Saturday, October 19, 2013

My Horse Life in 5 Photos

My horse life began at the age of six, when I asked for riding lessons entirely unprovoked by recent pony rides/marry-go-rounds/toy horses. I started out taking western lessons and attended my first horse show only a couple weeks after; one lead-line class and one halter class. Shortly thereafter, I moved to a Hunter/Jumper barn, taking lessons on a very ill-mannered Shetland pony named Shamrock. Jumping was very scary for me at the time, so I eventually moved to a Dressage barn instead, where there was more interaction between child and horse, something I desperately craved. In the summers, my family would travel to our vacation cottage, where my mom found a fabulous day camp I could attend called Great Northern Riding Club. Not only did we ride every day, five days a week, we also were responsible for most of the work around the barn. I loved every second of caring for all the horses, scooping poop, throwing hay, and cleaning tack! My first photo here is one of the camp horses, Show-Me, a quarter pony that I rode in my first couple jump courses (I was still pretty nervous about jumping).

Photo 1 - Show-Me!

 After riding lesson horses for 9 years, I finally convinced my parents that I needed a horse of my own when I was 15. I had an opportunity to work 6 days a week at a boarding barn, and fully cover all main expenses myself. Lucky for me, the barn I was taking lessons at just had a horse shipped in from Colorado. I was in the market for something big, black, and preferably a draft cross. The horse from Colorado was named Tristan, a 15.3 hh buckskin Connemara/Trakehner cross (a what?). Something about his personality clicked with me, and the second time I ever rode him, we did a little jumping. I circled him around to a barely 2 foot vertical and he, being very very green, took off at least 10 feet in front of the jump and landed about 10 feet on the other side. Somehow I instantaneously transformed from a kid afraid of jumping crossrails, to a jumping maverick while a huge grin spread across my face. I remember turning to my mom and saying, "We have to buy this one!"

Photo 2 - Tristan's first clinic!
Astride my little buckskin, anything was possible. Even though our first time out schooling cross country made me very nervous (it was only a second time cross country for either of us), Tristan consistently proved to me that he had my best interests at heart. He loved jumping, was terribly brave, and was willing to try anything I wanted to do. My confidence quickly grew and we started tackling more difficult obstacles every day! Finally, we had enough practice to try our first show. I had never Evented before, but Tristan made me feel like I could do anything, so we gave it a shot. At our first mini-event at Novice level, we were both very nervous and ended up putting in one of the fastest dressage tests of the day. We completed our very first cross country course together, and as I crossed the finish line, hyperventilating and crying, the only words I could get out were, "THAT *wheeze* WAS *wheeze* AWESOME!"

Photo 3 - How not to do Dressage
 Showing definitely wasn't easy, especially dressage. Tristan and I struggled to communicate a lot, and it took a really long time to build that bond and trust. Giraffe-like transitions were the norm for quite some time until we started working the kinks out. Soon enough, Novice level felt way to simple for Tristan; he was ready for the big jumps. Our move up to Training was unfortunately rocky, and we had some very bad shows followed by some pretty amazing shows. One thing was for sure, at the end of the day Tristan wanted to jump and I wanted to fly with him!

We worked hard, day after day, year after year, practicing in the freezing cold and blistering heat alike. I took lessons from many different trainers, read countless books, and watched many old dressage VHS tapes (old-school!) in order to improve. Tristan ended up traveling with me to Ohio, where I attended Lake Erie College and obtained a Bachelors of Science in Equine Entrepreneurship. After graduation, I traveled to North Carolina to work for Eric Dierks, previous Rolex competitor and incredible coach, at the beautiful farm he keeps with his lovely wife, Trayce. I ended up staying there with Tristan for seven months, training literally every day. Tristan and I were in the best shape of our lives. Alas, all good things must come to an end and it was time to enter the real working world, thus we moved again, this time to South Carolina. I started working full-time, but prepared for my upcoming show season with sheer determination.

Photo 4 - Clinic with Ralph Hill
Even while working, I took every opportunity I possibly could to take lessons, ride in clinics, and compete. This meant a lot of late nights after work, feeding at the barn and riding late in the dark to keep in shape. Thankfully, hard work pays off. This past show season, Tristan and I competed in five Training level events, earned four ribbons: our first-ever first place, a second place, a seventh, and an eighth. We completed our four qualifying rounds to move up to Preliminary, and this October we entered our first Prelim event. Unfortunately, we parted company in stadium due to a miscommunication between horse and rider. However, Tristan and I are both ready, yet again, to tackle bigger and better obstacles.

Photo 5 - The final jump of our First place stadium round (if you look closely, I'm already starting to cry!)
My life with horses has taught me that anything you love is worth working your butt off for. Tristan has given me more confidence in myself than I know what to do with. It's hard keeping up with being an Amateur competitor, with real life and work constantly getting in the way, but it's worth every moment of blood sweat and tears. Tristan, this is for you!

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