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Ryan Bell

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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. 

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!

Adventures of a Rogue Dressage Rider: Thinking Outside the Box

We’re excited to welcome Ryan Bell as the newest addition to our stable of Blogger’s Row writers. 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”!

Dressage Ryan vs. Eventing Ryan. Photos courtesy of Ryan Bell.

I decided today would be the day I would begin chronicling my journey from a frustrated rogue dressage rider, into an mediocre eventer with ambitious eyes set on qualifying for the AECs.

First, maybe I should back up to clear up the confusion from the first sentence. I am a dressage rider located in Atlanta, GA. I know dressage to many eventers screams BORING! But not in my world. My dressage world is filled with catty trainers who ignore you one minute and then treat you like family, the same world that’s filled with a million egos and their thoughtful grace blessing the dressage ring with their presence. So, my dressage world is not boring at all, in fact, there is a never a dull moment.

Ryan inside the box:

I know this type of social jungle is prevalent in every sport and every corporate environment, so dressage is not special. While getting bogged down in the thick of human interaction, I decided that I needed a hobby to just have fun, no pressure or drama, just fun. So I began frantically searching (picture type A dressage rider on a project) and had several impulsive and albeit entertaining, unsuccessful ventures in the hobbies. So at the urging of my groom (Pony club DC and eventer mom) I decided to try eventing.

I immediately decided this was the hobby for me! I loved the rush of pushing myself out of my comfort zone of a rectangle arena, and I mean pushing myself extremely far outside of that arena (all the way to a cross country course!!) With the help of my groom and the extremely charitable and friendly dressage community (also a bit of a new experience for me) I went cross country schooling.

After starting in the stadium jumping ring and a few warm up fences (with less than ideal distances) we headed out to the cross country. I channeled my inner Michael Jung, and also my inner SuperMan, and bravely trotted over an amoeba log. I thought, WOW! I evented! I felt proud and accomplished, until I was instructed that I needed to jump some other jumps, some actual jumps. So I canter slowly and controlled (again, picture type A dressage rider) around some logs, over a small ditch, and even through the water.

Ryan outside the box:

Now I really felt accomplished, and I felt determined to set a goal and follow it through. With the help of my SuperGroom, I found a great event horse from a fantastic owner who agreed to lease him to me to reach my goal of qualifying for the AECs! Next time I will tell you about my new buddy, Grant, and our already exciting adventures.

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.