2020 Horse Show spotlight: a dressage surprise

Jenna Smith has been riding horses on-and-off since she was about 12 years old. Now at age 23, she continues to find surprises – like the pleasant surprise to hear the N.C. State Fair Horse Shows would continue this year even if the fair did not. Her championship ribbon from the Oct. 23-25 show was a pretty nice surprise too.

“Overall I think it went really well. We had some things we definitely could have improved on, but I acknowledge that I could have improved on it, so I wasn’t frustrated with whatever placing we got,” Smith said after racking up several high placements across divisions and classes.

Jones helps prepare “The Air Up There” for dressage.

She didn’t yet know she’d earned the Grand Champion of the Dressage Division though. The final result was particularly surprising because she went into the weekend not planning to compete in dressage – a division in which rider and horse show off the training and graceful movements of the horse.

That’s the beauty of training and experience. While Smith has never owned or leased a horse, she’s had the opportunity to show horses from the stables where she trains and works – Rolling Hills Stables in Chapel Hill. The owner Piper Jones has even offered her own horse for Smith to show, and that’s what she did for the dressage division on Sunday morning.

While Smith often does hunter/jumper competition – a different style of English riding – her experience has given her an opportunity to learn multiple disciplines and therefore compete in different horse show divisions from time to time.

[Video] Smith talks more about the show and the dressage style.

“Depending on the discipline there are different techniques and exercises you can do,” Smith said. “A lot of it is repetition, and you’re working as a team with a sometimes 1,500 pound animal, but what a lot of people don’t get is you’re working together with them. So you have to learn each other’s quarks and ques and that kind of thing. So when you’re trying to teach a horse like this you have to work together, and you do little things at a time. You try for something small, and if you get it, great, let’s just stop for the day or just that time period. You always want to end on a good note so it’s a positive experience.”

Her teamwork with horse Jordan (whose show name is “The Air Up There”) paid off. On Sunday she placed first in two large classes of the dressage division. She placed tenth in another class after Jordan got a little rattled by horses crowded near him in the arena, Smith said.

She accumulated enough points to earn the dressage champion award.

“I was shocked and overwhelmed. It’s still sinking in,” Smith said later. “I’m really proud too though.”

Along with the super-sized champion ribbon, Smith’s prize included a horse halter and a lunge line. It was a nice bonus from a show she had thought may not even happen this year.

“I’m really glad they had it. We do show nine months out of the year for the most part, but it’s nice to have a chance to say ‘I’m going to the State Fair’ and to suddenly (potentially) have to  have that be retracted and it’s like ‘Oh, I put all this hard work into doing this, and we were really prepared for it. We made sure we’d done A, B, C and D to make sure we were ready for it,’ and then to suddenly have it just ‘oh hey, we’re not doing it,’ it’s kind of a little bit of a let down. So the fact that we were able to do it this year is a huge thing, and it was so nice to also be able to show with your “barn family” and that kind of thing. So overall I’m really glad they had it this year because it would have been very weird not to have it.”

It’s the opportunity to show off hard work – regardless of placements and ribbons – that seems to be the major reward. Having a good experience can make up for the grueling schedule that comes with most shows. Smith got to bed after 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and she was up well before 6 a.m. the next morning to get back to the barn and get ready for the day. That’s pretty normal for a lot of riders. What’s also normal is getting right back to training to prepare for the next show. You never know what surprises are waiting along the way.

Smith’s full list of placements included the following:

  • 5th place (of 22) – Showmanship, 19 & over
  • 3rd place – Halter, Hunter Type
  • 2nd place (of 22) – Hunter Over Fences, Crossrails
  • 2nd place – Hunt Seat Equitation, W/T Open (Pattern)
  • 3rd place – Hunt Seat Equitation, W/T/C Open (Pattern)
  • 1st place – Dressage Seat Equitation, W/T 19 & over
  • 1st place – Suitability for Dressage, W/T 19 & over
  • 10th place – Suitability for Dressage, W/T/C Open

About Tractor Pull

Tractor Pull is the fair-themed alias for Brandon Herring, a public information officer in the Public Affairs Division of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He's no stranger to the fair or the farm. A North Carolina native, he grew up helping on the family farm just east of Lumberton. After more than 15 years in TV news, he's sharing news of a different kind these days. He loves the rides on the fair's midway, but also loves that the fair has so many other things to see and do that are grounded in agriculture. His favorite fair food is a funnel cake with just powdered sugar - a classic!

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