Austin Equestrian welcomes its newest blogger, Alyssa O'Connell. Alyssa takes a look back at her riding career, and in doing so, shares thoughts and feelings to which we can all relate, regardless of our age or the equestrian discipline in which we participate. Enjoy!
“I grew up riding horses competitively. The jumping stuff, not the barrel stuff.”
This statement, or variations of it, is one I utter at every horrendous “icebreaker” event when leaders ask their unwilling participants to share an interesting fact about themselves. (Brief interjection: I’m 22 years old. Can’t we move past these once we surpass age 12?) This answer is almost always unique in the room, and if it isn’t, I immediately bond with the person who shares my equine past. Horseback riding, and the hunter/jumper discipline specifically, shaped me as an individual. The laughs, the tears, the victories, the injuries, and the friendships are invaluable to me and always will be.
My sister Lauren, nearly three years my elder, began summer camp at a barn called Kings Bridge Farm the summer she was eight. Like any little sister, I wanted to be doing exactly what Lauren was doing, but seven was the minimum age for enrolling campers. I was therefore barred access from horseback riding for a couple of years. My parents, eager to get me started in some form of physical activity, signed me up for gymnastics classes. I was rarely a disobedient child, but the tragic unfairness of my horseless life led me to give my mother the stink eye during every gymnastics class for the year or so I attended. Sorry, Mom.
Finally, I turned seven, and I could start riding horses. Thank goodness. Everything went so quickly from there—I loved camp, started lessons afterwards, and began competing in local C-rated and eventually A- and AA-rated shows across Texas. I spent my entire youth, adolescence, and teenaged years riding at Kings Bridge Farm with the Hummels and co., who became (and still are) my beloved second family. Things weren’t always perfect or easy, though. Riding and owning horses is a decidedly expensive, dangerous, and arduous venture despite the perfection and aloofness we attempt to exude in the show ring.
Many great articles detailing what one learns from horses have recently circulated throughout the throngs of social media. I will not attempt to expatiate on the heartwarming truths offered by these writers. Instead, I would like to speak directly to the riders who are still in the midst of their equestrian careers, sometimes wondering what else could be out there besides walking horses in aisles when the ring is too wet or waiting endless hours for the children’s hunters to just finish, please!
I was one of those wonderers. When I graduated high school and headed to college, I was somewhat relieved to have a respite from riding. My sometimes self-destructive perfectionism made me anxious at shows even though I absolutely loved the sport and the animals. I wanted a more active social life where my conversations were mainly with people, not horses, and I wanted a boyfriend (I think we can all agree that there is a dearth of available men in the horse world).
So, I left riding behind. I did keep in touch with my KBF family, and I even went out to ride a few times, but since turning 18, I have never again been enveloped in that wondrous and frustrating sphere of horseback riding. This is not a tragic tale of woe in which I confess that my life is miserable because I left horses. I love my life. I realize now, however, that I should have enjoyed each day of riding like I enjoy each day today. Adolescence is such a difficult time, so it’s almost impossible to truly appreciate the moment when all one wants is to stop looking so awkward. But my time at Kings Bridge with Steve Hummel, one of the greatest people I ever have and ever will meet, was priceless. What could be better than getting to ride horses every day and interact with people who love and understand them as well as you do? Nothing. That’s what.
So, to all you current hunters, jumpers, barrel racers, etc.: Enjoy it. It’s so cruel that your most fun and eligible years as a rider come and go before you can even vote. But stop beating yourself up when you miss a distance at a jump, try not to be mean to your mom or trainer about having to be at the barn when you could be at some great party, and most of all, have fun. Kiss your horse. Relish the moment. Most likely, you won’t be able to do this forever, so love it now. Take it from me, a former equestrienne, that you’ll miss it daily in the future and will want to return to some special moment that encapsulates everything good about your time as a rider.
My special moment was my first show on my favorite horse ever, Braddock, when that jewel of a horse and I won the children’s hunter classic together in Tyler, Texas. I was the only one to wait all day for the pinning announcement, and thus I was the only one to perform the victory gallop (luckily I wasn’t cantering around by myself as 8th place or something… that would have been horrific). Steve was undeterred (of course), and he had me go around and around and around to that ridiculous music while my family and the KBF crew cheered and laughed at my solo, winner’s loops. I’ll never forget those ten minutes, as they capture the best parts of the sport: fantastic people, good laughs, great horses, and ultimate joy. Though riding is in my past, and both Steve and Braddock have passed on to be equestrian angels, that memory stays with me in the present. And that moment, and everything it represents, overtakes the frustration, sadness, and pain that horseback riding, and any sport, inevitably brings. It is perfect, and I am so grateful that I have actually experienced a perfect moment in my life.
So, find your flawless equestrian moment and treasure it. All regrets and anxieties, past and present, are trumped by such memories.
The Austin Eventing "Bubble Wrap" Program - Making High Quality Safety Gear Affordable For Everyone!
