by The Horse Source
Okay, so have you ever wanted to ride in the Equine Affaire? Well, Laura Ryan has wanted to compete at the equine affair for many years, but she thought of it more as a dream than a plan of action. After all, how many grandmothers in their retirement years are going to try and take on all those younger riders. So I guess you could say in Laura’s mind it was a pretty firm “no”.
Laura grew up with horses in Mahopac, but has spent the last 40 years in Dutchess County where she owns and manages a large horse farm called Ryancrest Farm on Waterbury Hill Road in the town of Union Vale. The farm is surrounded by panoramic views overlooking the Hudson Valley and fields with horses in almost every direction. It’s truly a horse lover’s dream that she shares with her husband and her daughters, Loretta and Catherine, who can often be found in the saddle alongside Laura.
Laura like everyone else has her special interests and one of her favorite horse activities is practicing versatility. On any given day you can find her in the outdoor ring at Ryancrest setting up walking bridges, dangling strips of plastic in the wind, propping up mailboxes and other obstacles with a goal of desensitizing and acclimating her horse Jewel to those maybe not so scary things in the ring. Jewel is a 17-year-old registered Quarter Horse mare more formally known as Doctor Peppy’s Lena. As far as being skittish, I would say Jewel is about average so I would not describe her as a natural at versatility, but with a little “Laura magic”, she knows how to pull in the blue ribbons at the local horse shows.
Along comes September 2019, and Laura wants to go see the Equine Affaire Versatile Horse and Rider Competition at the Eastern States Exposition Coliseum in West Springfield, Massachusetts scheduled for November 8, 2019. Laura’s sister and her daughters suggested she go as a competitor instead of a spectator. Laura’s initial response was “whoa”… “I’m not qualified to compete at the Equine Affair”. That seemed to put the idea to rest for a short time, until her daughter unexpectedly emailed her the entry forms and said…
A few days go by and to everyone’s pleasant surprise Laura asks for help with the application process which includes a video submission. Ultimately, officials at the Equine Affair choose 25 competitors from all the submissions. Well, guess who got selected…Laura Ryan!
The versatility challenge is a timed 6 minute and 45 second obstacle course designed to test horsemanship skills and the horses’ athletic prowess. The course included numerous trail riding challenges such as jumping over obstacles, backing up through a pattern, pole bending, roll backs, various gymkhana games, working gates, riding over or through spooky objects, gait/lead changes, flexing, and working on the diagonal. Winner takes home a $5,500 cash prize!
With family, friends and Jewel in tow, off they went to the Equine Affair. Upon arrival, Laura finds out she will be the fifth competitor to enter the ring. A little panic sets in when she watches the first horse and rider unable to complete a jump rope obstacle which required the rider to grab a jump rope off a barrel, swing the rope in front of the horse and get the horse to go over it. Ugh…who can do that? Well, we never found out because they eliminated the obstacle after the first rider couldn’t get the light weight rope to swing around the front of the horse. With a little nervousness, Laura entered the ring with Jewel. The announcer then tells the spectators “Jewel was born in Texas and Laura was born in New York, here you have the best from the West and from the East.” When someone shouts out Laura’s age (not telling), the whole place erupts with cheers! Loudest cheers of the event!
With great anticipation, Laura completes the course….but is 3 seconds over the time limit and is disqualified along with 6 other competitors. Laura and Jewel did not place in the ribbons or money. However, they inspired everyone in attendance with their display of teamwork and commitment going through each obstacle….and for Laura, this will forever be a great memory and experience as not everyone can say they rode in the Equine Affair!