JN Blogger Contest Finalist Krystal Kelly Asks the Question, “What Are We Riding For?”

Several talented writers entered our first ever JN Blogger Contest and after careful deliberation, we have narrowed down the pool to the top three entrants. For their final essay, each writer was given the topic “Full Care Facilities: Do They Help or Hurt the Future of Our Sport?” This week, we will feature of the final three contestants’ editorial perspective on the assigned topic and YOU will have the chance to vote for your favorite writer! Last but not least, our final contestant Krystal Kelly shares her perspective on full care facilities and their impact on the equestrian sport. 

Photo by Alissa King / JN

Leonidas was a young warmblood at my stable. He hadn’t proven himself much and in fact had only been competing 1m courses (3’6) up to that point. But today was his day to shine, and he entered the arena with his rider confidently. Leonidas didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to be among the other show jumping horses that day, all far more experienced than he. The six-bar competition began and I watched from the balcony, silently praying for his success.

The class began and the brick wall grew higher and higher as the countless riders gave the mighty fence their best efforts. The men in the shadow of the fence scrambled on their toes to place the final installments to the wall, as they raised the brick wall to its highest. Only two riders and horses were left, one of which was Leonidas.

The first rider jumped the fences leading to the wall effortlessly before clearing the brick wall with grace. The audience applauded wildly as they let out the breath they’d been holding. It was Leonidas’s turn.

The horse that had never before jumped such height pushed off the Earth as he soared over the brick wall. He landed, the fence still perfectly intact. The crowd roared. The steward approached the large brick wall fence, looking to the two riders who had both cleared the fence without error. There were no more bricks to use to make the jump higher, what would happen next?

The two riders looked to each other, grins on their faces and with utmost respect they tipped their hats to one another, signaling a draw.

I was working at a top show jumping stables when I began to question “what” I was riding for. My love of horses and passion for jumping had led me to some incredible countries surrounded by the best riders and horse’s money could buy, but a string of difficult horses backed by even more difficult owners had me questioning my talents as a rider, horse trainer and my passion for the sport.

What was I riding for? Was it for my salary? To pay my bills? To make the owners happy? To impress the sea of people watching the competition? To make a name for myself? To win at all costs? Was I crazy to pursue my dreams and passion for a sport that didn’t love me as much as I seemed to love it? How many times had I been rushed to the hospital, or placed a whip in my boot as a makeshift brace to allow me to ride the youngsters while in pain? Too many times.

I worked at many show jumping clubs around the world and saw time, after time, boys and girls who had their horses on “Full Care” simply show up for their weekly lesson, jump their horses in the competition and then toss the reins into the hands of their grooms, and disappear into the mix of the after party. Many of the owners of the horses I was hired to ride and train had never saddled their own horses, and couldn’t even if asked!

Of course, this wasn’t always the case, and when I began to take over as the manager for several clubs I made sure all my young students knew how to properly groom and saddle their own horses. I insisted they help the grooms prepare and cool down their horses as part of their lessons and spend “quality time.” When my students were more involved with the care of their horses I noticed their riding improve greatly. Their love of their animal grew and it became a relationship, not a business partnership. They were able to carry their love for their companion over each and every jump and likewise the horses tried harder, throwing their hearts over the fences.

And even when these riders had a spill or a bad day, they sought comfort in the manes of their new friends and promised their four-legged team mate that they would try harder and do better for them in their next meeting. They asked questions, wanted to understand the “why’s” behind the techniques and showed more compassion for their horse, listening to the faintest twitch of an ear or gentle sigh. They could read their horses better and developed a better feel for their horse, which more often than not paid off with victories in the show ring.

As a FEI II Coach working with a lot of riders I’ve encountered both types: those who’ve never saddled their own horse and those who’ve slaved over their horse like Cinderella. But I have no doubt in my mind that once you’ve earned the trust and respect of your horse there isn’t anything they wouldn’t do for you. And there’s no better way to bond than to spend “quality time.”

When approached on the subject of “Full Care Facilities” and my opinion on whether or not they hurt or hinder the sport, my only real reply is: What are you riding for? Are you riding as a hobby? Are you riding to win? Are you riding because it’s prestigious? Are you riding for the money, the fame, the highs? Or are you riding to bond with your animal and create a partnership?

As for me? I ride for the tip of the hat.

Krystal Kelly is an Equestrian Adventuress from California on a quest to see the world from the back of a horse. She has worked internationally in over a dozen countries since leaving the USA in 2010 and is currently the only FEI II Certified Show Jumping Coach from the USA! She has worked in countries such as Egypt, India, Romania, Bhutan, Italy, Belgium and more and loves to empower women to follow their dreams. Read more about Kelly’s adventures HERE.