Ah-ha! Moment of the Week from Attwood: ‘First Time, Every Time’

You know those moments when it feels like a lightbulb gets switched on in your brain? In a new weekly series presented by Attwood Equestrian Surfaces, eventers share their ah-ha! moments. Today, we introduce the first in a three-part series by adult amateur eventer Judy Rossi about what she calls “epiphany lessons” she has experienced while training. 

Photos by Flatlands Photography, Hoofpix and Brant Gamma Photography.

Not unlike those of you reading this, I’m an adult amateur event rider. I’ve been riding for a long time. Like you, I love this sport and I love my horse. I take my riding very seriously (requiring regular self-reminders that I really do this for fun). Like most, I spend a lot of time, effort and resources (OK, every free moment and every last dime) on trying to get it “right.”

I am lucky enough to live on the east coast of the U.S., which gives me incredible access to some of the best trainers and coaches in all three phases of eventing, and I am grateful to all of them. I’ve been reflecting on some of my training moments, and wanted to share what I call my “Epiphany Lessons.” These are the lessons that were great, not necessarily because of the ride at that moment, but because that lesson awakened something in me that brought me closer to becoming a “thinking rider.”

Judy and Sateen. Photo by J. Stanley Edwards.

Epiphany Lesson #1: First Time, Every Time

My second horse was a talented, but challenging, unpredictable mare that pushed every one of my frustration buttons. At one of my regular lessons with Erin Renfroe, Erin wanted to get on my mare to warm her up. She suggested that I warm up on her Advanced level school master, Andy (De Cordova).

While she rode my mare, Erin had me walk, trot, canter and jump some easy warm up fences. I felt honored to ride this phenomenal horse, and was extremely focused on what I was doing, how Andy felt, and NOT getting in his way. Erin asked me how I liked my ride and what I thought. I told her I loved riding Andy, but was nervous riding him in front of her. I also told her that I thought Andy and I got along well and was surprised at how similar he felt to my mare.

Thankfully, Erin said I did a good job and agreed that Andy was not much different from my mare. She then asked, “Why do you think that ride felt so good?”

Uh, oh! I don’t know about you, but I hate these kinds of questions. I know there’s a right answer, but I felt lost in complete ignorance.

I think I mumbled something about how focused I needed to be because I’d never sat on Andy, that I didn’t know what to expect, and I was nervous because I knew the owner was watching, and so I just rode what I felt.

That was the moment.

“Exactly!” Erin said. “Because you don’t know this horse, you had no expectation. You had to just feel him out. You give him an aid, wait for his response and adjust your riding based on his response. With our own horses, we know them too well, and we tend to ride them with an expectation, both the good and the bad.”

She handed my mare back and said, “Get on, and pretend this is the first time you’ve ever sat on her. Ride what you feel and visualize the owner watching. Try to do that every time you ride.”

First Time, Every Time – I’m working on it! Thanks Erin!

Judy is an adult amateur event rider living in Harvard, Massachusetts. She started riding as a young girl, and began eventing as an adult over 20 years ago. Judy has owned and brought along three horses — Bosco who learned the sport along with her and will always be “the horse of a lifetime;” Sateen, who told her that dressage and trail riding were a better career; and now Dice, who is doing his level best to be the best horse ever. When not riding, Judy is a marketing and communications professional and the founder of Open Fields Communications.