“You look like you are going to throw up,” was what I heard my trainer say after I rode over a couple of jumps in the schooling ring. It was my first time back in a show since June. I was scared shitless. I thought everything would come back the first time I walked back in the ring. Just like getting on a bicycle after taking a break, I thought the same would apply to getting back on Joe and jumping at a show.
We had gone over a couple jumps at the barn where I ride at home before this. We hadn’t done anything crazy or out of the ordinary. Since my accident over the summer, I wasn’t really cleared to ride until October. The first couple times I got back on Joe, I wasn’t sure what he would be like. Was he still mad at me from what happened in July? Would he take care of me? Is he stopping at certain jumps because he doesn’t trust me anymore? Is he trying to protect me from falling off again when he stops? Did he think I replaced him when I bought my other horse?
When I got back to riding, Joe and I started from the bottom and worked our way up. I quickly learned that I was out of shape. We spent the first couple days trotting and then cantering a little. We would go over ground poles here and there and had a few flat lesson refreshers.
One weekend I went to the barn really early to ride Joe. I was in the ring with another rider who was having a lesson. My trainer set up a small ground pole and said I could go over it a couple times if I wanted. We eventually got into a groove and she started to make it a little higher off the ground. Now when I say higher, it was only a couple inches of the ground; high enough I could skip over it myself. Then when I got comfortable with that height, she made it a little higher. Eventually she had me go over a jump she had set up in the ring. It was definitely less than 2’. It wasn’t like she set up a 3’ jump and yelled go for it! Yea no, that isn’t how we work. Plus, I’m pretty sure Joe would say, “Yea you go jump that yourself and I’ll watch.”
I went over the jump and for the first time in a while I was comfortable. What I should have realized all along was that Joe was right there with me. He was giving me the wings I needed to fly over the jump. When I tell people we jump they automatically assume it’s the Olympic level. We are nowhere near that. We rock the 2’-2’3” these days and I’m ok with it. I have to get back and be comfortable with that height. I have to build up my confidence and realize that Joe will be there. Now yes, there are times where I’ll do something and Joe lets me know his opinion. He is able to forgive me when I make mistakes and, trust me, it happens a lot more than it should.
I was glad to be back on Joe for our first time back in the show ring since our accident. I have to admit I was still nervous before we took that first step in the ring. But that’s the thing about Joe, he knows what to do and knows his job. Right before I asked him for the canter transition to begin our course I said, “Joe it’s all up to you now.” Thank the Lord he picked up the canter. If any of you have been with us from the beginning, you know that can be a struggle some days. He just started to canter as if we had never missed a beat. I talked to him the whole time around the ring as we lined up to each jump and got ready to jump in and out of the various lines. Anytime I went by the in gate I’m pretty sure people thought I muttering to myself. The best was when I started singing “Killer Queen” because that’s Joe’s jam.
In 2017 McLain Ward was the USEF Equestrian of the year. He said in his speech that, “Without the horse, none of this would be possible. We owe them our lives. They give us so much and ask only for basic kindness in return. I believe that horses and humans have a connection that draws us to each other. I believe, in their own way, they know we need them, and they are pleased to be our partner, whether it be in work or sport. We need to remember never to take advantage of this privilege of working and living with horses for granted. To never lose our appreciation for what they have given us throughout the history of time, and to be sure that their relevance in our society does not fade away. This is our greatest responsibility as equestrians.”
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many ribbons adorn your stall or how you should’ve won that class because of x, y or z. It’s all about the relationship with your horses. You wouldn’t be where you are without them. They’ve been with you from the beginning. Even when they stop at a jump, there is a reason behind it. Joe can sense when I am nervous. Our most recent flop included him stopping at a jump and me falling off; but this time, I landed perfectly on my feet like an Olympic gymnast. I even walked out of the ring waving like the queen to the people staring at us while saying, “Why yes I did fall off my horse but I am ok!” With how many falls I’ve had in the past 6 months, it’s about time I landed on my feet.
Thank your horses because without them you wouldn’t be in this sport in the first place. They don’t care how many ribbons you’ve won or if you look the best. All they ask in return is for unconditional love. They forgive us when we make mistakes and are always eager to greet us at their stall door. If I’ve learned anything with Joe and Cor, it is that no matter what happens they will always be there for you. Unless it’s feeding time, then you best get out of their way.