I can remember exactly the moment I realized I was asking a lot of my horse.
We were at Bruce’s Field on a Tuesday in February for jumper rounds. In the winter, in Aiken, this is the place to be. I was getting ready to make my third start at Prelim at Jumping Branch Farm, following a successful run at Pine Top Modified. I was there for a week of training with my best friends, and the inimitable Courtney Cooper held my Adult Amateur hand. Kim Severson, heroine and Olympian, was on the rail watching (I’m sure she has no memory of this—sorry for using names, Kim). Beezie, my mare of a lifetime, was clocking around the schooling jumper course, and we came around a corner to fence 7, and there was NOTHING there.
I saw nothing. I saw China, and I saw underneath the jump, and I did exactly zero things to fix it. And so Beezie slid very safely to a stop, taking the whole 1.10m oxer down. Ms Severson, from the rail, opined “That’s my fault, I had just said it was going so well.” I replied, laughing, “It happens to everyone,” and thought, “oh my goddess, that’s big.”
I came around to it again, and finished the course. Afterward, Courtney said to me, “You have to make a decision because these jumps are big for her!” I did the course a second time, made a choice, and it was perfect. ut at that moment, I realized, these jumps are big —- FOR HER. Not necessarily that they’re that big objectively -— I was a high jumper in college, and jumped two feet higher than that on my own two feet; the Advanced horses jump a foot higher; the grand prix jumpers jump 50cm higher! — but 1.10m is at the top of her ability.
She was doing this FOR ME — not because it was something she wanted to do, or something she could do easily, but because our relationship is so strong, that she did it because I asked.
We went around Jumping Branch that weekend clean and finished 4th, winning the TIP award. It was truly one of my best days in the sport. I made a couple of other attempts at the level, and realized I was asking too much.
I had a conversation with Ema Klugman, a good friend and someone I really admire, around the time I was debating my next move. She said to me, “You have produced a really wonderful horse. She’s better than I ever thought she’d be, AT TRAINING LEVEL. What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with a Training horse? You should be proud of that. Go win all the Trainings!”
Ema told me to think of this mare as “practice for the next horse.” Beezie taught me to be better for my next horse. She taught me that moving up the levels isn’t all there is to horsemanship. She taught me what I love about horses is the relationship. And she also reminded me I have goals for myself as a rider that she may not be able to meet.
Ema pointed out it’s ok to use different horses to meet your goals — that Bendigo got her to the 5* level, but that her current batch of stellar horses are probably better suited to winning there. And not that Bendigo was “less-than” in some way, but that he had prepared her for her horses now, and is preparing other riders for their careers as eventers.
I thought a lot. I cried some. did some dressage (and cried more). I made some Training level plans for the year. Although I was somewhat rudderless, I freaking loved my horse. And she still gives me the best side-eye, and lets my son climb on her and go Beginner Novice, and will jump 1.10 when I get a wild hair, and do walk pirouettes and flying changes if I insist.
And somewhere along the line, she acquired a little girl. Every horse deserves a little girl.
This horse, who had taken me Preliminary only because of her trust in our relationship, is so happy to have a girl who also loves her. Beezie is teaching her girl to be light getting into the tack (her back is cold at the mounting block). And that cows are OF THE DEVIL, no matter if they are in the pasture next door every day of her life or not. She has taught her girl that she will always jump, as long as she is sure, but if the girl is not sure, then “That’s a No.” And she teaches what cross country is supposed to be—fast, clean, and fun.
Beezie is the perfect horse, even with the cow spooks, side-eye, and clearly expressed opinions about use of the inside rein. She will teach a kid to sit in the middle, and keep riding leg to hand. She will do lovely flat work, jump anything, go fast, and win—at the appropriate level.
So here’s to Beezie, who is now leased by her little girl and also loved by me, rocking it at the lower levels. To Bendigo, who has taught riders to ride from Beginner Novice to Five Star. To Ema (and all the human mentors out there) who can have gentle conversations with us about what is and what should be. And here’s to my new horse, who will hopefully help me along my road to being a better horsewoman. Here’s to all the horses who do it for us.