When it comes to riders and their horses, not many can say that they have had their mounts since they were a foal. Carla Jimmerson, however, prefers to start her partnerships from scratch. Having trained horses for years, Jimmerson finds that working with a blank canvas is most rewarding. Her most recent project, Tag You’re It (Wildwood Hearne TopGun x Running Eagle), is a 6-year-old Thoroughbred/Connemara cross gelding that she got at just 10-months-old. Having worked together for the better part of five years, the pair have an incredibly unique bond that can only be attributed to their time spent together early on in "Tag's" life.
When asked why she preferred to train young horses, Jimmerson replied, “I like it cause I know what I’m getting.” With an older horse there is the possibility of hidden injuries. Injuries while being ridden or just mishaps in the paddocks could lead to bigger problems down the line. There is nothing hidden with a baby. They are a, “clean slate,” as she puts it, “I don’t have to undo what somebody else has already done.”
After driving out to get him from his breeder, Beth Davidson, training began right away. With goals of Tag being her next big event horse, Jimmerson worked tirelessly on groundwork and handling to make sure the young colt was exactly what she needed him to be. “He was a little pushy with people and I could tell that right off the bat. Just leading him around, he wanted to lead ME around,” she stated. Unfortunately, Tag’s mother passed away leaving him orphaned, which meant he got a lot of attention from humans early on in his life. This made him a tad defiant in training, but his fiery nature would not deter Jimmerson.
“I did these exercises called Six Keys to Harmony by Ed Dabney gentle horsemanship. It’s a program here in Georgia. I’m friends with Ed and he had done a lot of clinics here at my farm so I used to watch him work with people on ground work. I learned from him how to do all that. So I started doing that as soon as I got him and it really helps. It’s a great way to train a horse without actually being on him.”
She focused on these groundwork techniques for about two years and when he turned three, Jimmerson sent Tag to Dabney for two months to put the finishing touches on his base training. There, Dabney also did the initial backing and made sure Tag was safe for Jimmerson to mount. “Being the age of 60 I decided to let someone else do that part and I am glad I did,” she stated. When Tag returned home, Jimmerson was eager to continue his education, although Tag was proving to be quite a handful under saddle. After her first few rides on the young mount, Jimmerson noticed that he was hyper-sensitive to loud noises stating, “…even something as small as a bird chirping could send him running. Some of the things he did were just a little scary because he would just bolt or he would hear a loud noise and then all the sudden just POW, he’d be bucking.”
Tag would sometimes get frightened or overstimulated and dart around the arena. Jimmerson compared it to when a dog gets the "zoomies.” These outbursts were short lived though. Even though Tag was more difficult to train than many of her other young horses, whenever there was an incident she reminded herself that he was still young and by staying consistent and being a strong leader, they would overcome it together. After two years of continuous work, they became confident in their abilities and while there are still some bumps to iron out, Tag has shown that he will make a fantastic eventing horse.
“Going to shows or clinics, he was quite a handful in all my warm-ups prior to what I was doing but he always did really well when it came time to actually go into the show arena,” stated Jimmerson. “He never did any of that, he was wonderful. He just kinda rose to the occasion and it was like all that was gone. That part of him is wonderful.”
While working with younger horses is something that Jimmerson finds exciting and fruitful for her riding goals, it is an arduous and sometimes painfully slow process that is not suitable for every equestrian. Taking a foal to a fully grown mount requires patience, extensive knowledge, and a bit of luck.
“It’s definitely not for everyone. There’s been several times where I’ve been like, ‘I’ve done this, someone else can do it,’ and encouraged someone else to do the same thing and their experience wasn’t the same as mine. So, you know, some people really need that horse that's been there and done that or that horse that’s kind of been made for them. But for someone like me, I have my own farm, I have the time, I have the love and the patience to go through all that process.”
For Jimmerson, that process is incredibly rewarding. She loves watching them grow and learn. Not only do the horses learn, but she does as well. In all the years Jimmerson has been working with young horses, Tag taught her quite a bit in their time together.
“In my dressage work, he’s taught me more about true contact. I’ve ridden horses that were very naturally forward and naturally light. They would just be like feathers in my hand. He’s the first horse I’ve had that’s a lot tighter, a lot heavier, just requires so much more strength on my part to ride. All my other horses just the lightest little touch with my leg and they’d scoot over, little squeeze and they’d come together. With him it’s like I need legs and arms of steel to ride him so I’m having to learn how to put him together and have him be a willing partner.”
Tag certainly is a true partner to Jimmerson. Both have a love for the sport that is prevalent in their performances together. Most recently, they rode in the Area III Region Championships and came out with an impressive dressage score of 24.4, taking the blue ribbon in their division. This event was quite special to Jimmerson since they won't be able to make the trek to Kalispell, Montana for this year’s USEA American Eventing Championships presented by Nutrena Feeds.
“That’s why I was excited about the regional championship with Tag because in my mind, that was our AEC for the year. I hope next year it will be somewhere a little closer. I’ll be so excited to prepare for that and go there hopefully.”
Jimmerson thoroughly enjoyed herself at the Area III Championships and Tag seemed to as well. While it is impossible to know for sure if horses enjoy eventing as much as their riders do, when asked if she believed Tag was having fun out there, Jimmerson stated, “I think he does… Just his mannerisms and the way he breathes just everything, he seems like he's so into it and that he really enjoys it. He finds a rhythm and seems to really be happy when he’s out on cross-country. I think that’s everyone's favorite phase of the three phases. It definitely seems like that's where he’s the happiest.”
The bond they share is palpable, you can really see how well they work together both in competition and out. Probably the only way they could be closer is if Tag could understand what Jimmerson was saying. He’d certainly be happy to hear what she has to say.
“I would tell him first that I love him very much, he’s a gift from God. I’d tell him he better take care of me and I would thank him for teaching me how to really ride. I’ve learned so much from him even though he’s probably the most challenging horse I’ve ever ridden. He’s taught me things I’ve never learned from any other horse. I’m thankful for that cause I love to learn and I want to be a good rider.”
The team already has so much under their belt and much more to come. With a partnership like theirs, they are sure to rise up the ranks soon. They have put a lot of work in in these short six years and show no signs of slowing down. Jimmerson is proud of how far Tag You’re It has come and is excited to see where they will go from here.
“It’s been a fun journey and it continues on.”
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.
US Equestrian opened a bid process for one event to host the Advanced level in Area 3 on Week 10 for 2023-2027 due to an event cancellation. The bid process was conducted in accordance with the 2023-2027 U.S. Eventing Calendar CCI4*-L, CCI4*-S, CCI3*-L, & Advanced Policies and Procedures. The USEF Eventing Strategic Calendar Review Task Force made recommendations to the USEF Eventing Sport Committee who made recommendations for final approval by the USEF Board of Directors.
Concluding the 2022 Area Championships season was the Area X Championships held during the SAzEA H.T. which took place November 19-20 in Tucson, Arizona. Three Championship divisions were offered, allowing three horse and rider pairs the opportunity to conclude their 2022 eventing season by being crowned champion!
“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