When I was 16, I haughtily declared to my mother, “I will never do the jumpers. It’s too crazy.”

My comfort zone at the time was crawling around the ring on my saint of a children’s hunter, Marley, who shared my passion for going slow and steady.

Marley and I also shared many wonderful, leisurely trips around the show ring together until it was time for him to step down to a lower height. Enter Waffle, who was purchased to be my eventual Amateur Owner hunter and derby horse. Over two and a half years, Waffle steadily took me from the Intermediate Adult hunters to the 3’3” Amateur-Owners, until this July, when I walked into the ring for my lesson and my trainer said, “Want to try the jumpers?”

Oh, the horror I felt looking at the course and realizing there were more than eight jumps!

I thought about it for a few seconds, laughed, and squeaked out a shaky, “Okay!”

Waffle and I were set to make our jumper debut at the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival (GLEF) in norther Michigan. Though I was quite glad that our ring was relatively secluded from the others (and therefore drew minimal spectators), it took a lot of willpower to refrain from asking the starter to tell everyone to either turn around or close his or her eyes when Waffle and I trotted in.

Oh, the horror I felt looking at the course and realizing there were more than eight jumps! Those oxers—why are they square? Where are the jump fillers? And there’s a jump-off if I somehow manage to go clear?

It was almost too much for my brain to handle.

Much to my chagrin, no one averted their eyes when we entered the ring. They buzzed me in, I picked up what felt like a gallop (but was truly no more than an extended canter), and off we went. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you much about that first round, because I think I blacked out from too much nervous adrenaline. I do know that we happened to leave out strides in two different places on course, which was definitely not intentional.

But Waffle took to it like a fish to water. He felt happier and jumped better than he ever had in the time I have owned him—despite his pilot having little to no clue where she was steering him next.

“I am never doing this again. Call the braider! Pull out the fake tail!”

The next two weeks at GLEF were full of their ups and downs. After chocolate-chipping the final vertical and taking down the rail with my foot one day, I walked out of the ring and said, “I am never doing this again. Call the braider! Pull out the fake tail!” Everyone, including my trainer, laughed. But, I finished on a high note, taking home a sixth place in the Low-Adult Classic.

I also realized that there are some decent perks of the jumper ring: Dy’on bridles, prize money, and a decreased sense of pressure to lay down that perfectly beautiful trip. The best part, though? Knowing that Waffle is happy and enjoying his job.

Photo credit: Diana Hadsall; Photos Courtesy of Kate Kosnoff.