Fence Height Doesn’t Matter: Why I Needed to Crash and Burn to Find my Own Happiness

Posted by Huntley Penniman on

This blog article is written by Huntley Brand Ambassador and rockstar, Jenna Rieder

Coming off of a successful first show season with my new horse Stearman, I was barely out of the saddle before I began planning for the next year. Stearman and I had shown in the Intermediate Adults and Low Thoroughbred Hunters during the 2015 show year and it was the first year ever I had chased points. We were showing two-to-three weekends a month; my first real dabbling of a rated circuit. To my surprise, we worked our way up in the standings. My perfect partner had garnered me quite a few year end awards; even a champion in the Ohio Hunter Jumper Association. I was on cloud nine and it was decided Stearman and I would move up to the 3’ divisions the next year.

Jenna and the handsome Stearman
Jenna and the handsome Stearman

Fast forward a few months. Stearman began to experience some minor health issues. While I gave him time to rest and recoup, we lost time to prepare for the rapidly approaching start to our show circuit. Thankfully, good friends of mine had a horse who was up for lease and graciously let me use him in lessons and we were great together. Ripley babysat me around 3’0 courses with ease. We traveled to World Equestrian Center where I did my first 3’0 division. Ripley was perfect, and my confidence was through the roof. A few weeks later we did our second show and again, Ripley was a wonderful partner. Sadly, he went away the following week on a full lease. I knew the time would come, but it was still disheartening.

Instead of taking a step back to focus on Stearman’s recovery, I trudged forward, determined I would continue to show 3’0. I told myself over and over that to go back to 2’6 would mean I had failed. That I wasn’t a real competitor. That everyone would think I was a bad rider. These thoughts consumed me and I insisted that I would keep chasing points. These ill thoughts plagued my head, and began my summer of horse show fails.

You may think catch riding horses the first year you move up in fence height is crazy, and you are right. At my next show, another trainer was gracious enough to let me use a school horse of theirs. We didn’t hit it off, and I was quickly on my way to the hospital with a dislocated vertebrae. A different person would’ve taken time off. A different person would have taken time to rest and enjoy their horse. I forced myself back in the saddle two weeks later to catch ride a new horse. He was very good to me. The next few horses I rode were. I made it around my courses, but I was terrified. I was miserable, and I was not improving at all. I would check circuit standings, and see that I was still in the ribbons, but the happiness I felt with Stearman was not there. I was empty, discouraged and almost didn’t care about my placing towards the end of the season. That was when I realized I had it all wrong.

Jenna aboard Dillon, who is rocking a Huntley Bridle! 

The sport that had brought me so much happiness for 20 years suddenly became my greatest form of frustration and misery. Something had to give. I took Stearman to a new barn and found my incredible new trainer. She helped me bring Stearman back and slowly the fun returned to riding. We eased Stearman back into shape. My good boy did not miss a beat. He was happy in his new home and ever so graciously forgave me for my lack of devotion to him over the last year.

While discussing plans with my trainer for this season, she recommended I go back to the 2’6. I said I was worried what people would think. Then she said something that changed my life; Nobody cares how high you jump. No one judges you by the divisions you ride in. It took hearing it out loud for me to realize how backwards I had been thinking. The truth is, nobody does care. People only care that you have fun and do right by your horse.

As crazy as last season turned out, I am so grateful to the various horses I rode. I learned something from all of them. I am grateful to the trainers who let me ride their horses. And I am eternally grateful to my trainer for making me realize it’s not about how high you jump. My first show back with Stearman is this weekend and we can’t wait to see you on the circuit!

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