Confessions of a Hunter Princess Gone Rogue

I don’t feel like I’ve actually earned the title ‘Hunter Princess,’ and if you have read my Thoroughbred Makeover blog series on Jumper Nation, you know I have taken on the hashtag #disciplinegypsy. Despite having dabbled in many disciplines, my junior and college career was mostly spent in the hunter ring, which seems to have me forever pegged as a hunter princess. I can do my hair legit, but if you think that’s cool, you should see what I can do with a stock tie.

My very legit Stockbubble stock tie working double duty. Photo by Beth Takacs

Last year I began taking lessons with Jimmy Wofford. The purpose was not to become an upper-level event rider or even a full-time event rider. The purpose was to improve my position and riding and, thus, my training and instruction.

An opportunity presented itself at the beginning of the year to take in a horse, Duncan, who I could explore upper-level eventing with and do jumper classes. Thus began the journey of a Hunter Princess into an eventing warrior’s world.

I am of the opinion that there isn’t (or shouldn’t) be too much of a difference in the jumping disciplines. The basics are the basics #amiright? Regardless of the show ring, you enter, your horse should carry a consistent rhythm and jump in good form with little help from the rider. The rider should not chase or pull in the last few strides and allow the horse to jump up to them, not throw their arms and upper body up the neck. This holds true in the jumper and hunter ring and out cross country. I still believe that the basics are the basics, but after a few Jimmy cross country lessons, I learned a bit more about myself and the BIG difference in our jumping disciplines.

Much of the biggest differences, aside from speed, in cross country jumping, and the disciplines that are in an arena, are about the types of fences and questions that are being asked. To help paint this picture thoroughly, I’ll be referencing Wikipedia.

The ditch. Definition- These fences are dropped areas in the course that may be up to 11’ 10” wide in advanced competition. 

My definition– These fences resemble the grave someone would dig so that if I were to want an easy burial on course, all they’d have to do is cover me up. 

100% of the time, I imagine this beautiful birch oxer sitting atop that ditch, that comes up to my horse in the most perfect hand gallop a person could create. Perhaps 25% of the time, I jump my imaginary oxer flawlessly. The rest of the time? I canter up to that ditch, telling myself to make good choices, and instead, I get three strides out, my heart starts palpating, and I get the most intense urge to use my crop (not to instill confidence in Duncan, but in myself). Such urges cause a chain reaction that creates a dumpster fire of a spot (that sounds nicer than when Jimmy calls it a vomit) and the feeling that we’re falling over the ditch, perpetuating my belief that someday I will be buried in one. Authors note- I much prefer trakehners, so the ditch can’t stare me in the eye.

If they could just all be trakehners… Photo by Beth Takacs

The bank. Definition- These jumps are steps up or down from one level to another. 

My definition- A jump I’d much prefer to jump up than down because jumping down can feel like missing the bottom step when walking downstairs. 

I’ll pat myself on the back here because I feel like I now jump up banks like a professional. I’m fortunate enough to get lessons with some friends/peers who’ve been in the eventing world far longer than I. I study their position specifically to get a better understanding of the mechanics. About 50% of the time, I get to the edge of a bank and say a silent prayer while trying to stay relaxed, allowing Duncan to jump, and all goes to plan. The other half of the time, time slows down, and I can feel my hips slipping further back then I want, my knees gripping in and the sensation that I’ll be ejected when we meet the bottom of that massive (but really it’s only 3’) bank.

Terrain– (see also drop fence). Definition- These fences ask the horse to jump over a log fence and land at a lower level than the one at which they took off. 

My definition– the worst. You’re not sure if you’ll wind up standing at the top of the bank sans equine partner, get whiplash in midair, fall down the backside in a blob of bad equitation and horse mane in your teeth, or canter down the hill like you’re a boss. The odds could go any which way. 

It felt as awkward as it looks. Photo by Beth Takacs

For a Hunter Princess, this type of jump has provided the widest variety of fumbles, facepalms, and giggles. At my most recent lesson, Jimmy told the riders that it was their job, through repetition, to teach the horses that we wouldn’t ask them to jump off the Grand Canyon. Through willpower and repetition, I plan to teach myself the same thing. To put myself at ease, I imagine a perfectly manicured jump with lots of fill and poles covered in turf. The fact of the matter is, no matter how hefty a hunter fence may be, the ground on the backside is very visible, visible to the point that it seems to go on forever. So I canter up to my drop fence, pretending I can see the ground on the backside go on for miles and occasionally that visualization pays off. Other times, however, I feel my stomach pop up into my throat, I utter, “Jesus take the wheel” and think, “we’ll get it next time.”

But sometimes I look legit. Photo by Beth Takacs

While the highs have far outweighed the lows/fumbles, the lows have certainly pushed me further. Every ride leaves me with the burning desire for more improvement, and more excitement, the kind that only cross country jumping can give you. I still firmly believe the basics carry across all disciplines, but I also believe as riders, we should be just as confident riding a drop (even if it’s mini) fence, as we are jumping in our flat rings over jumps with lots of fill and substance. While I don’t think everyone needs to enter the competitive eventing realm, I do think riders of all jumping disciplines can benefit tenfold from cross country lessons.