I work for a fantastic company that happens to revolve around the horse world. Very recently I was told I was hired over the other candidates because I am a business person who happens to be horsey. The others were horse people first, and were much more knowledgeable in the equine industry. I’d never really thought about it, but he’s right: I have done a lot in a variety of industries, and my game plans revolve around that experience.
It got me thinking a lot about how we view ourselves versus how others view us. I’m a bit of an odd duck at the office regardless, as their main focus is in saddleseat and harness. But the one thing we all have in common is the desire to ride well and properly. My boss sort of flipped a switch for me, by pointing out that it doesn’t matter what style or in what saddle you ride in, your shoulders should be over your hips should be over your heels. Period.
I started really asking myself when the last time I really, actually, thought about my own equitation. I’d been spending months “getting the job done” with Star and her antics. But that really wasn’t helping me ride properly.
When I talked to my coach about it, she looked at me a bit sideways. “Your Eq isn’t that bad,” she objected. (Super high praise from B.) I thanked her, but asked if we could do a full lesson as if it was a short stirrup Eq class. Nothing but walk/trot, nothing but soft and quiet. I sort of ignored Star (or at the very least stopped anticipating a lot of her spunk) and simply rode to fix me. I got nitpicked over and over. Minor fix after minor fix. It was really difficult work, but it felt so rewarding.
It wasn’t until after I got off that I realized Star had been so easy to ride.
So for the last little bit, that’s been my new focus. Forget getting the mare organized and calm; I need to worry about getting myself always a step closer to perfection. Worrying exclusively about my own riding means I micromanage Star a lot less, so she doesn’t get overly worked up by conflicting signals. I’m quieter, more in my own body, so she’s quitter and carries herself better.
It may just be a downfall of working with green horses, but sometimes I have to wonder if it isn’t better to put miles on them, riding them as if they were old schoolies.
With everything else coming up on the horizon, I feel oddly calm. Star pulled off another shoe (her third this year) and took a couple chunks of feet with her, so I’m strongly considering pulling her shoes off entirely and trying to do the full transition to barefoot. But I’m not all wringed out over it like I was the last two times. I’m sort of at peace with fate, I suppose.
I think a lot of it has been recent high stress. My barn has undergone a bit of changeover with boarders and service providers, my office has been dealing with computer issues, and my father checked himself into rehab. I think it’s possible that I just hit max capacity. Sort of like with riding, I just decided to focus on me and what I need to do to be healthier, happier and a better wife/mother/daughter/friend/employee.
The best riders always seem to speak similar sentences on show days. If they did well, it’s always because the horse was awesome. If they did poorly, they blame their own mistakes. Of course horses make mistakes too. But our goal is to support them, so we can allow them to succeed. The hope is eventually the trust will go both ways, and they help us to succeed too.
It reminds me of a lesson a couple months ago now. I don’t know what happened to my brain, but as Star and I approached an oxer, I got super ahead of myself. I’m not talking about getting into a two-point a little early. I full-out fell on her neck two strides out. Star had every right to stop at the oxer and toss me over her head. She didn’t. She lifted her neck like a giraffe and held it there while she “helicoptered” over the jump. She saved my ass, and she did it because she didn’t want me to fall.
It’s time in my life to fix myself up. It doesn’t have to be hard or super challenging, but it does need to be done. Because while perfection is never an obtainable goal, the progress of trying to get there should never halt.
Sit up tall and look ahead. Put your shoulders over your hips and your hips over your heels. Close your fingers and feel through your elbows. Be quiet and soft. Most of all, though? Never forget to love the ride.
Christine Sharpe is a Canadian who grew up riding Hunter/Jumper in the Southern USA. Now living in Toronto, she is a thirty-something who is back to riding after taking four years off and having her first child. In 2017, Christine is planing to breed her Thoroughbred jumper mare, Star, and buy her first home on land. She struggles daily to juggle family, work, and her equine lifestyle, with occasional success.