I’m sitting here in my Back On Track fleece pullover, feeling every single mass muscle in my body. It’s shocking to feel this wrung out. I may not be in the best shape of my life, but I do generally feel fairly fit. Not today.
Then again, when was the last time I rode 3 different horses in two days? Further to the point, when was the last time I spent 4 hours in the saddle in two days? Twenty years ago, maybe.
I took a clinic with OHJA Jumper coach of the year, Peter Gisborn, this weekend. (Full coverage on that to follow soon.) I learned a lot and not all of it was particularly positive. I don’t just mean how sore I am today, or how old a two-hour lesson made me feel; although that is part of it.
I think I finally figured out a bit of Star’s troubles. She doesn’t like groups. I’ve only ever worked with one or two other riders sharing the arena with me. You get four or five rider/horse combos and she starts to loose it. It happened at the adult show warm-up, at a busy weekend lesson, and now at the clinic. It’s not as simple as getting hot or sassy, she literally has a meltdown. Aids become useless, and my voice has none of the calming effect it normally would. Star’s afraid of crowds. Not an ideal condition for a potential show horse.
It’s easy enough to type about this now, after the buffer of a couple days and countless hours of discussion. It was incredibly frustrating as it was happening. We managed some nice comments at walk and trot. Attempts at the canter were met with nothing but resistance until she was literally backing towards other riders. I yelled, “heads up,” a couple times, but a young girl lost control of her horse and she hit the dirt.
It’s hard to explain my feelings in that moment, because there were so many factors flipping through my mind. I wanted to push Star through this. I wanted to ensure a safe environment for the other riders. Most of all, though, I needed to make sure that I represented my barn well. At the end of the day, B and I can work with Star and get her brain wrapped around the issue of crowds. What I can never get back is a negative impression of the barn and the people who ride with us.
So I apologized and left the ring. I got on my show partner Ramses and finished up okay. But I don’t think I ever really got over having to leave. I’ve never left the ring before. I’ve had trips from hell, where more rails came down then stayed up. I’ve fallen, gotten up and tried again. I’ve never walked out on a lesson – clinic or otherwise. It felt a lot worse than failure.
On day two I rode a totally new to me horse. It was okay, and I learned that I need to spend more time in the saddle building up my stamina. I also learned that I have a crazy awesome mare. Her gaits are all nice and comfortable to me, and I “get” her jump better than any other horse at this point. She’s my girl and we’re going to figure this out together.
Star’s actual birthday is on March 20th. She’ll be eleven this year. So she’s not exactly young, either. I have to keep reminding myself that being older doesn’t mean I have to pull back. It just means I have to work harder and have more patience than those younger than me. I asked around quietly after the clinic was over, and discovered that everyone in my division was at least ten years younger than me. Some were a lot younger than that.
After my division, we took a lunch break. Peter stood around eating with B and some of the other riders. As I walked over he asked me, “How you feeling, Chris?” I answered honestly, “Old. About 700 years old.” He smiled and nodded, “We all have those days.”
It didn’t make me feel any better when he said it, but sitting here, writing this now, it does. We all have our days. Our good and bad ones. I’m not getting any younger, so I might as well figure out how to do this feeling old. Because age isn’t an excuse, just one more barrier to get up and over.
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 recently back to riding after four years off and having her first child. Christine is aiming her new Thoroughbred mare, Star, toward the Trillium Jumper Circuit in 2016. She struggles daily to juggle family, work, and her equine lifestyle, with occasional success.