Kristina Ennis has watched her daughter Jules grow from a wee pony rider to a young adult competing at the upper levels. Today, as Jules turns 18, her mom takes a moment to reflect.
Eventing: A Parent’s Point of View – Yikes my baby is turning 18!!!
Yep, the dreaded day has come. March 3, 2012. That day that every Eventing parent inevitably has to face…the day they are no longer required to sign as trainer and parent on the USEA entry signature page..their child’s eighteenth birthday. I thought the toughest day of my life was watching my daughter ride her first competition at training level. I was actually more relaxed for her first prelim. Then I thought I would never be able to watch her jump Intermediate. I had to walk cross country AFTER she and her horses safely crossed the finish. I decided to toughen up mentally and be more supportive…so now I huff and puff through CIC** course walks while keeping my “holy $!@T, can a horse possibly jump that high?” comments to myself. But the idea of my baby being a legal adult is harder to stomach than all of that.
Besides the “firsts” at each of the eventing levels, memories of other firsts throughout the years flood back. Her very first pony who the first time without the lead line left my four year old daughter hanging from the rail after running off under the perimeter fence. I have to hold back the happy tears as I remember the cute little blond pig tails and huge smile at her first show in the leadline class and the first blue ribbon at walk/trot. And boy was I proud as she and her precious gray pony, Penelope, smartly cantered around their first hunter course.
Trying not to gasp as I watched her jump solid obstacles and maneuver drop banks during her first cross country schooling, I had no idea of the challenges ahead of her. Then, trying not to cry the first time we got a bad prognosis from the vet the week before their first horse trial that her horse had EPM and could not walk a straight line. Watching with pride as my eleven year old child responsibly rehabbed him back and within a few months competed in her first USDF dressage show, then within a year rode at the AEC’s and won the MCTA Novice rider of the year. Injuries and rehab seem to come with the territory. You cannot just throw a broken horse away and get a new one. Over the last seven years, I have watched in amazement as my baby has nursed and nurtured her horses through so many injuries (severed tendons with blood pulsing from the arteries, broken cannon bones, bowed tendons) and carefully followed the vet’s instructions to give her horses the best chance at recovery… and recovered they have. That first rehab with months of walking certainly broke us in for future rehabs.
There were other gut wrenching firsts…such as the first time she wore tall boots and white breeches for dressage and because it was raining and they were already wet, she decided not to change for cross country. Yep, you guessed it, she ended up in the muddy ditch of the trakehner jump and I freaked out as I watched the horse run loose across the cross country course wondering if my kid was okay. I slowed down from my frenzied run when I saw the EMT eating donuts in the ambulance at the top of the hill. That was before the one fall rule and I think she finished the course with around 200 penalty points.
I can’t say I was thrilled the first time she had a more serious fall and broke her arm. To my relief her father was home and drove us to the emergency room. On the way to the hospital my daughter explained to her concerned dad how she lost the reins and with them control of the horse. What she failed to tell him was that she was going over a home-made ghetto jump and shouting “Look Mom, no hands. Whee!!!” Which I actually caught on film. However, I promised her I would keep the photo private and never post it on the internet. Once he found out she was going to be okay, (just no riding for four weeks) her father saw the whole experience in a positive light because now he has life time permission to tell her not to do anything stupid like the time she broke her arm.
I think the toughest weekend that I have observed was watching her first try at earning her B Pony Club rating. Luckily she was successful. But not without the help and kindness of other Pony Club kids. She was the only passing candidate left after the first day, but unfortunately her horse had sustained a stone bruise. Maddie Fleit, a member from Iron Bridge Pony Club, loaned her horse to my daughter to perform the over fences and cross country portion of the test and Jen Price of Seneca Valley Pony Club stayed so there would also be a switch horse. These young ladies were extremely noble and unselfish to lend their horses to my daughter. They exemplify the many wonderful traits of most Eventers we have come in contact with.
When I got back into horses as an adult, my desire was to ride as a family out in the open. The first time foxhunting with my daughter was a real thrill. I got a real kick one summer watching her learn to rope and cut with a local cowboy on the Eastern Shore. It was also a joy to watch my elegant “dressage-y” daughter barrel race Pixie, a spunky 13.2 hand 27-year-old pony, for the second fastest time at the rodeo at the Queen Anne’s County Fair. On the other hand, I derived very little joy and lots of butterflies a couple years later as I watched her drive off for the first alone with truck and trailer and horses in tow.
Barrel racing and roping may be fun, but true bragging rights were earned the first time she scored under 30 in the dressage phase of a horse trial. After that, the ante was up to keep improving the dressage. Which leads to one of the most recent firsts, the beloved and beautiful shadbelly!
The shadbelly also comes with the responsibility of getting you and your horse fit as well as technically prepared for the cross country phase of a two star. I knew my daughter was on the right track when Denis Glaccum praised her for effectively riding the coffin at Plantation Field this Fall and then the vet exuberantly declared her horse extremely fit while wishing her luck in stadium jumping the next day. During stadium warm-up she didn’t feel so lucky as she couldn’t see the distances to the jumps. It seemed like her luck was up and nerves took over all her careful training and preparation as they crashed through the first jump… but then everything kicked into place. The distances came back into focus, her amazingly talented horse was up to the task, and they ate up the rest of the course finishing in fifth place against a field of seasoned professionals! Man, you gotta love eventing!!!
And so, now I am wishing my daughter a happy eighteenth birthday, knowing that she still has so many more firsts to come in her life…just not always with me physically by her side. She and her horse, Walstraed will be heading for Hartpury College in England this Fall working towards a degree in Equine Sports Science and having the opportunity to train with Carl Hester, Nick Burton, and other amazing riders in Great Britain. Of course whether she likes it or not, I will be flying over to watch her compete for the first time at Burghley, Badminton, and other amazing venues. Then, God willing, attend her first Rolex after she graduates and comes back home.
Every moment and every penny spent on horses and Eventing has made my daughter into the beautiful , mature, responsible young woman she is today. Our time together with the horses has been priceless.
Happy birthday, to my amazing daughter, Jules Ennis. I love you.