Valentine, a Friesian mare with more personality than she knows what to do with, was my first horse. She gave me confidence as a rider that I didn’t know I could have, and made me love her more than I knew I could. She kept me safe over countless jumps, challenged me when I needed it, won ribbons that made me so proud, and is the reason that I was capable enough to buy a second horse.
As a Friesian, she’s not really built to jump and she would point out that she’s certainly not built to do dressage. Why put your head down when you can tiptoe around the arena with it straight in the air? But we worked hard and pulled off a PR of 32.8, jumped clean rounds and ribboned in all except one of our competitions together. Val took me from Intro to Beginner Novice and would have happily taken me Novice if her ankles had allowed it. I know Intro to Novice doesn’t sound big, but for a nervous rider who missed the first year of college because of a bad fall, it’s huge. Before Val, I was a “rider”; after Val I can confidently say that I am an eventer.
After college, I spent a couple of years looking for a new barn while saying with conviction that I would only ever flat and only ever ride geldings. Famous last words. That lasted maybe three months after finding myself at an eventing barn where not only do all the people love to jump, the horses do, too. When one of my trainers went to the Kentucky Three-Day Event in 2015, I cautiously asked to go over a cross rail, caveating it with, “but I don’t want to really jump….”
Next thing I knew, I was in group lessons, going cross country schooling, and offered the chance by Val’s then-owner to take her Intro at Shepherd — my first show ever. When I came off the cross country course breathless, elated, hopeful that I hadn’t done anything to get myself accidentally eliminated, our trainer said, “Val’s perfect for you, you just bought a horse.” We came in 7th at that event and it was love at first ribbon!
Val and I spent the next year really learning how to ride together. She taught me how to jump again and I taught her that an unsolicited piaffe across the arena is not an alternative to bending around a circle. I finished more lessons huffing for breath and practically seeing stars than I care to admit. But I walked away from every day with her loving everything she’d given me and feeling just a little more confident in myself.
A 15.3-hand Friesian mare made me find the ability to get the job done and offered me the opportunity to fall in love with a sport I wouldn’t have thought myself capable of. The hard work, the hours of lessons (“Get her head down.” “You’re running, why are you running?” “Is she coming through her back? That wasn’t a rhetorical question”), they all made our personal wins that much sweeter. Val gave me the experience, trust and belief in my own riding that enabled me to buy a 9-year-old mare to move me up when she needed to step down. When challenged to be the trainer, it was really exciting to realize that I could be.
Val is now happily giving other riders confidence over smaller fences by day and keeping the barn safe by eating down all the grass by night. If you had told me five years ago that I would be in love with eventing and two mares, a tack sale junkie, and writing in to get a sassy little Friesian recognized for making me a confident jumper, I would have said you’re crazy. But here we are, and all thanks to a very special Valentine.