A year ago, a rather new friend — Diane — invited me out to the barn to ride her horse. What happened next didn’t surprise the people who knew me back when, but it sure seemed to shock some of my more recently made friends: I fell down the rabbit hole. You know… the big one that ends in a barn. Or a paddock. Or a field.
I fell straight back into the one thing that I truly feel passionate about, the thing that I love most. Directly into pairs of skin-tight breeches and waterproof boots and ball caps. Smack-dab into hoof picks and leather conditioner and fly spray. I tumbled head-first down a barn aisle surrounded by horse girls and their ponies, encouraged by their parents and their trainers, and fueled by the knowledge that horses are a non-negotiable part of life.
Some girls grow up and fall in love with boys. Others, like me, fall in love with horses.
Back in January of this year I talked about how injecting horses back into my life changed everything, and boy was I not kidding! I stopped spending money on random trips to Target and started spending money on lessons. My weekends began to fill up with horse-related activities and events, and with every experience I learned something: I grew.
We started with off-farm trail rides…
… cross country (XC) schooling…
… and the fall Marlborough Horse Trials (MHT) Hunter Pace:
In January, I competed in a 2’6″ hunter division at BEST. It was a great re-introduction to horse shows (and horse show nerves!), and Lincoln and I actually brought home a few ribbons for our effort!
At the end of February/early March, I traveled down to Aiken, S.C., to ride in Mogie Bearden-Muller’s winter training program (Foxhill Eventing). For two weeks I took a daily lesson in either jumping or flat work, went cross country schooling and on a trail ride/jump school in Hitchcock Woods, and competed in my first Combined Test in the Beginner Novice division (placing 4th). I learned so much; it was perhaps the best way I’ve ever spent two weeks of vacation leave!
Once back home in Southern Maryland, I entered the Beginner Novice division of Loch Moy Farm’s Maryland Horse Trials (MDHT) Spring Starter Trial #1. Lincoln and I jumped clear in stadium and cross country, finishing on our dressage score of 26.0 and taking home a blue ribbon!
We also showed up for MHT’s second Jumper Derby in April, jumping both a 2’6″ (1st place) and a 3′ round (2nd place).
Sometimes you have to leave the horses at home and go spectate at an international competition, such as the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event (RK3DE), a 4-star CCI event held at the Kentucky Horse Park in April. Watching the “best of the best” horses and riders compete in your sport is exciting, and getting to see these massive jumps up close sure makes Beginner Novice and Novice fences seem easy!
Linc and I were signed up to compete in our first recognized event in May, running Novice at Kelly’s Ford, but on our way to the show we got a phone call stating that the entire event was cancelled due to extreme flooding. Disappointed (but glad to get the call before paying the $18 bridge fee!), we went home, had a nice ride out in the front field, and even watched a helicopter land next door!
This past weekend (June 7/8) we drove up to Mogie’s farm in Centreville, Md., for Saturday lessons. Spending the night, we set off in the morning for Plantation Farm in Unionville, Pa., to compete in their unrecognized Sunday starter trial (which uses Saturday’s recognized stadium and XC courses).
Lincoln warmed up for dressage like a pro, thanks to our lesson the day before. It was my first time executing a dressage test on a grass ring “with terrain questions”, but I felt that overall the test went very well… except for a little slip-up at the end. I forgot where I was supposed to do my downward transition from the canter to the trot, making our turn down centerline to finish our test a little awkward.
Our stadium round was one of the best I feel we’ve ever jumped, and running Novice cross country on Lincoln is so much fun! Plantation was a new venue for him, and he really looked at the terrain and the fences. At least three or four times, I felt him back off significantly while approaching a fence. This turned out to be a good thing, because riding forward to a question in XC is actually easier than having to ride the brakes the entire time. We took a slight flier over our last fence and I cantered up the hill and through the finish line smiling.
I heard the Foxhill Eventing crew cheering, and it was after completing the event that Mogie told me our dressage score (34.8) had put Linc and I into a tie for first place! Since cross country isn’t timed during a starter trial, there wasn’t a way to break the tie. Normally, the horse and rider combination that got closest to optimum time would win. But in this case, the other girl and I each took home a blue ribbon and split the prize.
My desire to be the best I can be at what I love doing has driven me toward great achievements in the past 12 months. I’m focusing my energy, time, money, and patience toward the pursuit of being an equestrian. This doesn’t just mean being a good rider and bringing home ribbons, but rather learning all I can about every aspect of this sport.
To grow in this manner, doing what makes me happiest, is such a privilege. And because I feel that way about it — that it is a privilege — I’m being proactive in other areas of my life in order to support and sustain my need to stay down this rabbit hole. I’m working with a financial advisor to completely overhaul my spending, savings, and investments. Diane and I began following a weight lifting program about seven months ago, supplemented by personal training sessions since last October, and we’re already starting to see some significant returns in muscle mass, strength, and fitness. I got a roommate to help balance out the costs of a half-lease, lessons, and showing. I make time for opportunities that allow me to experience something new, practice, watch, learn, assist, and yes, even fail. I push myself to step outside of my comfort zones, while at the same time keeping tabs on what I must be aware of in order to be successful when I need to be.
I was a different person yesterday, just as I was a different person last year and 10 years ago… But I have been, and always will be, a horse girl.