Adventures of a Rogue Dressage Rider: How I (Barely) Survived My First Event

Ryan is a Grand Prix dressage rider and trainer based in Georgia who recently took up eventing as a side dabble. He has his sights set on qualifying for and competing at the American Eventing Championships but says, “Even if I don’t qualify for the AECs, I am having a blast learning about a new discipline and pushing myself out of my comfort zone.” His first blog had us in stitches — keep an eye on Blogger’s Row in the coming months for more “Adventures of a Rogue Dressage Rider”!

Photo courtesy of Ryan Bell.

Any adventure story would not be complete (nor as entertaining) without a disastrous pitfall in which one must climb out of. This adventure is not any different. After a valiant (at least in my opinion) cross country schooling, I decided to enter a recognized horse trial. I know, I know, it’s ambitious.

This is where the story really starts.

I headed over to Evententries.com and was like a kid in a candy store. So many options, and so many opportunities, I had visions of running Rolex running through my brain. So, with visions of (admitted) grandeur running wild, I entered an event! I assembled a team of SuperGroom, my best friend, and my partner. We packed the trailer, and off we went.

We drove to eventing mecca, Aiken, SC, and I began my eventing career at Full Gallop H.T. I didn’t know how much I didn’t know. I was in a whole new world before I event stepped into an arena. Even working out of the trailer tends to be foreign to a lot of us dressage riders and braiding was “optional but discouraged,” also foreign to me. Nevertheless, I tacked up and headed out to the dressage ring.

Now, you might be thinking, “This is where he can shine.” I however, did not shine; I blame my lackluster performance on the lack of braiding. After all, there is only so much change a dressage rider can take before the psychosis sets in.

Starting off on a not so great note can rattle your mind. However, I persevered. I picked myself up, and put on the jumping saddle. I had a great warm up for show jumping. Arguably, I could’ve rivaled Rodrigo Pessoa on his best day. So, with a feeling of confidence, and confidence meaning that I could survive the course, I trotted into the showjumping ring. That would be the last good moment I had throughout showjumping. Picture your worst showjumping attempt, and then add a dressage rider to that. With a few stops and wood poles scattered amongst the arena, and a time that a turtle could beat, I shamefully, albeit in one piece, completed the course.

With that said, I threw on my cross country vest, and my pinney, and I walked to the cross country course. By this point, I was determined. Beyond determined actually. I was frustrated and angry, and slightly terrified. As the volunteer said “3,2,1, GO!” I made a decision. “I am getting around this course!”

I walked the course the day before, and the Novice fences were maxed out. It was BIG and terrifying for me! But I made a decision, and those who know me know that when I make a decision I do it.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Bell.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Bell.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Bell.

I galloped out of the start box with the gumption of a rider at Burghley. I jumped every fence with a mix of determination and sheer terror. However, I jumped a clear cross country course! What an adrenaline rush! I had a feeling of accomplishment and excitement. All the negative thoughts from the earlier part of the day went away.

Someone mentioned if, because of my background, I thought I could just show up and win in eventing. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have a huge respect for this sport and every single rider that is out there. This sport is legitimately difficult, and to have a horse and rider that can perform in three different sports at once, is an incredible feat, and a feat to be admired.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Bell.

Next week we try again, hopefully with a slightly less abysmal result!

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