When I sat down to write my first story for EN’s new blogging feature, I felt a little bit under-qualified to write for an experienced audience. What I could write about and offer the eventing-blogging community, most of whom are so much more accomplished than I? Right now I’m on the slow track back to competing, something I haven’t done in over a decade. I have only jumped once in the last year, and if you ask the horse, it was barely jumping. What on earth am I going to write about?
So I told myself, if looking for material in the present or future makes me feel a bit insecure, I can look to the past, which is always good for a few laughs. I’ve been scanning my old photographs, and I found a bunch of horse photos I’d nearly forgotten about, which in turn brought up some memories, both good and bad. I thought I might share some with you all, because I am sure you’ve all been there.
First up: Ginger goes to Pony Club
My grandfather was a great fan of the horse, but to my knowledge, didn’t like to ride them. He and my grandma had a small property and kept a few horses, some ridden by my dad and his siblings, but mostly they were kept as pets. Ginger was the only horse unfortunate enough to last into my horse-crazy years.
I don’t know anything about Ginger except that she was kind of a grump. I have since learned that she was actually bought as a birthday present for my older cousin, so she was well schooled in the art of little girl training. She was pretty safe, all things considered. I don’t remember ever getting bit or kicked at. I used to go for trail rides around the neighborhood, and she wasn’t afraid of much, traffic included.
She put up with me brushing her for hours on end, braiding her tail, dressing her up in pink gear, but things went downhill when I decided I wanted to go for my D-1 Pony Club rating.
When I joined Pony Club, I had hoped that you didn’t actually have to have a pony, so I was heartbroken when it became clear that Pony Club was really designed for kids with horses and I didn’t know how I could take the mounted tests without one. After lots of dramatic weeping and complaining, I had the bright idea to take Ginger to the test. Cause a horse is a horse, right? The only requirement is that it has four legs?
Ginger must have been close to 20 years old, and I’m not sure of the last time she saw inside of a trailer. I don’t know what she thought was going on when I started preparing us both for the test, but she must have known something was up.
We rented a trailer and picked her up on the morning of the test. Perhaps I have my rose-colored glasses on, but I don’t recall the loading process to be much of a problem. She must have thought they were taking her somewhere far away from me.
By the time we got there, I was so nervous I could barely talk, but with a lot of help from my endlessly patient family, we got us both tacked up and ready to go.
After a couple of laps around the arena, Ginger realized we had not in fact taken her to her happy place. Out of nowhere, she decided she had had enough of this ordeal, stopped dead in her tracks, and would not budge. I could not get one single hoof to move, no matter what I tried. I got off and tried to lead her and she wasn’t having it. It was like she had been turned to stone. I will be forever grateful to her for expressing her displeasure with the situation in the least dangerous way possible, by simply not moving. She didn’t rear or buck or try to unseat me in any way; she just froze me out. I was sobbing, mostly out of embarrassment but also, I really think, out of regret and shame, knowing that somewhere in my self-centered adolescent heart, I had asked her to do something too far out of her comfort zone.
Once we were finally able to inch Ginger out of the arena, the host barn took pity on me and let me complete the test on a borrowed horse. I remember nothing else from that day, not even whether I passed the test. I just call myself a Pony Club dropout now, because I’m pretty sure I didn’t want to show my face in front of anyone from the club ever again.
I don’t think I rode Ginger much after that. Every time I visited I brought treats, and I loved her till the day she died, but I think I was so guilt-ridden I just wanted to leave her be.
But I was able to glean a few lessons from this sad tale, which I think have served me well. This was my first of many lessons about the complicated and beautiful relationship we have with horses. I asked for something, and Ginger said “no.” I have tried, in all of my subsequent horse relationships, to listen as carefully as I could to the answers horses give to the questions I ask, almost to a fault, because I do not know the difference between “I’m being naughty” and “I’m saying no.” I’m so afraid of getting it wrong again that I err on the side of assuming an honest “no” answer to my question, even if the question is simply, “Do you think you could find it in your heart to go just a teensy, weensy bit more forward?” I guess experience is the only thing that helps teach you the difference, and I’m working on getting more of that. So, Ginger, thank you for forever shaping the way I approach these questions and making me ask with respect and assuming an honest “no” over indifference or naughtiness. I think I’d rather get it wrong that way than vice versa.