One of my favorite things about eventing is how the upper-level riders are so accessible. I don’t think there is any other riding discipline where you can literally just send a text to someone like Boyd Martin and schedule a cross country lesson for next week. And just from that simple text, you can trailer to their farms, ride in the rings and over the jumps that you’ve only seen in pictures, and even have a casual conversation with them. To anyone who doesn’t know eventing or horses in general, these four-star eventers are pretty much celebrities.
So, I thought that it was pretty cool when I texted Sara Gumbiner and set up a lesson for the following week. I had heard great things about her. Last spring, I watched her complete her first 4* event in style at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event (formerly known as Rolex).
I was inspired by her story and wanted to meet her. Her barn is adjacent to Boyd Martin’s farm, Windurra, so she teaches lessons out of his farm. Obviously, like any enthusiastic eventer, I chose to take a cross country lesson, as opposed to a show jumping lesson, and to be completely honest, I was nervous. I hadn’t gone cross country schooling in months, and now I had a lesson with a four-star rider!
When we got to Windurra, there seemed to be a countless number of trailers, horses and riders traveling in and out of the farm. Even Boyd himself drove his trailer past us and gave a friendly wave to my mom. I strapped on Murphy’s cross country boots and zipped up my vest, and I was ready to go (although still a little nervous…) I warmed up Murphy for a few minutes around the water complex, and then headed over to trot and canter around the galloping track. It’s hard to even explain what it feels like to ride on that track. It is so light and fluffy; it feels like you are riding on a cloud!
Sara showed up right on time (always a plus,) and I explained to her what level Murphy and I were at and what my goals were.
From the start she was very friendly and interested in learning about me. We walked over to a portion of the field with some little logs and warmed up over those. Murphy was being quite spooky due to some trees being torn down across the street and was running and going sideways at fences. Sara worked through this with us and emphasized that we don’t need to go fast to get over the little jumps; we can take our time and trot if needed. She also suggested keeping my reins wide, so I could keep his neck straight. Also, she recommended that instead of tapping him on the shoulder with the crop, I should really be reaching behind to tap him. Sara explained that when you hit them on the shoulder it actually draws their attention more to the rider on their back, whereas cropping them behind tells them to go forward, since that is their engine. No one has ever explained that to me before, so I found that to be a helpful tidbit of information.
Further into the lesson, Murphy finally got into his rhythm. He went over some of the most skinny jumps he’s ever jumped, and he was really locking onto everything and enjoying himself. The coolest part about Windurra is that they have a lot of upper-level questions there, but they are only Beginner Novice to Novice height, so it’s great to school a young or green horse over some more difficult questions without over-facing them.
Towards the very end of the lesson, I had some trouble finding the right line to a jump out of the water, and Murphy was running out. Then we noticed that Boyd was slowly getting closer to where we were, waiting with his horse to school the water, so of course Sara let him to go through while we stepped aside and waited. It was so cool seeing how he schools his horses. He doesn’t even sit in the saddle going to jumps. After Boyd went through flawlessly, with no issues over the skinny arrowheads into the water, Murphy and I went back in and worked through our issue at the Beginner Novice fence… but, we did get through it and he jumped out nicely after I found the right path.
It was a very positive lesson for Murphy and I, and I am so glad that I decided to take a lesson with Sara. She really helped me to not get frustrated when Murphy got frazzled, and that sometimes I will have to go against what my instincts are when he starts running to fences. I will definitely be going back again!
Below are some clips from my lesson!