EN Today: Learning from other disciplines

No equestrian discipline exists in a vacuum. Rebecca Barber explains how cross-training in jumpers and equitation has helped her eventing goals.

Top: Rebecca Barber. Photo by Brant Gamma

From Rebecca:

“Straighten your wrists! Flatten your back!” This sounds like a pretty standard beginner's lesson. That’s what I would have thought too, until this past year. Lately, I have been taking advantage of other disciplines, first the jumpers and more recently hunt seat equitation.

I began riding like most kids do in the pony hunters but following the purchase of my first horse, a green broke fiery chestnut mare (completely suitable at the time, not!) I switched to eventing. Towards the beginning of my senior year of high school, despite a fair amount of success at the lower levels on a variety of horses, I was burnt out. The horse I was competing had just been sold and with college quickly approaching it really wasn’t the time to start working with a new mount.

I saw an add online for a farm that needed an extra body to ride and compete young horses. The farm specialized in taking horses off the track and retraining them as hunters or jumpers. On a whim I contacted the owner and went out to the farm to meet her. It was exactly what I needed.  The summer I spent in the jumpers and playing with freshly backed 3 year olds, although at times humiliating, taught me not only how to ride the tighter turns expected in the jumper arena but also how to simply get the job done. Riding the farm’s horses I was expected to be able to get around a course. It didn’t matter if the horse over jumped into a combination or spooked at a grandstand, my job was to give it a positive ride. I was lucky enough to have three horses that summer to compete and many more to ride on a daily basis. There were definitely low points, such as going through the timer mid course, making what could have been a solid round, null and void (I’m never going to make that mistake again). Regardless, the summer as a whole exceeded any expectations that I may have had, due in part largely to Sarah Warmack and her incredible team. Thanks to the patience of everyone there, hard work paid off and I left a much more solid rider.

Following that amazing summer of hard work I returned to William and Mary. First semester, due to my innate clumsiness, I spent out of commission. Two days after making my college’s IHSA equestrian team I broke my ankle playing basketball. FAIL!  In retrospect, not being able to ride for a semester showed me how necessary it is for me to have horses present in my life.  Second semester I started back up with the school’s team. The nice thing about IHSA riding is that it forces me to focus on the basics (which I admit I probably skipped over a bit too quickly when I was younger). Heels down, eyes up, back straight were once again drilled into my head. A crest release developed, my back somewhat straightened (still a definite work in progress), and I am now starting to develop a lighter seat (Although, I really want to try George Morris’ thumbtack technique, unfortunately my ever patient coach at school, Karen Greenwood, says its too mean… we shall see when she gets desperate enough)

This past summer I returned to my hometown knowing what I needed to work on. However, I also managed to bring home an event horse. “My” horse was kept at a wonderful small show hunter farm, where I was lucky enough gain the respect of the head trainer, Baily Dent. As a result my days were spent riding sets with her. We would ride all morning and with each horse I received a mini lesson. It was definitely frustrating and at times outright humbling (imagine jumping the same 2 foot vertical 10 times while struggling to maintain a rhythm, stay light in the seat, and perform a proper crest release), but at the same time it was completely worth it.  Not only could I feel a difference riding her horses but I was able to translate it into my riding of “my” eventer. Being able to be effective in a lighter seat is incredibly helpful. I am still waiting for that light bulb moment…but I think I have improved thanks to all of the amazing people in my life. Now my amazing event trainer Kiki Osbourne has a more effective rider to work with (which I am sure she is grateful for). I am so appreciative of everyone who takes the time to work with me. I cannot wait to see what this coming show year has in store.

For me, the combination of exploring other disciplines and returning to the basics has made a tremendous difference. And for those of you who say that hunter/jumpers are sissies, I dare you to try to ride softly with invisible aids, finding all of your distances, over a course of eight fences. I just heard that I am showing over fences and on the flat next weekend in an IHSA competition. I don't get nervous going cross country but I'm definitely nervous to show in the equitation ring… guess I will see how it goes?!?

William & Mary Equestrian Officers

Thanks for writing, Rebecca, and thank you for reading.  If you have something to share, send it to [email protected].  All published reader entries are considered for the Omega Alpha Reader Submission of the Month! –Visionaire