Horses Keep You Humble: An Adult Amateur’s Return to Show Jumping

“I must be crazy.”

For six years, I’ve dreamed of this moment and now I am beginning to question whether or not I overestimated myself.

In an attempt to memorize my course, I start coaching myself in my head, “OK – start with an oxer going home, rollback left to. . .is that a bending or a broken line? Who knows. Now another bending line, rollback left to an oxer, leg out of the turn, bending to a combination, rollback left on the end-jump, broken line to a one-stride, bending to jump ten. Jump ten!?! Oh great, now I have to remember the jump off.”

I decide to watch the final riders in the preceding class as they navigate the course of fences, and I begin to see how the lines ride. Although I gain a better sense of the course and the questions it will ask of me and my horse, I have yet to feel even a marginal increase in confidence.

My trainer, Johanna, soon joins me at the ring for the course walk and I’m sure she can tell that I’m nervous.

New Girl Initiation Night, 2006

Johanna and I met when I was around 14 and she was maybe 16, and we were both “new girls” at our high school. It was a school with a well-known equestrian program and both of us were there to progress our riding. I remember being in awe of her and her horse, Metro – she made every course seem almost like a waltz; each jump was smoothly taken out-of-stride and every turn was fluid and well balanced. Our trainers encouraged everyone to watch the lessons of more advanced riders, so I would set myself up with my homework at a table in the arena viewing gallery every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon to soak it all in.

While most every trainer gets to know their riders, just as teachers get to know their students, there’s a different dynamic when you are 29-years-old and your trainer has known you since you were barely a teenager.

Before commencing the course walk, Johanna turned to me, and in a kind but frank tone said, “Betta, how many courses did we have to memorize as Juniors when we were riding together? I promise, you won’t get lost.”

This honest reality check set the tone for my entire first show back after nearly a decade out of the show ring.

Low Adult Jumpers, Vermont Summer Festival, 2021

True to her word, I did not get lost on course and we made it around three of the four times we entered the ring. My first two days of showing at the Vermont Sumer Festival gave me some great insights into my strengths and weaknesses as a rider, as well as Cassandra’s preferences and abilities as a jumper. Having purchased Cassandra only two months prior, we knew there would be a lot to learn, but she certainly exceeded all expectations we had for the young seven-year-old at her first overnight show.

While certain things, like remembering my course, came back easily, other things, like managing my nerves in the show ring, were a little more elusive. To help, we decided to show on Saturday instead of giving Cassandra the day off as planned. The younger riders were excited to finally be able to watch Cassandra show, and I was looking forward to putting all the pieces together from our previous rides on Thursday and Friday. As we started to warm up, I noticed she was lazier than usual, but it was to be expected so I didn’t think it was indicative of anything more. Our first few fences in the schooling area were also slow, and at this point ‘yellow flags’ began raising in my mind, but again, I shrugged them off and kept going with a touch more leg.

Then it happened.

We made the roll back turn off the rail to the uneven oxer and simply didn’t have enough gas in the tank. Instead of stopping outright, Cassandra attempted to clear it and instead went straight through it, propelling my body forward, creating a sweaty slip-and-slide down her neck, which led to my once-in-a-lifetime, gymnastics quality dismount.

Horse Show Mom of the Year

I’m still not sure what shocked me more:

  • That I had fallen off for the first time in ten years
  • That I had actually landed on my feet, unscathed
  • Or, that my Jewish mother who always worried was casually standing on the sidelines with her yorkshire terrier, unperturbed by the whole incident, telling a horrified looking woman next to her not to worry and that I was [likely] fine.

Looking back, we should have scratched the class and called it a day after we successfully schooled over a few more jumps, but that’s the thing about hindsight. Instead, Johanna and I decided that we should still give it a go in the show ring. I trotted in with all the confidence I could muster and swiftly learned my next big lesson – Cassandra needs a day off. She politely but firmly refused the first jump twice, resulting in our immediate elimination and the end of our show day.

As a teenager, this incident may have resulted in tears or embarrassment, but as an adult I’ve learned two very important lessons:

  1. Fail fast so you can learn from it and move forward.
  2. If you never fail then you’re not taking big enough risks.

Our elimination perfectly covered both of these life lessons in one, not-so-graceful Saturday. As I rode out of the show ring, I smiled – “I guess we should have given her the day off”, I said to Johanna. “Yup, now we know”. “Should we jump a few more just so she doesn’t end the day on a refusal?”, I ask. “Mhm, let’s go”, Johanna replies.

Low Adult Jumpers, Vermont Summer Festival 2021

Was I bummed about the day? Absolutely. But am I glad we learned that lesson at our very first show? One hundred percent.

After our shaky Saturday finish, we decided against getting jumper braids for the low adult jumper classic on Sunday. We will save those for the day when we can walk in the ring as a true team, ready to win. For the 2021 Vermont Summer Festival, our Sunday goal was to once again get around the course and continue to learn more so we can keep progressing together.

I can happily say that we achieved our goal and there were no hard feelings held by humans or horses. I was elated when we made it around Sunday’s classic course and can’t wait to do it again.

As another high school friend (and trainer) put it, “Horses keep you humble”, and I couldn’t agree more.

Low Adult Jumpers, Vermont Summer Festival, 2021

Cassandra and I are now looking towards our second show together this weekend in Fairfield, Connecticut. I am now equipped with the knowledge that managing my mind will be just as important as riding the course, and I’m thankful to have a trainer that will remind me of that whenever I begin to psyche myself out.

Stay tuned for videos from The Vermont Summer Festival and follow @bettabeyou on Instagram for updates on Fairfield this weekend!