An Open Letter to A New Ex-Hunter

Follow one rider's harrowing journey from the comfort of the hunter ring to the thrill of the jumpers.


Hunter to Jumper


Dear Ex-Hunter,

Congratulations! You’re switching to jumpers. Maybe you want a new challenge. Maybe you’ve always dreamed of figure-eights and fleece-lined boots. Maybe your new trainer said you could do it. And you can!

Wait a minute, you’re thinking. Isn’t this the one where children with tiny crops fly around and get dumped in front of rainbow-colored jumps? Yes it is, but that won’t be you! You’re not a child! To start, let’s search YouTube for jumper classes from your venue. This girl is only twelve. Let’s watch. She trots in. She lets her frothy, white-eyed Satan-horse peek at an oxer. She starts cantering. She jumps five thousand jumps. Is that a gallop? Didn’t she already jump that one? Okay. Close your computer. Here’s a Tums. Don’t do that again.

This is when you’ll regret your decision. You’ll discover what you’ve always thought was a number five canter is actually a lope. You’ll miss all the good times you had in the corners of the ring. You’ll go off course in a lesson because there are too many jumps, for God’s sake. But you’ll slowly abandon your hunter perch, and your trainer will talk you down. She’ll let you pretend it’s an equitation round. She’ll remind you that you don’t have to wear a jacket! She’ll insist you stop watching terrifying Internet videos. And suddenly, you’ll be packing for a show.

On schooling day, the jumps will look aggressive—like they’re alive and hungry and can smell your fear. But you’ll also feel just a tiny bit sexy strutting into the jumper ring until you dodge a fat pinto who is trying to kill you and you freak out. You’ll envision going off course. You’ll pine for a flat class. You’ll Google the nearest margarita.

The big moment is here! You’re on and schooled. “When do I do the jump-off?” you’ll ask as you enter the in-gate. Maybe you should have hashed this out earlier. “…Uh, immediately,” your trainer will say, giggling. She forgot this was your first time. The buzzer will sound. Your heart will stop.

Well, that was terrifying. But somewhere between jumps 6 and 7, after you finally took your first breath, you fit in a delicious rollback and felt exactly like Beezie Madden, if Beezie jumped 3’ and held to every distance. You felt effective. Sharp. Challenged. And it felt fast, right? Until you watch the video afterwards. You may actually be moving backward. I know, it’s tough to remember, but speed is a factor when the quickest time wins.

Jumper rider at a horse show
No coat, no fuzzy pad, no problem.

You’re cooling out beside the hunter rings with your square white pad (monogrammed in white, aren’t you cool?). You stayed on course. You increased your pace by 2%. You got a ribbon! Fine, it’s not about the ribbons (but you got one!) The hunter rings are still going. They will be going for hours. They might still be going at Christmas. It looks slow and beige, and you pity their sweaty show coats. Tomorrow you’ll go faster. Let’s watch that video again.

Uh-oh. Welcome to the dark side.

Hugs and kisses,

Your Future

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