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September 17, 2013

Amy Barrington Makes The Impossible Possible

Amy Barrington's often seen with a smile, whether she's teaching or leading a victory gallop, like she did here with Gallerone at the 2011 American Eventing Championships. Photo by Hoofclix.com Photography.

We write a lot of fun stories here at the Chronicle—stories about people winning three-day events, hunter derbies and Grand Prix classes—but they're not all fun. Any time we post a news story about someone who’s been seriously injured while riding, it hits all of us Chronicle staffers, and I'm sure our readers too, in the heart. We posted a news item about Amy Barrington sustaining a traumatic brain injury on Sept. 5, and that one hit really hard.

A little more than a year ago, in the truck on my way to my first jump lesson with Amy, my friend Kaitlyn Jansen, who’s ridden with Amy for nine years, talked me through what I could expect. The lesson would probably start out with some sort of gymnastic exercise, Kaitlyn said, then we’d move on to course work. “Something on the course is going to look like it’s impossible,” she added. “But it won’t be.”

At the time, my mare and I were going beginner novice with mixed results. We were both timid, and, in that first lesson with Amy, almost everything felt impossible—not because she was asking too much, but because we were just, well, pretty bad. Our improvement from the start of the lesson to the end was vast though, and I was hooked on her style of teaching. We couldn’t get to Amy’s too often, her farm in Tryon, N.C., being about a three-hour drive from our farm in Knoxville, Tenn., but we started making the trek as frequently as we could. The fences got higher, and the combinations more complicated, but it didn’t matter. Amy had prepared us. 

In Amy’s ring, the distances started coming up perfectly (and trust me, I’m not a person that’s usually true for) because she helped me establish the right canter before we even headed towards the first jump. If something went wrong, she’d quietly re-set the fence and then help me figure out how to fix it. Under Amy’s guidance, my once-timid mare turned keen, bold even. Because I trust Amy's ability as a trainer, I've learned to take a deep breath before we start our course for the day, and then I can pick up my canter, knowing it'll work out. We moved up to novice successfully last fall, and we’re doing our first training level event this weekend. It's a very small miracle, but it's my own Amy-related one. 

But, teaching skills aside, just being around Amy is impressive. She’s a genuinely nice person—always ready and willing to help, usually sporting a smile. One morning I rolled up to her barn, and it was pouring—deluging, really. Amy wasn’t whining about the rain; she wasn’t waiting for it to slow down; she was standing out in the field with a hay cart, obviously getting soaked under her rain gear, feeding the horses. But Amy’s not the kind of person whose whole life revolves around horses, either; she only schedules lessons until a certain time in the early evening because she wants to spend time with her son, Ben.    

But I think what’s really extraordinary about my experience with Amy is how it's not unusual at all. Since her accident Sept. 4, I’ve seen people post so many wonderful experiences about Amy as a trainer, Amy as a rider, Amy as a friend, Amy as a mother. I’ve choked up at many of the updates, especially ones posted by her husband, Greg Schlappi. One comment on the fundraising site, “Never would have gone prelim without you…can’t wait to get help with the intermediate,” really got to me. To me, that's Amy—making the impossible, or at least the unlikely, possible for those she teaches. 

How many people has Amy helped over the course of her career so far, and how much? It’s staggering to think about the impact one person can have on such a large number of people. I’m one. I know there are hundreds, possibly thousands, more. And though there isn’t anything good about Amy’s accident, it’s been heartening to watch the community rally around her. Friends and supporters have already raised more than $30,000 towards her medical expenses, and I know a loyal group of students and friends are keeping her farm running right now.

I think Amy’s accident has affected so many people for another reason too, though, and that’s because it really could have happened to any of us. She was schooling a horse she knew in her ring at home. She wasn’t out on an advanced cross-country course; she wasn’t jumping without a helmet; she wasn’t taking some insane risk. We all define our own ways of being safe, we set our own limits, and we hope they’ll protect us. Sometimes they don’t, for no reason, and that’s a hard reality. Another hard reality right now is the rough road Amy is facing to come back. But, as many people have said, she’s tough enough to do it. And I know there will be a long, long line of people ready to tackle her courses, as impossible as they might seem at first, when she’s ready. 

Want To Help Amy? 

—Make a donation towards her medical expenses. The donations are tax-deductible.

—Attend the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club benefit reception and fundraiser Sept. 21, at 6 p.m., on the equestrian side of FENCE in Tryon, N.C. Visit the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club website for more information and directions. You can also purchase a “Ride For Amy” bracelet for $5 through the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club, The Farm House Tack Shop in Landrum, S.C., The Hay Rack in Landrum, Little Mountain Farm Supply in Tryon, and The Tack Shop in Greenville, S.C. You can buy “Amy’s Tribe” t-shirts online. 

—Audit the USEA Area IX Eventing Symposium, scheduled for Sept. 21-22 in Sandy, Utah. Clinician Tamra Smith is donating all the proceeds from the symposium, including the $25 audit fees, to the Amy Barrington Recovery Fund. There will also be a silent auction for Amy the evening of Sept. 21. 

—Attend the Area VI Amy Barrington Fudndraiser Eventing Clinic, Oct. 11-13 at Galway Downs in Temecula, Calif. There's also a facebook group for the event. 

 
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