Road to the Finals: Nervous Nellies UNITE Part III

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Lysa Hodgson and The Usual Suspect
Region 1

By Jennifer Keeler

After months of preparation, anxiety, and perseverance, Lysa Hodgson of Aberdeen, NC, and her PMU rescue The Usual Suspect (“Bogey”) were finally on their way to the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 1
Championships, held September 15-18. “I always feel a little out of place with Bogey at big shows, but we had been working hard and we had every right to be there along with everyone else,” said Hodgson. “As intimidating as they can be, I also find these shows to be inspiring. There are lots of big names running around and it’s always interesting to see how they operate their barns and school their horses. I gain more respect for some and lose respect for others based on their behind-the-scenes activities, but in general it’s an exciting environment and I go home determined to double my efforts.”

Lysa and her horse The Usual Suspect with their fifth place ribbon.

While Hodgson was off to a good start in that she was already familiar with the Senator Bob Martin Eastern Ag Center in Williamston, NC, and felt comfortable showing there, she still had plenty of other things to be anxious about. “My concerns for this show in particular were two-fold: we had to arrive on Wednesday so we could compete in a practice freestyle test on Thursday, and then we had championship classes on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That’s five days away from home and five days in a stall for Bogey who is used to having 24/7 access to his pasture, not to mention that he’s so big he barely fits in the stalls. But secondly, we had to ride in the dreaded indoor, where we have not had good experiences in the past!”

Hodgson’s neighbor, Heather Mehal of Big Dog Stables, was at the show for coaching until Saturday, and she helped keep both Hodgson and Bogey focused on the task at hand. “Bogey can be very explosive and anxious in the warm-up, yet he seems to attract the badly behaving youngsters, the FEI horse doing exuberant tempi’s towards us, and someone always feels the need to practice their medium canter coming up behind us. But thank goodness Wednesday’s schooling ride, with Heather coaching, was uneventful.”

Lysa and her horse competing at the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 1 Championships
Photo by High Time Photography

But on Thursday the pair wasn’t so lucky, and found themselves having to contend with an issue that so many competitors have to try to find a way to cope with at shows: rude behavior in the warm-up. “We were getting ready for our practice freestyle test in the indoor, and I was a nervous wreck,” Hodgson explained. “We had to warm-up in one of the open schooling rings as opposed to the more controlled and less populated championship warm-up rings. I was clearly a nervous adult amateur about to show, riding an obviously anxious horse with a red ribbon in his tail. At first when I saw only one other rider out there, I thought it was my lucky day. This rider was a professional dressed in schooling attire, and it’s a large warm up ring, so I thought it would be perfect. I would hug my little 15-meter circle in the corner and he could have the other huge part of the ring. But nope. I finally had to say something when he kept cantering very close up behind Bogey, who was getting increasingly frazzled.
Me: “Hi, my horse can be really explosive in the warm-up.”
Pro: “Oh, you don’t know explosive!”
Me: “Great! Then I’ll just stay down in this little corner and you can have the rest, sound good?”
Pro: “No, I’ll be using the whole ring!”
“And he did, and I was really disappointed because it was just blatantly rude and unsportsmanlike. I completely understand that my anxiety is not his problem, but it wouldn’t have killed him to keep a little distance from us for 10 minutes. We went in the scary indoor and had a terrible test. But we survived.”

Lysa and her horse The Usual Suspect taking a victory lap.
Photo by High Time Photograph

Following the disastrous start, now Hodgson had to face her first Regional Championship freestyle championship ride on Friday. She had two choices: be filled with pure dread, or take the unusual stance (for her) of being MORE confident because she and Bogey had survived the previous day’s debacle. “I took the bull by the horns and decided to be confident,” she explained. “The warm-up was just fine, and everyone played nice and genuinely wanted to see each other do well. I’ve never actually been able to keep my brain together in that indoor arena in the past – it usually turns to mush and I stop riding and stop thinking and I generally fall apart. But not this time! I rode that horse of mine and he stepped up and made it happen! I was so proud of us!”

Hodgson’s new “can-do” attitude paid off . Competing in the combined First Level Freestyle division (including Open riders, Adult Amateurs, and Juniors/Young Riders), the pair not only earned their very first Regional Championship ribbon for fifth place, but their 68.680% score easily earned them a wild card invitation for the US Dressage Finals.

“We finally did it! We’re going to Kentucky!” she exclaimed. “The only downside was I then had to do an awards ceremony…..in the indoor….with clapping and loud music and other horses. Yes, I know you don’t HAVE to do the awards ceremony if you get permission ahead of time to miss it, but I promised myself that if ever had the opportunity I would do it. Heather walked with me and stood there until it was time for the victory lap, and Bogey was awesome! He really took care of me.”

Lysa starting her training level test

Saturday was the pair’s Training Level Adult Amateur Championship, and Hodgson couldn’t help but be impressed by what she saw. “There were some phenomenal horses in that ring! I almost turned around and asked where the Intro classes were being held,” she laughed. “We put in an accurate but lackluster test as Bogey was feeling the effects of what was then our fourth day of being at the show.” Hodgson didn’t hold out much hope, but not only was she surprised to see the results listing her as placing sixth in the huge class, but also earning another wild card score for the Finals. Her confidence was growing. “Of course, this accomplishment meant another awards ceremony, but this time I felt much better about the whole thing and Bogey knew the deal, so we did great,” she said.

By Sunday, many competitors had packed up to head home, and Hodgson longed to do the same but one more championship First Level test awaited. “By now I was alone with only my husband to help me,” she explained. “Terry’s a great guy, but he’s not a horse person and certainly not a coach. I also knew I had a very tired horse and that didn’t bode well for our performance. But at the same time, it goes back to the idea of doing something until it’s boring or ho-hum, instead of scary, so I needed to give it a try. We were in a good position because we were already going to the Finals, and if Bogey was tired he was more likely to behave even if his performance would be questionable.

“Since I didn’t have a coach now either, my husband strapped on a head-set and just kept repeating things he heard other trainers say to their students,” she continued. “That made me laugh and relax. Bogey actually felt pretty good in the warm-up, although the test itself wasn’t pretty. He ended up having a bolt/spook episode when one of the maintenance guys made a loud noise just outside the ring, but to Bogey’s credit, there was a lot of general commotion going on and he handled 99% of it really well. I was also proud of my reaction to his exuberance and my determination to just keep riding. We finished with a 62.5% which was disappointing, but at least it was high enough to count as a qualifying score for next year’s Regionals.”

By the end, Hodgson’s normally difficult-to-load horse practically jumped on the trailer to go home and enjoy a roll in his sand pit and sprawl out to sleep that night. “I almost hate to break it to him that because he did so well he ‘gets’ to go on a long trailer ride, compete in a huge new environment, sleep in a tiny stall, and then go for another long trailer ride home. It still hasn’t sunk in that we actually did it, but I have officially entered the show, made hotel reservations, and secured time off from work. The rest of the details I’ll have to work out in the coming weeks, but for now I just have to say that I’m proud to represent the ‘little people’ of our sport competing on a rescued draft cross, riding in a pasture with uneven ground, and training with people nobody has ever heard of…..but still earning our ticket to Kentucky!”

Bogey is on his way to Kentucky!

Stay tuned to USDF’s coverage of the US Dressage Finals presented by Adequan® to discover if Hodgson and Bogey will finally conquer their fears as they compete for the first time on the national stage in Lexington!

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