Trusting My Horse Through Adversity: A Recap on a Rough Show

As I unpack my bags and my mind from this past weekends show, I battle a whirlwind of emotions. As far as placings and rounds go, Joey and I did not excel as much as I had hoped. But when you look at the overall big picture, the weekend was a grand slam and I couldn’t be more proud of my baby horse and all of the hard work we have put in over the past few months. I think it is important to remember that you will win some and you will lose some, but you always¬†gain more from those challenges than you do from the all-out achievements.

Day 1- Overcoming Obstacles

I woke up Friday morning excited for the day ahead, but as I packed my matching garment bags in my car I knew something wasn’t quite right. I began to feel a little crummy and slammed Aleve like it was candy. There was NO way I was going to get sick. NOT on horse show day.

But life had other plans.

As I made the two hour drive to the¬†showgrounds in Memphis, my body began to ache and my exhaustion grew. I refused to allow myself to worry about something I couldn’t change, however, and made plans to take it easy during schooling to save my energy.

Overall, schooling went very well (actually better than our rounds- oops) and I was eager to get Joey in the ring. We have been working hard at home to perfect our lead changes and his ability to tackle tight turns and our hard work was reflective in the way we schooled. Joey was soft and supple and jumped in great form. I felt a wave of relief, there was hope!

Joey having a look at the competition. Photo by MeaganDeLisle

In the couple hours between our schooling and the time for us to show that night, I began to feel worse. The heat wasn’t helping my condition any and I found myself wanting to do nothing more than crawl into bed and sleep for days. As we entered a rotation for our 2’3″ and 2’6″ jumpers classes, I made it a goal to end the night on TOP of the horse.

And I met that goal. Despite my lack of strength, Joey packed me around the arena and took his time. Every half halt was respected, every questionable decision was corrected. It was as if he knew I was going to need a little extra help from him to make it through the day. With two rails in the warmup and one in our speed class, I was ecstatic to have a clear round in our Power portion of our Power and Speed class but I still led Joey to a couple rails in our jump-off. Reflecting on our video, it was obvious my form was not its best. Yet through it all, Joey trudged on. We survived the 2’3″ and went into the 2’6″ division with similar results, a few cheap rails here and there by no fault of Joe’s.

I began to feel defeated about the weekend in general as we made our way back to the barn. How could I have thrown away all of our hard work like that? Should I have even ridden at all?

As I wallowed in self pity, I heard a clanging on the concrete and looked down to find one of Joey’s shoes was loose- and bad loose. He had worked a few nails out during our rounds and I felt myself begin to tear up. Our entire barn pitched together and began scouring the area for farriers that would come to the show, but we were coming up short. This was the perfect opportunity for me to give up on the weekend all together and just retreat to my hotel room for the night, but I was so worried about leaving that shoe on Joey overnight that I had no time to think about my own selfish woes.

Despite the craziness of the day, Joey was relaxed and ready for a good nights rest thanks to a helpful trainer. Photo by Meagan DeLisle

Day 2- A Much Needed Fresh Start

The universe decided I had my fill of life lessons for the day and a farrier returned my call, promising to be there early the next morning in an attempt to have Joey re-shod before our classes would start. As I paced the stalls trying to decide how I would safely get Joey’s shoe off on my own, one of the kindest trainers I have ever met made his way towards me with farriers tools and pulled the shoe so I could get a good night’s rest. I crashed at the hotel, waking up well rested the next day and ready to conquer whatever I might be faced with.

While Saturday’s rounds were still not our best, I couldn’t have been more pleased with Joey’s performance overall. His new shoes gave him new form (which you would hope they would, $125 later) and we both had a burst of energy to get us through the morning. While we had a few rails because of my lack of ability to steer and think at the same time, I had a horse that I had never had before.

I had a horse who was thinking while he was working. He was planning and reacting and working with my aids, not against them. I had a horse who waited patiently at the in-gate and needed a bit of a wake-up trot into the arena. I had a horse who was cute over the fences, whose head was down, and who moved with poise and grace.

Saturday was a much better day for us, bringing home a third, two fourths, and a fifth overall which was more than enough for me. Our last round of the day, our 2’6″ Speed Round, I was elated at the second to last fence to find that ALL of the fences were up and made a mad dash to the last fence, throwing myself and Joe over it and losing that last rail.

Big horse, little rider, massive lessons learned. Photo by Julie Hathaway

While that might have frustrated me on another weekend, I couldn’t help but laugh as we exited the arena and give Joe a good pat on the neck. This horse — who had just officially been restarted in August of 2016, who had only cantered courses at a show twice before this one, who had challenged me in ways I had never been challenged before — was a new horse. He was patient, he was kind, he was thoughtful, and he packed my sack-of-potatoes self around like it had been his life long career.

The Worst Days are the Best Days

At just 25, I still have that young competitive fire and have also developed that aching nag in my side that there are teens more successful than I am. That combination can be a disaster on one’s self-esteem and I find myself doubting my abilities as an equestrian. Weekends like this one would normally set me back, but this weekend it launched me forward. It allowed me to trust my horse in a way I had never trusted him before.

Some snippets of our best moments at the horse show. So proud of my baby horse!

All in all, I am thankful for the weekends where some might say I failed. I absorb the life lessons from those difficult moments and rather than allow them to define me, I use them as positive fuel. There were so many great take-homes for me to begin refining myself as a rider, but I know now that I have the horse I have always wanted and never thought I could afford.

I was stunned to later find out that I was the recipient of the Best Adult Rider award. To me, receiving this award means much more to me than any blue ribbon as it is awarded to the rider with a high level of sportsmanship and showmanship. Knowing that I survived a challenging weekend and came out on top brought me such joy and reminded me, yet again, that we don’t do this to win but because we love the horse.

The worst days are sometimes the best days, and that my friends is the true meaning of serendipity.