By; Ambassador Olivia Carr
If you had told 13-year-old me that someday I would be a devotee of the jumper ring, teenage-Olivia would have laughed in your face. I could barely look over at the jumper ring without a twinge of fear in my belly. Actually riding in it? No way.
I was a hunter and equitation rider to my core. Big sweeping turns, steady pace throughout, taking my time to set up the perfect ride. Making sure my heel was down, shoulders back, leg steady the whole time. It suited my detail-oriented personality extremely well.
In my mind, the jumper ring was a lawless wasteland of galloping at big jumps and hoping you didn’t go flying off the side of your horse around tight turns. Total anarchy.
When I got back in the saddle after a long hiatus, I naturally assumed that I would head back towards the hunter and adult equitation ring. My personality hadn’t materially shifted, so why would I think otherwise?
Because the horse I was riding was decidedly NOT a steady-pace-take-your-time hunter. That’s why I started to think otherwise. Rather than fitting a square peg in a round hole, I decided to take my half-lease mare into the jumper ring where I thought she would shine. And shine she did!
But even more so than my mare, I was the one that fell in love with the jumper ring. Everything my teenage-self feared about it turned out to be so wrong.
The jumpers are not about chasing your horse down to the obstacles. It’s not about galloping wildly out of control to make time or skittering through the turns.
The jumpers are about strategy, and I fell in love with the strategy. Knowing my horse and my own abilities well enough to plan out more efficient turns, rate our striding differently, knowing when to gallop and when to wait for the right spot.
I fell in love with the harder courses. Testing myself with rollbacks, s-turns, bending lines, and attempting the inside turns keeps me thinking during every single stride.
I fell in love with the different jumps. Feeling my horse stretch out across triple bars and liverpools is so exhilarating. Deciding how to ride the combo - is it vertical-vertical? Or oxer-vertical? Or oxer-oxer? - makes me think that much harder about how I want to set us up.
I fell in love with the pace. Opening up down the long side, packaging up for the short turn, opening back up, feeling that constant ebb and flow as I channel the power under me.
I fell in love with the get-it-done attitude. Practicing perfection is for homework, but once we step foot in the show ring it is over, under or through. It is doing whatever I need to do to help out my horse, whether it’s pretty or not. The mental toughness to go in and get the job done.
I loved my time in the hunter ring. But if you’re looking for me at a show nowadays, check the jumper ring first. There’s no place I’d rather be.