And guess what? We did better than I thought. The first attempt was pretty good but rusty and lacking energy to finish in the top half of the table, so we went again the following week - knocked 9 penalties off our previous score, and qualified for the JAS finals. Who’d have thunk it?
So even if you might think JAS wouldn't be 'your thing', here are ten good reasons to give it a whirl...
Get your eye in for the season ahead: This is a great opportunity to get jumping round a course, working your turns and distances, and generally give you a head-start on the season – great practice for any #eventerturnedshowjumpers when it comes to a jump-off. The challenging, twisty nature of the track means you have to ride the whole course rather than the fence you’re jumping at the time – something I quickly learned.
Vittoria said; “It’s probably really good for riders who have evented and want to get their eye back in on horses who are a bit more experienced. I tend to build unusual things at home as I use what I’ve got available and so tend to be a bit inventiveness so my horses will be fairly used to less straightforward questions. There were a few arrowheads and turns which were potentially a fair bit trickier than the corresponding level eventing and an awful lot to look at, so I'd be a bit cautious about inexperienced horse and rider combinations trying it.”
Get your xc buzz on: The event season was a looong time ago and we all need to feel that xc buzz – this is about as close as you can get to that start box feeling right now. Corners and skinnies and brush – oh my! Vittoria said; “I’d be inclined to go hunting for true cross country practice, but I think it’s a good way of getting some XC practice when everywhere is frozen.”
It’s indoors – yaaaas! Mmmhmm, that’s right – JAS takes place in an indoor arena. Beat the elements and go make use of a course you haven’t had to build, away from the pouring rain and knee deep mud or frozen ground. If you’re really lucky you might find the warm-up is indoor too – shout out to Wellington.
Be an effective rider: The judges will be marking you and your horse on key areas including upper and lower body position, effective use of the aids, arena craft, contact, rhythm and balance (see judges sheet below). Tor explains; “As much as the JAS is focused on the 'style' of horse and rider, if a rider didn't think they were up to much over a fence, I'd still say give it a go. The judge is more looking at how effective a rider is, rather than just sitting pretty around a course of fences. As it's broken down into categories it also gives you an idea of what to work on to improve your riding.”
Up for a challenge? JAS is quite unique in that it presents multiple challenges, from learning that long course, to making the time, jumping clear and impressing the judges too. It certainly provides a test for horse and rider. Vittoria said; “JAS is good to help you practice accuracy, corners and turns. It’s obviously judged on style too, so have a good look at what the judges are looking for. I think that’s a good element and feedback and comments regarding rhythm and turns etc could be really useful; it’s a good concept.”
Bag yourself a place at the finals: Finish in the top 10 at any of the qualifying fixtures and you will bag yourself a place at the JAS Championships at Hartpury. Wouldn’t that be a cracking start to the year?
Generous prizes are on offer at qualifying rounds with £50 for 1st, £40 for 2nd and £25 for 3rd. At the Championships that goes up considerably to 1st place - £500 training voucher, 2nd place - £250 training voucher, 3rd place - £150 training voucher, 4th place £80, 5th place £50, 6th place - £30 in all classes, with special prizes will also provided by title sponsor Baileys.
“It was very surreal! I was pleased to go clear with just one time fault. Knowing not many had achieved a double clear I kept him tacked up, just in case I managed to land in the elusive top three and required a mounted presentation. I sent my mum back up to watch whilst I paced across the lorry park and back, hoping we might have made the grade but trying not to get too excited. When the final 3 competitors were due to go mum rang; 'you may as well ride back up, I think the worst you will have come is 3rd'. Just knowing that I was ecstatic.
“As I rode up almost everyone I passed congratulated me. It wasn't until I rode back into the collecting ring that they read my name out and I realised I'd finished as champion. My mum stood at the wing crying. Next thing I knew a reporter from Horse and Hound was asking me a series of questions whilst someone else was wrestling us into the JAS champion thermatex (which I still treasure!), and we were being called back into the main ring for the presentation and photographs.
“I don't remember my lap of honour, but I think I cried. I do remember being told to take a second solo lap, and that's when it hit me. It was a moment I will never forget but always try to emulate.Winning the championship certainly boosted my profile, just having your name splashed around for a positive reason helps but coming home with a title like that really put us in the limelight. I'd love to do it again but I worry I'll have my hopes up too much!
“I think the key is to enjoy it, and show the judge what you're made of. The JAS final ring isn't a place for nerves or anxious riding, you have got to think positive, be positive and ride positive.”
To find out more about the JAS series, visit the British Eventing website here.
Thanks to Vittoria Panizzon and Tor Heard for sharing their JAS experiences.