Jeannette Bayer
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Jeannette Bayer

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About Jeannette Bayer

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The Countdown to the AECs Has Begun

Jeannette Bayer is a working student at Denali Sporthorses in Iola, Texas. She has been eventing for a year with her OTTB gelding Pandamonium (“Panda”) and is the founder of Warm Up Ring Bling. Keep up with Jeannette on her blog here

Good man

Good man, Panda! Photo by Scott Bayer.

Seven weeks from today I leave for the American Eventing Championships. Seven weeks from today at this time, I will be there, actually. You’ll probably find me crying about something I left at home that isn’t a big deal, like toothpaste or my extra extra pair of gloves that are used only for dressage rounds ridden on a Sunday in the rain.

That’s the kind of person I am. Stress leaks through my eyeballs in the form of tears, either when it is building up or when it needs to be released. So to everyone I cry on or around, I’m sorry. I really wish I could control it.

This week the name of the game is collecting sponsorships. My teammates and I are very excited to be competing in the Adult Team Challenge that will take place alongside the AECs this year. This blankets us under a non-profit status, which has helped us to collect a few so far. Our team is unicorn-themed, and we are going all out.

Riding Warehouse has generously sponsored us with saddle pads, sparkle crops, shirts, hats and more. Uncle Jimmy’s has given us more treats than our horses can think about eating in a four-day period of time. Mars has decided that we can/should live off of Skittles all weekend long because you can’t have unicorns without rainbows. We’ve got a few more in the works but are so incredibly grateful for the support we have already been shown!

We also got a bit crazy and made T-shirts through the Booster website. Anyone and everyone can order a t-shirt and take part in the unicorn craze we are hoping will sweep the nation.

Apparently my brain is all about making this next seven weeks as long and intimidating as possible. I was dreaming that I was at the AECs. I was running late, and it was almost my dressage time. My trainer asked me if I had the test memorized. To prove I did, I started spouting out, “A, enter working trot rising. C, track left …” She stopped me immediately and said that wasn’t correct. Tears. Everywhere. As I hurried to look through some sort of pamphlet that I guess was supposed to have the test illustrated in it.

As is the case with most not-so-good dreams, it was just out of reach. I never could turn to the correct page to find the test. So I decided to watch the person in front of me. She happened to be my veterinarian, who is also a dressage queen. As I watched her spin 10-meter circles in our Beginner Novice dressage test, tears. All of the tears.

Good news, somehow I stayed asleep to find out I did not get eliminated. Bad news, seven more weeks of this. Bring on the AECs!

The Route to Incredible Is Perilous

Jeannette Bayer is a working student at Denali Sporthorses in Iola, Texas. She has been eventing for a year with her OTTB gelding Pandamonium (“Panda”) and is the founder of Warm Up Ring Bling. Jeanette sent us this story about her experience as a working student and how the things she has learned along the way gives her hope for the future. Keep up with Jeanette on her blog here, and if you are looking for a working student position yourself, don’t miss these recently updated summer listings. Thanks for writing Jeannette, and thanks for reading!

Panda through the water

I started writing this post to avoid figuring out how to work my sewing machine. It didn’t come with instructions, and I had it in my mind that if I couldn’t figure it out all by myself, then it wasn’t worth doing. I’d just go back to hand sewing the ears on my bonnets forever and suffer in my one person sweatshop while this technologically advanced machine sat staring me in the face.

There was one point where I felt like throwing things against the wall. Then I “took a break” to go to the barn. Both of these things happened shortly after getting the machine out of the bag and finding a plug for it, to put into perspective my level of patience with learning this new skill. I started feeling a bit guilty that I had put off finishing three bonnets for over two weeks because I was “trying to figure out the sewing machine,” so I got back to work actually trying.

Long story short, I am not the kind of person who can do things by magic. A short YouTube clip later and I had grasped how to thread the upper and lower portions of the machine and also found out that I was making it much more difficult than it needed to be. Who would’ve guessed?

So what do sewing machines and horseback riding have in common, other than the fact that I’m using mine to make horse related material? Let me tell you.

My horse, Panda, has been in rehab for the last two weeks after an injury he sustained almost a month ago. Since I can’t ride him, I’ve been picking up some rides on other horses where I can to fill my schedule and stay sharp.

I took a lesson on one of the horses from my dressage trainer last Saturday and was so excited to work with her on him. When she looked at me sitting as tall and straight as I thought I possibly could she said, “He really brings out your crookedness.”

Panda, moments before getting beat up by a girl.

Panda, moments before getting beat up by a girl.

I was shattered. What? I mean I guess I haven’t been thinking super hard about my crookedness recently, but I thought we were over that. I thought I was better than that. I thought I had aired out the skeletons in my closet.

I wanted to get off and say, “Never mind then. I want to go back to the barn. I’ll take a lesson when my horse is back in business.” But that’s the problem. I can sit a lot taller and straighter on my horse because I ride him all the time.

To become a truly good rider, you have to be able to take what you know on one horse and be able to do it on all the horses. And I don’t mean get the horse on the bit and leg yield it around the arena.

I mean sit tall, on your seat bones, engaging your core while staying loose in your hips and shoulders and keeping your thumbs up. You have to ride well, no matter what the horse knows. You cannot sacrifice a good position just because you’re riding a green horse.

Panda Pine Hill Dressage

For an hour and a half we worked on sitting the trot and canter without stirrups. At the end I was grasping concepts, but also gasping for air. It makes the sewing machine seem a lot easier. At least for my machine, there is a 15 minute video to watch, and as long as you follow the direction, 2 + 2 always equals 4.

