The Art of Riding in the Rain

Photo courtesy of Holly Covey.

Perhaps you only ride when it’s nice. After all, a good portion of the eventing community does just that — going south in the winter to avoid poor riding weather at home further north.

But if you never ride when it is pelting rain, or taste snowflakes as they slap your face, you never get to feel the strength you really have inside you.

Adversity makes us what we are. It is all of who we are, really, as eventers.

That does not mean that we need to be iron warriors or some kind of crazed outdoor freaks, able to survive in all weather. Rather, eventing is a sport that requires a certain amount of preparation and ability to roll with the weather that an eventing competition day brings. Our sport is an outdoor one, and we have to be ready for that.

Those of us on the east coast have been very familiar with weather and how it can affect us. About 20 percent of the events in our region were cancelled last year, a ripple effect that even hit the income level of our national organization. Weather definitely changes things.

More than once in my life, I’ve hid in the corner of a stall, or in the front of my horse trailer, feeling miserable and small as rain poured down on the roof. You relish the last few moments of being dry before you step out in the downpour.

You know your horse doesn’t seem to care — after all, they are out in the pasture in all weather and often don’t seem to mind wet weather, grazing away in a downpour. They are built for earth’s variances, while us humans seem to be always finding roofs to hide under.

Riding in the rain means resolve, and preparation, and confidence in yourself that you can keep your balance and encourage your horse, no matter what the condition that comes your way. As a working student I clearly recall days when rain made the arena a lake, and yet nothing changed — riding went on.

Somehow when you are young and fearless, this seems fun. It’s before you’ve been hurt, or had a terrible accident, or had a horse die or get injured, and your life is changed forever, that you feel that way — bulletproof, waterproof, emotion-proof.

But it is those days of unknowing splendor in the wealth of confidence you rely upon when the adverse days arrive. Riding always has risk, riding in the rain even more. Those that are afraid, that decide not to run, that weigh those risks and wait for another day — that’s when risk figures larger than confidence. And that’s not a black mark — it’s the reality of an injury, a destroyed confidence, a block or limit to ability on the day.

The problem with confidence is you don’t know how much you have until you need it — so much like experience (re: the famous Jimmy Wofford quote). And sometimes, it’s not even confidence you need, but some sort of “what the hell” feeling that goes way back in your soul, to the reasons you were attracted to competition in the first place.

You try really hard not to let the dare devil part rise above the practical risk part, because you know in the end, emotion doesn’t have much of a part in success. Hard work trumps emotion almost all the time in this sport.

So what part of your gut do you listen to? The part that questions, “the ground is really sloppy, is he shod well enough, do I have the right studs, is he fit enough?” Or the part that answers, “we’ve come so far, we’ve ridden all winter in the cold, the rain, the mud, the slop, and the wind blowing down our neck. I’m not giving up now!”

There isn’t a way to make these decisions easily and I wish I could give you a roadmap for the process. You decide on your own what you feel, how you want things to go, and whether your horse is ready for this, and whether you are ready to ride him.

But you don’t know how good you are if you don’t test yourself at least a bit. It’s the quest in us — the thing that makes runners start marathons, climbers top mountains, the thing that started your life with horses — can I do this? Am I good enough? Will my desire translate into actual doing?

And so you try. You put on your jacket, pull on the gloves, and step out into the rain, and you and your horse are in it together.

It means everything. All of who you are.

Go eventing.