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.
Austin Equestrian welcomes another blog entry written by a local Austin rider – Delaney Brunker. We applaud the efforts and dedication of equestrians like Delaney, and are pleased to be able to bring things written from their unique perspective. Enjoy reading about Delaney and her pony, Penny. Penny has quite a bit to say!
Delaney, Penny's "Mommy," is 10 years old and has been riding since before she could walk, but got serious at age 5 when she began weekly lessons at Switch Willo Stables. Penny, or Song of Sixpence, is 11 years old. Delaney and Penny have been together almost two years and currently compete in the Central Texas Hunter/Jumper Association shows in the Beginner and Pony divisions. The pair has aspirations to move into competing in the Children's Pony division next show season at the Texas Hunter/Jumper Association Shows. Delaney currently trains at Switch Willo with Glenn, Lacy, and Kirk, and she learned all the basics from Allen during her time in the lesson program.
Penny’s Point of View
Hi, my name is Penny. I’m a chestnut pony with four white socks. My Mommy gets me out of my stall what seems like every day. She always seems to come when I just got my food, oh how mad I am at her. Ug, she just got the saddle out, and then I realize I’m being ridden - could this get any worse?!
When she gets on me and I feel those spurs stick into my side oh, that’s the worst feeling ever! Do I have to do this? We do at least start out slow and easy to get warmed up. Some of my friends are in the ring too, so maybe this will be better than I thought. Next, we start jumping, I’m so excited to show off what I can do. WHEEEEEEE, this is fun! Put the jumps up PLEASE!!
Before I know it, the lesson is over. That makes me sad. Thankfully, we walk around some more so I can hang with my pals. When Mommy gets off me and starts untacking me, man it feels good. Oh, I hope and pray she is going to give me a treat! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, give me a treat! I was good, so good, I did everything she asked. PPLLLLLEEEEEAAAAASSSSSSEEEEEEE!! AHHHHHHHH, I got TWO, count them, TWO treats. I am the luckiest pony in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD to have such an amazing Mommy.
Oh, I am headed for turnout, I can’t wait to see my friends, we have an amazing time. NEIGH NEIGH NEIGH, I call my friends on the way to go out. Lessons always start out as being a thing that takes me away from my food and ends up as an amazing experience. Yum yum yum, grass. Talk to you all later!