With horses you have to explain what 2 + 2 means and they still may offer you the answer 5 sometimes. It’s part of the reason horses are an addiction, but also part of the reason so many people never make it to the upper levels.

It isn’t easy. You think you’ve got something, and then you sit on a new horse and you found out you’re not as super as you thought you were. Or you find out you do have it, but there’s 2,000 other concepts and subtleties you need to master in order to ride the movement correctly.

It’s simple. Nothing requires acrobatics, or yoga instructor flexibility. Yet holding your wrists just right, not overarching your back, and keeping a long leg might as well be contortionist movements when you throw in the fact that you’re on a horse.

To get better, you have to either have a very good sense of humor, or the ability to go home, cry, and come back and try again. Or you have to be ok with the level you’re currently riding at. There aren’t many other options or ways around it.

It’s easy to quit. It’s hard to get back on the horse and work on your skeletons when progress is nearly invisible day to day. That’s why, for all the hundreds of thousands of people who ride horses in America, there are only a handful whose names you know.

I want to be the handful, not the masses. And I am willing to watch the YouTube video, read the directions, get back on the horse, and develop my sense of humor in order to become the handful.

Working Student Diaries: Working Hard or Hardly Working

Jeannette Bayer is a working student at Denali Sporthorses in Iola, Texas. She has been eventing for a year with her OTTB gelding Pandamonium (“Panda”) and is the founder of Warm Up Ring Bling. Jeanette sent us this story about her experience as a working student and how the things she has learned along the way gives her hope for the future. Keep up with Jeanette on her blog here, and if you are looking for a working student position yourself, don’t miss these recently updated summer listings. Thanks for writing Jeannette, and thanks for reading!
Jeanette and Panda competing at Pine Hill. Photo via 14 Hands and Counting

Jeanette and Panda competing at Pine Hill. Photo via 14 Hands and Counting

I am not planning to talk about how awful or hard or unfair it is to be a working student because if I did that I think that would prove I’ve learned nothing. Being a working student is a lot of things. It is hard. It is fun. It is fulfilling. It is an amazing opportunity for growth. And it is not for everyone.

I have never been a working student prior to this experience, but I know for a fact I do not have it anywhere near as hard as some people pursuing the working student path to success. I have been blessed with an amazing opportunity to work with a trainer/rider/coach who understands the person I am and can see the potential within me, but better yet, she knows how to get all of that out of me.

As a working student I have learned more than I thought was humanly possible. This knowledge has made me realize that not only did I not know anything, but what I now know is but a drop in the vast ocean that is horse riding, training, nutrition and care.

The more I have learned, the more I realize how much I don’t know, and the endless cycle continues. Aside from sailing over a big jump, it is the most exciting and terrifying feeling I have ever known. I feel both that I am more prepared than I ever was at the start of my journey to own my own business and also that I still have so far to go.

I have had the pleasure to work with green horses, young horses, highly trained horses, a yearling, stallions, spooky horses, jumpers, hunters, eventers, Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, ponies, giant horses, hot horses, dead heads, pregnant mares and everything in between. Every experience is a new one that, as my trainer says, “adds another wrench to my toolbox.”

Every experience you have makes you more able to solve problems and correct issues you will eventually be confronted with. But every horse is also an individual and will always throw something new at you. This is why it is so crucial to be a working student and watch training actually happen. To encounter as many horses as you can and learn as many things as you can so you are best equipped to be out on your own one day, when you decide to spread your wings.

A day for me is relatively straightforward: feed, water, hay, muck stalls, add shavings, tack up horses, watch them being ridden, bathe horses, fly spray, clean tack, sweep, rake and anything else that needs to get done. It isn’t crazy, It isn’t really a long list. But it is all important.

If I have learned nothing else (but believe me I have learned a lot of other things), it is that you have to take care. It’s hard to explain in two little words. It is more than that but just that at the same time. Take care of the horses. Take care of the tack. Take care of the facility. Take care that you are paying attention and that things are done right. Take care that your words and actions are above reproach.

Horses come to the barn and they are beautiful because they are horses, but when they leave the barn they are whole. Not just because they are trained but because they are taken care of. Mentally, physically, emotionally, inside and out. They are taken care of. There are no short cuts because short cuts produce results sometimes, but doing it right produces results every time.

Horses don’t come to us abused and neglected with a sob story about their past. Most of them come from barns that are nicer than my house and cost more per month. They are eating top quality feed and hay. They have saddles that fit them like a glove. Most are already happy, and yet there is a transformation.

Everything I have learned or am asked to do has a purpose. There is a reason for everything. From the way the stalls are cleaned to the layout of the entire barn, there is a reason. If you go about training horses or even caring for them by the seat of your pants I think you’ll get far enough. But if you have a plan, a routine, a schedule, a goal and a vision, you will get so much farther.

This is why being a working student is important. Seeing how a program works, or does not work, is so important. Watching horse after horse after horse go from a regular horse to a glowing, confident animal might get you thinking it’s more than just luck. The time you spend grooming, lunging, hosing, treating and cleaning all culminates into the beautiful, amazing animal that leaves when it is time.

It is never too late. You can be a working student. Find a reputable trainer and learn as much as you can. Work HARD. Do as much as you can and then a little more because there’s always a little more you can do. Have fun. If you do something wrong, it’s okay, you’re human and accidents happen. Just do it better next time. Sweat, cry, laugh and enjoy. Then the hard work doesn’t feel so much like work anymore. You’ll be in awe of what you don’t know. And if you’re not, you’re doing it all wrong.