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 Learning to Ride, a Student's Perspective 

Bethany Rock

As Lady and I passed through the finish flags at Fair Hill I could not help but cry.

We had just had our best cross-country run ever and were in second place, the best we'd ever come close to, but even Lady was sad. This was our last event under the guidance of our dear friend Katie. Earlier that February she reported to us that she had been transferred to North Carolina and she and her husband Ned were making the move in June. I tried to hide my tears as she came running up to us with a big smile on her face asking how our ride went. For that one spring season that Lady and I were lucky enough to be under Katie's wing, I had learned a lot. I had never even considered the possibility of eventing before I met Katie.

At the barn where I took lessons, Katie was the rider everyone envied. It was spectacular to watch her schooling her Preliminary horse, Frank, over three foot fences. We were all beginner hunter riders and this was a height that seemed to be limited to the professionals. I remember many occasions where I was the last student prepared for a lesson; I'd spent most of my time, much to my pony's dismay, trying to strain my neck to see this beautiful pair all of a sudden appear as they took a gigantic fence in the ring on top of the hill. Then I would pull my mighty little steed of the day out of the barn and start to trek up to the ring. By the time we arrived they would be done but all of us would stare in awe at the incredible exercises still standing. I remember thinking how if I ever got good enough to do those impossible things, I'd consider it an accomplishment.

When I began my riding career, which I consider to be entirely full of strokes of luck, I had no idea whatsoever where to start. I knew a grand total of zero horse individuals, but that did not slow me down. I went straight to the yellow pages! Actually it wasn't that easy. Riding takes money. I had no money. My parents had money…. After an incredibly long period that seemed like forever to me, I was able to squeak a yes out of them. To go back even further, my love for horses hit me young. I have no idea where it came from. When my grandfather died my Mom and Dad bought a mare and her foal to remember him by. To make a long story short, we ended up with four psychotic Arabians who have been dubbed 'the Rottens'. I am incredibly grateful to my old gray mare Cassiopeia, whom I call Dub, who put up with much misery dealing with a little girl like me. When I got the 'ok' from the 'money investors,' I shut my eyes and when I opened them my finger was pointing to a riding academy in Jefferson, Maryland, North Fork School of Equitation.

I began to learn the fundamentals of riding with Karen Fenwick. I soon fit into a group of girls who were a little older than me and a little more experienced than me but progressing at the same rate. We all became friends and it was pure luck I was able to find such a place to start. I was never able to ride as much as the others did because the drive took a lot of time but my new love could not be suppressed. Every day I would go home and try to work with my little mare on what I had learned that day. I look back and kick myself for being stupid enough to think she would be able to do it all. Though she had very little training, she was a kind soul and put up, to a certain degree, with me. She quickly developed ways of saying 'no way' to the things I tried to do that she didn't know and then got the great idea that this could apply to the things she did know too. So, to say the least, I often left the ride rather frustrated. Though she may have had a little attitude every now and then, I am very grateful to her because she gave me invaluable experience. (And she continues to do so as, at 21-years-old, the beast is teaching my little sister how to event).

Soon we got a truck and trailer and Cassi and I were able to take lessons together. All I will say is a green Arabian with a green rider trying to be a hunter, well, you can fill in the rest! Not a complete disaster but I also soon found out that showing hunters was not the path for me. I appreciate what hunter riders do because they put a lot of time and effort into it, but I was bored senseless. Not to mention my parents could not afford a $50,000 pony. I was at another crucial point in my career and, had I not met the right person, I would probably have become a recreational rider. Fate was with me, as at the barn Christmas party, hosted by Katie and Ned, Katie pulled me aside and asked me if I would like to be her groom for the upcoming event season. To this day I do not know what demon gave her this wild idea because I had absolutely no clue whatsoever and though I did try to keep my pony clean, it was no where near as spotless as an event horse has to be. I was shocked but said yes and the following year I was tagging along and found myself amazed by this new world of eventing. Katie did a lot of the work that I now realize was my job, but she taught me little by little and gave me invaluable experience to the sport.

During this time I joined a Pony Club. Lets just say I don't really fit the Pony Club idea. Katie began to give me lessons on Cassi. I was ready to start competing at unrecognized horse trials but I was continuing to outgrow my little pony. I was a 5'6" mesomorph on a delicate little 14.3hh Arabian. It was not going to work so I started the dreadful search for a horse. One day, after the dry search had been going on for a while, Katie invited me to watch her lunge one of the horses she was training. I was probably quite a sight with my jaw flapping open and drool running down my chin. This was my first up close and personal encounter with Lady; before, I had only drooled from afar. As I watched this beautiful bay mare go around on a circle responding to voice commands almost instantaneously, I was in love yet again.

Then came the day when Katie asked me if I would like to ride Lady. I will leave Lady's story for another time but to say the least, when I mounted I was calculating how long it would take me to hit the ground and how much pain it would involve being so high off the ground. Lady and I grew together under Katie's eye throughout the fall and winter of 1998. In the beginning of 1999, we started going to jumper schooling shows so Lady and I could get a taste of stadium courses.

I knew I had to try my best that spring season to thank Katie for all she had done for me. While I wouldn't say we did terribly in the spring 1999 season, it was pretty bad. We had a clean round in stadium for every event except for one rail due to my stupidity at our first event, Redland. We had an absolute blast cross-country, coming in clean every time. We had a few problems with dressage. To be modest, we both had an extreme dislike for dressage - enough hatred that my horse was set on sticking her tongue out throughout the entire test to show it. We didn't get very good scores. Nonetheless, as Katie had so imprinted on my brain, thank God, we looked at ribbons as being of little value. The real value of the competition lies in what you learned and how you improved, or if you didn't, how you can improve next time. It wasn't a competition against others necessarily but a means of competing against yourself.

We were not major competitor for ribbons but we did have a great time. I do think, though, that the red ribbon we received at Fair Hill had a lot of meaning in it. I usually don't cry but when I received my ribbon and went back to give Katie a hug, I did. I cannot express in words the amount of thanks I would like to give Katie and Ned for helping me so much. Not only did Katie steer my riding career in the right direction but she has been my mentor, my role model, and a great friend. I have learned a lot about life as well as riding from her and everyone is anxiously awaiting Katie and Ned's return in June 2001.

Read the Teacher's Perspective on Teaching Bethany