BY LAUREN MAULDIN
Hunters and eventers haven’t always been able to maintain a mutual respect for one another. After all, the disciplines are at the opposite ends of the spectrum in many ways. Still, we’re all equestrians who want the best for our horses and spend more time and money than we can afford in the pursuit of a dream. I know there’s some common ground here.
A while ago, Jess, Podcast Director and lifelong event rider, wrote about what eventers could learn from the hunters. It had some great points, but the education isn’t one sided. Even though cross country makes me want to break out in hives, I can’t deny that I, weenie adult amateur hunter rider, have a lot I can learn from eventers.
Over, Under or Through
Nothing says tenacity like cross country. Have you seen some of those epic saves? Do you realize how giant those fences are? Let’s be real—I never, ever want to jump the majority of obstacles that make event riders’ hearts go pitter-patter, but I can’t deny that I could use an ounce of their bravery. Instead of staring at the single oxer of doom, event riders kick and carry on. They make the impossible happen. They walk up to a challenge and think, How will I approach this? instead of Oh god oh god oh god oh god. I could use a lot more of that in my riding.
Nobody works on horse and rider fitness like event riders. They have to if they’re going to gallop across sprawling cross country courses and not collapse in a heap in the middle. Although I love a fat hunter, I can’t deny that some of the horses in our ring are bordering obese. And there have been many times that, as a rider, I’ve been bordering obese myself. Fitness is important for both riders and horses. I need endurance and cardio so I’m not huffing and puffing, ready to die in the middle of a long flat class. I need core strength to stay balanced in the saddle over an impressive jump. And my horse needs to be fit in order to stay sound and perform his job without stressing his body. Eventers keep detailed, extremely thorough conditioning regimens in their program. I could learn something from them.
When is the last time you’ve taken a lesson from someone that isn’t a hunter/jumper trainer? If you’re like me, it’s been a while. Eventing requires such a variety of skills that riders often have to look outside the box when it comes to training. They’re constantly sharpening up dressage, and switching their focus often to meet the requirements of their discipline. I don’t know about you, but I could certainly use some more dressage elements when it comes to getting my horse properly straight and connected into the bridle. Of course, a good hunter/jumper trainer will focus on these elements as well, but we could still benefit from borrowing from other disciplines on a more regular basis.
Like many adult amateurs, keeping my leg on and going forward can be a lot harder than it should be. If I don’t see a distance, my instinct is to half halt and slow down. If I am intimidated by a jump on course, my instinct is to half halt and slow down. If the sky is blue and the sun is shining, my instinct is to half halt and slow down. I know it’s the wrong answer, but I’m constantly fighting the urge. Eventers seem to figure this out faster than many of their hunter/jumper peers. Maybe it’s the fact that the jumps don’t come down, or if they tranter through an entire cross country course they’ll keep getting passed by riders behind them. Maybe I’d be more forward if the ring steward started putting faster people in while I’m still adding down the lines?
Getting Out of the Ring
By its very nature, eventing forces riders to school on various terrain and topography, but it would be just as good for us hunter folk. Horses benefit from training on a variety of surfaces, and a good grass ring can be ideal footing for strengthening soft tissue. Plus, we all know that hills are the magic cure for getting those impressive butt muscles on our horses! As hunters we get used to our safe rings with our white poles, but doing like the eventers do and getting out has heaps of benefits.
The important thing to remember is that every discipline has something it can teach us. Being an equestrian is a lifelong pursuit of education. Even if you don’t want to throw on a skull cap and head off to the field, there’s a lot we can learn from our peers within the horse sport.