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February 25, 2014

The Type Of Suitcase Doesn’t Matter As Long As My Boots Fit

Jen Shepherd's trip to the Spanish Riding School is "officially official." Photo credit: Jagg Photography

I find myself surrounded by colorful hand written checklists of the post-it-note variety. A new checklist seems to self-generate as my trip preparations multiply themselves. Clearly, what I need right now is a designated starting point, so I’ve decided to ‘start’ with the purchase of a new suitcase with ample wheel rotation for those planes, trains and subways. 

I am told that the subway should be my first choice of transportation while in Vienna. There is that or alternatively lots of walking. Comfy, flexible shoes might be my next purchase. I am now replaying in my mind the ‘what was I thinking’ when I decided to take my boots along while shopping for my suitcase. Admittedly a pair of boots standing upright in the passenger seat of a shopping cart is just asking for curious stares by other shoppers. Hey, you know the person who wears those boots is really, really tall. Their reactions were along the same lines of when I wore my riding pants downtown and entered our local coffee shop for a hot chocolate with whip cream and sprinkles. At least I took my helmet off before ordering.

There are lots of reasons to smile this week. I completed my Spanish Riding School (SRS) application. I opted for the three-day Theoretical Course (in English): The training of the horse from Training Level to Grand Prix at the Training Center (TC) Heldenberg. This course is taught by chief rider & director of TC Heldenberg, Andreas Hausberger, and includes two days at the TC Heldenberg and one day at the SRS. In addition to theoretical riding sessions, as noted on the SRS website, expertise on the proper seat, correct aids, history of the SRS, lunge work, training levels of a stallion, etc., are imparted to the participants.

My itinerary includes an early arrival for an opportunity to explore the surrounding historic district, indulge at the local restaurants and attend some of the additional performances and guided tours offered by the SRS. I also tagged on additional days for group or individual lessons taught by SRS riders at the TC Heldenberg on a borrowed/leased horse. I’ll keep everyone updated on that hopeful possibility.

Cue 'Ode to Joy' for the wonderful world of technology coming to my rescue. The recent East Coast snowstorm kept me off the roads for a few days, so I scanned my application form and sent it via email to Andreas Hausberger. A few days later, I finally made it to our local post office. It was quite surreal staring down at an envelope addressed to the SRS while I purchased one of those super cool global forever stamps. It’s now officially official.    

Now, to address the popular question of why I define my horse—and really myself—as unconventional, I would start with an explanation of how I perceive my journey as a longtime adult amateur rider. First and foremost, I seek experiences. I am not looking for perfection from my horse or myself. My horse is not breed specific for dressage, and I have average conformation as a rider. I work hard every single day at filling what I call my fulfillment jars and while I don’t expect to fill them with unrealistic goals, I also don’t subscribe to a pre-wired mind frame approach. It’s similar to someone saying I won’t be successful in triathlons because my arms are too short for swimming or my road bike is not equipped with carbon fiber wheels for ultimate performance. I am a true believer of possibility.

When I am riding my horse and we experience something new or different, I press the pause button and contribute to my jar. Today it was that extra eager walk-canter transition that felt similar to someone taking a spontaneous jump as high as they can on a trampoline and reaching new heights. Or that flying change that feels like a building crescendo up a steep rock wall with a celebratory skip and high five at the peak. But also, those times that I brush my horse for hours; or end up wearing 99.8% of the shampoo suds while giving her a bath. It’s all of that and much, much more.

I am thankful for every single experience whether it takes place under the comfort of the covered arena, on a muddy trail in the woods or sitting on her bareback while she grazes. It’s everything she teaches me. I am tremendously fortunate to have this horse.  I wouldn’t have this journey otherwise. And unlike my boots in my new suitcase with wheels, I can’t pack up this journey and take it with me.

Jennifer W. Shepherd grew up in Ontario, Canada and has spent most of her adult life in Hillsborough, N.C. after graduating from North Carolina State University with a degree in Biological Sciences. She works in the field of clinical research, which supports her seemingly endless riding activities, triathlon races, family and fish. Jen is an adult amateur dressage student and passionate advocate for classical dressage. She currently rides and proudly owns an unconventional dressage horse who has taught her essentially everything there is to know about life.