By Jackson LaTorre
It’s 5:59 and I stare at the clock, hold my breath, and wait. Just five more seconds. Wait for it. Wait…5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Bzzzzzz…I slam my right hand down on the buzzer, use the other to throw off the covers, grab my Bible and journal, and begin. Rain or shine, sleep or not, ready or not,I start furiously journaling my activities in my planner – riding, exercise, school, baking. Altogether, these pieces are vital to my success in, and outside of, that horse ring. The three hours in the morning committed to the barn, countless hours of school in the day, two hours at night for exercise, Wednesday night youth group at my church, and hours of studying, makes for a long night; but people do the impossible for things they’re passionate about.
Horseback riding in every discipline is difficult. I began my riding career seven years ago at the ripe old age of nine. I started out in a hunter/jumper barn, learning my basics on a variety of lesson horses. I spent a year there until I changed barns, and I met my first horse, Big Heart, a spunky, 14-hand Paint. I leased him for a year before convincing my parents, with a PowerPoint presentation and research of the horse market, that we should buy him. Big Heart was the horse who really taught me the basics of dressage. I spent the next two years riding him five days a week, and showing every few months, thankful for my homeschooler schedule!
I showed Big Heart through First Level, but his arthritis made it difficult to progress further. From there, the hunt for my new horse was on. Over the next several months of horse hunting, we narrowed our search down to over a dozen horses in Wellington, Florida. After a weekend of trying horses, we found my newest partner in crime, Benson. I knew he was the perfect match for me, and I still cannot believe that I get to ride him daily. I’ve shown Benson countless times over the past year. Due to his tendency towards stifle issues, I have learned how to properly condition and train a horse with a physical limitation. Benson has also helped me earn my USDF Bronze Medal, and we were champion, at both Second and Third Level, at the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Region 9 Championships. Fortunately, my parents have been very supportive of my equestrian pursuits, and are allowing me to spend this winter participating in Lendon Gray’s Winter Intensive Training program. I am very thankful for this opportunity, and I am hoping that I can master Prix St. Georges and qualify for the 2018 North American Junior and Young Rider Championships.
I have been able to successfully show Benson through Fourth Level, in one year of owning him. I enjoy the competitive opportunities provided through dressage because it pushes me out of my comfort zone. Dressage is one of the more difficult disciplines to master for a teenager, due to its high expectation of emotional self-control, and we aren’t well known for that! However, teens do have the uncanny confidence and boldness to take on the revved up power a dressage horse can offer. My favorite part of riding is participating in clinics, where I can learn to ride more effectively and quietly. I have had the pleasure and opportunity to ride with Volker Brommann, Jeremy Steinberg, and Charlotte Bredahl-Baker this year. I watch videos of my clinics every morning before I ride, so that I can apply what I learned in them to my lessons and personal rides. At my last clinic with Charlotte, I received the wonderful offer to come to her home this fall and ride her Grand Prix horses, so that I may understand the more complex frame of an upper level horse.
Even though I was in excellent shape, a forty-minute ride with Jeremy Steinberg, doing no-stirrup work, taught me that to be a truly superb rider I needed to push myself to do more. This became obvious when by the twenty-minute mark in my lesson, I was out of breath. Minute thirty was an embarrassment, and let’s not discuss minute forty. For the sake of my horse and future career in dressage, I decided to make a much needed change in my daily regimen, and took on the study of fitness, from the perspective of what can aid me as a rider. I began to do jump rope sets and long-distance running to improve my cardiovascular system. I exercise specific muscle groups that will benefit me as a rider. Aside from strength training and cardio, I have also picked up the practice of yoga to gain flexibility, balance, and to calm my body so that I can exert calmness onto my horse as I ride. I am a big believer that if you are going to ask your horse to physically push itself to the limit, you must also push yourself to your physical limit.
Despite the immense pressure that can be found in dressage, I do my best to remain lighthearted and playful with Benson. He trusts me to do what is best for him, and he isn’t happy if I am strong or demanding when I ride, so it’s my responsibility to be as light and playful as possible for him. When I’m playful, we get that beautiful feeling of harmony between a horse and rider, which is the feeling every rider strives for. The sport of dressage is my absolute passion because of the partnership and humility it provides.