I’ve always said that if life had handed me different circumstances (horses), I wouldn’t have ended up being labeled as a hunter rider. At my core, who I am as a person, is far more adrenaline-driven than that of the generally serene, sometimes anxious about speed, hunter rider who thirsts for a tranter that floats them over eight jumps within the safe confines of a ring. As life would have it, the horses I had, that were mentally suited for the more adrenaline-pumping disciplines, like eventing, were tragically short relationships.
I’ve always let my horses tell me what ring they prefer, but this year particularly, I’ve been breaking bad discipline wise. Artie’s been out to a horse trial, dressage show and jumper shows, but I’ve also been out eventing with my more advanced horse. Social media has been blowing up with things like, “you’re an eventer now?!” It mainly comes from people being interested in that I seem to be trying something new, but some express genuine surprise and have the tone that I may never see the hunter ring again.
Getting that adrenaline rush, photo by GRC Photo
Don’t get me wrong; I see nothing wrong with trainers and riders declaring a specific discipline. I do, however, believe that if you aren’t climbing the more advanced competitive ranks that we should all consider ourselves gypsies, letting our horse’s education take us places that enrich our horses and us. I think every hunter rider should take a dressage and cross country lesson. I think every eventer can benefit from starting their horse out quietly jumping around the hunter ring or working on their lateral movements chasing cows. Could you imagine how brave the riders in adult amateur classes would be at a horse show after jumping around BN/N cross country jumps? Those courses would be a breeze!
I obviously started this blog for Jumper Nation with the plan that Artie would compete in the show jumpers and eventing or show hunters at the Makeover. I’m certainly not attending with the goal of winning (though that would be nice), but from a sheer numbers perspective, I ruled out Jumpers and Hunters because I simply don’t see us being competitive. So I got in touch with my free discipline gypsy spirit, and I started considering some other disciplines. I skipped right over dressage and western dressage, mainly because I’ll already do a dressage test for eventing. Personally, I have no interest in trail, and since hunting season doesn’t start back up until September 1st, field hunters were out of the question. Which brings us to the second discipline we settled on: Working Ranch.
A few weeks ago, Artie and I headed off to our first ranch lesson. I felt like a fish out of water flapping around in an enormous saddle, and a cowboy hat that I’m pretty sure makes me look like a tinier human then I already am. But the instructor seemed pleasantly surprised with Artie’s natural affinity for the ranch work. We just worked on slowing his trot and canter down and getting him to stretch through his topline. I got a couple of polite lectures about how it’s called a stop, not a halt and we want to lope, not canter. Not only did Artie seem to enjoy the work, but I also enjoyed hearing some different tips and tricks to add to my training toolbox. At the Makeover, we’ll need to do a ranch trail pattern, so that’s up next for lesson #3 (stay tuned!).
Working ranch lesson number one! Photo submitted by Amanda Cousins
This past weekend my farriers invited me along to help them work their cattle and I probably too eagerly agreed. I was the only one out there who’d never really worked cattle before, as well as being the only one prepared with SMB boots (cause ya know, I imagined chasing cows at mock speed). We spent a lot of time walking after cows. But even at the walk, I had a hard time not squaring off head on with my cow and making it run back to its friends. Side note: I learned that if you’re able to pick your cow, pick one that doesn’t look like every other cow in the herd because they can be very hard to tell apart. I also learned that side passes and backing aren’t just fancy moves to 1. Look cool 2. Have your horse super broke and 3. Get your horse soft. They are actually fantastic ways to move cows without applying direct pressure, making them scatter like Baltimore rats. Artie was a superstar and seemed to be more of a natural than me.
Doing our actual cutting, not too shabby. Considering I super sucked the first go round 😂🦄🎨
Even though I won’t be doing field hunters at the Makeover, I do think Artie could make a great fox hunter. The discipline gypsy struck again, and we went hound walking with the Warrenton Hunt. For those of you not up with your fox hunting terms, hound walking is what the hunts do to exercise the hounds before cubbing starts after Labor Day. It was a cool activity because you can be close to the huntsmen and hounds without having to go first flight. Just like it sounds, we mainly walked, with a little trotting. I was taken with how sensible Artie was, though, in the beginning, he was confused as to why he was just walking during his hack. I was smitten with the welcoming atmosphere that I was met with. Artie was a wonderful ambassador for the breed, and when I wasn’t asking newbie hunting questions, I was gushing about the Makeover.
Photo by Amanda Cousins
As a professional, I think it’d be easy for me to assume I could take a ranch lesson and be able to go from there or think that one hound walk makes me an expert in fox hunting. I think that’s diminishing just how difficult each of our horse sports is to master. While they are similar in so many ways, they are also so wonderfully different. If you know or are, a horse owner, you know just how rare it is for us to take vacations. My discipline gypsy adventures have felt like a small vacation from horses for me. I’m doing something completely new, something that maybe I dreamed of trying someday but never put much thought into making a reality. It’s been a refreshing breath of air. Working with horses can be a huge punch to the heart when it’s taking a break from being a whole lot of work. So why not have as much ridiculous in the box and out of the box fun as you can?
I wrote a blog about my experiences riding with Jimmy Wofford, and how dang important I think lessons are. The blog(which you should read if you haven’t) was about my pursuit of growth and improvement. Obviously, everyone expects to see improvement in their riding if they do the work and have a good trainer. I expected results from my Jimmy lessons; what I didn’t quite expect were the results from branching out. To the casual observer, you may not notice much, but for me, the difference in my position and the softness in my hands is undeniable. So I guess here I am again urging you all to invest in yourselves. I can promise you won’t be disappointed in the return, and neither will your horses.
My equitation is thanking all the other disciplines, photo submitted by Amanda Cousins