A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: A Prelim Mom’s Journey to Starter

Welcome to A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing: A Prelim Mom’s Journey to Starter, a new blog by Tennessee eventer mom Julie Maner: “I would like to invite you to follow along as I attempt to ride in my first … and only event. Sit down, pour a glass of wine (enjoy an extra one for me as I have all but given it up) and watch it unfold. Will I make it? Who knows! Should I even be attempting this? Who cares! There are no baby steps to be taken as we are short on time, but my not so trusty steed and I are taking it day by day. Come along for the ride!”

Photo by Julie Maner.

The Halter That Taunted Me

Last year, for my 50th birthday, a friend gave me a grooming halter. Save it for your first event. I hung it on a table in my bedroom and have walked by it multiple times a day for almost a year now. Emily, my one-star chasing daughter, once asked if I was ever going to use it. One day. In March, something unexpected happened: Emily’s first Novice horse, Romeo, came home. I continued to walk past the halter, sometimes lingering a bit. Could I really do it?

With no clear intentions, I took a few lessons. Romeo was patient. I promised Erika Adams, Emily’s coach, I would not wear a Road Less Traveled eventing team shirt until Romeo’s mane was pulled and I was able to ride without screaming. I think we enjoyed ourselves but life tends to get in the way: a grand baby, vacations, the never-ending to-do list, a lame horse, the gym, dance lessons, trying to give up wine … my list of excuses were long.

As I spent the summer marking things off of that list and adding to it, I thought more and more about Romeo. I thought about why he had come back home. Was it a sign? Richard (hubby) and I went to Scotland armed with only a travel book and Nicole and Ryan (unofficial daughter and her husband) to guide us through the country. After just a few days, Richard and I were on our own, exploring places unknown and more importantly, unplanned or researched. I returned rejuvenated. That was fun. What’s next? The halter taunted me.

Richard and Julie in Scotland. Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

I watched our friends, the Morrisons, map out a cross country motocross adventure that took them from the east to west coasts. I found myself looking for their Facebook posts. That looks miserable. Oh, how amazing! Wow! And just recently, I have closely followed Leslie Wylie’s journey to the Mongol Derby. I read about her preparation and followed her little red dot as she started and finished the race. HOLY COW! Now don’t get excited, I have no desire to ride a motorcycle or try my hand at breaking wild ponies, but it did beg the question: What are you waiting for? Damn halter.

I made a decision. I set a goal. Romeo and I would ride Starter at River Glen Horse Trials in November. Three months of training, that should be enough. Done. I’m doing it. Keep in mind, I have never ridden a dressage test, never jumped more than six consecutive jumps (and that I’ve only done once) and fallen trees in the woods are the extent of my cross country experience.

Julie, Romeo and Emily. Photo by Julie Pate.

People ask if I can ride. Ummm, I can sound like I do. I took regular lessons while we lived in St. Louis: a two-year stint. I couldn’t tell you what kind of lessons they were but I learned how to post the trot. In the 8th grade, we returned home to Chattanooga where a big, brown horse was waiting for me, at least I think he was big. Ironically, this same horse had once chased my brother, cousins and me through an open field near my grandmother’s house. My dad must have gotten a deal. Eventually, the adults convinced me he was saddle broke (a racking horse nonetheless) and before long, I was climbing on helmetless and galloping bareback through the fields pretending to be a beautiful Indian princess. With the advent of a driver’s license and boys, I outgrew Trigger and he went on to his next owner.  My husband has always humored my interest in horses and will even tell a stranger I can ride! He feigned enjoyment on our honeymoon as we rode horses on the beach and even swam with them in the Caribbean. Horses have come and gone on our farm. Most have been lawn ornaments but I have to own a horse — I live on a farm!

“Whaddya mean you can’t ride, Julie?” — the editor. Photo courtesy of Julie Maner.

I must have done something right, because Emily chose to ride … with no encouragement from me. Que Richard’s eye roll. Always by her side, I have listened to lessons, walked the courses, studied the tests, watched the videos, and shared in the victories as well as the defeats. I know the terms: needs to be more forward, more bend, inside leg–outside rein and a million more. I have heard them all and sometimes, I am lucky enough to actually understand what they mean!

Emily, Richard and Julie with Emily’s Prelim horse Contender. Photo by JJ Sillman.

#1 horse show mom. Photo by JJ Sillman.

Fast forward to August 21. Eclipse day. Remember that decision: the one about River Glen? We realized — there is no Starter division!!! Don’t panic. You can do Hagyard Team Challenge. It cuts your preparation by two weeks but that’s OK. What? THERE’S NO STARTER THERE EITHER!  I’m left with a North Carolina event seven days into October or Jump Start at the Kentucky Horse Park, the first weekend of October. Inner conflict goes on tilt. I don’t want to die. Jump Start is only seven weeks away. Refer to the third paragraph if you have forgotten that I have absolutely no eventing experience … or any other respectable mounted equine track record.

A meeting of the minds with Richard and Emily followed by a “have I lost my mind” conversation with Erika and it is decided. We will shoot for Jump Start. What could possibly go wrong? Call it a bucket list item or something more — I’m in it 110%.

The 40-day countdown begins now. Heels down, eyes up, leg on.

Keep an eye on EN Blogger’s Row for future editions of “A 40-Day Crash Course in Eventing” and check out Julie’s blog here