Adventures of a Rogue Dressage Rider: Road to the AEC

Photo courtesy of Ryan Bell. Photo courtesy of Ryan Bell.

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 two blogs 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.

Since our last blog, life has been chaotic. I have been working very hard on eventing, also while still doing my normal job. It has been a few weeks of constant eventing shows and dressage shows.

I competed for two weeks at Chattahoochee Hills in Georgia. After managing to convince my trusty steed, Grant, to go over the ditch, I finished in 2nd place on my dressage score! I felt like a won a battle, however, the war was raging on. I still needed another clean cross country round to solidify my qualification for AEC. So, quickly I began to put Plan B into place (really it was more like plan R, but who’s counting), and off we went to another horse trials. I last minute entered the event at Windridge in North Carolina. I had never been there, but heard good things, but I digress. I entered, enlisted the help of my best friend, and in true dressage rider style, we packed the trailer full of items we wouldn’t use. The 3 hour car ride, took us over 5 hours, was it an omen?  I was sure hoping not.

As soon as I got Grant settled in the stabling area, I wanted to walk the course. Please keep in mind its very hot and I am little bit chunky right now. These are two things that DO NOT mix. Off we go to walk the course, we walked and walked and walked, it seemed like miles, but in reality it was a quick jump from the stabling area, but it’s my story and I can whine if I want to.  

Fence 1. Ok, solid, but I thought I could get over it. I walked a few more fences, all seem nice and inviting, at least I keep telling myself. Then it happens. I imagine all of us have experienced the phenomena of seeing a fence there is NO WAY you are making it over. Well I saw it in the middle of the woods, a big log with a bunch of brush over it. Everything looks scary to me (dressage rider) the first time. This wouldn’t be different, When I walked it again, it would look smaller.

The infamous fence. Photo courtesy of Ryan Bell.

Now Grant The Man, is really the man. He’s a star, just the same as if he had done an Olympic Games or two, but much more down to earth. Even stars have an off day and Grant and I did not put out our best dressage test, but the show must go on. We redeemed ourselves with a clean show jumping.

Before cross country, I wanted to walk the course one more time. Certainly the big brush fence would be smaller, they always are the third or fourth time. I actually wasn’t worried about it at all. That is until I saw it again. There it was, standing bigger than I remembered, and more solid than an elephant. I panicked. I hung around the fence for a few minutes contemplating my escape options, and the ways I could survive this catastrophe. Would the jump judges really see if I just bypassed it? Probably so. Could I afford 20 penalties? Most definitely not. So the only answer was to throw in the towel, or attack it head on. I came too far, and spent way too much money to back out. I truly did not believe that we were going to make it. I thought, at least I am wearing my Schockemohle breeches with sticky, silicon patches on them. Immediately followed by the realization that my life was hanging in the balance of a sticky pair of pants. Now friends, that is not a very comforting place to be. BUT, every story needs a hero, and sometimes you have to be your own hero. So off I go to tack up and address this monster.

While warming up, a lovely eventer who is also sponsored by Cavalor, asked me if I was excited. “Ummm, NO! I am terrified,” I responded. After discussing the inevitable death I was about the suffer, she offered some friendly advice and sent me on my way.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Bell.

Fence 1 – good. No Drama, this is a good start. Fence 2 – smooth sailing. So Far So Good, A few more uneventful fences, and I am in the woods faced with the scariest thing I jumped. I sat a bit back, I closed my legs ( I imagine with a death grip) I gave a cluck, and a quick prayer and Grant The Man, popped over it as if it was a big canter stride. He didn’t even blink an eye or move an ear. Straight to the jump and saved me. All the drama I created, and it was not a big deal at all. It took me half the remaining course regain my composure, but I finished with a clear cross country, and I qualified for the AEC!

I have learned to have so much respect for the eventer. It’s not easy to be so brave, and this is definitely pushing me WAY out of comfort zone. I am very excited to try my hand at the American Eventing Championships. I am going into this with no pressure, I accomplished my goal I qualified for the AEC’s. I thought that was the impossible. I have a feeling the most fun part of the story is just beginning.

See you all at AEC and back on Eventing Nation!

Earning his USDF Bronze, Silver and Gold medals with his own horses, Ryan has competed over 14 horses to the FEI levels including six horses to Grand Prix. Ryan has trained extensively in Holland and Germany with some of the best riders and trainers in the world, including several former #1 world ranked riders. A veteran of the junior divisions, Ryan competed extensively through the international young rider, small tour, Under 25 Grand Prix and Grand Prix classes. Ryan has competed at many championships throughout the  country. In addition to his own riding, Ryan has helped several of his students earn their Gold medals. Based in beautiful Madison, GA, he owns and operates MRK Dressage with partner Micha Knol. Their business focuses on sales of quality dressage horses. 

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