Monday, August 18, 2008

Oxers, and combos, and water, OH MY!

This weekend I finally caught a show jumping segment of the 2008 Summer Olympic Equestrian Games, and felt myself suddenly inspired to learn to jump. Watching those scopey horses bravely charging over everything in their path created a significant interest in learning just how they do it. This is a brand new discipline for this dyed-in-the-wool Paint horse princess, but here on the East coast, and especially in the NYC metro area, good Western barns are in short supply. I think, anyway, that it's time to switch things up and reenter the equestrian training scene from a different angle. There is so much to be learned from every discipline, and new training can only diversify my riding resume.

What better way, I argue, to "jump" onto the scene after my recent burst of televised inspiration than at a high-class equestrian facility owned by two former Olympians? Such a venue exists just north of me in Van Cortlandt Park, a place called Riverdale, run by Ashley Nicoll-Holzer and her husband Rusty Holzer. Both Ashley and Rusty are active competitors at the highest levels of the world dressage scene and have ridden for the US Olympic team.

I still have to investigate whether jumping lessons are even available at the facility, as I seem to be getting conflicting reports on the matter. The website shows that jumping training happens at Riverdale, but the office manager with whom I inquired today very strictly informed me that this was a DRESSAGE ONLY barn. Of course, being from the cowgirl set and hearing horror stories about the draconian attitudes of dressage riders, this conversation immediately worried me that Riverdale might exhibit some of the stereotypical snootiness associated with dressage folks. I am still going up with an open mind, and hope that "their" way of doing things will only improve my way.

Unfortunately, my choice of barn certainly has to do with my car-free lifestyle as a Manhattan dweller. I am faced here with commuting issues that do not plague a "regular" horse person. Finding a barn one can go to by train or by bus from the isle of Manhattan is no small feat, but there are a few available locally that I might investigate. Besides Riverdale, I'm also considering Kensington Stables, which rides their horses in true NYC style by utilizing a riding arena apparently located within Brooklyn's Prospect Park. It is a testament to the creative ways that New Yorkers learn to use their limited space when a riding stable works out of a local park.

If anyone has any suggestions for ways to ease my transition into the English equestrian scene I'd be happy to hear. I'm proficient on the flat in an English saddle, and used to do hunter under saddle work with my young Paint gelding after he decided to grow way too big to be comfortable practicing the proper little steps required of a Pleasure horse. Unfortunately this may be of little usefulness, as stock horses in English tack are often barely recognizable as being part of the same discipline as circuit hunters and equitation horses. Before, therefore, I begin jumping, I'm sure I'll have lessons on the flat to ensure that I've got the independent English seat required to make it over those pretty fences in one piece and land on the same side that my horse does. All important considerations.

And yes mom, I will wear my helmet. That's one thing I've always done, regardless of how much leather separates me from my horse. Cowboy hats, after all, aren't the best protection when a fussy baby decides he no longer wants you aboard...

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