Amateurs Like Us: Finding Your Inner Pony Kid

Jan 3, 2018 - 6:58 AM

When you are an ammy it can be really hard to keep motivated, to keep heart, to keep going, especially when life is not so much giving you lemons as chucking them at you. This is supposed to be fun, right? Sometimes it’s worthwhile to step back and think about why we do this, what we get out of it, and how to make sure that riding and showing is a good part of life, not a burden.

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Steve and I. Photo by Jaime Loichinger

To recap my bowl of lemons: in June of 2016 I elected to dismount from Steve after getting ridiculously unbalanced after a jump; I did not elect to dislocate my elbow, but that was what happened. Lemon 1. This put me out of the saddle for about six weeks, kept me from jumping for quite a bit longer than that, and I missed my chance to qualify for any year-end shows, all of which was a major bummer. I had also planned to move up to the low amateur-owner jumpers later that summer, so this was a super-unwelcome lemon.

Eventually I healed up and started thinking ahead to how I could get back on track that winter. Steve was going great, I was happy to be riding again, and it had only been a few months’ setback. In November, 2016 my truck broke—not a little broke, this was full-on sudden-death BROKE. The worst part of this little episode was that we still owed money on it, and our insurance wouldn’t cover the loss.

This was decidedly Lemon 2 because I am a DIY-er in a barn full of eventers, so if I’m not hauling Steven to a jumper show, that pretty much puts the kibosh on it. I did go with friends to a schooling show in January 2017 so they could keep their event horses in practice for stadium, and that was a lot of fun. I figured my best bet would be to find other jumper people in my area who I could hitch rides with to rated shows…and that is when Lemon 3 rolled in.

Lemon 3 involved Steve being stupid in his field and injuring his suspensory in February 2017. Geez. Picture stall rest, underwater treadmilling, tack walking, I mean, really ENDLESS amounts of tack walking, and so on. There were also several memorable moments, including one where Steve spooked at nothing and dumped me in the indoor on a drizzly day, so I climbed back on and moved outside for a change of scenery…and he proceeded to roll (with me scrambling back out of the saddle), in a giant puddle in the outdoor. Oh, the fun! Hah hah!

Flash forward to September, and we are finally jumping again. I had honestly forgotten how much fun it is to jump my horse. It had been so long since we had worked as a team over a proper course that I had forgotten the joy of it. The last year and a half has been a drag, at best, and during that time I thought about quitting, about selling Steve when he was sound again, retiring Herbie, just pitching it all and doing something cheaper and less heartbreaking.

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Back in action with Steve. Photo by Jaime Loichinger

But…there isn’t anything else. I mean, there are lots of other things I enjoy but there is absolutely nothing on this earth that compares to the deep satisfaction I get out of being a horseman, being a jumper rider, chasing my goals no matter how rough the going can get.

A couple of weeks ago, in a lesson with Packy, Steve and I did a few seconds of canter pirouette both ways, and I felt like I’d won the Olympics. All of them.

This week we schooled with Packy over a course he set up that is incredibly challenging—and we rose to it. Steve and I are still getting back in sync with each other, and he thinks being round AND light in front at the same time to the fences is stupid, but by the end we were both smiling.

I finally have a new truck, I am on track to go to Aiken this spring, and I’m doing things like canter pirouettes (well, sort of—they are a work in progress), with my cute little horse. My plan is to get up to jumping 1.20-meter at home so I can take that on the road and finally (!!) tackle the amateur-owners. Steve and I are both feeling good and doing our best not to let the cold weather keep us out of work.

OK, I’m doing my best, Steve is more being crabby because he’s an Argentinian and would prefer it if his owner would move him somewhere warmer, but he’s game for anything once I warm up his back!

There is zero guarantee in horses—they can and will try to maim or kill themselves regularly throughout your time with them. You can get hurt, or have to make difficult choices about your time and resources that take you away from the barn, away from showing, away from your riding. You can get frustrated because that one stupid, annoying habit you always get yelled at for just keeps popping up, or your horse suddenly forgets he can bend to the right, or you’re tired and overworked and isn’t this supposed to be FUN? Yes, it is—and if it isn’t, I hope you can find your way toward figuring out how to make it so again.

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My advice is this: go hang out with your horse. Hop on bareback and go for a trail ride. Jump over a log, wander through the woods, practice shoulder-in in the field, have a good gallop where you end up shouting with laughter like a child. I would never do any of this with Steve, mind you, because he dislikes and distrusts nature and would most likely buck me off and then go get tangled up in the brush. I would certainly do it on Herbie, however, who is quite possibly the best horse to amble around on, ever.

So, if you have a Steve, put him back in his stall (with some alfalfa for happiness), and borrow a Herbie. And, mostly, remember why you do all of this—why you work hard, why you pay money to someone to yell at you, why you go out in public and pay someone else even more money to judge you (or not—there are usually a lot of unpaid judges on the sidelines!), why you spend hours brushing mud off your horse’s coat only to watch her re-mud herself right afterwards (shout out to Jaime!), why you come home cold and tired and smelling like the inside of a muck bucket, over and over again.

The truth is that we are privileged to be riders. We are privileged to be able to spend time with these amazing, frustrating, expensive creatures. It is always worthwhile to remember this when things are hard. I hope that all of you had a wonderful holiday season and find your inner pony kid again this year!


Susan Glover is an assistant professor in the Department of Government at American University (D.C.), specializing in comparative politics. She shows her Argentinian Warmblood The Red Spy in the adult amateur jumper division in the Mid-Atlantic area. Read all her COTH blogs

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