Monday, May. 27, 2024

Ring 3 Is The Place To Be

There is a microcosm located on horse show grounds across the country that goes by many different titles; in our area its usually Ring 3, but maybe where you are its the annex ring, or the academy ring. It hosts the beginner divisions, like walk trot, cross-rails, etc.

It is usually in a different zip code from the Main Hunter Ring and The Pony Ring. It is so unknown to many trainers that it may as well be Area 51—but not to me, I’m a Ring 3 specialist.

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There is a microcosm located on horse show grounds across the country that goes by many different titles; in our area its usually Ring 3, but maybe where you are its the annex ring, or the academy ring. It hosts the beginner divisions, like walk trot, cross-rails, etc.

It is usually in a different zip code from the Main Hunter Ring and The Pony Ring. It is so unknown to many trainers that it may as well be Area 51—but not to me, I’m a Ring 3 specialist.

The perks of residing at Ring 3 are abundant. At the top of the list is the tailgating. Seriously. When one particularly ambitious horse show mother made her debut I had to ask that her tent, worthy of a medium sized wedding, be relocated to a spot where it wouldn’t spook the ponies or be confused for the horse show exhibitor’s party. I regretted that decision when I missed the appetizers because I couldn’t leave my spot on the rail.


Nobody tailgates like Ring 3 parents tailgate.

Don’t get me wrong; we’re not sitting around sipping mimosas at Ring 3. The atmosphere is awesome—but for the trainers, the job is no less demanding or stressful than at any other ring. In fact, in some ways, it’s even more of a challenge.

Don’t believe me? Try teaching a cross-rail course to three 8-year-olds. All the jumps can technically be jumped in either direction—remember, no oxers. The riders are still a little unclear on the difference between a single and an outside line, especially now that their horse show nerves are in full effect. One pony does the horse strides, one pony does the double adds and one kid is on a horse that does the pony strides. Oh yeah, strides count. And so do lead changes. May the odds be ever in your favor.

The first time I went to a horse show with Elizabeth, we had six riders in the cross-rails division. None of them had ever shown over fences before. There were four trips—a warm-up, equitation and two hunters. As luck would have, we had a conflict and Elizabeth had to go to another ring when it was our turn in Ring 3. I was as terrified as the minions were.

I watched 24 consecutive cross-rail trips, and then explained to the minions why its important to establish more pace to the first jump, ride deep in the turns and not worry about where the photographer is–even though you desperately want a picture of yourself in your new bows.

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I think we won three ribbons that day. I wiped a lot of tears; some of them were mine. But we use a different currency in our microcosm; the life lessons learned at Ring 3 are just as valuable as the ribbons won or not won.

Many of the minions have graduated on to more advanced divisions, so we’re no longer the Mayors of Ring 3—more like part-time residents. Still, our business is predominately based upon teaching kids of every level. The demands and frustrations are just as real for us as they are for any other type of horse trainer, without the possibility of long ribbons at indoor horse shows or big paydays. I ask myself often if I made the right decision when I left my more stable, lucrative career.

But every time I feel ready to throw in the towel, I receive a windfall. Like, the mother who was so appreciative of our help finding a new horse for her daughter that she thought we deserved more than our standard commission. So, she spent a Saturday helping me paint my kitchen cabinets while her daughter entertained Holston. 

Then there are the Christmas cards and birthday notes, scrawled with messages like “You are encouraging, and when I want to give up, you won’t let me.” And the eighth grade speech that included our barn among the three places that had most influenced the young speaker’s life.

If I had to write to the same speech today, I think I’d have to include Ring 3.

Jennifer Barker St. John grew up as the daughter of two hunter/jumper trainers and rode as a junior and on the Clemson University (S.C.) NCAA team, winning the individual championship in 1998. During her career outside the horse world, she showed her Rhinestone Cowboy to multiple amateur-owner hunter championships. You can read her hilarious introductory blog, “Living The Glamorous Life” to get to know her. 

Now, St. John runs Congaree Show Stables in Eastover, S.C., alongside her friend Elizabeth Grove. They concentrate on students (or as, they call them, “minions”) from 7 to 17 years old who do well on the South Carolina Hunter Jumper Association circuit. “Among our greatest accomplishments: teaching them to wrap correctly and properly muck a stall,” St. John, who serves as the president of the SCHJA, said. She balances training and riding with raising her “sweet, polite, usually well dressed but always sort of dirty” toddler daughter Holston. Read all of Jennifer’s blogs

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