My life with Evil Munchkin: Part 3 – From Novice to nuts

I rode Evil Munchkin, aka Rambo, for seven years. Together we went from Beginner Novice all the way to the two-star level. This winter, I made the gut-wrenching decision to sell him because I realized it was what needed to happen to keep me in this expensive game and it was time for him to teach someone else the ropes of Eventing. We won our last event together, the Intermediate Rider division at Rocking Horse Winter III H.T., on a Saturday and he was sold and gone to his new owners on the Tuesday. I was an emotional wreck at the time he sold, I knew he was going to a 10-star home but he is my baby. His new owner is a junior rider, Haley Rosenberg, and I could not have asked for a better new jockey for Rambo.

Rambo came into my life as a result of a tragedy “From Tragedy to Triumph”, and the day I loaded him on the trailer and took him back to Canada with me from Will Coleman’s Tivoli Farm, was the first day I did not cry for what had been 2 months. Then I started riding Rambo and things went far from smoothly “How I became an expert at landing in the dirt“.

Once Olympian Kyle Carter entered the picture, I started getting more airtime going over fences with Rambo (rather than free-falling to the ground). After the first lesson, my parents were more than impressed with our progress and happy to continue supporting our training. Luckily, Kyle agreed to coach me.

We started working towards the Big Bad Training Level Upgrade. With multiple lessons per week, my riding improved more in one season with Kyle than it had in the previous four years.

Although we were only schooling training level fences, Kyle made me as accurate as possible and helped me realize that everything you do in lessons will help you in the future.

There were some lessons where I struggled to take charge of Rambo, but Kyle refused to get on him. He said, “You are going back to Canada and you cannot rely on me getting on Rambo to fix him temporarily. It is up to you to learn to ride your horse.” Kyle would occasionally get so frustrated with me, he threw his hat at us (once you get to know Kyle, you realize that when he takes off his hat, things are not going well!). The consistent lessons combined with Kyle’s disciplined approach and expertise paid off. At the end of three months, Rambo and I not only achieved our goal of upgrading to Training level but we also won our first event.

Behaving in dressage at our first Training.

Behaving in dressage at our first Training.

Overall, Florida 2010 was a raging success. I headed home to Canada on cloud nine. Although, not being able to train with Kyle for the next 9 months was a concern. I needed a good coach in Ontario to stay on the right track. Several people recommended Ian Roberts and we decided to make the three and a half hour drive to Dreamcrest in Port Perry for a lesson. Early on in the lesson, I could tell that Ian was a good choice. As soon as Rambo started levitating after fences, he told me to get him forward  – not once did he suggest to sell him as a dressage horse! Ian’s no-nonsense approach combined with his incredibly well-thought out jumping exercises made for very productive lessons (more than worth the drive) and Rambo’s training continued to progress.

The Ontario season kicked off. I got bucked off at the Glen Oro Farm Combined Test event at the end of April. The cold and rainy weather had Rambo on edge.  When I asked him to trot in the dressage warm-up ring, he went above and beyond a trot transition and showed off his acrobatic abilities. I landed in the mud in front of him, reins still in hand and trying to be heroic, I held onto him as he started running backwards. I felt the cold wet mud on my butt and was quickly reminded that I did not have a belt on, as my pants were rapidly approaching my knees. I let go of the reins, swiftly pulled up my pants and stood up…  hoping no one had noticed what had just happened. Fortunately, I think everyone was staring at Rambo as he whizzed through the warm-up ring, leaping and kicking, while spectators scattered.

The difference between this fall and previous ones was my confidence. I was not willing to show Rambo that I was intimidated by him in any way. I retrieved my “Evil Munchkin” from the barns, where someone had managed to catch him and I rode him back to the warm-up ring (looking like a swamp monster since I didn’t have time to change). I think my look scared him into behaving because he won the combined test with a civilized dressage test and squeaky-clean show jumping round. I headed home with a red ribbon, mud-covered bottom and excitement for the upcoming season.

