You can go back in my blog to March of any year and there will be a discussion about the big Texas Charity Horse Show called Pin Oak that takes place each as a benefit for Texas Children’s Hospital. In the blog I may talk about Jordyn riding Leadline (a pretty exciting time), or Mickey competing over fences but except for Jordyn (and honestly that is pretty much a gimme, as my dad would have said), none of my family or my horses have ever won a ribbon at this big show.
Certainly, this was the year to try as Lauren came back from her fractured arm to win the USEF Zone Finals in November. Feather was jumping well and this would be our last time to compete at this height (1.00 and 1.05 meters) before moving up to bigger jumps. Lauren was still suffering the ill effects of her injury with only partial use of her hand. But she had learned to compensate pretty well.
The major division for them was the Adult Amateur Low Jumpers. It consisted of a class Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday Lauren had been jumping well prior to this class but Feather was jumping hard and Lauren lost her reins over one of the big oxers. For some reason, Lauren did not want to trust Feather to make it through the triple line of jumps with no guidance from her. I know, you would have done it!
The placings of the classes are cumulative and it is hard to be competitive if you do not place at all on one of three days. Satuday amidst horrendous rain showers I got to watch Lauren and Feather smoothly, quietly and without fuss burn their opponents to win that round. But one thing was missing. You may have heard my appreciation of the de Leyer family starting way back with Harry and his national champion Snowman (there is a Breyer of this) to his current family here in Houston that brings the horse and rider to beat to any competition they join. AJ de Leyer was absent from the ring on Saturday. He had won the round on Friday where Lauren had not placed. We knew he was the man to beat if Lauren wanted to walk away with the Grand Championship.
Due to USEF rules, it had been a while since AJ and Lauren had competed against one another. AJ, younger than Lauren by a few years, had not moved up to the adult division. But he was here now and with a horse that had won multiple Pin Oak and Zone Final championships. If Feather was going to win Grand she was going to have to be moving and jumping fast!
As I sat with a friend, as rider after rider went through the course, she asked where Lauren was in the rotation. I knew she was close to the end. “Where is AJ?” After Lauren I answered. That would give the benefit to AJ as he would already know if Lauren had gone clean and what her time was. If AJ went before Lauren, if he knocked poles, Lauren could just take it easy and go clean and still win-not having to push the speed.
My friend figured that AJ and Lauren were tied going into this final round. The only rider that could beat them for grand champ had a disappointing ride and the tie held as Lauren and Feather headed boldly in ring. In this particular round, the rider had one course of 12 jumps which they needed to jump clean and within the time limit to head into the jump off. Lauren went blazing past the timer and I held my breath. Leap, turn, run, leap, turn, run, they took on the course aggressively. A little too agressively I thought as I prayed they did not pull any rails. But they came clear through the round and onto the jump off intact.
As a frame of reference, Mickey and Alex competing in the children’s division over the same course, finished in 60 seconds, Feather and Lauren tagged in at 63 seconds and some change. I told you Mickey was faster!
It was on to the jump off which was a maybe seven jumps and meant to be all holds bared. The tighter the turns, the faster the recovery onto the next jump and the faster the speed between jumps would lead to the winner. And also to the almost winner, if they pulled down any rails in their hurry to win.
Lauren was disappointed that she missed one turn that she had planned but still came in with the second fastest time. And NO rails down at all!
AJ and his horse Skylark came blazing into the ring. AJ is the son of a son of a top horseman. He and his dad had every inch of the course planned. As AJ flew over the fences in front of us, he was talking out loud to his horse, “get the six, get the six” (as in six strides) then as he hit the tight in-and-out we could him say “whoa, here,whoa, here”. He rode it beautifully. I don’t remember looking at his time. All that mattered was he was clean and off to the jump off.
Skylark gave AJ all he had as AJ urged him faster and faster with tighter and tighter turns. Unfortunately, they pulled a couple of rails. This left Lauren in second place for the class with AJ pulling a fourth place finish.
Suddenly, I looked at my friend, tears were streaming from her eyes. “Lauren just won Grand Champion! No one deserves it more!” Well, I don’t know about that, I am sure there are others that deserve a big day in their life but Lauren has had a long career with rescue horses, the horses people just were not sure what to do with and she has worked hard to make her way. Especially this last year has been a tough one. But Pin Oak Grand Champion-yes, it was something sweet enough to bring tears to your eyes. We couldn’t even win a ribbon before and now Feather had ribbons, and plates, and platers and pictures in the winner’s circle.
It was sweet, indeed. Thank you to all of you who have ridden along with us!