I took my twins to a 3 day horse trial last weekend outside of Knoxville in the Smoky Mountains. They both compete in the sport of "eventing", which is a 2 or 3 day horse trial encompassing the elements of dressage, stadium jumping and cross-country jumping. All 3 phases of riding are scored, and the order of finishing places is determined by the lowest penalty scores after all 3 phases of riding are completed. Usually, 2 of the 3 phases of the riding are accomplished in the first day of the horse trial, with the other element finished the final day of the horse trial. The kids may walk the jumping courses with their trainer prior to that phase of the competition, but the horse is not allowed to school either the stadium jumping course or the cross-country course prior to the actual riding of the courses. Dressage is a practiced, coordinated and very controlled test of horse and rider communication, where form and style over the various gaits are judged in a small arena. Stadium jumping is a timed ride over a variety of jumps in an arena, and cross-country jumping is a timed ride over jumps in open fields over several miles of a cross-country course.
The kids on our "recognized" eventing team are trained by Angela Ariatti in Goshen, KY, and range in ages from 12 to 17. They travel the country competing in horse trials that are recognized by the USEA (United States Eventing Association), and accumulate points over the course of a calendar year, culminating in their qualification (or not) for the AEC's (the American Eventing Championships) year-end competition. This is a competition entered by riders, both amateur and professional, from all over the country, and it serves as a chance for our young riders to associate with and observe high level competitors, many of whom are top-ranked riders in eventing, and even international or Olympic level, competitors.
Angela took 4 of our team members (including my Lexie and Kaitlyn) to River Glen last weekend, a beautiful equestrian park in Tennessee along the banks of the French Broad River. I was so proud of all of the girls, and it was a very mixed weekend of results. We had a rider fall during stadium jumping, which is an automatic elimination from the competition. We had a 6th place finish in the Open Novice division (Lexie), and 2 fourth place finishes, Kaitlyn in Open Beginner Novice, and another in the Open Training division.
All of the kids amaze me over the course of these competitions, because in order to be successful, they learn that all 3 phases of the competition are important, and they all 3 matter. They learn that they must remain focused and competitively optimistic as all 3 phases of the riding progress, and that it is a cumulative score they are seeking. They learn to emphasize their own strengths as well as the strengths of their mounts in order to optimize scores in each of the riding phases, and they learn to persevere on to the next phase of the competition even when one element may not go as well as they'd hoped. They learn to persevere. Can you think of a more valuable lesson in life?
The team member who fell off her horse at stadium stayed to cheer on and support her fellow team-mates even after her own elimination from the competition. Kaitlyn persevered in order to move up consistently through all 3 phases of the competition, from 12th after dressage, to 7th after stadium, to an ultimate 4th after cross-country, behind riders who were all her senior in age grouping and experience.
As the weekend progressed, and as an adult, I thought about how the kids handle the challenge of a 3 day competition, how they handle the nerves and the stess in order to do their best in all 3 phases of the riding. I watch them learn how to watch the mistakes others make and to learn from them, how to plan with Angela their best course of action, and I watch them swallow the hard lumps as they make their own mistakes and learn to go on to the best of their abilities. In the end, Angela only expects them to do the best that they are capable of, and they know this, but it is truly amazing to observe this learning process, for it is a journey they each make.
Achieving goals in life is all about having the courage to dream of the goal, consistently working hard toward that goal, and persevering to never lose sight of the goal...individuals who can do this oftentimes exceed the expectations or achievements of others. And they amaze and inspire us all.