Pony Club member Alex Ambelang is back with more life lessons our members learn in Pony Club which help them in the real world. Alex is the head groom for Colleen Rutledge Eventing in Maryland. Follow along as she tells us how Pony Club has prepared her for this position as well as what she has learned since starting out. Alex is a regular guest blogger, so if you have questions feel free to send them to us for her at Mandy@ponyclub.org.

Big, Bad, Beautiful Burghley

2015 has been a big year for me in general but the biggest highlight has to be Burghley. How incredibly fortunate I was and am to get to travel internationally doing what I love. It does not come without its flubs, though.

Alex and CR in front of Burghley House

Alex and CR in front of Burghley House


We leave for Burghley the Monday before, using our hostess’ horse box to travel the two hours northeast to Stramford, England. This involved lots of roundabout navigating, my motion sickness’s least favorite. Fast forward to twenty miles outside of Stamford, when a big puff of black smoke exits our horse box (lovingly named Baby Moby Flo (long story)), followed by an almost complete loss of power. We limp to a pull off to assess the situation. Clearly, we are in need of a mechanic. Colleen drove behind us with our rental car (Peter) and zooms ahead to check us in at Burghley and check in at the rental house. Sarah (our hostess), myself, and CR are left to listen to audio books and eat chocolate on the side of the English motor way, A 43 to await a mechanic. Eventually he comes to rescue us but informs us an exhaust valve is stuck shut and we cannot continue. Two more hours on the side of the road and a new horse box and a tow truck arrive. CR and I continue our journey to Stamford while Sarah heads back to Banbury with Baby Moby Flo. We roll into Burghley about 6:30pm to settle CR in for the night, organize our grand pile of stuff, grab a quick bite and head to bed.

Tuesday morning is spent shuffling stalls and getting organized for the big weekend ahead. Colleen and CR have a quick flat session with David and I get myself settled into the caravan I will be staying in for the remainder of the weekend. Meanwhile, the rest of the competitors being to flood in. Fancy lorries are lining the stables and tack and horses are running in and out of the gates. Our stalls just so happen to sit across from the one and only Michael Jung. Sit back and watch the magic happen, right? I was taken aback by how normal it all was. Yes, there is the fancy equipment and stall coverings, but the rest of all quite normal. All three horses had quirks; Rocana pulled her blankets off her stall each night and tossed them across the aisle and Sam makes grumpy faces, but is a complete gentleman in all respects.

Wednesday comes with the buzz of riders meetings and first horse inspections. We flat school that morning and I prepare CR for his jog strip debut in the afternoon. All runs smoothly despite walking around in circles for nearly an hour waiting for our turn down the strip. Thursday is spent exercising CR, getting lost in the trade fair (putting Rolex to shame), and supporting our fellow Americans and Irishman. The trade fair is amazing. I am quite convinced you could buy anything and everything for house, home, human, horse, dog, and cat in once place. I have never seen anything like it in my life. I know for sure that I did not get to see all of it, but what I did see what incredible.

Beautiful Burghley XC- Courtesy of Alex Ambelang

Beautiful Burghley XC- Courtesy of Alex Ambelang


Friday brings with it the anticipation of dressage. CR is feeling much more himself after his chiropractic and massage sessions. We time everything just right for CR to walk to warmup and have just enough time for him to peak before he goes down centerline. After Aachen and the rocky lead-up to this moment, I am unsure of what to expect. I don’t believe I took very many breaths during their test. While the score was solid it was hard knowing that much more was and is in there. I walk CR back to the barns, bath him, clean tack, and feed for the evening. I manage to escape for an hour or so to walk the course. Who knows when, or if, I will return to Burghley. As expected, each fence is intricately designed with beautiful craftsmanship. I found myself taking long moments to take in not only the course but the surrounding scenery. It was one of those surreal moments of “how did I get here”? The course was big, REALLY big. I haven’t seen anything like it in my life. Saturday ticks nearer.
Colleen and CR. Courtesy of Alex Ambelang

Colleen and CR. Courtesy of Alex Ambelang


Lucky us, CR is close to the bottom of the order of go once again. The waiting for this cross country ride is excruciating. I set alarms for myself so I don’t jump the gun and get CR ready too early. I work the vet box with Kendyl (Lynn Symansky’s groom) and her horse Donner before I head back to put studs in and prepare for battle. The air is cool and the the weather is overcast, a perfect setting for cross country. The course has produced a fair bit of carnage. I hardly breathe as we walk to the start box. As is tradition, I send them off and watch the first fence before I sprint to the viewing tent. CR is struggling, a lot. His eyes are wide and he isn’t sure of himself. Colleen is able to eek over the first seven fences. I am not breathing at all by this point. After the first water, CR relaxes into a gallop and begins to hit his stride. The rest of the course made me more and more proud. Proud of Colleen for riding her butt off and getting it done. Proud of CR for trusting in Colleen and pushing through. Proud of both of them for coming home SO much stronger than when they left me eleven minutes earlier. CR crosses the finish flags with steam to spare and cools off well. I walk home with him tired but teaming with excitement.
Colleen and CR SJ. Courtesy of Alex Ambelang.

Colleen and CR SJ. Courtesy of Alex Ambelang.


Sunday. The day that tells the truth. Jogs are early, of course, and I spend another hour walking in circles waiting for our turn. It begins to rain as I slip CR’s rugs off. They are sent down the strip, CR catches himself after the turn. They are sent for re-presentation. I hold my breathe once again. Accepted; lungs flood with air. I lead CR down to show jump warm up and watch and listen while rails fall. I know that the changes we had made to CR’s show jumping were working, but this would tell us true. Colleen canter’s into the ring as the in-gate swings shut. I hold on to my own arms tightly waiting. I don’t remember a lot about the round itself. I do know rails were rattled, but it was the silence that was broken after their clear round that I remember the most. It was excitement, it was relief, it was pride. What more could we ask for after the ups and downs of the past month? Nothing more. Our Burghley was over, but it the sweetest way possible. As I walked back to the barns, happy, tired tears fell. I just couldn’t be more proud of those two than I was in those moments. Its a feeling I can hardly describe. It is a feeling I will hold on to forever.
Courtesy of Alex Ambelang.

Courtesy of Alex Ambelang.


Our horses stayed over night Sunday and were loaded back onto the lorry to head back to France early Monday morning. Colleen and I drove Peter back to Banbury, said our final goodbyes to our home away from home, and made our way to London for our flight back home. After a near mishap of me not getting on the flight, I swung in and out of sleep while watching bad movies over the Atlantic. A few hours of sleep stateside and we were back at it, heading for Plantation the next weekend.

The recollection of these events is not complete I am sure of it. I do hope it offers insight into the amazing parts of eventing and this journey. Burghley will forever hold a special place in my memory. We rolled on through the fall season: new experiences, new triumphs, new disappointments, all part of this wild ride.

Alex Ambelang is an H-A Traditional member of Five Valleys Pony Club in the Big Sky Region. She joined Pony Club at the age of 8 and has been an active member ever since. She has competed in Eventing through Preliminary and in jumpers and dressage. Alex has been a working student for two National Examiners and was a member of the USPC National Youth Congress in 2010. She served as a member of the USPC National Youth Board from 2012 to 2014 and is part of the USPC Visiting Instructor Program as well as the Regional Instructor Coordinator for the Big Sky Region. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Cultural and Medical Anthropology in December of 2014 and is currently working as head girl for Colleen Rutledge Eventing in Maryland.