Eyes Up, Heels Down!

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By Christine Malpartida

When the USDF introduced the USDF Regional Adult Amateur Equitation Program, I got really excited! I informed my trainer and friends at my barn, making sure everyone knew we needed to participate in this fun new program. When I was a kid, equitation within any discipline (English, western, horsemanship, dressage) brought excitement and trepidation. I was always in awe and admiration of that one kid who took home all the blue ribbons. When I was lucky enough to be the day’s winner, boy was I proud! To say the introduction of the equitation program was nostalgic for me is an understatement, and it brought back wonderful memories of the happiest childhood I could have ever imagined.

Now, as an adult amateur, I was so pumped to read more about the new equitation program and how I would be judged and assessed. Being under the scrutiny of judges’ eyes makes me think a little more about the little (but very important!) details that help me be a more effective rider. We all know the proverbial “eyes up, heels down”, but let’s be real, there are so many other things we must consider. After all, convincing 1,300 pounds of horseflesh to accomplish what is expected during a dressage test and excel in everyday work is not an easy thing to do. I don’t know about you, but the very thought makes me think I need to enroll in yoga classes or, at minimum, take some Advil to help convince my body to be more efficient!

In addition to my excitement about the new equitation program, I know it plays such an important part in my life with horses. The program has inspired me to work harder on myself and to continue to improve on my seat and position (and sooo many other things!). Incremental improvements can translate into competitions and within the rider’s collective marks. My rider’s score is so important to me, and I’m always asking, “How can I improve as a rider? How can I help my horse be the best he can be?”

Finally, one of the coolest things about the program is that it takes the horse out of the equation and levels the playing field. Today, there are so many nicely trained and beautiful moving horses at our competitions, it’s easy to feel intimidated. I love that this program gives the adult amateur the opportunity to put that aside for a moment and simply focus on YOU!

I also thought of the equitation program like a mini clinic, where I can receive advice to apply to my lessons at home. It’s just one more opportunity to gauge how I’m doing and get feedback on areas that need more help. If you’re anything like me, I incorporate one or two things at a time so I can really focus on improving that deficit. This allows me to change how my body communicates with my horses and so I can concentrate on committing it to habit. I’ve let the equitation classes be another tool to help improve my riding.

As a final thought, I found the judges to be very supportive and my equitation classes to be fun, yet challenging. Now, you might have already guessed that I love competing! My horses and I work so hard, and there is nothing more rewarding than looking and feeling more harmonious than our last ride and being rewarded for it. This is the feeling that keeps me working towards attaining that next missing piece. However, if your competitive spirit isn’t quite as strong as mine, don’t worry! Go back to thinking of the equitation classes as an abbreviated version of a clinic. I don’t want to miss the opportunity to have the judge’s trained eye to help me as a rider and I’m hoping to inspire other adult amateurs to take advantage of this great new program!

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