Jumperland: 5 Life Lessons Learned on The Dark Side
Honestly, I don't even remember what first possessed me to try the jumpers, but I'm so glad I did.
Sometimes referred to as The Dark Side, the jumpers are like the cool, leather-jacket-clad older sibling of the hunter/jumper world. If the hunters are the cocky country club Chads, and the equitation is the fabulously mean Regina George, I would say the jumpers are like the enticing bad boy James Deans (or Damon Salvatore for the younger crowd) of the equestrian realm. Scary but exciting, reckless but oh-so-technical.
As a junior, I most definitely did not fall into the James Dean archetype. I rode in tucked in polo shirts, side zip Tailoreds, and my hair always tucked into my Charles Owen. I was the ultimate hunter/equitation princess and I lived for it. I drilled myself without stirrups for the medal classes and a classic black shadbelly was the prized possession in my riding wardrobe. Though I admired the top show jumpers, I never really aspired to be one.
Then, somehow, I ended up with my number pinned to a white square pad the summer before I left for college. All it took was one round and I was hooked. I've been showing in jumpers since then, even selling my hunter and purchasing a horse who I endearingly refer to as "all jumper". Though becoming a resident of #jumperland has had countless effects on my riding, the lessons learned on the Dark Side go beyond the saddle...
Your competitors aren't your enemies.
It's no secret that the worlds of hunters and equitation can be incredibly cutthroat. Growing up in those rings, friendliness between competitors was very limited if it existed at all. Once I ventured over to the jumper ring, though, I found a whole new world. Jumper riders, in my experience, are more likely to be friendly, cheer each other on, share warm up jumps, and compliment your bonnets. Very rarely do I run into jumper competitors who aren't more than happy to crack a joke or tell you how a line rode. Being able to joke around with your competitors makes for a much more relaxed and positive experience, even when the pressure is on to be the fastest and cleanest.
Don't take everything to heart.
The judging of the hunters and equitation can lend to taking things so personally. In the jumpers, it's all there in black and red: the time on the screen and rails on the ground are your only judge. Jumpers understand that it's nothing personal, it's just who jumped the cleanest and fastest in that class on that day. In addition to making the jumpers a favorite of dads for this very reason, the objectivity of the discipline leads to less distress and fewer personal vendettas.
Go the extra mile, even when it's not required.
With the exception of special classes or venues, the jumpers are not required to wear true show clothes. For a lot of people, this translates to free rein to dress as wild or casually as they so choose. However, to me, it's still important to dress the part. You're still at a horse show. Even though it's not required, I still wear appropriate show clothes and keep my colors neutral and within reason. Dressing for success makes me feel more serious, more focused, and more confident.
Additionally, jumpers don't "require" beautiful riding. Especially at the lower heights, you'll see some borderline out of control horses and riders. There are the ones who are doing the jumpers just because "he's too crazy to be a hunter!", or the people who say "I'm not a pretty rider but I'm effective!". However, once the jumps get to a certain height (above the height where your horse can get away with a bunny hop at a dead run), that kind of riding isn't going to cut it. Even while you're not being judged on your position, correct equitation exists for a reason: because it is effective, it is efficient, and it is safe. Have you ever heard of McLain Ward? I'll leave it at that.
Always have a plan. Then, always have a plan B.
I learned to have a strategy early on in the equitation, but adding speed to that kind of technicality requires a whole new level of planning. Course walking takes practice but once you have it figured out, it's an incredible tool. I always perform best when I have a chance to walk the course and devise a very specific plan.
We all know, though, that things very rarely go exactly how you expect. Jumpers have to know how to think on the fly and implement plan B at a moment's notice. Turn doesn't come up like you expected? You better think quick. Had one down early on? You better have a plan B to pick up the pace if you want to be the fastest four-faulter.
Find joy in the process.
The win average in show jumping is quite low, especially in big classes. If you base all of your happiness in the sport on results, you're bound to be disappointed. Finding joy in the process itself is crucial. Love the hard work. Love the improvement. Love learning. Love finding out what works and what doesn't. Love the time spent in the ring with your horse doing what you live for.