What makes a champion? One of the most important ingredients is being able to rebound from misfortune to try, try and try again.
After winning the Under 25 national jumper title at the Kentucky Horse Park yesterday, champion Jennifer Gates literally did just that.
When she stepped down from the podium with reserve champ Madison Goetzmann and third-place Abigail McArdle, Jennifer attempted to remount her horse, Alex. He would have none of it, flipping out with the long blue, red and yellow ribbon streaming from his bridle. Jennifer hit the dirt.
Then she got up, brushed herself off and tried once more. Again, a meeting with arena surface. Jennifer and the horse walked out of the ring at the Kentucky Horse Park. It looked as if Madison and Abigail would do their victory pass without the champion.
But a moment later, in marched Alex, with Jennifer sitting firmly in the saddle.
“He’s so sweet, but he’s very sensitive, so he’s very sensitive when you get on his back,” she said, explaining what happened.
“Once you’re on, he’s fabulous, but getting on is a bit of a struggle sometimes.” She thinks he’s saying, “What are you doing to me? Why are you getting back on?”
Even after being dumped twice, the 21-year-old Stanford University senior had no thoughts about calling it quits.
“I’ve done this level for a couple of years and I don’t usually place very high. It’s a goal of mine to place high,” she commented.
Although she was informed in the summer when she got the horse from Audrey Coulter that he had issues with the prizegiving, Jennifer explained, “I told my barn manager earlier in the year, `If I ever win anything, I am getting on and I am doing it.’ Sorry, Alex, you’ll get lots of treats afterward.”
As she pointed out, her persistence “wasn’t harmful to him and I thought I could give it one more try.”
She was glad she did, taking that cherished victory gallop as she grinned with the exuberance of the moment for which she had waited so long.
Jennifer likes to focus on Alex’s good traits, of which there are many.
“He’s always a sweetheart, he always tries his heart out for you. Even if you make mistakes, he generally leaves the jumps up. That’s all I can ask for,” she said of the 13-year-old Westphalian by Arpeggio.
Jennifer also is competing in grand prix. She took fourth place Saturday night on Pumped Up Kicks in the $250,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Lexington.
After the first two phases of the U25 earlier this week, Jennifer was in the lead with zero penalties, while Madison was two penalties behind her. The championship is patterned on the format of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final, starting off with a speed class.
Sunday’s two-rounder left the top standings as they were, even after Jennifer had a rail in the second round, where none of the competitors was fault-free. Her final score was 4 faults, to 6 for Madison (who went on to win the ASPCA Maclay championship) and 9 for Abigail on Chuck Berry 8.
Anne Kursinski, the U.S. assistant chef d’équipe for show jumping, observed that the U25 is an important stepping stone.
“It is great to have that level of pressure over the four days. It is the management of the horses, the management of your nerves … to see that under pressure is what we look for and what you have to develop.”
Those who do it now, she advised, “are going to be ready by the time they are going to the World Cup Finals or the World Equestrian Games.”