grounds. I couldn’t wait to see Little Love!! I am used to seeing her after work at least 5 days a week, so I really missed her. I was happy to see she was settling in really well.

HITS Ocala: lots of water everywhere

When I arrived at the barn, I was informed the show had actually been canceled for that day. Bummer. It’s always tough to commute to shows like this. Since I only have a finite amount of time each weekend, I’m always trying to maximize the experience. Missing a show day was really disappointing! But I was able to squeeze in a 20-minute ride in between rain showers, so at least that’s something. The ride was cut short due to the most ominous looking clouds that rolled in. We quickly rushed back into the barn and found that the rain was actually pouring in through the air vents in the roof. Fun!

The sky was VERY angry

After putting the horses away, and finally coming to terms with that fact that we wouldn’t be able to do anything else at the show for the rest of the day, we decided a barn outing to a diner was necessary. Those of you who have been to Ocala know that there isn’t much in terms of entertainment in the area. So, after brunch we decided to head out and find a place to get some pedicures. Might as well do something productive!

The next day was a bit of an improvement. After convincing ourselves there’s no way we’d be able to show (the rings looked like actual lakes the night before), we were surprised to see that some of the rings drained really well by the next morning. Unfortunately, the jumper ring where my division was held was still underwater. We decided to enter Little Love in a 3’ hunter class because that ring had the best footing. I was desperate to get some ring time and jump an actual course. This would be a fun adventure!

All my tack is for the jumper ring, so I borrowed a regular bridle and white fitted saddle pad from my trainer. It was actually hilarious how different Little Love looked in this tack! We had a really fun time galloping around the hunter ring, and Love was feeling GOOD. She was just excited to be outside and jumping again.

Love all decked out in hunter attire!

We capped off the day with a little dirtbike excursion around the field by the barn. Our barn is the farthest from the show rings (about a 10-15 minute hack), but we are right up against a big, rolling field that is perfect for evening dirtbike antics and blowing off some steam. I purchased my own dirtbike for horseshows recently, and I’m so glad I did. It’s a super fast & easy way to get around the big show grounds, and you get to have a little fun with it as well.

Just tooling around on the bike!

Sunday rolled around and the show was pretty much back to normal. They moved all the jumper classes into the Stadium for the day due to the regular jumper ring still being flooded. Normally this is amazing news – we get to ride in the best ring at the show that is normally reserved for the big classes! But I hadn’t been back in the Stadium since my pretty terrible fall last year (see my previous blog post about the fall here). I was definitely a bit nervous that my first real jumper class back would be in this ring. Luckily, I was taking a step down and doing the high adult division (1.10m height). I was definitely not feeling ready to jump back into the A/Os after so much time since my last show.

I prepped Love a bit extra that morning to help calm my nerves and to make sure she had a lower energy level. Since my fall I’ve had a bit of a tough time with speed. I knew I’d feel more confident that day if Love was more of a kick ride.

We had a good, confidence building warm up and galloped into the Stadium. I tried to concentrate on my plan, and not think about my previous time in this ring. Love had my back, and we jumped a really solid round. We started off great, jumping out of a nice rhythm and finding the distances on a forward stride. For no real reason at all, I decided to pull to the last 3 jumps and add a stride in the last line, resulting in a time fault. I felt badly for Love that we were kept out of the jump-off because of my slow riding. She was jumping amazing and was still right there with me even when I asked her to stuff in extra strides. But I finally felt like I was back in the groove, and I know I can go out next week and improve on that round. Note to self: you aren’t actually going as fast as you think you are!

Love hacking back to the barn with her friend, Sheldon

Despite the MOST INSANE weather I’ve ever seen, the weekend was fairly productive. We had some good barn bonding time and got to sneak in a few classes. I’m headed right back down to Ocala for another (hopefully dry!) weekend of showing before Christmas.

Love gets a well-deserved roll in the paddock on Sunday afternoon!

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