Road to the 2020 Real Rider Cup Diary: Back in the Saddle to Begin a Long Journey

ABR’s Melissa Bauer-Herzog recently began her training for the 2020 Real Rider Cup by riding several horses, including Boston while visiting her family back in Washington state. (Melissa Bauer-Herzog/America's Best Racing)

Supporting Thoroughbred aftercare, The Real Rider Cup brings riders together from all facets of the Thoroughbred industry to raise funds for aftercare. America’s Best Racing writer Melissa Bauer-Herzog is currently training for the 2020 edition of the event and is documenting her training up to next September’s show.

When I first heard about The Real Rider Cup when it was started a few years ago, it was an item I put on my bucket list, but didn’t plan on riding in it anytime soon. So when Anita Motion approached me to ride in this year’s edition I was stoked, but there was only one problem – while I had rodeoed nearly every weekend when I was younger, I hadn’t seriously ridden a horse in two years and had only ridden in an English saddle about 10 times total.

Melissa on Muqtaser. (Melissa Bauer-Herzog/America's Best Racing)

These stumbling blocks kept me from competing in the 2019 Real Rider Cup, but I enthusiastically signed up for 2020 (probably a bit too enthusiastically if Anita is honest!) and jumped back into the equestrian world.

Since my own 28-year-old mare is retired and lives a few thousand miles from me, I had to improvise on knocking off the rust. That’s where the Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center and its trainer Kara Toye came in. Kara answered the “Help, I need lessons!” call within minutes of my text and we came up with a plan. A few days later, I was mounted on accomplished racehorse Muqtaser and re-learning how to ride. Remembering how to ride is definitely like returning to riding a bike, but getting my muscles back in the game was a bit harder.

That first ride was a lesson in humility since I was indeed extremely rusty and only rode for about 20 minutes before I was exhausted, but I’m not sure I’ve ever smiled as big as I did after that ride. While I work around horses all the time in my career, I forgot just how much I miss riding them.

After a brief break while I attended and worked at the Retired Racehorse Project, I was back in the saddle a few weeks later for my second ride.

Since Muqtaser had left the Secretariat Center during my time off, I was put on the lovely Snow Mist. A wonderful schoolmaster type, who like Kara and me is a Washington-bred, the mare politely reminded me of things I had to focus on, but she was also willing to do anything I asked.

Snow Mist (Melissa Bauer-Herzog/America's Best Racing)

I’ll be riding in an English saddle and jumping at the Real Rider Cup, but since I’m currently getting my muscles and brain used to riding again I returned to a trusty western saddle for this ride. My first ride jitters were already gone after my ride on “Muq,” and it was great to remember that I can indeed ride well even with some rust.

Traveling looked like it would derail my “training” for a few weeks, but the great thing about the equestrian community is that I have many different people who welcome me with open arms when I need a horse. So when I contacted Jo, who was my first ever-trainer, to ask if I could ride in Washington when I was at home visiting my parents, the only thing I had to do was clean a stall in exchange.

I’m a bit of a sentimental person, so being able to return to the arena where I literally got my start (I was put on a horse there before I can even remember) while re-starting my riding career was extremely satisfying.

I wasn’t having an official lesson during the ride, but old habits die hard and Jo put me through Boot Camp that had me questioning why I don’t go to the gym more often. I’m pretty sure the horse I was on was also questioning why he was being punished because by the end of the ride we were both sweating heavily in 50 degree weather. Thankfully, Jo’s habit of using a trail ride to cool down horses and riders also hasn’t changed, so we were able to enjoy a ride out in some scenic western Washington country backing up to the barn to cool out.

I admittedly have quite a bit of work to do in the next 11 months before The Real Rider Cup, but I’m ready for the challenge. Not only does The Real Rider Cup contribute to a cause close to my heart, but I already owe it for reminding me just how much I love, and how much I missed, riding.

I hope you enjoy following along on this journey as much as I enjoy taking you on it!

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