Except...the soles of my boots were not clean enough. At the sound of the whistle, I picked up a strong canter and stepped down into my heels, only to have my foot slide out of my outside stirrup. The force of the slip was too great for me to recover my iron quickly, and the first jump was approaching quickly.
My head was buzzing: should I circle and risk looking like an idiot or go ahead and start my course without a stirrup? I felt tight in the tack and didn't want to break my concentration, so I jumped up the first line before reaching down and putting my foot back where it belonged.
The rest of my course flowed nicely. I did seven to five where most people did eight to six, just so I could get used to taking a bolder track. My inside turn to the triple bar went smoothly, and I was able to come back and shape my track in the next bending line. I was maybe a bit hesitant to the water, which had no rail over it, so he got a bit flat and landed on the tape, and it took me an extra stride or two to shorten him up afterwards. I cleared the skinny end fence with inches to spare and stayed patient in the eight so I could gallop up over the wide oxer coming into the final triple combination.
Of course, a loss of stirrup is an automatic 50, so I was far from making the top four or even the top half. However, I executed my plan and got my confidence way up going into Medal Finals. My horse did a great job and jumped very well for me, and I'm probably not going to see the two obstacles that tripped me up (trot poles and water jump) for the rest of the year.
After getting Calvin safely put away and ready for travel, I trekked back to the show ring and watched the last few riders complete phase III before the work-off of the top four. Between rounds, they presented the bronze, silver and gold medals to riders who won 5, 10 or 20 Talent Search classes throughout their careers.
I was one of just two riders to earn a gold this year, and it was incredible to be honored during the ceremony, especially at a farm where so many great riders have trained.
I highly recommend visiting the USET Headquarters. The barn is immaculate and positively stunning. The walls by the stairs are decorated with ribbons from various shows through the decades, and each ribbon looks so special and precious. The library, where the riders' meeting on Friday was held, has a selection of videos of international competitions over time. I was dying to get my hands on some of them! Just the venue itself is enough to have me dying to come back to the finals next year.
It's funny, really: I was thrilled to be done with the USET class and never have to do the final again, but now that it's over, I wish I could keep Calvin and return every year until I'm 21. I'm going to miss the gymnastics phase, which is so much more fun than a normal course. I was planning on focusing on hunters when I age out of the junior divisions, but I'm starting to think that I'll enjoy developing jumpers just as much. Who knows? I might even get brave enough to do the grand prix some day...
I often feel like I'm the unluckiest rider in the world. Silly things I can't control, like losing my stirrup, always seem to happen to me at the worst moments. Or one time this summer when I was going for my 20th USET win, a rail was balanced out of the cup, and it came down, lowering my score 4 points, from class high down to 7th place.
And then when the odds aren't stacked against me, I make little mistakes that keep me out of the top. Rather than getting discouraged, I am craving a win more and more, and I really think Medal Finals is going to be my time to put it together and walk away with a ribbon. I'm just hoping that if I can pull that off, the ribbon is blue.
More blog posts by Emma Johnson...