Top Gun Tess or "Tess" is a 15.1 hand Quarter Horse mare. She is 13 years old and I bought her five years ago when I had just started riding. I bought Tess from a western barn in Illinois and she was just supposed to be my first horse to learn to ride on. All she knew was western and had never seen a jump before in her life. After a couple months of riding her, my trainer Lizzy Jahnke said she would teach her how to jump. It was a long process as we were learning together. My coach was super patient and after lots of trying and even with many refusals, Tess started to get the hang of it.
After about a year of owning her, she started acting naughty. She would scoot after jumps and throw huge bucks that got me off easily as a new rider. I lost count how many times she bucked me off, and I started to lose some confidence. We had the vet out and after ultrasounding her back found out that she had some holes along the supraspinous ligament of her back. We began the process of rest and rehab, starting with a lot of ground work. That is when I feel like our relationship really took a turn. I was out at the barn every day hand walking and doing her stretches and when it was time for her to come back to work, I was honestly a little worried. I didn’t know what she was going to be like having been off for four months.
Caitlyn and Tess at one of their very first schooling shows in 2015. Photo courtesy of Caitlyn Ruud.
When I did get back in the saddle, it felt like I was riding a totally different horse. Our relationship had made a world of difference in her behavior and her attitude. It was a long and slow process getting her back from rehab starting with two minutes of trot and working our way up to eventually being able to canter. After a couple months of increased trot and canter work, she was finally ready to jump again.
It is amazing how a relationship with a horse can make such an incredible difference in their work ethic. She seemed to trust me so much more and seemed a lot more willing to work for me. Last year we did our first season competing together at Beginner Novice and she has been a superstar.
She qualified last year for the AEC and I took her just for fun. She ended up being really reliable the entire weekend and placed seventh in the Beginner Novice Horse division, which I was so proud of. I cant wait to compete her again this year! I feel a very special connection to her because we learned to jump together (through lots of times being jumped out of the tack!) She is my first horse and has taught me so much about how important it is to develop that special bond with your horse. That relationship takes time and effort to build but is definitely worth it. She’s gone from a western pleasure horse to my little Beginner Novice champion and I’m so proud of her!