My good friend Charlotte is getting married this weekend. She’s the one who runs the barn where Jorge lives, the one who goes on random adventures with me to pick up rogue horses from Podunk Virginia, and who brings me Chinese food or ice cream cake when it seems appropriate.
This past week on Tuesday I was out at the barn just as she and a student were tacking up to go ride in the field. I hustled Jorge out of his stall and into a matching outfit so we could join them. As I swung my leg over the saddle to head out there, they came trotting in at full speed. Charlotte was on the phone, the young woman she was with, Alison, looked a bit terrified and I couldn’t figure out what the hell had happened – did she fall off, was something wrong with her fiancé/a family member/another horse? I started to panic.
Alison managed to grab the horse Charlotte had been riding as she catapulted off the side and made a break toward the fridge in the barn for an ice pack. Turns out the client’s horse she was riding, whom happens to be head over heels in love with Jorge, tried to buck her off and repeatedly smacked her in the face with his neck, resulting in a pretty substantial road rash on her chin.
10 days before her wedding.
I didn’t really know what to do so I decided the best thing was to give Charlotte some space to be mad before I told her it would all be okay. I then hesitated for a few minutes about heading out to the field myself – was there something in the air? Would Jorge be a jerk and I’d fall off? – but after one trot lap around the ring without spurs I thought it was better to take my chances than pretend to have legs of steel!
We had an absolutely lovely ride, I’m happy to report. Yet the entire time I thought about Charlotte getting hurt on someone else’s horse.
Look, I know I engage in an incredibly dangerous sport. I realize that every single step I take in the saddle could be my last. Even the most “bombproof” of horses can lose their cool. For example, two weeks before my first horse show with The Mouse, Dancer the most perfect Paint in the whole wide world (just ask my mom) started bucking for no particular reason. The reins broke off from the bridle and I ended up underneath him on the ground. A horse I was riding for a client once tripped while we were transitioning from a canter at a horse show and down we went. One of my best friends ended up with pins in her pelvis because a horse flipped over on her.
So shit happens. It isn’t going to keep me from riding, you can’t live life scared of everything or you’ll miss out on some of the best moments. But it does give me pause the older I get.
I appreciate that my friends have really nice horses. Horses that jump big jumps, horses that don’t jump at all. And they love their horses and feel completely safe running full speed at a 3’ water jump into a ditch that then leads up a hill to a railroad tie in-and-out.
But I want to say to you all right now – thanks for offering to let me do that, I’m honored you think I’m a good enough rider and pretty sure that I wouldn’t die, but as kind as the offer is I really don’t want to ride your horse.
If I’m going to do something “stupid” I’m going to do it on my horse. If I’m going to break bones or risk my life then I want to know 100% that it is my horse who I love and trust underneath me. When I feel that half stutter step of hesitation, I’ll innately know that we aren’t meant to do x, y or z, or that he needs my reassurance to commit to the scary 5-stride that we split-legged in to previously.
Only you know your horse. Only you know that when you go on a trail ride you better add some stick tight to your saddle. You are the one that reassures him with that much needed leg as you pick down to the single oxer with the barrels. You are really the only one that can drop the reins and take video of your gallop in the field.
It truly is why I don’t teach anymore. I actually love giving lessons, taking people to horse shows and watching clients and horses I’m working with make real progress. However, to be a trainer I feel like I need to be able to ride the horse if necessary and fix a problem – that’s just me. And since I’m unwilling to put myself in that position anymore I’ll keep working on regaining my amateur status.
Don’t get me wrong, there are horses that I enjoy riding who aren’t Jorge. I love hacking Teddy, Charlotte’s horse. I had a blast jumping Mercedes last summer when Emily was still broken. Emmit is a good solid boy that I feel won’t try to kill me intentionally. Of course there is Dancer, but I really consider him part mine since I had him in my care for a good long while and he’s…I mean… he’s Dancer! Some day I’ll actually get on Harry, should Hillary be so kind, but the hell if I’m jumping a jumper. Oh, well, and if Jennifer Alfano said, “Hey Jorna, wanna ride Jersey Boy?” I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment. But not in the High Performance Hunters. Maybe the hack. 🙂
I trust my life to Jorge every day, and some days more than others to be sure. We understand each other. He knows he should do his best not to kill us over the 2’6” at the mini-show and in return I will pay for his board, new shoes, expansive wardrobe, regular emergency vet calls, $100/month supplement habit and provide him with the best life I possibly can. And all the peppermints he can eat.
I guess it is about knowing your limitations the older you get… and I’m okay with that. So much as I appreciate you offering, I really don’t want to ride your horse, take no offense, please.