by Julia Burs
I was so honored and excited to represent MSEDA at Team Challenge this year as part of the Beginner Novice team MSEDA Stranger Danger. For both my 7-year-old OTTB gelding Security Check Required (“Temba”) and I, Team Challenge was our first USEA-sanctioned horse trial. Even though I live in Lexington and am at the Horse Park all the time — I was even decorating cross-country with one of my teammates earlier that week! — it felt different and intimidating to be there doing something that we’d never done before. While my coach Jhett Jenkins was there with me on Saturday, and my barn bestie Kerri Sweet groomed for me the whole time, having a team of MSEDA members there riding with us all weekend made me feel more relaxed and confident than doing it all on my own. Furthermore, knowing that MSEDA leadership had taken a chance on Temba and me despite our lack of experience made me want to step up my game to earn that trust.
And yes, I know, what a choice I made to debut at an event with maxed-out stadium and cross-country courses, at the end of the season when everyone else is on their fifth or tenth trial. It definitely wasn’t the plan at the beginning of the season, but I am so glad things worked out the way they did. Temba showed clear progress in our dressage test, but an operator error by me and the fact that we are still relatively new at this meant that our score was definitely the team “throwaway.” (The top three scores of four are counted toward the team score.) Stadium and cross country were both challenging, as promised, but we both found the challenges to be confidence-building, because both courses required thinking and planning but paced themselves to allow that planning to unfold. My MSEDA teammates helped me stay relaxed and laughing in warmup, and Temba was foot-perfect through stadium. In cross-country, we started fine but a little hesitant, and he took a hard look at the water but never stepped back. We became a better team through the back half of the course, trusting each other more and navigating complicated questions like the half coffin in the woods and the log at the lip of Pete’s Hollow with ease and even a little grace. We were thrilled to go double clear through both jump phases and finish with a score that contributed to our team’s overall 7th place finish. It was a fantastic experience, and I’m already counting the days until Team Challenge 2023!