Where Have All The Cheerleaders Gone?

Galloping my little chestnut mare over the river and through the woods at Flat Creek Ranch in Hogansville, GA, I jumped through a line of fences in the woods.  I knew Mum was nestled in the trees nearby, judging my efforts over the fences.  The moment Breezy’s hoof hit the ground at the end of that line, a distinctive cry echoed through the hills at Flat Creek, “WOO-HOO!!!  You GO little girl!”  At that, I smiled, kicked on, and couldn’t wait to meet Mum at the finish for a big hug and a “happy dance.”

No matter if she was jump-judging or chasing me around cross-country on foot, my mother is always the loudest voice on course, and she cheered for me at every fence, whether I could hear her from that distance or not.  Her excitement is incredibly contagious, as friends standing with her cheer just as loud, which made cross-country that much more fun.  Other groups of friends and family tried to out-cheer Mum and Friends, but to no avail…her voice could carry across the Pacific.  
I don’t compete much anymore because, well, I’m too poor.  So I spend a lot of time on cross-country courses on foot, trying to catch a photo at every fence and improve upon my photography skills.  I love to “wander” on cross-country and chat with jump judges, spectators, officials and other photographers while watching old and new favorite horses gallop by.  You can feel the adrenaline radiating from competitors, and the horses….they are so good to us.  How can you not erupt in applause and excitement, urging the horse and rider to keep it up, work together, make it to the finish line and have fun while you do it?
I spent most of my Saturday last weekend on the Chattahoochee Hills cross-country course.  It was my first time at this gorgeous facility, and I was eager to see the new jumps and watch horses run across country.  The Chatt Hills course is spread out, but the right vantage point (hint: next to the big water near the finish) will award spectators a view of nearly every fence from start to finish.  But the atmosphere that day was eerie–it was quiet.  Where are all the cheerleaders?

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After a couple hours on course I scooted back to the barn to pick up my friend who was finished competing for the day and brought her back out to cross-country to watch the advanced division (another hint: Chatt Hills is huge, and the new permanent stabling is a good ways away from the cross-country.  I recommend renting a golf cart if you’re in a hurry).  On our way, we discussed her round, particularly the big water, which is where I had been standing when she went by.  She had ridden very well through the water and her horse was still full of running.  As she leaped out of the sky blue pond, myself and a group of friends sitting on a fence on the other side erupted in shouts and applause, crying her name as she galloped for the last few fences before home.  “When I heard you cheering, it really made a difference for me out there,” she said.  It gave her a boost of confidence and determination knowing people were pulling for her.  Discussing this further as we began our wandering, we stopped to listen….we heard nothing but hoofbeats.
(right) Jodie Stowell and Comet II hands-down had the biggest cheering section of the weekend, which included me; they were my favorite combo of the weekend.  Jodie and Comet jumped double clear on Sunday and finished 6th in Preliminary Rider.  Leslie Threlkeld photo used with permission.
Chattahoochee Hills is in a great location and easy to get to.  Lots of people from the Atlanta area and many recognizable faces from Newnan, GA, where I grew up riding, came out to watch the show.  Of course, most of them crowded around the water jump.  Now and again, a random group of folks would cheer for their friends as they rode by, but for the most part, it was very quiet.  It was eerie.  It was uncomfortable.  And I didn’t like it.  Out in the middle of the cross-country course, I started hooting for everybody, whether I knew who they were or not.     –You’re out here running across country!  You and your horse are working together!  Keep it up!  Good for you!  “WOOO-HOOO!”–  We eventually made our way back to the water jump, where we cheered and clapped…alone.  We felt as awkward as the mother of the wailing baby in church.  But you can see the riders swell up and kick on when someone shouts their name or gives them a cheer.  Some riders are so focused they don’t hear the cheers, but others thrive on it.  Support from the ground while you gallop towards solid fences is encouraging; it reminds you to breathe and have fun.  I’m sure most of us know the feeling.  
Maybe it was this particular show.  Maybe this doesn’t happen around the country.  Applause from the crowd certainly isn’t an issue at Rolex.  But I was definitely annoyed by the silence on Saturday.  So if you’re heading to a competition this weekend as a competitor, a spectator, a groom, or a nervous mother, I urge you to cheer, clap, woo-hoo, and way-to-go.  Cheer for good rides, cheer for good horses, cheer for good tries.

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