Carla Lake “went to the dark side” over the weekend, participating in her first schooling event.
Growing up riding at a fancy hunter-jumper barn, I liked things to be a certain way. That way involved Tailored Sportsmans, show setups in staid, respectable colors and the cantankerous righteousness of both George Morris and my trainer. I drooled over the wildly expensive ponies other girls showed several weekends a month, and relished the rare occasions I had to show with them…albeit at a much lower level.
Coming from such a competition-focused barn, I never would have imagined myself celebrating coming in dead last in my division with friends, while drinking beer in the back of a horse trailer…which is exactly what I did this past weekend at my first eventing schooling show.
Since I lacked the funds to return to my hunter-jumper ways after college, an eventer-turned-dressage instructor being in the right place at the right time was my gateway drug. The simple logic of moving up levels and mastering skills one by one scratched my itch for all things orderly. I couldn’t fathom that I had been paying more money to learn less about how to ride on the flat for so many years. Suddenly, flatwork became just as fun as jumping.
So that led me to this weekend, where I somehow ended up doing a schooling event with the TB I lease. His dressage is great. Mine, not so much. I’m good at staying out of his way while jumping. Him—not so good at staying out of his own way, but he enjoys it. Together we make a fitting pair for me learning dressage while continuing to jump just for fun. As it turns out, that’s just a roundabout way of saying “eventing.”
Since my goal was simply to improve my dressage score and get through the jumping with no major disasters, I stopped focusing on the competition and more on the ride I needed to give my horse. Perfectly painted hooves? Tight knees? Whatever, let’s just figure out how to convince my horse to jump OVER a haybale instead of eating it! At my first competition, I found myself focusing on my own riding more than I ever had at a hunter show, rather than endlessly comparing myself to the competition. It’s just not as easy to size up your class when you don’t see everyone riding at the same time! So I didn’t.
When all was said and done, I raised my glass (ok, can) in the trailer. I didn’t have a blue ribbon, but we made it through…and who needs a blue ribbon when you have Blue Moon?
I still enjoy bopping around the jumping arena at a slow, rolling canter. Solid jumps still freak me out a little bit. And I don’t think I’ll ever feel quite myself in anything neon.
But I’ve found a certain get-er-done-itude that I don’t think I ever really needed in the hunter ring. After the show at our trailer celebration, a fellow competitor stood to leave, and tried to re-cork the fine bottle of Two-Buck Chuck she had been enjoying. I chimed in, “I’ve got some duct tape in my car,” with hardly a second thought.
And that’s when I realized I’d joined the dark side for good.
So all you hunter-jumper princesses out there… Go Eventing. You just might love it.
Carla Lake is a financial media editor and a recent convert to dressage from hunterland. She leases an OTTB named Midnight who is an excellent teacher. You can follow their adventures at the Collegial Equestrian blog.
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