Aug 28, 2017

The Road to AEC: Getting There

Forever Photography by Michelle Photo.

The Road to AEC is a series of articles contributed by our members about their journeys to compete in the USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Tryon, N.C., August 30-September 3, 2017.

My road to the compete in the USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) started last year. While I was at the AEC to support my mom, Sally Richards, a 3-year-old filly arrived back home in Covington, Louisiana (yes, we event in Louisiana) to be either a quick sales horse or my 2017 Retired Racehorse Project (RRP) Thoroughbred Makeover entry. Majestic Delight, aka “Lila”, was delivered with no issue and I was sent two pictures of a leggy grey mare who seemed to have a lovely shoulder and a bright expression. I was pretty excited, it was like knowing I had a present waiting for me, but I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting!

Once we arrived home after the AEC and the 2016 RRP Thoroughbred Makeover, I hopped on Lila once or twice and put her on the shelf so as to not get more than ten rides on her prior to December 1, 2016 per the rules for the 2017 RRP Thoroughbred Makeover. After just four rides, she subbed in for another horse I was riding at a Jimmy Wofford clinic, and she knocked my socks off. Here was this 3-year-old mare, who had raced twice, who I had only ridden maybe four times, and she came out and jumped around a little cross-country course and did some gymnastic exercises like she had been doing it her whole life. Jimmy kept telling me “Lila is perrr-fect.” I was in swift agreement with him! Her brain, her boldness, and her willingness blew me away. The AEC weren’t even a thought at that point, but I knew that I had found my 2017 RRP Thoroughbred Makeover entry.

Lila truly began work December 1, 2016 and I started with the basics, like with all my other off-the-track Thoroughbreds. She moved like a plank, but showed great willingness to try whatever I asked of her and I just kept plugging away with the Thoroughbred Makeover in Kentucky in October 2017 as my end goal. I started to become interested in the Young Event Horse program and found one of the few competitions in Area V, MeadowCreek (thanks Robbie!) that offered those divisions. I started to work towards that, in preparation we did a clinic with Will Faudree, a hunter show, and few cross-country schoolings. We went to the Spring MeadowCreek competition and competed in the YEH 4-year-old class, but to be honest it was a little too much for her at that point and even though I was pleased with her performance I was glad that I had entered her in the Starter Test for the competition weekend rather than entering her in the Beginner Novice. After a steady dressage, a looky stadium and green but game cross-country round, she came home with a pink ribbon and I was very proud of her. At this point, even though she is a Thoroughbred and technically turned 4 on January 1, she was still actually just 3. Since she had gained confidence as we cantered around cross-country, I entered her the following weekend at a local eventing derby to further her confidence and lo and behold, she won! We were the only ones in the division.

Forever Photography by Michelle Photo.

The last two years, my mom and I have spent nine days in Aiken, SC or as we refer to it, our happy place. This year we went during my daughter’s Spring Break and were joined by my mother’s trainer, Lynn Quast. We had a blast! We went to at least three different cross-country courses to school and hacked in the incredible Hitchcock Woods, and I had a breakthrough dressage lesson with Doug Payne. Our trip culminated with the Longleaf Pine Horse Trials at the incredible Carolina Horse Park. This was to be Lila’s first Beginner Novice and it was a good outing. We had a middle-of-the-pack dressage, a clean and confident cross-country, but a still rather green and awkward stadium round. We had our learning experiences to build off following that event, but she galloped gamely around that Beginner Novice track and I knew that she definitely wanted to be an event horse.

We went home and did our homework in preparation for our next outing at Poplar Place in Georgia. This is the event where everything started to come together for us, she put in a steady and lovely dressage test to tie us for second, we knocked a rail in stadium which moved us into a tie for fourth but then she put in a bold and steady cross-country round, where we lost the tie and ended up fifth. Our first qualification.

It wasn’t until I got home and started thinking about that qualification that I thought, “Hmmm….the AEC is at Tryon again, which is amazing. Should I go for it?” I called my friend and guru, Colby Saddington Bauersfeld and posed the question to her, “My goal is to kick butt at the 2017 RRP Thoroughbred Makeover, but I also have the opportunity to possibly qualify and go to the AEC. My horse is awesome but only 4, will I blow her amazing mind if I push for both?” Colby advised me to go for it. So I did, and we signed up for the Chattahoochee Hills Horse Trials in July. Leading up to that show I focused on the dressage work, and also worked on a ton of gridwork to improve Lila’s confidence and style for the stadium portion, as that had been our weakest link at the previous competitions.

The hard work paid off, we put in our best dressage test to date, she jumped a fabulous and, dare I say, joyous cross-country round, and we sat tied for fourth going into stadium. I was a little nervous, which rarely happens, but the scores were so tight and rails had been dropping all day and the footing was super wet due to the massive amount of rain. I stopped thinking about my ultimate goal of qualifying and into the ring we went. This time there were no stops, no rails, it was a fabulous stadium round. I couldn’t have been more pleased with Lila, and maybe even myself, because I knew as soon as we crossed the finish line that no matter what, we had qualified for the AEC! That day we went home with a red ribbon and a grin that still hasn’t left my face.

So here we are, heading to the AEC to compete in the Beginner Novice Horse division and then a month later off to the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover and it’s all thanks to this amazing grey mare who arrived while I was at the AEC last year.

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