Bridgehampton, NY, August 29 -- After the second day of showing at the Hampton Classic, it feels like the whirlwind has already started. Like many others at the horse show, I used the open and amateur jumper classes yesterday and today to get in the ring and prepare my horses for the big classes this weekend.
Yesterday, the open speed class had over 100 entries. Many people jumped smooth rounds, not trying to win but just getting their horses ready for Friday's World Cup qualifier-except the top ribbon winners, of course. McLain Ward and Aaron Vale, first and second, certainly set a blistering pace.
Conrad Homfeld's course was perfect, with a lot of places to save time on the turns, a few long runs, and some long bending lines with many possible stridings. I particularly love Conrad's courses, because they require a careful, technical ride, but they never feel awkward. A good round over his courses feels smooth, but they always prove a little harder to jump clean than they first appear. That's just the kind of course I love.
With Hurricane yesterday, I rode a fairly prompt but not wildly fast round, and we finished clear and in fourteenth place. It was a great prep for Friday; he jumped beautifully, meaning that he's physically ready, and he responded perfectly to the intimidating setting of the Grand Prix field here. At a place like this, where a lot of horses get scared out on the field, Hurricane performs his best, it seems; rather than backing off, he gets just impressed enough to try his hardest. He likes the excitement of a busy and formal atmosphere, and he rises to the occasion.
Today I rode Lapeti in the High Amateur speed. Again, the course was outstanding, and we went smoothly fast and finished third. On the one hand, this is one of the biggest horse shows of the year, so I feel the pressure to go in and try to win in every class. On the other hand, though, I needed to use the speed class to prepare Lapeti for Friday, when the first round of the cK Jumping Derby will go. Trying to balance those two desires, I rode at a fast pace and took tight turns, but I chose balancing distances at a few fences to help her lean back on her haunches (she's a wild mare and she likes to drag, so she needs to practice backing off the jumps sometimes). She jumped very well and tried her hardest as she always does, so I felt great about her round as well as Hurricane's.
The other highlight of the day was a trip to Sag Pond Farm to school the natural fences with Missy Clark and all her other students who will compete in the cK Equitation Championship. Sag Pond's incredible grand prix field has everything from open waters to banks to hedges to dry ditches. It's always fun galloping around the huge field and practicing with a big group of Missy's students.
Along with us, about four other trainers were there with their students schooling the natural jumps. I think the cK class can be a great experience for a rider who has the right horse and is ready to learn to jump naturals, which require a unique kind of ride, drastically different from a normal equitation round and more akin to the hunt field. Schooling in a big group is the best way, because watching others practice and hearing the trainer's feedback affords a great chance to learn. Also, a large group seems to build everyone's confidence. I think that my own foxhunting background contributes a great deal to my confidence with natural jumps.
Today, I rode one of Missy's equitation horses, who, to Missy's knowledge, had never jumped the naturals. A bit uncertain in places at first, he was on the whole extremely well-behaved; he jumped everything we put in front of him, so I'm feeling good about tomorrow's class.
I'm just happy to have the opportunity to be a part of it all, and I'm looking forward to the challenges of the upcoming week!