Photo Credit: Ride Heels Down & P.TEN Marketing

The first time I rode JJ Spot, a 15.3hh red and white tobiano ’03 American Paint Horse gelding, I didn’t really think anything of it. Or of him. It was a completely unremarkable ride.

Then, a few months later, I rode him again and had the striking realization that ‘I need to learn to be a better rider, or this horse is going to kill me.’ JJ had come to my former trainer as a “problem horse” and was definitely not easy. I knew he was talented as hell, though, and that he would be able to teach me a lot. So, I put my nerves aside and gave him a shot.

After a lifetime spent with school horses, I thought I was an okay rider but JJ showed me I was fairly useless up there in the saddle. Half halt what? Connection who? True teamwork where? Yeah, we had none of that.

But, he inspired me, and JJ helped me to improve dramatically in a fairly short amount of time simply because I had to participate more and be more effective. I joke that the desire for self-preservation did amazingly good things for me!

One day, during a lesson in which my coach had me jumping a little higher than I was comfortable with (full disclosure, it was our first time doing a complete Novice course at the 2’11” height) I had an epiphany.

As JJ and I cantered towards an intimidating (to me) oxer, I got nervous but quickly told myself to ‘just put your heels down and hold on,’ then immediately thought ‘hey, that’s a cool idea for a t-shirt!’ Haha!

It took a few months before I got around to doing anything with the idea, but, after several revisions and a whole bunch of refining, I decided to call the company Ride Heels Down and sell riding-related apparel. I officially launched on September 1, 2015 and have been having a blast ever since – all thanks to JJ and his initial inspiration!

Photo Credit: Mary Campbell Mare Goods

JJ and I evented together for about two years when I started toying with the idea of buying him… but it was a pretty intimidating step and I wasn’t ready to commit. I was riding him in a lesson one afternoon and the jump exercise we were doing was four verticals set perpendicular to one another with a barrel in the middle to act as a center support for the poles, kind of like spokes on a wheel.

When it came time to jump through the center of the setup (over the barrel), JJ and I had a disagreement about, well, about several things.

He wound up not going straight and caught a leg on one of the poles on the landing. It came down as it should have, but he tripped and stumbled and basically did this hardcore belly flop-faceplant-flail maneuver straight into the ground. It was horrible. I somehow managed to stay until the very last second, and, miraculously, neither of us were hurt more than just a few scrapes and bruises.

Of course, like George Morris says, you either go to the hospital or you get back on. Since no hospital (or vet) was needed, I got back on… and asked JJ to do it again. I expected him to hesitate, I expected him to refuse, I expected him to be (rightfully) freaked out – instead, he jumped it perfectly.

He showed me that he trusted me enough to try again, and he showed me how big his heart was. It was a completely epic crash and burn, but I knew in that very second that I was going to buy him. It was a done deal.

Now, as of February 16, 2016, JJ is mine and I haven’t regretted a single second of it. I can only hope that he’s only as happy with me being his person as I am with him being my horse. I love him with my whole heart and he means everything to me. I know all horse moms say that, but this kid of mine is really special!

Photo Credit: Danielle Ayan Eye-On-Images

JJ has this very quiet kind of humor about him. He’s not one of those in-your-pocket type horses that’s aggressively affectionate, but once you get to know him and can read his expressions, you realize that not only is he extremely intelligent, but he never shuts up! He’s always making subtle comments about things and “talking” to me. SO many opinions!

He’s also got quite a following for his “Will JJ Eat It?” video series… yes, he’s a garbage disposal and will eat just about anything – including chicken nuggets, spinach and artichoke dip, and he even drinks pickle juice. He’s a weirdo, but he’s my weirdo and I love him for it.

He’s the absolute sweetest boy in the world, too, and has never once hurt me. JJ won’t even eat a treat unless it’s physically handed to him, and even then he will gently take it with his lips. No teeth, ever.

He stands as solid as a rock when children are around him, he’s easy on beginners (he taught a 47-year-old who had never been on a horse how to event and successfully carried her around her first Amoeba 3-phase event in early 2019!) and he hacks out bareback, by himself, in nothing more than a halter.

It hasn’t all been easy peasy, though, as JJ spent a year on stall rest recovering from a pasture accident collateral ligament injury just five weeks after I bought him, and I spent months recovering from a broken foot I sustained when I was hit by a driver on the wrong side of the road. We rehabbed together, though, and came back even better with a bond that was stronger than ever.

Prior to our accidents, I had been really focused on winning. The downtime taught me to focus more on JJ, because he deserves it for being such an incredible horse and wonderful partner, and now I put his health and happiness above all else. All I want after an event is to come home with a safe, sound horse. Winning a ribbon is still nice, I won’t lie, but that’s no longer my main focus.


Photo Credit: Xpress Foto

And, of course, once I stopped trying so hard to win, I found out that JJ and I had qualified for the 2019 United States Eventing Association’s American Eventing Championships at the legendary Kentucky Horse Park! It was a completely unexpected surprise as I had been trying (unsuccessfully) to qualify at Novice but accidentally qualified at Beginner Novice instead.

Not wanting to miss the opportunity to compete at such a prestigious event and at such a historic venue with my fantastic horse, I decided to go at Beginner Novice. (Fun fact: Ride Heels Down also sponsored the event and I worked my vendor tent, alongside my good friend Mary at Mare Goods!)

JJ and I had an awesome time competing, and it was such a treat to splash through the famous Head of the Lake on my first horse. Ultimately, we finished on our dressage score with no additional penalties; we placed seventh overall in our division and second in the Adult Team Challenge.

I also write a blog called “Lessons Learned” that I publish on which chronicles my eventing career with JJ. From our very first Tadpole to our current Training attempts, I share my falls, fails, struggles, and successes. I talk about what I’ve learned from JJ, from the sport, and from myself each time out in hopes that I can help others keep from making the same mistakes I have and to inspire them to keep going, too.

Photo Credit: Erin Wheeler Sweet Fresno Photography

JJ has taught me a lot about letting go of expectations – both in life and in riding. He’s shown me that when you make your peace with a situation and “surrender to the Universe” and just accept that what will be will be – while still working hard to stack the deck in your favor and take action to manifest the outcome you want, of course – that things seem to fall into place much easier.

I am so grateful to JJ every single day for how he has changed my life… he was absolutely worth the wait.

After waiting for so long to finally own my own horse, the thing I enjoy most is simply knowing that JJ has a forever home where he will be taken care of and that he will safe and happy until he’s no longer here. (I do remind him regularly, though, that he has to live forever.) He deserves that, for everything he’s given me, and for being my true heart horse.