My life with Evil Munchkin: Part 5 – Floppy Pants needs more practice at down banks

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“. Eventually things started coming together fairly rapidly and we conquered our first CCI1*, qualifying us for the North American Junior Championships (NAJYRC) “My life with Evil Munchkin: Part 3 – From Novice to nuts“. NAJYRC did not go as I had planned it but nothing really go that way with horses “My life with Evil Munchkin: Part 4 – Medals and learning how to fake a smile“.

The winter season following the CCI1* at NAJYRC, I ran intermediate horse trials in preparation for the CCI** Ocala Horse Properties event in April. At almost every horse trial I ran that winter, I screwed up one phase or another. My confidence was a little shaken going into the two star. However, Kyle’s problem solving, guidance and overall coaching kept us on track and all three phases were the best we had ever done at that level. Rambo’s show-jumping talents stood out when he put in one of the only two clear rounds of the day. I was ecstatic after that round and I could not wipe the grin off my face as others went into the ring after me and the rails fell down. With every rail down my grin grew wider but with dignity and grace of course. We finished the competition in 4th and qualified for the NAJYRC CCI** in Lexington, KY that July.

Rambo show jumping his way to a 4th place finish at our first CCI2*.

Rambo show jumping his way to a 4th place finish at our first CCI2*.

I went back to NAJYRC with hopes of standing on the podium, this time with a gold, not silver, medal hanging from my neck. Things did not go to plan for me once again, but welcome to Eventing!

Dressage was on Thursday and despite a solid warm-up I failed to maintain the level of forwardness I needed with him to score well in the show ring. He ended up in 8th after dressage and our team sat in silver.

Friday was a day off from the riding competition but by the end of it I felt like I had competed the Olympic running walk race from all the course walking I did. I felt the need for a jump school with my coach, Kyle Carter, since I had not had a lesson from him in three months. He was pleased that despite the fact I still could not ride, Rambo had not forgotten how to jump (I think he was kidding but I am never certain)!

On Saturday morning the hectic atmosphere of the XC warm-up with all the horses galloping around had Rambo excited in warm-up. Kyle got me pumped up before going out of the start box by giving me one of his famous pep talks. It was emphasized to me that I was to ride aggressively but efficiently.

However, he terrified my mother when she over heard him telling me during one part of the pep talk that I was to “ride him to the dirt,” because he did not want me coming off XC telling him in some sucky, whiney tone “I just tipped off.” My mother is a complete wreck on XC day. She is always sneaking over and whispering things to me like “if it is going badly and you don’t feel comfortable just retire on course,” so this was not the advice she wanted to hear me get. Thank God she was standing with Ian Roberts and he tactfully reminded her that coaches do not want parents around at this point.

On reflection, cross-country was probably our personal best with the exception of fence 11ab, a massive down bank then three strides to a skinny triple brush. I previously had nicknamed myself “Floppy Pants” because of the way I flop forward on landing off fences that involve drops because of my poor equitation in this situation. I knew Rambo was capable of this combination but only if I did not pull a dreaded “Floppy Pants” landing.

On the way to the down bank, I got scared and as he was jumping off I froze with fear, doing nothing to brace for impact. I landed in front of the saddle and was scrambling to get back into the tack as I was looking and making a last feeble attempt to guide my horse to the skinny. It is lucky that he did not lock onto the skinny and instead had a run out because my position was so non-existent at that moment in time that he would have jumped, I would have come off… and I would have had to tell the big guy that “I just tipped off.” A disappointing calmness overwhelmed me and I reorganized, caught the black flag option and finished the course. I could not be more proud of my Evil Munchkin he was a true rockstar and needless to say I was practicing many drops that fall.

Rambo posing at the jog.

Rambo posing at the jog.

The jog up on Sunday morning was stellar. I think I should point out that the Canadian girls were the best dressed again at the second jog up. I am sure Vogue would still want to get the rights to any photos of us at both jogs to use in that magazine of theirs.

For show jumping Rambo did his best grand prix jumper impersonation putting in one of the four rare double clear rounds of the day. All the luck I had banked up that year, was spent at the last fence on course, when I rode like a monkey causing my horse to leap like a deer. He hit every rail on that fence with every foot, but for some unknown reason they all stayed in the cups. Our team ended up in bronze and it was extra special standing on the podium with my team because my one teammate, Erin MacDonald and I were working students together one summer – at that time we would not have believed it was possible if someone that old us this moment would come.

Show jumping at NAJYRC 

I am in this sport for the long haul and despite not everything going how I wanted this weekend…that is very much part of the sport. Kyle Carter, Ian Roberts, Karen O’Connor, Bruce Davidson, Mary King, Mark Todd and even Ian Millar are some names that come into my mind when I think of athletes that I idolize because they have stuck with this sport through thick and thin. They are doing what they love and making a living at it.

At this point in our journey I had another 3 years that I was eligible to do Young Riders and I fully planned to keep coming back until I took home the gold medal. My theory was if I aged out of Young Riders before I could win gold there,  I would alter my goal to winning a gold medal at a different championship event. Remember, nobody likes a quitter… and your Olympic dreams only die when you do!!! I always believe…the best is yet to come.

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

 

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