The Road to AEC is a series of articles contributed by our members about their journeys to compete in the USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC) presented by Nutrena at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Tryon, N.C., August 30-September 3, 2017.
Going to the American Eventing Championships (AEC) is not only a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but also a dream finally coming true. I think my story is one that a lot of people can relate to, which is another reason why this is so special. Like any young horse-crazy girl, I began riding at an early age where I competed on the local hunter/jumper circuit. My sister rode as well, and my parents, completely new to the horse world and its expenditures, did the best they could to make sure we could afford lessons, pony camps, shows, and the occasional clinic. However, horse ownership was never in the cards for us. We were involved in a lot of other extracurricular activities and owning a horse just wasn’t an option, leaving us to ride lesson ponies. Eventually the time came when my parents said they couldn’t support our horse hobby anymore and if we wanted to continue riding we would have to pay for it ourselves. My sister, who was quite the accomplished athlete, gave up riding to pursue other sports. I took a small break but quickly got the itch again and began working off lessons and riding for friends whenever I could.
Fast forward to my college years and it was much of the same. I couldn’t afford to own a horse and go to school out of state, so I continued to ride ‘free horses’ and barter for lessons. With each new horse I encountered I thought of them as my own but it never felt quite right. A few years after graduating college, and I was fortunate enough to meet a successful off-the-track Thoroughbred trainer who took me in as her right hand and introduced me to the sport of eventing. I was lucky to be able to spend so much time with her and learn the ropes of retraining former racehorses. In addition to giving me lessons on her schoolmaster, she also let me help exercise ride some of the sales horses. Of course once again, I fell in love with all of them—imagining each of them as my own and crunching numbers at night to see if I could swing horse ownership. But as a new college grad with a minimum-wage job, I just couldn’t make it work. As fortunate as I felt to be able to learn so much and ride so many wonderful horses, there was still that “something missing,” perhaps a tiny hole in my heart, that yearned for a horse of my own.
Tara and Shotgun the first day of the lease. Photo courtesy of Tara Shegogue.
After I got married and moved out of state, I was able to get a “big girl job” and start saving some money. I began taking lessons in dressage and eventing and became quickly addicted to the sport. I knew I was ready for more than just lesson horses, so in 2012 I began to lease a very special Belgian/Paint (we think) named Shotgun. He wasn’t ridden very often and his owner was extremely busy and only made it out to ride occasionally on weekends. To say I have never felt a bond with a horse like I did with Shotgun would be an understatement. From the first moment I saw him my heart wanted to burst! Coming from the hunter/jumper world, with experience only riding in a ring, I was also very timid and nervous about cross-country. However, Shotgun got me through my first event at Elementary (with a first place!) and many more after that, including our big “move up” to Beginner Novice. Not having a ton of eventing experience himself, our journey wasn't always the prettiest, but we were learning together and having fun!
At the end of 2015 Shotgun came in from the field severely lame and was diagnosed with a deep digital flexor tendon tear in his right front leg which required a minimum of three months stall rest. My heart sank and I was devastated. I felt like we had just begun and I was getting the hang of things when he got hurt. I knew in my heart that Shotgun was my forever horse and I couldn’t let him go, no matter what. After convincing my saintly non-horse husband, he agreed to let me approach the current owner and ask to purchase Shotgun. I have never been as nervous as I was sitting directly across from him at his dining room table. My heart was on my sleeve and tears were in my eyes while I made my case as to why he should sell me the horse.
Tara and Shotgun's first recognized event together at Seneca Valley Pony Club Horse Trials in 2016. Alessia Modjarrad Photo.
After what felt like forever, he finally agreed to sell me Shotgun! I couldn’t believe it! Yes, he was older. Yes, he cribs. Yes, he was currently lame and on stall rest with an unknown future, but I didn’t care. He was mine! I finally had a horse of my very own!!
Rehabbing Shotgun was no small feat. I am so very thankful to all of the many people who helped both of us get back into shape last year and into eventing again. Once we began competing again I set my sights on the AEC. After working hard, we qualified early this spring at Morven Park and I was ecstatic. Going to the AEC is such an incredible opportunity and I was so thrilled to be able to qualify on my very own horse! A horse that has given me confidence like no other. A horse that tries his heart out for me even if I mess up or he doesn’t understand. A horse that has been 25+ years in the making.
When I look back and think how far we’ve come in just five short years together, it’s a joyous feeling that I can’t fully put into words, probably because I am still in disbelief. No matter how we place this year, I feel so blessed to even get the opportunity to be a part of such an incredible sport like eventing and attend the AEC.
Having this historic competition close isn't the right result for the sport, and the United States Eventing Association (USEA) is working hard to find a solution. The organizer and landowners operate exceptional events on a beautiful piece of land. We are deeply sensitive to the history of the word "plantation" and its connection to slavery; however, this property has no known connections to slavery and was instead named after 'plantings' on the property.
After a quiet spring season due to COVID-19, the fall season is ramping up and this weekend we have the first of two West Coast CCI4*-S events taking place at Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles, California.
Dawn Robbins is a current USEA Board of Governors member, Area VI adult rider, and a contributor to the development of the Event Management System (EMS). Note that this article was written more than a year ago and serves as a guide for future USEA software development.
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