Rambo went on a mini “red” reign of terror that spring, winning most Training level events. I finally figured out how to control him and things came together really well. In early July, Ian gave us the okay to upgrade to Preliminary. Our upgrade went smoothly, although the preliminary level was a different animal. Our lack of experience did not make for good scoring dressage tests, we had the occasional rail or two (due to chip-ins/missed distances), and it turns out that fat warmblood ponies are not that fast on cross-country. We always finished the event but my greenness stifled his winning streak. Nonetheless, I was ecstatic to finally be going Preliminary, especially on my baby Rambo. I think every girl dreams of going Preliminary because that is the level that will qualify you for a CCI*, which will qualify you for the North American Junior Championships. By the fall, I had all my qualifications to do a CCI* and entered the one at Midsouth in Lexington, KY.

In a lesson with Ian Roberts.

In a lesson with Ian Roberts.

I headed to Kentucky to get my qualification for the 2011 NAJYRCs. Unlike regular horse trials, at CCIs you have to go through a formal vet inspection (aka “a jog”), before the competition. Because Rambo is so quirky, I practiced jogging him in hand. In Kentucky, the practice sessions were going badly. I was getting whipped through the air as he would leap about singing, “I whip my rider back and forth“. My mom, always a nervous wreck, made the executive decision that my dad would jog him for me because I had to show the horse and could not get hurt at the jog.

My dressage coach Elaine Potter (my barn mother and mentor) gave my dad a crash course in jogging a horse and he fared quite well. My dad went and bought some jog-worthy clothes and the next morning, did his first CCI jog up (not bad for someone whose riding experience consists solely of a trail ride in South America). My horse did not make it easy for him, but despite Rambo showing off his cute belly to the ground jury and knocking over some flowers, they passed the jog and Evil Munchkin was accepted to our first one star.

Dressage went disastrously and we were second last with a 72. In all fairness, Rambo was just trying to get bonus marks by adding in a few flying changes in the counter canter work but the judges had no appreciation for his creativity. Despite the rough dressage test, we managed to add nothing to our dressage score on cross-country. He breezed around the course problem-free. Ian Roberts was kind enough to help us in the cool out area as I was alone with my dad.

Even though Ian was the one coaching me at the event, Kyle was there with other students so he took the time to watch my cross-country. Afterwards, he came over and congratulated me for completing my first CCI* cross-country, handing me three giant acorns. “It is a tradition,” he said, “After someone completes their first one star, they are given three nuts from a tree of the field they ran.” I thought it was weird, but horse people are different so I accepted his gift and put them on a hay bale outside my stall. Later that evening, my parents, grandparents, Elaine, Kyle and I all went out to dinner. At dinner, I mentioned how cool it was to have the nuts to remember my first CCI* and then everyone clued into the fact I did not realize he was teasing me. They all had a good laugh that I had believed Kyle’s practical joke. I took it in stride but Kyle was not going to win.

Sunday morning I was at the barn bright and early, getting Rambo ready for… my dad’s jog. Kyle swung by Rambo’s stall to watch him and make sure he looked good. I asked him if he had been on Facebook to see my status update. He said he had not and asked me what it said. I replied,  “Kyle’s nuts are on display outside my stall.” He gave me a look of sheer horror and I couldn’t help but laugh. He was pretty relieved that I was joking… and we were even.

Later that day, I show jumped and it was not the smoothest round by any stretch. We pulled down two rails. One of which was in the triple when he added an extra stride in the first one stride. This woke him up though. Despite having a pole tangled between his legs and putting another two strides in the second one stride, he cleared the out from a standstill. I though he had stopped and was waiting to hear the whistle but like a rocket, he took flight and made it over with a heroic effort (see photos below).
Rambo leap 1 rambo leap 2 rambo leap 3 rambo leap 4 rambo leap 5 rambo leap 6

I did not have a very competitive placing at our first CCI* but I did head home with a qualifying score for 2011 NAJYRCs… and three of Kyle’s nuts!

Read the full Evil Munchkin series to find out how our lives played out together:


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