One of the basic concepts behind the formation of Austin Equestrian was that of promoting and advancing the interests of the equestrian community in Central Texas. We've been fortunate enough to find many great friends in that community who share those goals, and who daily display their dedication to achieving them. We would like to take a moment to salute one of those dedicated organizations, Austin Eventing.
Earlier this year, Austin Eventing announced their "Bubble Wrap Jump-Off" - a somewhat whimsical-sounding name for a very serious rider safety initiative. Austin Eventing believes strongly in providing the safest eventing experience possible for their riders and teammates. They want all of their riders wearing vests, so the decision was made to initiate a program that moved that priority to the forefront, and to support it with real dollars and cents - and that's how they came up with the Bubble Wrap Jump-Off! Basically, Austin Eventing has structured a program that allows their members to purchase inflatable safety vests at a Zero Net Cost! Now we know what you're probably thinking - if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is...but this program is for real, and makes a lot of sense. Here's how it works:
Any Austin Eventer who buys an inflatable safety vest (there are two major manufacturers of this type of vest, and Austin Eventing used Point Two Air Vest and their very reasonable payment plan as the example case in their blog) will be offered a free group jump lesson per month. That's right - a free jump lesson per month!
Now here's where the "Net Zero Cost" part comes in:
The monthly payment for a top quality inflatable vest is less than the cost of a monthly lesson at Austin Eventing, so basically, Austin Eventing is buying the rider's vest. That’s how much they believe in keeping their riders safely "Bubble Wrapped"! But what about those Austin Eventing riders that already have a vest, you ask? Are they being left out of a great deal for being proactive, and already having safety equipment? Not at all - any Austin Eventer who already has a vest can join the Bubble Wrap Jump-Off for just $20. That $20 will go towards "nibbles" to be served at the next month’s lesson. So, there you have it: buy an inflatable vest, get free jump lessons from Austin Eventing. Of course, we recommend that you contact Austin Eventing directly to get the full details of this program, but we think that it's a great opportunity for Eventing riders!
It's exactly this type of "put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is" dedication to advancing the sport that will keep the Central Texas equestrian community vibrant and growing, and we salute Austin Eventing for their innovative approach to promoting rider safety as they help build that community.
My name is Kiara and I am a sophomore at Chaparral Star Academy. I have been riding for almost 9 years, 6 of which I have spent at Switch Willo Stables. I don’t have a horse of my own but I have been showing my mom’s horse, Calvin (aka To the Rescue), in the Children’s for the past year and a half. We rode in the local CTHJA circuit all of last year for mileage because it was his first full year showing at 3 foot and started doing the A/AA shows in February.
Chaparral Star Academy (which we all call Star) is a charter school in Austin that was founded for athletes to allow for more time to be involved in their sport. The academic day is 4 hours long, and Star is considered a public school as there is no enrollment tuition. I have been attending the school since 6th grade and it has been great for my riding. My little sister, Darcy, and my two best friends, Caitlin and Mackenzie Hudson, also go to Star and ride at the same barn as me. I go to school from 7:45 to 11:50, which is the morning session. The school also offers an afternoon session that goes from 12:05 until 4:10. Because we spend less time in school, there is more homework than at a regular public school, but I also get to ride significantly more than I would at a normal public school.
After school, I go straight to the barn, which is basically my home away from home. I do homework and eat lunch until around 1:30 or 2 with Caitlin and Mackenzie and then start riding. I ride anywhere between 4 and 8 horses a day during the school year, and up to 10 or 11 during the summer or while on any other break. I help do the horse medications around the barn and really anything else that needs to be done. I am lucky to get to ride as much as I do and ride with such great people. I have been riding at Switch Willo for about 6 years and could not imagine being anywhere else. I have made great friends and improved so much. I went from being a floppy lesson kid who really couldn’t ride to someone that other people trust to ride their horse when they are out of town or can’t make it to the barn. Glenn and Phoebe Johnson own the barn and Kirk Berlin and Lacy Hudson are the two head trainers, along with Beverly Manroe and the lesson program trainers. I primarily ride with Glenn, Kirk, and Lacy, but I have also spent plenty of time working with Beverly, all of whom are amazing trainers. Having so many different viewpoints has really benefited my riding because they all have different ideas to fix a problem, so if one way doesn’t work, I can try another.
Once I finish riding, usually between 7 and 8, I go home, eat dinner, and finish the rest of my homework. I usually never watch TV during the week because of riding and homework, and I have a nonexistent social life, all of which I’m okay with because I have more time to focus on my riding. It can be hard balancing riding and homework, but it usually works out just fine and I would have to ride less to make it easier, which is obviously not going to happen!
Austin Equestrian is proud to have the opportunity to support the local community of developing young equestrians such as Kiara. We salute her and all the other dedicated young riders who truly are the future of equestrian sports. We would also like to thank the sponsors who make it possible for Austin Equestrian and its members to play a role in helping these talented young people achieve their goals.