After suffering from headaches for two weeks due to the concussion from the last fall, accompanied by nausea, ear ringing, intermittent insomnia, loss of appetite, lack of concentration, and all of the other lovely side-effects of a concussion, I continued to ride. Much to my parents’ displeasure, I also continued to jump. I have had one goal for the last five years, specifically enhanced in the last three years, which was to compete on my horse and prove to myself for once and for all that I could do it and not lose my bearings in the ring.
So it was set. I knew that I wouldn’t be jumping courses with this green mare, but I was determined to show her on the flat. We scheduled to show for July 26th and when my trainer told me she didn’t think we were ready and to look at a later date, I was not deterred. We planned for August 2nd and I continued lessoning three days each week when my trainer was available and hacking the mare on the days when she was not available. In the beginning of the summer, my trainer was supposed to ride the mare once a week to train her, and while I never rode her on Sundays for this reason, my trainer evidently didn’t have time. So when July 28th came around and my nerves began to set in and I turned to my trainer to ask if she thought I was ready because my confidence was waning and she told me she thought neither the horse nor I were ready, I crumbled. I remember feeling myself slouch into the saddle – I might have laid right down on the horse’s neck the way I felt.
My trainer was afraid of the way the horse would respond to the environment and my nerves once we got to the ring. She told me that without having ridden her all summer, the horse wasn’t ready, and that it had been my fault for not planning that with her, despite the horse being available every Sunday as we had planned. I was crushed. I wanted to badly to prove to myself that I wasn’t the performer I had been the last three years.
When I first started riding with this trainer, I had come from a western trainer who had been my world. I hadn’t realized that when she was training me to jump, I was essentially still sitting western in a hunt seat saddle. So coming to my new trainer was a massive adjustment that really rattled my confidence. After just under a year at the new barn, we went to show. I was on a perfectly trained warmblood who, had he had a confident rider on him, probably would have placed first in every class. But he didn’t. He had me. The highest placement we got was 3rd in a class of 7 on the flat which is my proudest riding achievement to this day. But when it came to jumping a course, I froze up and panicked and it fell apart. My goal at that time was to be prepared to try out for the equestrian team at Delaware Valley University where I was set to attend in the fall.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I didn’t make the competition team, but still rode on the B team. It was an experience that I wish I could forget. I’ve never had stage fright, but having over 80 girls expecting you to make their school look good when you’re not even confident that you know what you’re doing because you’ve only ever competed once could make Beyonce nervous. By the time I came back home to my trainer, everything that I had learned was pretty much gone due to my fear of everything not being perfect. Three years later and I still struggled with that, so I wanted to overcome it and get that ribbon to prove to myself I was not the horrified messy rider that I felt like.
To my trainer, wanting a ribbon made me vain. At one point, she told me she didn’t even know me. To her, all I wanted was a ribbon, not to be a better rider. But to me, getting that ribbon would prove to me what everyone kept telling me – that I had improved. And now, four days before the show, after working all summer to raise the money to go to show and pay for the horse and support the shoes and afford new show clothes and pay for three lessons a week plus training, I wouldn’t get that chance. I had put in over forty hours of work each week plus riding after that, giving up my last summer home before I would move to Ohio, ignoring my friends and putting off dates with my boyfriend, all for nothing. What had I learned? I wouldn’t be able to reach my dream of showing, or prove to myself I had changed, and evidently I hadn’t gotten anything out of all of that work seeing as I still wasn’t ready.
To clarify, in my mind, getting better at riding is not about how you look, it’s about how you feel. Yes, I can jump a three foot jump on a smart horse and land on the other side, but I want to vomit the entire time out of fear. That feeling never went away, especially after the concussion, so the summer was feeling more and more like a huge waste.
My trainer and I are on rough terms, but I don’t think she has any idea of that. After I left for school on August 14th, I was told by another rider at the barn that my trainer would be showing that same mare I rode in September. So to me, it wasn’t the horse that wasn’t ready, it was me. Granted, I know that I’ll never be the rider that she is. In fact, according to her, I don’t have the skill set to train a horse. The comment wouldn’t have been so off-putting if we had been talking about training a horse, but it had come out of the blue as a portion of one of her thoughts. It was an unnecessary insult that was unwarranted because I have no plans of training a horse and had not in any way insinuated that I had trained this mare. In fact, I was trying to point out that she couldn’t make the time to do what she had said she would do, which was school the mare to jump.
In addition to hurtful words and poor-timing of the show, she never validated a single feeling that I had. I continued riding until I left for Ohio, but it was different. I didn’t feel passion for it anymore because I didn’t have an end goal. Yes, I was supposed to just try to be a better rider, but my fear hadn’t changed in years, why would it change in two weeks. I guess some of it did. Without the passion or the goal, I didn’t really care what I looked like. I flung the horse over the jump and while the fear of the fall still came with me, I left the fear of what others thought behind the standards. At every end of the lesson, my trainer would say something like “see, aren’t you glad we didn’t go to show?” and I’d find a way to not answer because no, no I’m not. When I had mentioned to her everything I felt I lost this summer, she told me about when she had been disappointed in her past. While I’m sorry that had happened to her, she completely blew off everything I had been feeling. So when I walked out of that barn for the last time, I felt a mixture of feelings. I’d miss the mare, but there will be more mares. I would miss the trails at the barn, but there would be more trails. I wanted to say that I would miss my trainer, but like the mares and the trails, there will be more trainers and I’m not sure what I meant to this one in the long run, so I’m not sure now what she means to me.
I left my breeches and my saddle back in New York with my family. There’s no room for something that won’t be used in my little apartment in Ohio. I’ve been here two weeks and haven’t searched barns to ride at. I miss the way riding used to feel when I was younger which was fun, but I don’t miss what riding has felt like these last few years and for that reason, I’m not sure that I’ll find another trainer out here. I didn’t quit, I kept pushing on, and I still haven’t quit because I can continue if I want to. I probably won’t show within the next seven years because no one has the time or the money when they’re in vet school to do those things anymore. But much like everything that I do in life, I have trouble doing something without a goal and for riding, I will always wonder “what if” when it comes to shows.
In some ways, she was right. I did accomplish things that I had not been able to do before with this mare. And while my fears didn’t change, I apparently looked okay doing it. But I’ve had a goal all of my life far greater than showing or even riding, and that’s becoming a vet. This time, no matter what I’m told or who thinks I can do it, I’m going to reach that goal.