Three Take Aways From My Week at the Maryland 5*
Updated: Nov 5, 2021
I met Hawley Bennett about 6 years ago during our USEA ICP Testing in Temecula CA. I'd watched her for years on the infamous Gin & Juice, so when she was my testing partner - with her lessons right before mine, I was pretty excited to see her teach! I was hoping for good information to learn from; but what I didn't expect was to gain a coach that has always been there for me, helped me solve training challenges and basically cheered me on through thick and thin. Since that time, Hawley has come to my farm many times a year to teach, helped me in Ocala in the winters and become a friend. So when she invited me join her crew at the inaugural Maryland 5* Event this October I jumped at the chance! I'd been to Land Rover Kentucky 5* as a spectator, but never been a groom for a rider at an event at the very top of our sport. I expected to learn a lot, and I did, but what I found was a good reminder that some of the most important parts of our sport we can all work on or enjoy in every day of our work and life with horses and their people.
On my drive home from Maryland I was struck by three things....
First, Hawley's love of her super little mare, Jollybo, is genuine and so clear.
She truly sees her as her partner and cares deeply for her, staying late on XC night making sure she was perfectly settled and cared for after her amazing round on Saturday even when all the other riders had long gone off to dinner. Here is this athlete that has gone to two Olympic Games and numerous other elite-level events on multiple horses she has developed, and she still sings the praises of her mare, still shows how much she loves her and enjoys her, and takes the time to ensure each bit of care is given herself. So for me - take away number one: Never stop loving your pony. Never stop loving what they do for us - whether it's to jump around a massive 5* xc course like Jollybo or take a student around their first Beginner Novice event like my old guy Danny has done for so many of my students. Never stop taking your very best care of them yourself.
Second, the village of people around us matters. Event riders in general are a pretty great group. You've all heard that we eventers help each other out more than other disciplines.
And, ya know? It's true. But it goes even deeper than that. It matters who you surround yourself with. Hawley's team at the event was small, but very close and supportive. Here at True North, the village we have grown matters deeply to me. I saw in the teamwork, camaraderie, and fun we had that it matters even, and maybe even more so, while competing at the top of the sport as it does in building a professional, supportive and safe training space at home. I want to enjoy this sport, these horses, and the people we are surrounded by. It's just more fun and it leads to excellence when you feel connected and are working together, not against, the folks in your tribe.
Third, excellence is in the details.
Little things and basics matter. I saw this in the care we gave Jollybo. I saw this in the steps of Hawley's warm-up or schooling sessions. And I saw this while walking the xc course with Clayton Fredericks and his student breaking each question down into solveable questions that made it "jumpable". I saw how our training on straightness and the technical training over small jumps at home would lead to being able to answer how to jump the open corner at the Maryland 5*....line it up here, hold your rhythm, have a quick hind leg, and look up! I could almost (but not quite - haha!) see myself jumping that massive open oxer because it was just a question of basics put to use.
These three take always gave me renewed faith we are doing it right here at True North. I have a deep love of the sport, my horses and the people in my village. We've built a great village here and in our connections through the eventing community. We focus on caring horsemanship and creating happy horses. And we work correctly and consistently on the basics of good riding and training. Do we sound like your people? I welcome you to join us if we do!