Two Months

Life is good.  Let me be more specific–life HERE is good.

I am making friends at the barn.  The women I ride with have been very helpful with things like where to get the feed and hay I need.  I’m in a bit of a confidence crisis, and they have been encouraging me.  I spent the better part of eighteen months with Woodstock in a state of utter fear when my trainer would send me into a line.  Well founded fear, let me say.  He was so brain-fried that he would come unglued at the sight of a ground pole.  Asked to go over one pole and then on to another, he would tear off and around the ring at full gallop, out of control, in a state of sheer panic.  Often he would erupt into a bucking fit, which I sometimes managed to sit through, sometimes not.

It’s a long story, but the upshot is that it took eighteen months of schooling, practice and patience to bring him through his trauma to the day when we could jump 2’6″, and he enjoyed every moment of the course.  We even went to a show (just a small, local one), and he took 2nd in two classes and 5th in another!  I was so proud of him, and so happy for him to do so well.  It was his first show in over three years, and my first since high school (Just for a bit of perspective, he was a Grand Prix show jumper, which means he was jumping meter-10, meter-20–so 2’6 is like a speed bump).

During this healing process, as his level of fear decreased, mine increased.  I could be okay over single jumps or even on a bending line, but a straight line or combination would send me into my own state of panic.  This is why we have trainers and coaches, and I thank God for mine.  She set up an exercise one day that turned the corner for me, and I will never forget it.

For the first time, I asked Woodstock to go forward to the first jump and to continue going forward to the second, and then I ALLOWED him to do so.  And he didn’t panic, and he didn’t run off like a wild horse after.  He came back to me and settled on the way to way to the next one.  We went through the course several more times, and each time he stayed consistent.

That day was thrilling–for me, for my trainer, and for Woodstock!!  I realized what a breakthrough we all had achieved, and I knew then that we could go to a show and that he could feel like the horse he used to be.

Forward to today.  Woodstock has begun his rehab program, still in California.  I am here in Puerto Rico with a new horse.  This horse was a show horse on a grand scale as well.  She was a three day eventer and a show jumper, winning her classes at meter-20.  At some point, her owners fell on hard times and she was put out to pasture.  “Pasture” here is not the idyllic retirement we often think of.  Basically, she has been in a field fending for herself, eating whatever grass was there, for two years, maybe longer.  While there is much vegetation here, it is not nutritionally complete to properly support a horse.

My trainer here knew her from her younger years, and so when I arrived without Woodstock and asked him to find a good horse for me to lease, he remembered her and brought her in.  While not as bad as we expected, she was quite thin (think BCS of 3-4).  Her coat was dull, rough and scraggly; every rib visible; hooves uneven and very long; withers hollowed and like a shark fin; spine jutting skyward out of her skin; hip bones sharp and pointed.  Her top line was nearly gone.

But even in her diminished state, she rode sound, and willing, and quiet.  And so she and I have begun our relationship.  She is a good horse, with a good mind.  We are learning about each other, and this is where my crisis has hit.  Once again, I have a horse who needs to heal, this time more physically then mentally.   With good food (and plenty of it), supplements and proper health care, she is blossoming.  Her attitude about jumping is “Bring it, I know what to do!”  I, however, am scared all over again.

I tell myself that we are new to each other, that we don’t trust each other, aren’t comfortable yet.  I only started learning to jump less than two years ago.  But does saying that keep me in that place, as an excuse for not taking that next uncomfortable step of trusting her?  And what about trusting myself? Where has my confidence gone?  Is it truly just that she and I don’t yet have that necessary bond and connection?

No one can say when that will happen between any horse and person.  Some horses who have been abandoned take a very long time to trust a human again.  Then again, not all horses openly display affection to their human partners.  Confounding me even more is the fact that she is not mine.  What happens if she’s taken back from me?  Even though we don’t have that bond yet, it would break my heart to send her away to who knows what future.

I am a good rider, a capable rider.  Every day on my drive to the barn, when I mount my horse, when I’m warming up, I know this.  But as soon as my trainer directs me to a jump, my heart jumps all over in my chest!  One thing I’ve noticed though, is that when I’m hacking on my own I’m much more relaxed, and can take the small practice jumps more easily.  Maybe it’s as simple as performance anxiety?

i am looking forward to my next breakthrough.