I have been part of the hunter jumper community for longer than I can remember. Zipping around the jumper ring and shoving my heels down for equitation was a common concept for me. I was taught to find the perfect distances, have a strong lower leg, and always count your strides. Never would I have thought that I would be leg yielding in a dressage court or galloping over tables out on a cross country course, yet that’s where I am now.
The transition from hunter jumpers to eventing did not come easy since the concepts and values are quite different. The basics were the same: leg on, eyes up, elbows in, but other than that I found it quite confusing. I’m not going to lie, there are still many things that I don’t understand, especially in dressage. Although my dressage has advanced a lot from when I first started it, it definitely has much room for improvement. Despite the continuity of bitterness towards dressage over my time doing eventing, it has taught me many lessons. One key thing I learned from it was the importance of flat work and how it impacts everything you do, especially jumping. Dressage has also strengthened my core immensely as well as taught me humility and the importance of not giving up.
Not only has eventing changed the way I ride but it also has changed my thinking. Growing up part of the hunter jumper world I always was used to grooms taking care of my horses at horse shows. This blinded me from learning the importance of hard work and responsibility. From grooming for myself at events I have gained a bigger and tighter bond with my horses. In general, at hunter jumper shows, I was perpetually taught that if I made a mistake, I would enter in another class and fix my mistake. In the eventing world, if you make a serious mistake you are eliminated from the entire event. Knowing this created a great appreciation for finishing the entire event instead of worrying about the actual place I ended up in.
After 8 years in a certain community, you are bound to know most people and have a group of close friends and followers. This was true for me in the hunter jumper world. Switching over to eventing was not only challenging for me in the sense of my actual riding but the fact that I knew no one was extremely scary for a 12-year-old kid. Little did I know how welcoming and supportive eventers were. In the beginning, I was shocked by the comments people would say, “Oh my gosh that’s such a cute pony,” “Good luck out there,” or even, “How did your ride go?”. The statements were new to me and I had never thought that strangers would have the guts to say that. But now, I love the fact that we all say that. Whether it’s a complete stranger, someone I’ve seen on Instagram, or one of my close friends I always make sure to wish someone good luck or ask them how it went.
Change can be scary and overwhelming, especially for a young kid, but like Tony Robbins says, “Change is inevitable.” The change for me was something that made me a better and happier person. Many people judge me for doing eventing saying, “I think you’re an idiot,” or “That’s so stupid,” but for me, it’s what motivates me in life. The thrill of cross country and the perfection of dressage is what keeps me going. While I miss the simplicity of a jump off I know that for me it will always be, “Red on the right, white on the left, and bravery/insanity in the middle.”
Written by ambassador Maddie Hale