A Weekend of Firsts

Do you remember your first event? Whether you’ve completed 10 events or 1,000, it’s a healthy exercise to put ourselves in the shoes (tall boots?) of riders who are new to the sport. Emma Young, a freshman Equine Business Major at Otterbein University, rides on her intercollegiate dressage and eventing teams, and also fox hunts — and last weekend at Virginia Horse Trials she completed her very first recognized event. Congrats, Emma, and welcome! 

“The beauty of any first time is that it leads to a thousand others…”

I came across this quote by author Pico Lyer and it hit me. There has to be a first time to make a champion, a seasoned-pro, someone who it becomes second nature for. I still remember calling my trainer the first time we hauled my horse. We were nervous and she told us that the first time is the hardest. Once we do it 10 times it will start to turn into second nature.

I’ve lost track over how many times I’ve hauled horses, but she was right. I’m not nervous now and I’m confident in what I’m doing. Last weekend I completed a different kind of first:

Photo by James Young.

This past weekend I finally met my goal to compete in a recognized horse trial. For the past year and a half I have been hoping to sign up for several, but it wasn’t meant to be. Each time something stopped me from signing up: My horse had a bad abscess, my horse was missing part of his hoof, our prep mini trial got changed to a CT due to weather, my trainer wasn’t going, I didn’t have a trailer ride… I’d watch for the opening dates for Jump Start, South Farm, Cobblestone, etc. with excitement, but each time the closing date would roll around and I wouldn’t be signed up. I’ve been a USEA member for nearly two years, but I’ve yet to experience one of their events before now. I’ve proudly sported a USEA bumper sticker on my car, practically since I got my license, but I have had no idea what one of their events was really like.

Finally, a month ago I sent in my entry for Virginia Horse Trials and held my breath. As the weeks neared closer I drilled my dressage, cross country schooled, and freaked out probably a little too much over some minor scrapes or an off day. I tried to soak up every piece of dressage knowledge possible, follow a set riding plan, and enjoy every minute I spent with my horse.

Before I knew it, the day had arrived: the day we left for Lexington, Virginia. I’m a freshman at Otterbein University and it was also my first show with the eventing team. We packed our tack, 12 bales of hay, six tack trunks, and 24 bags of bedding into the trailer before loading the horses. It was my horse’s first time (that I know of) getting on a six horse trailer and he loaded like he does it every day. A little over six hours later we all arrived at the venue. We settled our horses in, set up our tack stall, hung Otterbein signs and stall guards, and got our competitor packets. The three of us going Beginner Novice walked our cross country course before we all did a little dressage school under a lit covered arena.

The next morning we were there a little after 6 am; ready for the day ahead of us. My dressage time came early. My horse listened pretty well, but our connection we’ve started to get at school was gone. We put down a test that well-deserved its high mark of 47. Once dressage was over, we both let out a sigh of relief: onto the fun stuff!

Photo by Emma Young.

Cross country came next. It was a team effort getting ready. Someone helped tack my horse while someone else put red electrical tape around my horse’s boots. I put all of my own gear on and we headed towards warm-up decked out with everything Otterbein. Our warm-up went well and as we headed towards the start box I felt ready. The starter counted backwards and when she got to zero we sprang out of the start box.

We sailed over the first jump. He looked at the second fence, but we still managed to get over it. Then we started towards a green and white table — one of the biggest fences on course. At first I thought he was going to jump it, but a few strides out he started to falter. My crop got tangled in my reins and I let him run right out my outside rein. I was caught by surprise and my foot popped out of its stirrup as my body lost its center of gravity. I pulled myself together, sat up, pulled him to a trot, got my stirrup, and pointed him towards the fence for a second time. We flew over it and kept going.

Our next issue was at the water. He locked onto the Training level log in front and when I pointed him away from it and towards the water he backed off. I had to slow him to a slow trot to get him in. After that, the course went by in a whirlwind. We jumped our first mini corner, our first ditch and wall, and our first cross country combination. He listened so well and I wish I could go back and ride the course again.

Photo by James Young.

As we galloped across the finish line, my dad, my coach, and members of my team were there to cheer for us. Even Otterbein alumni were there. We were greeted with smiles and words of congratulatory. I had never felt so much a part of a team. The rest of the day flew by from caring for my horse to cheering on my teammates. Before I knew it, it was time to head back to the hotel for the night.

The next morning, after feeding our horses, a few of us watched the FEI level jogs. I had never been to a real jog and I can’t wait to hopefully someday participate in one myself. Then I braided my horse’s mane, walked my stadium course, and cheered on a teammate on cross country.

Before I knew it, I had to tack up for stadium. Once again, decked out in Otterbein colors we headed for the warm-up. On the way, we passed the ring where the two-star riders were having their award ceremony. It was such a surreal experience showing at the same show as some of the best riders in the country. Our stadium round was so fun and while we pulled the final rail, my horse listened so well. The walk back to the stables was full of emotions. I just completed my first recognized show.

I’m so thankful for everyone who made this weekend possible. I’m thankful for my dad for driving me and cheering me on all weekend. I’m thankful for my mom and sister for being the biggest supporters from home. I’m thankful for my friends back on campus who texted me with Good Lucks. I’m incredibly thankful for my teammates and coach — they made my first recognized show one for the books. I’m so thankful for my trainer at home and all my instructors before that helped me get where I am now. Most of all, I’m thankful for my horse who gave me
his best last weekend. I’m beyond blessed.

Photo by James Young.

Otterbein had three teams between alumni and current students. One of our teams got sixth out of the eighteen teams in the intercollegiate challenge! Everyone of my teammates rode incredibly well and I’m so excited to get back out with them soon. Can’t wait to come out blazing
next season after winter dressage bootcamp! What a weekend full of firsts it was!