It all started so innocently.
Lane, our trainer, went out of town for a few days and asked me if I wanted to ride her jumper mare whom had just returned from a year lease. Sure, I said, as it is always nice to get on other horses, especially those of the “trained” variety that actually move off your leg rather than blatantly ignoring it as if it might be some type of decorative saddle ornament.
After a lovely sunny late October afternoon hack in the outdoor, I was enamored with the mare, regally named Paris (aka The Princess), and I sent my trainer a text joking that we needed to work out a deal regarding my new “equitation on the flat” horse. Which led to a lesson upon her return to town. And then another. And another.
As our lessons progressed, so did the heights of the jumps. Rapidly. In short order Paris was navigating her way to some pretty serious oxers while I clung for dear life to my inside rein and tried to act nonchalant about the whole thing when really I was about to “soil my breeches.” And of course, there was never any pressure I put on myself because I was riding the trainer’s horse. No, there was definitely none of that. Especially when it seemed that everyone was inevitably at the barn, and in the ring, every time I rode! 🙂
I don’t usually like mares and I most definitely do not ride jumpers, yet it wasn’t long before I realized how much I looked forward to these lessons, jumping higher than I had since I was 19. I found that I am willing and able, dare I say eager, to be an adult and jump big girl jumps. I might even go so far as to allege that I am not half bad at it, though Paris and Jorge may take issue with that assessment.
So I decided that this winter I would invoke a little tough love on both Jorge and myself if I wanted to truly be a better equestrian, and I would adopt an attitude of YES, no matter the question.
Have time to ride another horse? Yes. Want to jump big jumps? Yes?! Should I give Jess $7.50 every time I looked for my diagonal? Oh yes, but only if it goes into the beer fund. Want to take Paris to a horse show and compete in the 3’ jumpers for the first time in over 20 years? Umm… gulp…I’m a hunter rider, but if I can buy us sparkly matching jumper outfits, well, then a resounding YES!
A mere 3’, let alone 3’6”, may not seem like a lot to you, but let me tell ya there have been many days when I’ve questioned if that oxer reeeally seemed more like 2’9” than our comfortable 2’6”, invoking waves of panic. And, inevitably, the determination that if Jorge and I are to clear said obstacle I will need to pick out of the corner then hurl my entire upper body toward his ears to help him to the other side. This uniquely trademarked “whole neck release” really impresses Lane and I’m sure instills confidence in her decision to let us represent our farm in the show ring. Or to even be stabled near my fellow barn mates.
My key learning from these sessions with Paris and my new-found resolve has been that it is significantly improving my rides on my own horse. I am more confident to the jumps. I am becoming tighter in the tack and therefore less afraid, meaning that I do not dismount and lunge every time he tosses his head (though that line is never far in the winter – the Virginia thoroughbred can buck like a rodeo bronc when stripped of his toasty coats!). Most importantly, I am truly excited and determined to step up into a higher division this year with Jorge and by the end of the season show the 3’ amateurs.
Jorge probably doesn’t share this goal, and as he told the pet psychic this summer – yes, the pet psychic – he’s not all caught up in being the best of the best, he just wants to have fun. He likely thinks I’m setting the bar a bit high and would prefer something a little less pressure-intensive such as finally hacking the entire 40 acres alone without a single buck or spin & run by the end of 2018. Maybe 2020. Or convincing me his true calling in life is to become a professional winter blanket model. But I’ve got to push us both to get there because it is time to up our game.
In all seriousness, I know I need to do this for me. I’ve written about my fears and getting older, I’ve also written about being the best of the best. This is about all of those things, and more – enjoying the struggle to get there because #thestruggleisreal. And I tend to be the type to want it all now so we can move up again soon, so this exercise in patience and new learning experiences is a wonderful life lesson for me as well.
While some snow-filled days I’d rather binge on Netflix and eat Nutella out of the jar with a spoon, our first horse show this spring is right around the corner. Which also means I must say YES to putting down the glass of wine before I’ve gone through the entire vat of chocolatey-hazlenutty goodness.
Because when Lane turns to me at the in-gate, she won’t have to wonder if I’m ready to go into the ring and kick some tail. Thanks to a winter of tough love, my answer will be a resounding YES!