All the Wrong Horses, and then there was Dillon

L. Williams and Aimee reminded me recently that while I've kept this blog since I was a senior in college, since before I knew what a Welsh Cob was, many of you weren't with me when I was terrified of jumping just a few years ago.

I've been with my trainer three years, and owned Connor for two.  When I was 21, I was overmounted in a year of jump classes at the college.  I was a nervous rider who got a late start in life with serious riding, didn't even canter until I was in high school, and so those two classes my senior year were the first time I had ever jumped.

First up was the Green Horse.  He was a good guy, and I eventually got so comfortable on him on the flat that I chose him for my senior Holiday Ride.  But he got strong, I had to stop him by running into the fence almost every time, and he still didn't know what to do with his own body over fences and I had jumped just a handful of times in my life.  No matter how much I liked him on the flat, jumping was so nerve wracking I replaced my old helmet with the most expensive one I could afford specifically because of him.

The Green Horse.  This, uh, attractive helmet was replaced a week after this photo was taken.

The Bolter was the following semester.  I would be merrily cantering along in a warmup and suddenly find myself on the other side of the arena for no discernible reason.  You also could never be sure how many feet would hit the ground on the other side of the fence you were jumping, or where you would end up, or whether you'd still be on his back.  I became paralyzed with fear any time this horse so much as put a single foot where I didn't expect him to.

I got switched to a safer horse after breaking down sobbing in the middle of a class on The Bolter because the fear was debilitating.  The safer horse was a saint, but the damage was done.  Jumping was not fun, and I did not want to do it anymore.  This culminated in my first and last IHSA jump round, in which I was the girl that made everyone gasp.  You know the type of ride I'm talking about.  I ran off to have a good cry behind a hay barn at Black Dog after that horrible ride.

The safer horse.  He started the process of getting me over my fear.

My trainer's first observation when she met me eight months after that was that it looked like I "clicked into place" in a jump saddle, and I was stiff as a board.  Over the next three months, she started my riding training over as if I was a beginner, putting me in a Dressage saddle so that my old habits were less available to me, giving me lunge lessons and working with me at the walk and trot exclusively until she thought I was ready to canter six weeks in.

When me and my lesson horse, a semi-retired Thoroughbred Novice-level kid's packer named Dillon (who is my age!), started jumping a few months in, he rushed the fences - and he was NOT a rusher!  I was so scared, I was clamping on for dear life, forgetting to breathe and just hoping to survive.  We worked on the clamping, and on the fear, and as I understood just how saintly and point-and-shoot Dillon was, the fear went away, and the rushing stopped.  My trainer's Dressage-over-fences philosophy also helped me feel like I was in control, and not just a peanut perched on his back, praying everything went well.

My old gentleman Dillon, age 24 here, now 26 and totally retired.  His one quirk is that my trainer is the only one who can bridle him, so we were here waiting on her to come out and finish tacking him up.

Without my trainer and Dillon, there would be no "eventing the Welsh Cob," it would be "flatting the Welsh Cob." There would be no taking my green pony XC schooling, and there would be no aiming for beginner novice this year.  Dillon is totally retired now, but I still take the time to give him a good curry every now and again, because I owe that old man so much.  Not every horse is right for every rider, but sometimes the right one comes along and does exactly what you need him to do at that moment in your life.

22 comments:

  1. Black Dog in Marion, IN? I used to show IHSA there, too. They had some "questionable" school horses, if I remember correctly.

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    1. It was actually one of their better horses I drew for that round. It was entirely my fault that it went badly. I was so nervous I could barely breathe.

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  2. The end of this post is so sweet. I am glad you found your trainer and she was able to help you!

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    1. Thanks, me too, without her everything would be different.

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  3. Beautiful post, what a progression, it makes what you and Conner do even more awesome!

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  4. "You also could never be sure how many feet would hit the ground on the other side of the fence you were jumping, or where you would end up, or whether you'd still be on his back. "

    Reminds me a lot of a horse I used to take lessons on in high school. I swear she would take off 12 feet in front of the jump and land 12 feet behind it--or at least that's what it felt like. There was some serious hang time in between when the left the ground and when you crashed back to earth!

    Dillon looks so sweet. I'm glad he and your trainer helped you to get your confidence back.

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    1. That's so scary! It's different when you're advanced enough to handle stuff like that, or even fix it. Thanks, they are both wonderful to have in my life!

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  5. Flash! Simon! Jackie in the background! (I think I taught Flash to jump over the summer before your junior year…)

    Anyway, I remember how scared you were and your transformation is part of what makes me recommend your trainer to everyone looking in that area.

    Total aside, I was the girl who made everyone gasp at IHSA too. But I was having a blast. I never did understand hunters while I was doing it.

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    1. Yeah, she's the best. None of those horses were bad horses except maybe Simon, who truly had a screw loose, but they weren't right for me at that time. You had several more years jumping experience than me. I can see Flash being a lot of fun for me now, but not then.

      I was seriously Kristi on that crazy jumper at Purdue-style scary. Like "That girl is going to need the EMT" scary. It was no bueno. I wish you'd seen it!

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  6. I can totally relate to this. Here's to getting your confidence back and rocking with green beans ;) you should be proud of what you've accomplished.

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    1. I think a lot of people can - wonder why that is. Thanks, it does feel good!

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  7. Your transformation exemplifies your love of horses and riding. How else could one muster the courage to continue in paralyzing fear?

    Are you angry at your college? I would be. You paid them a great deal of money and the trainers did you a great disservice. Surely they had enough sense to realize that the horses you were riding were poorly trained/too green and/or dangerous. If I was your Mom, I would be livid that you were put through that. The pressure to tough it out must have been enormous, but that clearly was not going to improve your confidence. Thank goodness you found a wonderful trainer and horse to bring the fun back into riding.

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    1. It was only jumping that was scary. I think I'd have continued on as a dressage rider if I hadn't met my trainer.

      I'm not mad at them for two reasons: first, I'm stoic and have an "I can survive anything" attitude, and since I didn't speak to my coach about how I was feeling, she didn't know. Looking back, I should have spoken up. I was far enough along in my flat education to handle those horses anywhere else.

      Second was that I went to college for the equine science part, knowing I'd never ride for a career, so the riding was extra. I got a fantastic science education, and by that time also knew my career would be in IT. My experience is not indicative of everyone's experience that went there, I know a lot of people that made a lot of riding progress in the program with the various coaches and went on to ride with Will Coleman, work for Purina, coach a private boarding school's equestrian team, etc. Riding-wise, it just wasn't ever going to be what I wanted it to be, which is what I'm doing now. It's not designed to be.

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  8. Excellent post! The right horse is so, so important for everyone :)

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    1. Yes it is. And the wrong horse at one time in your career may be the right horse in another. Gotta keep it in perspective!

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  9. Wow, I can really relate to a lot of this. Having the right horse is such a big deal and not getting over horsed or over faced is so important as well. I'm glad you found your trainer and Dillon so you had a chance to get over your fear.

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    1. Yeah, it really is. The importance of not being overmounted when you're learning can't be overstated. Thanks!

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  10. I have had two "confidence builders" in my life and they are invaluable! Glad you met Dillon and overcame the fear.

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  11. It's amazing how much the right or wrong horse can affect our feelings about riding. So glad you found a good one who helped keep you going :-)

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  12. Amazing how one or two horses can change everything for your - bad and good. Glad you found your way with the help of your trainer and ponies!

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  13. I am so glad you had Dillon! It's so easy to be overmounted because when we're learning, we don't really know what being "overmounted" looks like or feels like until we've been on a really good horse. I'm so glad you had him!

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