This article written by Jonathan Horowitz originally ran on May 8, 2022 on The Paulick Report.
I've been a sports fan for as long as I can remember. I didn't play sports in high school or college, but at the age of 37, I did finally get the chance to take on some of the best riders in the Rocky Mountain region in the equestrian sport of eventing because of the Arabian racehorse AA Two Face (“Dos”) that I used to announce and now ride. I introduced him in this column last month.
Through my broadcasting and writing, I've covered some of the best athletes and coaches across the world in a variety of sports, but deep down, I've also wanted to be in the middle of the action that captivates me when I announce. That's one of the reasons why I started riding horses seven years ago. Although I had goals of becoming good at it, starting at the age of 30 with my previous experience coming in the form of kids pony rides and family trail rides didn't exactly set me up to take the equestrian world by storm.
So, I had a tremendous sense of pride being part of the first ever Young Event Horse (YEH) 4‑Year-Old competition that took place in the United States Eventing Association's (USEA) Area IX at The Event at Archer in Cheyenne, Wyoming, on June 2. That was one day before the seven-year anniversary of my very first riding lesson with my trainer-turned-wife, Ashley Horowitz.
I competed against Ashley, as well as Kim Wendel and Dani Sussman, both of whom have ridden at the Advanced level, the highest offered for USEA national competitions. They all rode Warmbloods, generally the breed of choice for eventing, with Ashley and Kim on Irish Sport Horses purpose bred for eventing and imported from Ireland and Dani on a Dutch Warmblood. I rode AA Two Face, who is still in race training while also eventing with me and being ridden by our 8-year-old son, Chase Gubich.
The idea of me and Dos taking on these upper-level riders and upper-level eventing prospects all started as a joke. About two months before, I decided to get snarky during a phone call Ashley and Kim were having about their fancy Irish imports competing in YEH and exclaimed that I would take my Arabian and kick their butts. They initially laughed, but then Kim got serious, “I think you should do it.”
Although I know that my riding skills pale in comparison to Ashley, Kim, and Dani and that AA Two Face's eventing future will not include the highest levels of the sport like it may for his YEH competition, we were doing the foundational flatwork and jumping that is part of the series designed to provide eventing prospects with a positive first showing experience. The first exposure I had to YEH was announcing the 2021 West Coast Championships at Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles, Calif. I loved seeing the talent and precociousness of the young horses. My goal was to finish in the top four — out of four — and somehow fit in, even though one look at us revealed how much horse and rider differed from the rest.
One of the great things about sports is when the regulars that love the sport get to take on the athletes they admire. Soccer teams that play in lower leagues have advanced to face Premier League teams in the FA Cup in England. Emergency goalies in hockey, usually an amateur or sometimes even the Zamboni driver designated for the unlikely scenario that both goalies become injured and cannot continue in a game, sometimes get to play in the NHL.
So, there I was, warming up to go into the dressage ring and then out on cross-country taking in that AA Two Face and I were part of a group that is going to make an impact in the sport.
And you know what? We held our own.
Although Dos, as an Arabian, does not have the same natural fancy dressage movements as an Irish Sport Horse or Dutch Warmblood, we were in first place after dressage. Well, that's only half true because we later learned that the results were posted incorrectly. However, for the three or so hours where our names were at the top of the standings, the other riders actually accepted that as a reality. The judging for dressage in YEH is based on quality of gaits and rideability of the horses, and Dos was as relaxed as any of the other horses.
The results were corrected, but I did take a screenshot of the incorrect ones and pulled the incorrect scoresheet out of the trash to save.
Then, during our jumping test, a combination of five stadium jumps and 10 cross-country jumps plus a gallop at the end, we actually had the best stadium jumping score based on an aggregate of how the judge assessed the quality of jump at each fence on a scale from one to five. Adding up all the stadium and cross country jumps, our score was tied for second-best.
However, in the overall evaluations of rideability, rhythm between fences, cross country gallop, and general impressions as a potential 4-star or 5-star event horse, we took a backseat.
