BY IRENE ELISE POWLICK
Every winter, as snow descends onto the mountains of Salt Lake City where I live, I plan trips to warmer climes, especially places that feature world-class horse shows. I’ve gone to the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in Wellington, Florida and the HITS Coachella shows in Thermal, California to watch, work, and ride my own horses.
For the past few years, I have also been able to lease a horse for the week, giving me incredible opportunities. While it’s great to work with your own horses and trainers, leasing for a week allows for you to learn on new horses and with trainers that can provide a different perspective.
The past two years I’ve chosen to show at WEF, even fulfilling my dreams of winning a class there, but this year I travelled to the other side of the country to compete at Week 1 of HITS Coachella. This past fall on the indoor circuit, I had the opportunity to train with Traci and Carleton Brooks at their Balmoral Farm, and chose to join back up with them again in California. Traci arranged for me to lease an equitation sales horse named Checkpoint, or Lex, around the barn. I also got to ride about a half dozen other horses a day to help get them exercised, and perhaps to tire me out, too!
I was at the show all week, and rode Lex for the first time on Thursday, when I did a 1.0m jumper class to get a feel for him. It was very foggy and I was a bit nervous, but Lex was perfect. The class was a great way to get used to his stride and tendencies. I also flatted him again that afternoon, which allowed for me to really get to know him.
The next day, Friday, I had three classes: the Ariat Adult Medal and two Adult Equitation 18-35 over fences classes. First to go in the Ariat, I surprised myself with having a very respectable round, scoring an 80 with just one longer distance that Lex handled like a champ. I made the work off in third place, and had a good test other than messing up my counter canter. I ended up staying in third to two great riders.
My equitation rounds immediately followed the medal, so I was able to go right back in, where I had two nice rounds, with just a couple small things to fix. Lex went back to the barn, and I rode a couple more before checking back at the ring to find out that I was actually first and second!! I got to end the day by taking Lex for a bareback walk around the horse show; it was a great first day of showing Lex!
On Saturday, I again had a medal and two 18-35 Equitation classes. I spent my morning watching other riders from Balmoral show, and getting ready mentally for my classes. One of the best things about leasing for a show is that it can be much more stress-free; because it’s someone else’s horse, there’s a lot less for you to worry about! Instead, I was able to take a little time to focus on myself until Lex was brought up to the ring for me.
My first class was the USEF Adult Medal which took place in the Main Hunter Ring, a larger arena than the others. I had a nice round, and came back to the work off in second place. We were asked to counter canter the first fence which I executed well, which I felt redemption for after messing it up the day before, and I completed the test as neatly as possible. Although I did as much as I could, so did the rider in first, who ended up winning after holding onto her top position from the first round. I was so pleased with my rounds as I felt like we were getting better and better with each round.
Lex went back to the barn for a break, and I got on one of my other horses to hack before our last couple of classes. After a quick hack, I went back up to the ring where Lex met me a few minutes later. I warmed up, and then had my flat class, which turned out to be very grueling and long. Despite Lex being young and me being tired and out of shape, we managed to the win the class, and followed it up with another great trip to wrap up my division. After eating lunch, I went back down to check on results, just as they were announcing that I had won the over fences and ended up champion! I finished up the day riding the rest of the horses and snuck Lex a few treats once he was in his stall.
Sunday seemed to sneak up on me, and I was so sad to leave. I finished my trip by taking Lex for a walk around the show, cheering on the Balmoral ponies and junior hunters, and saying goodbye to all my friends at the horse show. Showing Lex with Balmoral was incredible, and I learned so much, as I do every time that I choose to lease a horse for the week. I cannot thank everyone at Balmoral Farm enough for giving me an amazing week in California and for giving me so many opportunities to ride and show. There’s nothing like an amazing trainer, and I’m so glad that I got to see these amazing trainers again. But the biggest thank you should go to Lex, who put up with me while I was figuring out how to ride him and for teaching me so much. Whoever ends up buying him is going to be so lucky!
So, next time you’re dreaming of riding under palm trees, consider leasing a horse for the week with a different trainer. You’ll be able to escape the cold, while experiencing new training and will probably ride a pretty amazing horse that you never would’ve had the opportunity to before. Good luck!!