I have been given an amazing opportunity to ride a friend’s horse who had been previously campaigned by a Big Name Trainer to the Advanced level. I produced a horse to the advanced level eight long years ago, so this is a fantastic opportunity to once again, ride above the preliminary level. So this summer, I took the opportunity to compete at Intermediate again. My friends and I went to Maryland last weekend, all to run Intermediate. It turned out to be a learning experience, but perhaps not quite like you may be imagining.
As many may remember, four years ago I had a crushing fall on course and broke eleven bones, lacerated a liver and suffered a concussion. That was my second bad accident in roughly a twenty year period. (The first I had a burst fracture to L1) Obviously, an accident like this can affect you on many levels, emotionally, psychologically, physically, and financially. This being my second one, and nearly forty years old, I considered how or whether this should affect my future. Horses are risky business before we start running and jumping them over solid fences!
Many people who cared deeply for me tried to encourage me to find a safer equestrian pursuit, or at least consider staying at Prelim or below. Maybe doing some larger jumper classes, but maybe not high level eventing anymore. This rationale never sat well with me as one can more easily get into a car accident, yet we all still get into cars! Besides, my accidents didn’t occur at a high level, consequently, they reaffirmed how precarious and risky horse sports actually are, at ANY level. They say the only people who don’t fall are those that don’t ride! I have always believed falling was a matter of when, not if.
With this new opportunity, I have been pursuing my goals again. I really don’t like to be a “prisoner’ of fear, but I am not fearless. It’s one thing to have respect for the limits of one’s skill, but I’ve never been one to fear what’s in my skill set. I have worked had to reacquaint myself with the skills needed to bump up a level and be comfortable jumping enormous jumps again and I feel good about it. However, I’ve had one lingering question throughout; am I just being stupid or foolish? Should I heed the warnings of friends and respect their concerns? Am I making an intelligent choice or will my emotions cloud my judgment?
I have felt like I was acting responsibly by asking these questions of myself. I felt like I may ward off an accident if I kept an open mind. Well, I think I have been very wrong!!!! This past weekend, while out competing, I asked myself all the usual questions, are we jumping safely, am I on my game, etc… and my horse was not feeling his best that day, he was a bit tight and in need of a productive warm up. While wasting energy and focus on those same old questions, and worrying because things weren’t feeling great, I was squandering my focus on what I COULD CONTROL, my warm up and my need to get my game on!
I completed the event and was exhausted and feeling emotionally drained. This weekend, I realized what a tremendous waste of time and focus it’s been for me to think this way. I also realized how much more dangerous it is to spend time worrying and searching for answers that weren’t even there, instead of just committing to a task. This weekend I remembered I am NOT a reckless person and that I have worked my entire riding career to develop good instincts and skills to keep me safe. I don’t need to worry whether I’ll know if I’m safe, I will know! Instead, I need to plan to be focused and committed. As an instructor and trainer, I am aware that one of the worst things you can do around horses and especially when riding toward big jumps, is to leave your commitment at home! The best solution to any problem is to “kick on!”
If you have a goal in riding, develop an appropriate skill set, have a support network you trust, an equine partner you can trust and then KICK ON! While there are never any guarantees, staying committed and focused on how you will, not whether you should will be your best defense against the unthinkable. The rewards are immense!