So, at the end of the day, Kim Wendel and MBF Reality finished first, Ashley Horowitz and Monbeg Salt Fever and Dani Sussman and Bacana tied for second, and Jonathan Horowitz and AA Two Face finished fourth. I love that I could be included that last sentence I wrote and in the group photos we took with such fantastic riders and horses.
For those of you that have gotten to this point in the article, thank you for supporting what was such a fantastic experience for Dos and me, but the plot is now going to change. That's because I'm not an upper-level eventer, and Dos is a unique type of horse that is combining eventing and racing because he loves the variety of activities to which we've exposed him.
The night before entries for The Event at Archer were due, Ashley and I discussed this dynamic and came up with a plan that I would enter YEH to fulfill my sporting dreams and give Dos the positive horse show experience that YEH offers, and I would also enter the Starter level of the horse trials that would take place across the next three days. The significance of the latter is that it was a step down in height and difficulty from the Beginner Novice level at which I competed with Dos three weeks prior at a schooling event at Archer.
Because Ashley, Kim, and Dani are professional riders, they will likely move a horse up a level whenever that horse is ready to do it. However, Ashley did not think that would be the best fit for me.
“You should go out there and have fun,” Ashley said. “Just because you both can physically do a higher level doesn't mean that's the best experience for you or Dos.”
Not having to max out took the pressure off. And so did being part of a large group of 25 horses and riders in the Starter Senior division because I could focus on growing as horse and rider and not on how we placed. My competitive nature and fewer entries would lead to wondering too much about what color ribbon we would get, but more entries decreased the likelihood that we would get a ribbon at all.
I've never had more fun or been more pleased with how I did at a horse show. Because Dos was getting more comfortable with the show environment each time I rode him and because I was getting more responsive with the aids I needed to give him, we turned in our best dressage test ever. Although I know areas where we can and will improve, it was a great showing for where I and my baby 4-year-old are at. It was one of the few times I've ever exited a dressage arena pleased with how the test went. I couldn't help but smile that the first comment written by the judge on our scoresheet was “handsome duo.”
Sitting in a tie for 12th, we turned in a double-clear cross-country round the next day to move into a tie for seventh. Amusing moments included passing the rider in front of us because Dos is still a racehorse and how that meant the show photographer missed getting pictures of us because he didn't have the time he thought he would between riders to change out the memory card on his camera.
The next day, we turned in a double clear stadium jumping round to finish on our dressage score in sixth out of 25. Finishing in the top quarter of the standings is the best I've ever done at an event. It's a funny catch-22 that not obsessing about doing better usually means you will.
I took a break from announcing the event each time I rode and then brought my two passions together by announcing the awards ceremony on horseback with a wireless microphone.
The victory gallop, which for us went a little longer and at a brisker pace than the other horses and riders, now leads to the next part of our journey. Thanks to Jeremias and Cristian Castro, the trainers of reigning Arabian horse of the year Hiab Al Zaman, I now have a racing bridle, and thanks to Ashley Carr, an eventing trainer that used to exercise racehorses, I now have a racing saddle to take with me and Dos to Bally's Arapahoe Park to gallop as we prepare to enter a 6-furlong maiden race on the opening day of the 2022 season on July 3.
As an announcer of horse races and horse shows, I've always had a front seat to the action. Thanks to the opportunities that having horses has provided me, I now actually get to be in the action. It gives me more appreciation for those that I announce, and it allows me to live out my dreams on what has become an incredibly rewarding journey.
Copyright © 2022 Blenheim Publishing/PaulickReport.com Republished with permission of the copyright holder
In the final USEA Classic Series event of 2022, three horse and rider pairs rode their way to the top of the podium in the Training, Novice, and Beginner Novice 3-Day divisions offered during the Ram Tap Horse Park Horse Trials which took place November 18-20 in Fresno, California.
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“The highest priority must be given by instructors to developing in their riders a correct, balanced, supple, effective, and independent seat for dressage and for jumping.” - “Teaching Principles” in the new ECP Eventing Handbook by the Levels