BY GRACE SALMON
From the time we are young riders, we are taught that in order for us to be successful you need to be jumping the biggest jumps. If you’re not doing the Junior Hunters or the Big Eq by the age of 12, you are a failure. For most, if you ask riders what they show in and they say the children’s hunters, it is usually followed by “but I’m moving up soon,” — as if the first answer wasn’t good enough. I was once asked on social media if I was embarrassed that I was sixteen years old and still showing in the children’s hunters. Whether it is brought on by trainers or peers, the pressure to be jumping in the A rated divisions before you turn 18 is always constant. Are you considered a failure if you age out and never stepped foot in the Big Eq ring? What happens if you don’t move up to the 3’6” by the time you receive your official amateur status?
I am nineteen years old, and am slowly wrapping up my first year as an amateur. I never did show in the 3’6” junior hunters or the Big Eq. Instead, I chose to step down from the 3’3” junior hunters in order to enjoy my last year as a junior rider with my horse of a lifetime, Tyler, who simply could not jump the bigger jumps.
Last summer, I was wrapping up my show career with Tyler, fifteen, after having him for five years. I was a little burnt out after my last junior year, if I’m being completely honest. I was also beginning a new chapter by buying a just turned four-year-old hunter prospect. I wasn’t quite sure what the future of my showing career was, but I knew it would be a step “down” from what I had been doing.
Winter of 2016 came and went with the usual baby horse antics. My prospect, Nemo, grew, both mentally and physically. I dealt with anxiety both in and out of the barn, so I wasn’t able to have much saddle time before we headed down to California for Nemo’s very first show – which was also my first show as an amateur.
I showed Nemo for the first time at HITS Coachella, ending up champion in the Long Stirrup 18″. And… I had a blast. Junior Grace would have been embarrassed to admit that, but amateur Grace is proud.
I also made a very adult decision — switching barns. This was something that was extremely difficult for me, but I knew I must in order to find my passion for the sport again, which dwindled throughout the end of end of my last junior year.
So what happens when you take a step back from being competitive and enjoy the long stirrup for a little while? I’ll tell you how it went down for me. I had fun. I was excited to show again. I stopped stressing. I enjoyed my time in the show ring and I remained present, focusing on each and every round. I got braver and took more risks. I didn’t put pressure on myself. I didn’t watch points (even though I really, really wanted to).
We spent the rest of the show season moving up from the 18” and finishing up in the 2’6 pre adults. I came out of the ring each time with a smile on my face, no matter if we nailed our round or if Nemo decided to but his baby horse pants on and buck in every corner. Either way, I was proud of myself and proud of my horse.
Throughout my first year as an amateur, I learned that you do not owe anyone anything. If you are not happy, find out what will bring you happiness, and chase it. Don’t let it get away. If showing in the 3’6” Junior Hunters is your dream, then go for it. If you want to jump 2’6” until the end of time, then you do you and enjoy it. Do not depend on others to tell you how you need to spend you junior riding career.