Me with Euro’s Amazing Grace and coach Jenna Rogerson (Skyland Stables) - photo by Tara West

Me with Euro’s Amazing Grace and coach Jenna Rogerson (Skyland Stables) – photo by Tara West

Dave Hanley is a 32 yr-old jumper rider who discovered the sport as an adult and in 5 years, has become a true horse junkie. I hope you will find his first blog post on HJU as entertaining as I did! Thanks Dave!

I Was One of those Guys Who Said “How Hard Can Riding Be?” Now, I’m Obsessed.

What a difference a year makes. At this time last year, I was learning how to post on the proper diagonal.  Five years from now, I will be competing in Grand Prix jumper classes.

To help explain this better, let me first provide some background.

My name is Dave Hanley. I just turned 32 years old and only touched a horse for the first time when I was 29.  I started taking ‘occasional’ lessons in January of 2012 and at the same time, started to fill more of my spare time with riding.  I quickly realized how people can become obsessed with this sport.

I went to my first show last summer, attracting some inquisitive onlookers as an adult male riding in a cross rails division at a skills development show; a minority not only in age, but also in gender.  I’m proud to say, however, that I did take home a few ribbons (I won’t mention that the only two in the class were myself and another girl from our barn who was also starting out!).  There were a few ‘not so proud’ moments as well; most notably when I nearly panicked in the in-gate after finding out that hunters involved three DIFFERENT courses, and I had just expended all of my mental energy memorizing the first one.

While most guys my age are unwrapping a new putter or a table saw on Christmas morning, this past year I got everything a horse-obsessed young girl could want for the upcoming show season; a new Baker sheet, my very own grooming kit, a show halter and some open-front boots.

Newly-inspired (potentially by all of my Christmas gifts!), I sat down with my coach in January and had a bit of a heart-to-heart.  Knowing that I am super-competitive and also quite impatient, she asked me where we are going with my riding, and I told her my goal.  I want to be walking the courses in the Grand Prix ring alongside great riders in their shiny white breeches as soon as humanly possible. I told her I want to try and reach the pinnacle of this sport.

Riding has me hooked. It’s the most difficult, most humbling thing I’ve ever spent time doing.  Yes, I was one of those guys who said, “How hard can riding be? The horse does all the work…” Not so much. Another ‘issue’ I have is that I never really like doing anything ‘half-way’.  I  have the old “go big or go home” syndrome.

For a lot of people, it’s really hard to honestly and publicly state their goals.  People sneer.  They laugh.  They doubt.  They “try to protect you from getting hurt”. When I was younger, I might have hesitated.  At my age, I am at the point where I don’t really care what other people think.  I know what I want, and I’m prepared to go for it.

What made this easier for me is that I have a great coach who not only pushes her riders to be their best, she also tells it as it is.  If you argue, she’ll just let you find out for yourself.  When I thought I was ready for a jumper class last summer after a few hunter shows, I told Coach I wanted to move up.  She said I wasn’t ready.  I didn’t have “the fundamentals” down yet.  I argued.

Long story short, she let me ride in a jumper class and I soon found out without her having to tell me herself that I wasn’t ready.  She didn’t even have to say “I told you so” – she simply told me what we were going to be working on next week to get me ready for my next hunter show.

Getting back to our January conversation; after hearing about my 5-year goal, Coach bit her lip, looked at the barn ceiling for a moment and then said “OK…we need a horse, we need to start a new program.  Are you ready to get serious?”

I was. This is exactly what I wanted to hear.

In late January, my leased mare arrived at the farm.  Last year, she had great success on the Trillium Circuit and we were ecstatic to secure her as my mount this year from her breeder on the east coast.  It didn’t take long for Coach to know she was perfect for me when we tried her.  Not only is she very flashy and straightforward, she is also very forgiving of my ‘amateur ways’.  This horse is amazing (Both figuratively and literally…her name is “Euro’s Amazing Grace”, aka “Gracie”).

Last weekend we rode in our first hunter show and I got a 1st place ribbon on my first trip (This time there were 10 entries I am happy to say…and the jumps weren’t cross rails!).  Unbelievable…right?  Not so fast…just when I thought I might have started to figure this whole thing out, I came off in my third trip.  Ouch.  I got a little crooked on the last combination and we dodged the second fence unexpectedly (well…unexpectedly to me at least…maybe not to Gracie!).  Another great example of the highs and lows this sport throws at us.  It truly is a pursuit that will never be perfected.

Perhaps that’s what keeps us coming back for more.

My program now has me riding about 6 days a week (at least on the weeks I’m not traveling on business).  I take between 2 and 4 lessons a week and I’m already seeing steady improvements in my riding.

This season will be my first real step towards reaching my (admittedly somewhat audacious) 5-year goal. Gracie and I will be competing in the Ontario ‘A’ Circuit hunters this summer.  I know she’s going to teach me a lot and it’s going to be a lot of fun.  Most importantly, I’m sure it’s going to lead to many entertaining stories for the HJU faithfuls!

Stay tuned…