I Used My Vacation to Spend 10 Days in Florida Working and Riding

…and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

Five short years ago, I came home with my first horse, Herin. A 16.2hh, bay, off the track thoroughbred, gelding. Once I started training with Debbie Adams, our instructor at Flora Lea Farm in Medford, NJ, it did not take long for the itch to venture to Florida to set in. Finally, this past winter, Herin and I embarked on our first Ocala trip together. To say I was ecstatic was an understatement. I could not wait to be in a land where everyone was a “horse person,” have daily rides in 75 degree weather while it was snowing at home, and to finally sport my new Ariat SunStopper show shirt that has been sitting in my drawer since Christmas. 

The Drive 

You cannot prepare yourself for 18 hours in a truck until you are sitting in a truck for 18 hours. The only advice I can give to anyone trailering to Florida here is to not look at it as a drive. If you do, you will never make it out alive. Thinking more along the lines of “this is what I am doing today,” is a huge game changer—trust me. Aside from some mechanical issues, which the pilot thankfully is able to fix on the side of 95 with two tired and hungry horses 14 hours in, and a horse that refused to drink water (thanks, Herin), the drive really is not all that bad! And yes, I would do it again. 

Boot Camp 

Upon arrival in Florida, after two rest days for the horses, I have exactly six riding days before we compete training level at Exmoor Horse Trials in Ocala. So clearly, there is some work to do to knock the New Jersey winter rust off. After having a solid dressage and show jump lesson the first two days, it is time to try our hand at a local jumper show and get some course practice with the show nerves in place. Remember when I said I was excited for 75 degree weather? It is show morning, 35 degrees and windy! I am now hacking to the show with a snorting, spooking, OTTB on a busy road, bundled up in everything I packed; this is not the Florida I pictured! We make it there, though it took a bit longer than usual, leaving little time to learn the course and warm-up. I opt for the three-foot class, having not consistently trained or jumped all winter. Everything is going great until the second to last jump, Herin slides into a refusal and I fall off! All of this anticipation for Florida shows and I hit the dirt in my first round. I hop back on and jump the problem fence and the last one with dirt all down my back and butt (oh well!).  After a few more riders, I am nicely (sternly) told by my trainer that I need to do the same course again, and thank goodness this time we make it around with just one rail down. Though it did not go as planned, falling off early in the week brought me back down to Earth, and forced me to push my heels down a little deeper the next jump school and for our event just four days away. 

Event Day 

After a successful cross country school with zero falls (yay!), I am feeling ready for our event. Being somewhat new to training level, I am definitely nervous. Upon walking the course the day before, the jumps were beautiful, well-decorated and built. I could not have signed up for a better event. The questions were hard, but fair for the level. Dressage competition was tough. I felt like I had a solid test and I am ashamed to admit it was the highest score I have ever received. Moving on to show jumping, I had a clear round which I was very proud. Fast forward another night (this event held cross country the second day), and it is time for the not so daunting (but still kind of daunting) cross country course.

I leave the start box fired up. Herin is notorious for taking any out he can find if there is a hint of nerves, lack of confidence, a bad approach, a car going by, a dog five miles away on a leash, you get the point. To my surprise we are doing well— a little close to the base on some jumps (another Herin specialty), but we are getting over them. And let’s be honest; in eventing it does not really matter how pretty it looks. He even surprised me by not spooking at the skinny tree that jumped directly into the woods towards the highway! Good boy! (Not yet, Maria…)

I have a runout. There, I said it. We jump into the water and have five sharp bending strides to another jump. Though I have had him for five years, Herin still needs straight approaches due to his personality. By the time I reach the second jump, I was unfortunately still on a slight bend. I turn around the other way and jump it out no problem and finish the course happy as a clam. Herin tried his heart out and surprised me at many of the questions that I was sure he would refuse. With just one stop on a fairly hard question (for him), I was pinching myself that it went as well as it did on the way back to the trailer. The fun was over; my days were no longer going to be spent cleaning stalls, riding, shopping, and hanging out with my dear trainer, Debbie Adams, in her Florida home. However, I left Florida with more drive to work on my dressage, more grit than I had going in towards cross country, and a horse that handled traveling and competing in one week for the very first time quite well. Most folks would not consider driving, working, and riding your ass off much of a vacation, but let’s be honest— us horse people are not “most folks.” Then, after 10 days in blissful Florida (despite the few cold days), I get back in the truck for another 18 hours.

From one horse crazed human to another – Author: Maria Holman