The big bay thunders around the ring, his hooves digging deep into the well-groomed footing. Get Go expels hot, wet air from his nostrils, as he snorts with excitement. Taylor Land gently adjusts the reins to guide the 17-hand gelding. Her hands slide up his mane, and suddenly with a magnificent burst of athleticism, horse and rider are flying. With the grace of a ballerina, the 1,400-pound Hanoverian and petite rider are five feet off the ground, soaring over a flower-topped fence. “It’s just amazing. It feels so effortless,” shares Taylor. “To have that partnership in a horse? That’s the amazing thing about horses—they are so incredibly big, yet allow us to dictate what they do.” The second Get Go’s front hooves hit the ground, with his back cleanly clearing the jump, the entire arena bursts into applause.
Grand Prix Jumping Equestrian sports cover a multitude of disciplines and events. Without a doubt, Grand Prix Jumping is the crown jewel. It’s the event that grabs television ratings during the Olympics with the everyman. It’s the “hold-your-breath, I-can’t-believe-they-cleared-that” spectacle that leaves viewers in awe. This year, Taylor and Get Go are reigning royalty after big wins on the circuit. “I bought Get Go when he was five, and he’s now seven,” the Georgia native reveals. “He’s grown up a lot in the time I’ve had him. It’s a wonderful feeling to have a young horse come into their own, under you, and jump at a high level. This year, he’s more experienced, and able to jump at a higher level.”
Taylor grew up in Alpharetta jumping as a junior. She walked away from the ring to pursue a traditional college life at NYU. But within months of graduating, she found her way back to her horses, and now competes as a professional. The US Hunter Jumper Association lists her lifetime winnings at more than $300,000, atop a variety of mounts.
The 27-year-old tried other sports as a child, and other disciplines on a horse, but jumping holds her heart. “I did hunter and equitation as a junior, but once I rode a jumper, I could never go back,” she confesses. “It’s just so much fun. That feeling is irreplaceable.”
Unlike hunter and equitation events, which involve subjective judging, jumper events are scored solely on the horse and rider’s athletic ability to clear fences against the clock. A horse incurs faults for knocking down rails, balking at a jump, as well as taking longer than maximum time given to negotiate the course. The duo with the fastest time wins. Grand Prix hosts the highest level of show jumping competition, where horse and rider travel a course of 10–16 obstacles, with heights up to 5’3” and spreads of 6’7”.
“About an hour before the start time of the class, riders walk the course,” Taylor explains. “You measure the distance between jumps and make a plan to ride. The first time you do it with the horse is during competition. Some horses have big strides, some little, some get spooked by the look of certain jumps. You try to figure out how you think your horse will react, and make your plan accordingly.”
Saturday Night Lights Mention SNL to most, and they’ll respond, Saturday Night Live. But the horse-set will knowingly say, “Saturday Night Lights at the Tryon International Equestrian Center.” TIEC has been running the SNL series since 2015, usually featuring the marquis Grand Prix Jumping from that week’s horse show. “The Grand Prix hosts anywhere from 25 to 50 riders any given week, competing for purse money that ranges from $25,000–$384,000,” points out Molly Oakman, TIEC director of equestrian operations. “It’s a really good time. Average attendance is 3,000–5,000 people, but special events may see more than 7,000 visitors on a Saturday night.”
This month, Taylor plans to compete at SNL several times. She’s hauled her horses to courses as far away as Calgary, but Tryon tops her list of favorites. “They really do a very good job there,” she asserts. “They have good course designers. It’s a fun place to show. I love that there’s so much energy and spirit. It’s a wonderful feeling and it inspires me to try to do my best.” Perhaps more importantly, Get Go is inspired. “Some horses thrive under that pressure, others get nervous. You don’t know until they’re in that situation,” she says. “Last month, I was so nervous, I had no idea how he would react. And he loved it!”
In early August, Taylor swept the SNL podium, the first rider to ever do so. She and Get Go were on top, with her farm’s Liroy 30 (a ten-year-old German Sporthorse) in second, and her farm’s Falco V (a nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood) in third. “It was a great track, and he just really stepped up to the plate,” she recalls of Get Go’s jumping. “He’s so special. You can’t help but love him. He loves to talk. He snickers when the lights come on in the morning. He likes to sleep. He takes a nap before and after every class. He lays flat out. He’s funny.”
And it’s aboard Get Go, under the luminous glow of Saturday Night Lights, Taylor rides closer to her dream. “I’d like to make it to the Olympics and go as far as I can with it. It’s an incredible experience, this bond with an animal through sports. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
For more information on Saturday Night Lights, visit tryon.coth.com