I got a new horse at the very end of October. His name is Jorge and he is a beautiful, strong, athletic 5 year old dark bay Thoroughbred gelding. He has more personality than he knows what to do with, always up in your business sticking out his tongue or untying himself from the hitching post and taking a tour around the barn while I drag half my tack locker out in preparation for a short hack. I absolutely adore this horse, I couldn’t have found a better partner after I lost my beloved Mouse, who passed unexpectedly earlier that month.
But that’s not what this is about. This is about me trying to come to terms with the fact that I’m getting older (36 this year!) and overcome some fears and anxieties about jumping. Things that both frustrate the hell out of me and make me smarter about my riding at the same time.
You see, when I was younger I’d get on absolutely anything. The greener and hotter the better. What’s that – this horse has been off the track for 3 days? Sure, I’ll get on and teach him to jump! You fell off your horse because it was rearing and spooking and trying to kill you? No problem, I can handle it. I’m 8 years old and my trainer wants to play higher and higher with my barely medium pony, until I’m jumping 3’6” on Christmas Eve – never mind that horrified look on my mom’s face!
Don’t get me wrong – I took my fair share of spills, broke bones, crushed my pride a few times. But I always got back in the saddle and did it again. And again. And again.
I showed competitively until I was 20. Then life, college and experiencing new things – becoming an adult – became more of a priority for nearly a decade. When I came back to it, those same scenarios I used to relish gave debilitating pause. As I made my grand return to daily barn life and showing, I was simultaneously teaching a then-11 year old trail horse to jump while beginning to teach riding lessons as well. Most of my clients were beginner through intermediate, never jumping higher than 2’6” and my horse, who was all of 14.3h in the front and 15.1h in the back, grunted with effort once we attempted anything over a solid 2’3”. So I became very comfortable never pushing myself over this height, save for the occasional X to Oxer gymnastics.
However, in my head I was still that 17 year old girl winning the equitation and medal classes with the perfect round at 3’, after prepping my horse in the Regular Working Hunter at 3’6”. I figured that some day I’d get another horse that would be more athletic and it would all just fall in to place, I would be ready for it in no time. Yet there was still something nagging me, keeping me from pushing myself to raise that rail to the next hole.
I had a bad fall in September of 2011, getting bucked off while jumping and landing on my head. God bless Charles Owens and his fine line of helmets, because while the hat may have cracked, my skull did not. I was incredibly lucky to walk away with an ER visit and a few weeks off to deal with sore muscles.
I stopped teaching lessons after this, determined I’d get my “amateur status” back, and decided I would from this point forward focus solely on my horses and my riding, optimizing fun over competition. I realized that I was now an adult, that this was just a side gig to help pay the farrier bill anyway and that I couldn’t financially afford to be out of work – who would pay for the horse? Not to mention that I didn’t bounce back the way I used to when I was a kid.
But fast forward again to Jorge – this wonderful and talented horse, a horse I bought under the guise of “I’m looking for my next 3’ horse.” He’s amazing, he stays right on step, soft and supple, and 75% of the time we get to the jump at the perfect distance. The other 25% he manages to save my butt with grace and ease. He’s totally unfazed by the world around him and he absolutely loves to jump. Going over a 2’6” oxer feels the same as a baby X on this horse. And then I raise that back rail just one more hole, just 3 little inches, and all of the sudden I’m choking and chipping and circling to find the absolute most perfect place to leave so we make it. I feel a wave of relief and exhilaration once we get it right, and Jorge could care less as long as I stay out of his way. So why am I still so paralyzed???
Part of me is angry with myself that I can’t just get over it. I used to do it, so why is it so hard now? I worry that I’m wasting this young horse’s talent, that he has so much more to give and I’m hindering his ability to perform at the top. Another piece of me thinks that maybe I’ve lost my touch in some way, and that is probably the most frustrating.
However, I feel safe on this horse, I know he’s going to get me to the other side, no matter what. I can hack him alone in the hayfield, I can take him out to a cross-country course and he never bats an eye. I can ride him bareback in the rain while ponying a colicking Shetland behind us. Even when he spooks or bucks or acts like the green baby he really is I know I can handle what he throws at me. I love his personality, his antics and the feel of him beneath me.
I guess he doesn’t know his talent is being wasted, and frankly he probably doesn’t care. Neither Jorge nor I have deep pockets to show at more than a local level and since I so enjoy riding him, taking care of him, and yes, shopping for him, does it really matter if we never jump over 2’6” again?
Because I don’t bounce anymore when I fall.