Confessions of a Hunter Princess Gone Rogue: The New Normal

I think the most sought after moment in riding, throughout all disciplines and levels, is the moment when things get easier. During a dressage lesson with Jimmy Wofford, he mentioned that riders search for that epiphany moment when a trainer says a specific catch phrase that causes a light bulb to go off and you suddenly “get” that skill. But what normally happens is that we slowly build our skills (and the horses) over time. The goal is to be just 1% better every day. The 1% theory, lots of Jimmy lessons and a delayed show season due to COVID, is how I woke up one day and realized I’d developed a new normal.

2020 has been… different. I had big competition goals and rapidly had to adjust my plans. Thanks to COVID, I did not achieve my goal of reaching Prelim. In previous years, it was due to my lack of skill and knowledge — but THIS year, it’s definitely COVID’s fault (can you hear humor through a keyboard?).

My show season didn’t start until the end of June, which resulted in a mass amount of lessons with Jimmy. Our normal lessons were obviously over fences in the ring, and we’d get out for cross country schools, but then we added in dressage (which was fairly humiliating at first). I spent a large part of this year learning to open my hip and sit back in my dressage saddle. Hello, my name is Amanda, and I like to lean forward in black tack. What started out as a painstaking process ended in something that I currently don’t have to think about every second. My new normal led me to the best dressage test Duncan and I have done to date, it was also the toughest test we’d done. A test that when sent to Jimmy for critique, earned me a “well done” on correctly developing a dressage horse up until this point. It’s worth pointing out that I hadn’t really “set out” to develop Duncan correctly; I just wanted to ride correctly in my dressage tack and be the best partner I could be for him. So while we’re on our journey to ride to the best of our ability, we’re also developing correct horses to the best of their ability. #prettycool #goequitation

Photo by Caroline Taylor.

I haven’t been shy about sharing my greenness on cross country with you all. If I were to give myself a superlative for most improved, I’d have to give it to my newfound cross country skills. We started our delayed show season at Training level and cruised through four Horse Trials at that level, always landing in the ribbons and looking like we belonged out there. Kudos to Surefire Farm for being the toughest and most fun Training level course of the season. My new cross country normal included learning how to make time, competently jumping down banks, and confidently jumping coffins. I felt very ready when I moved up to Modified at Seneca Valley this fall. If you read my article on conquering fear, you know how that went. If you missed the article, give it a read, but it was a huge maxed out course with really deep, mucky footing. Duncan and I soared through the toughest questions and the biggest jumps, only to lose our footing doing an up bank out of the water that resulted in my falling off. It was a huge knock to my confidence, so the following weekend I went out to Olney and ran around their Training level. Duncan was a little like a runaway train with the smaller jumps, but it was just what I needed to boost myself back up. So in October, we finished our season with another Modified at Loch Moy. I added some time but otherwise had an effortless run cross country and earned us an 8th place. At some point, I won’t be surprised at my new found skills and my XXL pony carting me around like he’s done it his whole life.

Photo by GRC.

I’ve always been the most comfortable with my lessons in the ring, over fences. However, that’s also where my worst hunter princess habits have emerged. I’m happy to report that I’ve come a long way from launching my upper body up the neck and cringing at a lack of fill under the jumps! The beginning of 2020 did, however, start with some great bloopers over 3’, leading me to really question whether Duncan and I ever would be ready to show over a meter. Shortly after what felt like a brutal end of the winter slump, spring gave way to some newfound confidence. I felt competent and coordinated and Duncan felt powerful and bold to jumps that were regularly 3’6”-3’9”. Now as we’re creeping in on a New Year, I can canter up to that 4’ fence without wishing I had an adult diaper on. Our new skills had us ready and able to sign up for the high group at an Anne Kursinski clinic. Stay tuned for that article!!

Photo by Beth Takacs.

There will always be something new to learn and improvements to be made because our educational journey in this sport will never end, but relish in the moment when you achieve that new normal. Be proud of how far you’ve come and excited about the places you are yet to go. I hope you all had an exceptional year of growth with your equine partner.