A Short History of my Adult Life in and out of the Saddle
By Nancy Davidson
Back in 2004 I had just bought my horse “Martini” and was training with Hartmut Knabe, an Austrian-born equestrian who had immigrated to the U.S. some years earlier to work for August Busch III in St. Louis, who at the time was big into horses and could afford a private trainer. (He also worked with the U.S. Equestrian team but since he was not a U.S. citizen he could not compete as an Olympian with George Morris and Frank Chapot). Hartmut was a wise, senior equestrian who no longer rode but who had a wealth of experiences to draw from as he helped me get to know my new horse and to prepare to compete. One thing that always resonated with me was his frequent mutterings about people who buy horses and think they can, just like that, qualify for important year-end awards or become fantastic riders in a matter of months. Goals, he would say, do not have timelines and deadlines.
Our current lesson halt is certainly disappointing for all of us and particularly so for everyone who was clipping along, gaining strength and confidence, before the pandemic slammed the door shut. I don’t know when we will be able to resume riding. I am really hoping sooner than later and until then we are taking it one week at a time. The barn closure caused me to reflect on the different times in my life that I had a lapse in riding and, looking back on those times, I can honestly say they ended up being mere blips in my riding trajectory and desire to reach goals.
After graduating from college (where I rode for the team all four years), I moved to NYC and got a “real job” at Sotheby’s. It took me a good six months to get my feet on the ground before I could resume riding, which I did in Central Park. Back then there was a lesson facility on the upper west side where I took lessons. I had to take the crosstown bus and then another bus uptown to get to the stables, but it felt great to be back in the saddle and experiencing riding in a different way. The indoor ring was on street level and the horses lived in stalls on the upper floors. The horses would go up and down via a ramp! The “barn” barely looked different from the neighboring brownstones.
I had another gap of about six months when I got married and moved first to Colorado and then to Williamsburg, VA, where my new husband began law school. I worked at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in the development office. Once settled in our routines in Williamsburg, I began riding with another Sweet Briar graduate who was a trainer at a local barn. An Army move to Charlottesville a few years later, then Ft. Hood, Texas, back to Falls Church, back to Charlottesville, then to Phoenix now with two children and a dog, all reduced my ability to ride to trail rides here and there. In Phoenix I was able to ride more regularly, but a move back to D.C. and a third child sidelined any ability to get back in the saddle. Finally, after moving to Atlanta, I was able to get on a regular riding routine. Again I was clipping along pretty well, leasing a horse and then buying Martini, competing and in constant training, teaching, and building a career in the equestrian business – all was well.
A fateful May 2013 day — it was a Monday — literally changed the trajectory of all of my riding goals, experiences and future in the sport – and all for the good although I didn’t know it then. I had a quirky fall, nothing dangerous, nothing scary. In fact I recall I was giggling as I was falling but unfortunately I landed on my right hip, vaporizing it. I remember asking the doctor in the ER if I would ride again, he assured me I would. The first ride back was in August 2013. After months of PT, I resumed my ability to exercise horses. In the early weeks of my recovery, Sprout posted a job opening for a volunteer coordinator. Thinking I would not be able to return to my previous level of riding, I thought I would take that safe job… The rest is history we all know and I am of course very happy where I landed.
Riding lapses are a part of every equestrian’s journey. Whether sidelined with an accident, illness, economics, pregnancy, relocation or a pandemic, not riding will be a blip and I look forward to resuming our lessons and helping everyone achieve their short and long-term goals (Keeping in mind that the deadlines we set can be fluid and that’s okay!). What can you do in the meantime? You can put fitness at the top of your daily schedule. Sprout will update its Family Network on FB and the website blog with exercise videos. I will send out exercises to add to those already sent. I will do them as well each day. Whether you focus on your upper body, your core, or your lower body (or all together), this time out-of-the-saddle will be valuable. You will return stronger and ready to start where you left off. I commend the www.USEF.org website for all sorts of videos and learning opportunities about horses in general and equestrian sports in particular.
My next blog entry will be about overcoming fear, conquering demons and truly understanding that Hartmut Knabe was right, you can’t put concrete timelines on sports goals, particularly equestrian sports (horses get ill and have accidents too). Working through the demons, the fears and diminished lack of confidence that I’ve experienced has only strengthened my interest, appreciation and love for the sport. This lapse for all of us will be a blip and our daily exercises will help ease the dread and point us toward greater muscle strength and balance when we return to the saddle!
Such a great perspective. Thanks for sharing Nancy we look forward to seeing you again.
thank you Nancy for this wonderful blog
Very interesting. Hope to see you soon in the barn.
Nancy, I’ve learned so much from your true love of horses and perseverance over the years. I enjoyed reading about how you’ve dealt with times of “horselessness” and how you’ve always found a way to get back in the saddle! Your love for horse as a being, the sport of riding and encouraging others to find joy as equestrians inspires us all!
I want to know more about your nyc days!!!! Great background and advice. Looking forward to your next post!!!
I enjoyed your blog very much, especially your time in NYC. I’d love to see that barn!
I too trained with Mr Knabe, as we called him. I was in high school, and had no idea of his history or that he was a world class rider / trainer until just now, reading this. I only knew that he commanded my respect immediately, and I was certain he had to be somebody special. He had a thick accent and he pushed me to ride to a level far beyond anything I could have imagined I could do. He told me I had excellent balance which is why I could take these jumps that he set up for me. He had me chute jumping with both arms stuck out sideways, my eyes closed, one jump after another through the chute. I was so scared to even try it but he ordered me to, and I didn’t dare tell him no. He was a powerful persusder. He did not tolerate any hesitant or half-hearted efforts. I would retain what he taught me, and years later when I started Eventing, I would boldly gallop out towards those big, solid fences with the utmost confidence, grateful for all that Mr. Knabe had taught me.