How I Turned Cowardly Into Courage

Have you ever looked at a 4* event rider galloping on a cross country course like it is just another day at the barn, wishing you could do that? Are you glued to the live feed on Rolex every year, studying each and every ride thoroughly? And then have you gone to a lesson and freaked out over a jump that is below three feet?

If you are anything like me, you have had all these thoughts and more.

I grew up reading about eventing and watching the top riders compete, feeling this desire to take up eventing myself. However, I have always been a timid rider and have engaged in stupid activities to scare myself, like typing in “bad horse falls” into the Youtube search engine. It is the equivalent of watching Criminal Minds and then thinking that weird noise coming from the basement is a murderer hiding in your house.

A couple of years ago, I finally bucked up and decided to take jumping lessons at a local hunter/jumper stable after I could not escape the jumping bug. My Quarter Horse, Rusty, was not excelling in any of the typical Quarter Horse disciplines, and I was an English rider at heart from all the lessons I took early in life.

For six months, I agonized over whether or not I was making the right choice. Rusty started out in typical Quarter Horse manner—heavy on the forehand. Feeling like I was riding a horse downhill with no neck towards an obstacle terrified me. I think it was a surprise to all of us when Rusty and I successfully competed in the hunter ring the following summer, “successfully” meaning that all of my bones were still intact at the end.

Photo courtesy of Kelsey Litterer
Photo courtesy of Kelsey Litterer

Over the course of a couple of years, I grew tired of the pressure of the hunter ring but still wanted to keep jumping. After several considerations, I convinced myself to take the plunge into the eventing world. I do not live in an area where eventing is popular, and my first lesson I drove for two hours, nervous about what was to come.

The first couple of lessons were simple, since our instructor needed to get a feel for how terrible my riding was. I could not believe that on lesson four, she was going to let us try out the cross-country field. I was not ready for this. Rusty would jump anything I asked him to, but I was so discombobulated half the time that I could not possibly safely pilot him over solid logs or up the terrifying bank, not when he was being lazy.

Imagine my surprise when, at the end of the lesson, I realized that I had not fallen off or even been jarred.

In fact, I felt this little thrill coming up my spine because Rusty seemed to enjoy the change in pace. That little thrill became confidence.

The second time going into the cross country field, Rusty’s ears perked up. I will never forget that second ride. It was my last lesson before a clinic, and my trainer suggested we play with the cross-country jumps for more confidence. Rusty completely exceeded my expectations. He was on fire and galloped bravely to logs and coops. When he started bucking excitedly, I laughed and stayed on.

This was our sport.

I share this story because while I still get anxious sometimes, training for eventing has completely changed my rides. I am learning the biomechanics of riding and jumping, and the improvement in both me and Rusty is shocking. My confidence, though, comes from those rides where I challenge my fears and where I can feel my horse’s excitement beneath me. That produces the adrenaline.

If you have been drawn to a discipline but are holding out because of fear, just go for it. Find an instructor that is encouraging and can teach you to be effective. A quality instructor can make even the worst rides feel like progress, and moreover, they can get you to believe that you are, in the very least, an average rider instead of a terrible rider.

Most importantly, learn on a trustworthy partner. Your horse does not have to be high-caliber or even trained in the discipline. As long as you are comfortable with him and he is capable of doing what you are asking, try it out.

You may just find that your horse enjoys the new discipline as much as you will.

Kelsey LittererAbout the Author

Kelsey Litterer is from Garner, Iowa and is the proud owner of two horses: Rusty, a 15-year-old Quarter Horse, and Knight, a 22-year-old Arabian. She started eventing this year and hopes to complete her first horse trial next summer with Rusty. You can follow her adventures on her YouTube channel.

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