Balancing being a competitive rider while staying true to my roots

Since I was a teenager, I’ve shown on and off on the local hunter/jumper circuits; not too focused on being competitive, but just enjoying the time spent off property. At the time, I rode at Cressbrook Stables, a show barn in West Newbury, Massachusetts that is now located in Alabama. The head trainer, Chelise Storace created what I know now, a very unique environment that was very competitive yet relaxed at the same time. She has had riders that compete all across the A/AA show circuit and also riders who just enjoy taking lessons. I never felt pressured to compete, but I knew I could when I wanted to. Often money played a role. Horse showing is very expensive, and as a teenager then I didn’t have the budget nor the desire to compete extensively. In fact, I dreaded showing due to high anxiety and fear of failure.

It wasn’t until a few years ago at HITS Saugerties that I wanted to compete at a serious level. It was my first time competing at a show that large and I was on a horse that was far from easy. He was a high strung, sensitive gelding with a bad habit of running backwards and sideways when you tried to make contact with his mouth. Not exactly the ideal situation competing in open classes with over 40 riders, including professionals. But in a way, this was the perfect situation that helped me move past my anxiety and fear of failure. I zeroed in on small goals like keeping my horse, Champ, forward and in front of my leg, opening up his stride, and approaching the jumps as smoothly as possible in order to make it easier for him to jump. Even when we took rails down (he was not the most adjustable), the focus came back to “what did we learn today?” I’m one of those people that rise to the occasion when the pressure is taken off me.  Prince Champ brought me back to a place where I could be in the moment. When you board at a big show barn, often (but not always) there is a lot of pressure to compete. Not everyone wants that kind of pressure, even if they are serious competitors. Chelise Storace at Cressbrook Stables and Chrissy Gilbertson at Essex Equestrian Center are head trainers at show barns, but they maintain a relaxed atmosphere that is very hard to come by. In a way, it resembles the kind of environment you would find at a lesson barn.

Currently, I keep my lease horse Teddy at Ascot Riding Center in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where lesson horses are the majority. There are about 10 boarders, including myself; a stark contrast to Cressbrook Stables and Essex Equestrian Center, where there were many more boarders. Right now, I believe Ascot is exactly where Teddy and I need to be, even though they don’t do many shows. I’m using this time as an opportunity to get back to my roots and improve my basics. Learning never stops, whether you are a beginner or an Olympian. I’ve been very fortunate to ride with some very skilled trainers, including Niko von Gumppenberg, a German Grand Prix show jumper in Essex, MA who I credit with taking my flatwork to a whole new level. Jerry Kenney, who’s the owner and head trainer at Ascot, has been helping me improve my position over bigger fences. In less than two months, I went from getting jumped loose at 1m (3ft3) to now staying with Teddy in a balanced, effective position. That’s a true testament to Jerry’s experience of over 50 years teaching. Ascot Riding Center is unique in that it’s not your typical lesson barn. Jerry has created riders who have gone on to be pros at the highest level, including greats like Frank Madden and John Madden. Having one foot in the horse show world and one foot out can sometimes be conflicting, but it’s what’s kept me to my roots, remembering why I do this every day.

Champ and I at HITS Saugerties a 2 years ago:

       Some of the hardest horses make the best teachers and that definitely rings true about Champ. Let’s just say riding courses like these will be much easier with Teddy when we return to HITS next year. We’ll most likely start out in the .65m and .80m since I’ve never shown Teddy before and then move up to the .90m. Can’t wait for 2019 show season!!











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