Thursday, May. 23, 2024

I’ll Learn An Automatic Release When George Morris Learns HTML

Fellow Young Professionals, next time someone from the “good old days” of horsemanship asks you for help backing up their iPad or resetting their router, think twice…

The baby boomers have mastered the Internet, and they’re using it against us. They don’t like what we teach (or don’t teach) our students, they don’t like what we wear and they really don’t like our release. They don’t think we’re Horsemen.

And maybe they’re right. I’ve stood in the shadows of enough great Horsemen to know that I may never be one. But that doesn’t keep me from trying.

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Fellow Young Professionals, next time someone from the “good old days” of horsemanship asks you for help backing up their iPad or resetting their router, think twice…

The baby boomers have mastered the Internet, and they’re using it against us. They don’t like what we teach (or don’t teach) our students, they don’t like what we wear and they really don’t like our release. They don’t think we’re Horsemen.

And maybe they’re right. I’ve stood in the shadows of enough great Horsemen to know that I may never be one. But that doesn’t keep me from trying.

I’ve had some amazing learning opportunities this year, including filling in as a show groom for Eight Oaks, my dad and stepmom’s training business. I was standing at the in-gate when my dad, the oldest rider in the field, tied to win the second round of the USHJA Pre-Green Incentive Championship.

He galloped where I would have just cantered, he let go where I would have picked and his horse jumped brilliantly in response. As he walked out of the ring he gave his mount, Carlotta, a pat and said matter-of-factly, “I think that’s about as good as she can go,” just as scores of 87, 89 and 90 appeared on the scoreboard behind them.

It was a moment I won’t soon forget and proof that my dad is still one of the best in the business at riding a young horse. Later that day, I listened more intently than usual as he barked instructions at me and I watched more closely as he schooled his 4-year-old phenom, Floyd (previously Animal)!!

A few weeks later, while still filling in on team Eight Oaks, I forgot to leave my charges’ tail wraps out for the braider the night before they were to show. My stomach sank when I arrived at 5:00 the next morning and realized my blunder.

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I texted Tom the braider, who had finished the horses’ manes hours before, but had to leave the tails undone. He didn’t respond, but showed up, ladder in hand, 15 minutes later. “I would be finished right now if it weren’t for you,” he snapped. I apologized sincerely and concisely, no excuses, and then went to work cleaning stalls.

“How’s your granddaddy?” Tom shot over the stall partition after a few minutes of tense silence. I filled him in on the goings on of my mother’s side of the family, and then Tom regaled me with stories from his time working for my aunt, Val Haynes.

My mother’s side of the family is filled with horsemen—from left to right, my aunt Val Haynes, my grandmother Alethia Haynes, my mom Parker Haynes Minchin and my uncle Bruce Haynes, who went on to be a steeplechase trainer. My grandfather, David Haynes is standing adjusting the bridle.

Tom had been just a kid when they met and had gotten his start like most horseman of his generation; he walked or biked to a local barn and worked, just so he could learn about horses and perhaps have the opportunity to ride every once in a while.

Val was a superstar. In the hunter ring epitomized the phrase “picked up a gallop and never touched the reins.” Tom and Val traveled to some of the biggest horse shows in the country, sometimes stopping on their way out of town at one of my grandparents’ car washes to bathe the horses.

They were often looked upon by the competition as bumpkins from Tennessee, until Val beat them on one of her unassuming, but squeaky clean, Quarter Horses or Thoroughbreds. She remains a legend among her contemporaries, a star that shone brighter than the rest and then burned out to soon; Val died in 1985.

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My lucky mistake opened my eyes to the fact that there are Horsemen all around; even standing on a step stool, silently twisting manes in the middle of the night.

So in response to some of the criticism of my generation, doled out on Facebook pages featuring old photos of Bill Steinkraus, George Morris and the like, I confess: I don’t teach my students an automatic release, mainly because I’m still working on mastering it myself. I wear a washable riding jacket—all that laying on my horses neck would lead to exorbitant dry cleaning bills if I didn’t. I like bling. A lot.

But my horses always come first. Elizabeth and I work hard in the barn and in the saddle and so do our students. We clean our own stalls, we groom, and we drive the truck and trailer. We aren’t lazy and we aren’t alone—when I look around at the horse shows, most of the young professionals are a lot like us.

Maybe we’re not Horsemen, but we’d like to be. We’re listening when Horsemen speak, we’re watching Horsemen ride and it would be among our greatest accomplishments to mold even one of our students into what the old-timers consider to be a Horsemen.

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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