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 will be a regular guest blogger, so if you have questions feel free to send them to us for her at Mandy@ponyclub.org.
Life after Pony Club: Don’t we all wish every road led to Rolex???
I write this two weeks after the fact- after the event, after the Rolex hangover. It seems impossible, a figment of my imagination, sending Colleen down the chute into the Rolex ring- rag in hand, heart in my throat. Its an experience that is difficult to put into words. In some ways it is the easiest event I have ever been to, minimal horses to worry about, every resource at my finger tips.In others, it is also the hardest; wanting so badly for every hair to be in its place and the horses to gleam and shine in the Bluegrass sun; all the while knowing the world is watching. No pressure. This was not my first trip to the horse park. I had come twice in a row, nearly 10 years ago, to watch the big event as a spectator. I did all the spectator-y things; worked the trade fair, took celebrity course walks, and watched as many riders as I possibly could. I knew I wanted to return to the park one day; either for USPC Championships like so many before me or behind the scenes at American’s only four-star three- day event. Even still, I did not imagine the opportunity to take the behind the scenes role would emerge so early in my stint as a professional groom. Confession #1: I didn’t even think I would be a groom right out the gate. The whole plan played out much differently in my head; start in a working student position or something low-level and work my way up. But through a series of fortunate events, I find myself here.
Prior to Rolex, I had only groomed at one other major FEI competition, The Fork, just two weeks earlier. Did I mention this was all a bit trial by fire? After arriving on Tuesday, chores included in-barn inspections for the horses, laying mats down in stalls, setting up stalls, getting horses settled and setting up our tack room. PSA: Rally tack rooms exist beyond rally! All those years of learning to set up efficient tack rooms and feed rooms do actually apply beyond USPC graduation! After these initial projects, horses were ridden and more baths given. Its these days that I tend to forget to eat. It magically turns into 7 or 8 pm and the hangry emotion takes over. Food, shower, bed. Start all over again in the morning.
First actual challenge of Rolex: first horse inspection, or jogs. Cue the USPC O.C.D. we all know and love. Scrub every inch of jog bridles, give baths again (the 5th one for each horse that week), and then primp and shine until the last step before the jog strip. Oh yes, and braid. Confession #2: I am a terrible braider. I said it, Terrible, resulting from sub par hand-eye coordination/tactile functions and the lack of expectation to braid for the majority of my riding career. Much to my delight, USPC never required braiding until the H-A level, when I practiced everyday for multiple weeks to make sure those braids looked presentable at the testing. Beyond that, I scraped by at the minimal number events I attended after that testing. Reality Check. Better get good real quick. Needless to say, I did not braid for Rolex; as it probably would have reduced me to a embarrassed, teary mess in a dark corner. So, there was lots of rub ragging and polishing of feet and brushing of tails and final brushes over before they step foot down the lane; cameras clicking and the world watching. Its music to my ears when both boys are quickly accepted as the first American horses down the strip. Back to stalls, braids popped out and Luke (Shiraz) off to ring familiarization. CR (Covert Rights) was ridden first thing that morning before the competitors meeting. Its at this moment that I will be sure to take just a sliver of the credit for these two amazing horses. Like most grooms, I had and have a team to help get it all done. In my case, though, that team is Colleen’s family. Colleen’s mother, Sallie, has been Colleen’s right hand woman since she started competing, and I couldn’t get through any of this without her! Colleen’s husband and two daughters also serve as pack mules and horse holders at each event and are always a great source of encouragement, entertainment and sanity (and sometimes insanity). Either way, this whole thing would not have gone as smoothly as it did without them and I am forever grateful and thankful for them.
Tune in next time as Alex tells us more about the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event!
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.