I had so much in store for the summer: going to Tryon for Pony Club Championships, moving back up to Novice with confident cross country rounds, actually being competitive at events with improved dressage scores, maybe even thinking about a Training move up next season…
And then comes the feeling most of us know all too well.
You’re warming up your horse for an everyday ride. It starts like any other, but after a few steps, you start to notice that his steps aren’t falling quite right, and the next thing you know, you’re out of a horse for the next few weeks — or even months.
It couldn’t have been more perfect timing. Right before my qualifying event for Pony Club Championships and during the last week of school, with the whole summer stretched in front of me, but a lame horse to spend it with.
At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself because I was out of school with time on my hands, but without a horse to ride. Wow. My summer was off to a great start. Scrolling through social media seeing everyone’s fancy ribbons, adventures with their horses, and travels to far away competitions made the empty feeling in my chest grow even more.
At first I liked having time to binge watch Netflix and connect with friends I normally wouldn’t have had the time to talk to over the summer. But in the back of my mind I was growing restless.
That’s when I started uncovering some of the silver linings of having a lame horse.
My friends offered me their horses to ride when they heard about Murphy being lame. With these new opportunities, doors opened for me that I wouldn’t have been able to go through before. I got to go to my Pony Club’s Show Jumping Rally, riding a borrowed horse, not worrying about qualifying for Championships. I had a smile on my face the whole day, even when a storm came through and cancelled the last half of the show, because I was sitting under the tent laughing with my teammates, something I never would’ve been able to do without a lame horse.
All my life I’ve put so much pressure on myself to make the most out of the effort, time and money I’ve put into my horse. But now all of that was lifted off my shoulders, because I realized there weren’t really any expectations attached with someone else’s horse.
With others helping me so much with my less than perfect situation, I got the chance to pay it forward. I started helping out with a young horse’s training at my barn. I was able to put all of my own training to good use and give a young horse and his owner more confidence.
If I would’ve been competing every weekend, I wouldn’t have had the time to do any of these things. As I replay the events of this summer in my mind, I can’t believe how many irreplaceable memories I’ve made.
As a bonus, Murphy is now sound. I brought him back slowly from being out of work. The first week I could only walk, and then in the following weeks I carefully added the trot and canter. I am savoring the everyday rides 10 times more because of the many days where all I wanted to do was get on and ride, but couldn’t.
I am enjoying the freedom of not having to stick to a rigorous schedule solely focused around competitions. I have become much better at reminding myself that it is good to go on trail rides and hacks several times during the week, and to balance out my lessons and practice with mental breaks for both of us.
Admittedly, it’s been hard to completely avoid feelings of jealousy, guilt and sadness as I see other young riders moving up the levels, winning blue ribbons and competing. These stressors pressure us to think we have to follow what everyone else is doing in order to succeed. I’ve learned to get so much more satisfaction from focusing on my own training, which is something that I hope other young riders make time for.
Recently I rode Murphy bareback for the first time in a while. He’s a very sensitive horse (Thoroughbreds, right?) and he definitely would not have tolerated this a year ago. In fact, the first time we attempted a bareback ride, I fell off because he took off the second I put my leg on.
My recent bareback ride probably wasn’t “social media worthy,” but you know what? I had fun. Which is the biggest silver lining of all this summer.