One of the most satisfying things for me as a horseback rider is when I make a breakthrough with the horse I’m riding.
Over the past four years, I’ve constantly ridden the same horse. Though I would never give up riding that horse until graduation comes, there wasn’t that much I could continue learning on him. One, he was too perfect of a horse and, two, I already knew every little aid, tick, and everything else there was to know about him, good and bad.
But, in November, 2018, I took up the opportunity to ride a second horse, one completely opposite from my slow and steady, older horse I’ve been riding all throughout high school.
And riding him has been a pain, but also I’ve become such a better rider in the process learning to ride a horse completely different.
There were days when I’d get off with sore muscles and complete frustration and dissatisfaction. Days when I had to fight with him just to get him to walk.
Last Saturday, however, I had a breakthrough. Though there were the moments when I had to fight him through the walk, there were only two of them versus ten or twenty. It was the best ride I ever had on him. I got him to easily canter from a halt, canter over ground poles, and do most of those things without any protest.
I hope I’m not jinxing my improvement with him by writing this, but I hope all the future rides are just as successful as this one or else I’ll just keep learning.
When I think about May 31st, 2019, I think about what I’m leaving behind when I walk across the amphitheater to get my high school diploma.
I’m leaving behind the campus I’ve called my home the past four years, the classes where I challenged myself and found my passions, and the teachers who helped me find those passions. I’m leaving behind my friends, who I won’t see at breakfast every morning or go on camping trips with anymore.
These last four years weren’t always easy. As much as I’ve loved them, they were some of the most challenging years of my life. But, one thing made life away from home just a little easier to manage and it wasn’t my teachers or friends.
It was my horse. A bay, appendix quarter horse named Time who I’ve been riding since my freshman year. My family always asks me what I’ll miss the most about OVS when I leave and the answer is always the same: Time.
When the Thomas Fire came on December 4th, 2017, I panicked as we were evacuating on the bus thinking my horse wasn’t going to make it out alive. I cried myself to sleep, despite the constant reassurances. Over the summer, I ended up crying again when I went three months without riding and, more specifically, without riding Time. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I have to say goodbye to him during the last week of school knowing that it’ll be the last goodbye. Knowing hat I won’t be getting back on once summer is over. Knowing that one day, towards the end of May, I will untack for the last time and possibly never get back on him. That, the following September, he’ll get a new rider and I’ll be at a university in a completely different city. I hope that rider loves that freaking horse as much as I do, though. Sometimes I wonder if that’s possible.
So many things happened the last four years with Time by my side. I went with him to my first horse show, on my first horse camping trip, my first dressage clinic, and my first injury, which he gave me after he threw me off at said horse show. Even though I got a fractured back, the story was still funny and memorable.
I can imagine leaving OVS and going off to college, but I can’t imagine leaving Time. I can’t imagine my school day not consisting of me going to the barn at the end of the day and getting on him whether the lesson ends up going well or not. I wish I could take him with me to college, but it’s probably not possible.
Last Friday, my aunt and uncle came to watch me ride. “I don’t understand how some people just let go of their horses or sell them,” my aunt said. “They’re pets too.”
Time may have not be mine legally, but he is mine. At least, I like to say he is and, at least, many other people thought Time was mine before I told them he wasn’t. But, he is my horse. The horse I’ve ridden for all of high school and the animal I’ve developed a bond with.
I’m not ready to let Time go, but I’ll have to and I will. Even if it might be one of the most painful things I’ll ever have to do.
I have known you since the second you took your first breath and became a part of this world. I have loved you from that moment on and I am so thankful for every minute I have spent with you so far. In these four years of your life, I have only learned to love you more and more with everything you do.
I know you are “just a horse” and I may sound crazy to some people, but you will always mean the world to me.
When I couldn’t ride your mother anymore, a part of my world collapsed. She has been my pony since I was eight years old, she was my best friend. The day we decided to breed with her was the day my world started to come together again. Breeding horses always means taking a risk. There was no way I could have ever expected you to turn out so perfect.
I was there for your first breath, your first step, your first sprint, your first fall. I wasn’t there for your first jump, your first time carrying a saddle, your first ride. I am sorry. I am sorry for all the things I’ve missed out on, because I wasn’t home. I am sorry I wasn’t there for you as much as I always have wanted to.
But, now you’re coming here. Now, you’re traveling 6,000 miles to get here, where I will see you and love you every single day. You are a piece of home and so much more than that.
Let me correct myself. You are not “just a horse,” you are my horse.
Over the weekend, I went with my school to a Pony Club mega rally for the first show of 2018. I was so excited. I’ve been riding my horse, Time, for weeks in preparation, and every single time I jumped he had been a saint.
This weekend was different. It shattered any self confidence I had in my riding skills when Time threw me off over a simple cross rail in the warm up arena and bruised my back so much that it currently hurts to breathe as I’m sitting here trying to do my homework after waking up at four am every morning this weekend to get to the show grounds.
I had fallen off just the day before when my horse stopped right in front of a jump. Now, I have to admit that it was my fault that I was in two-point way too early, but that’s besides the point. Not a single scratch was on me, and I shook off the dirt from my helmet, got back on, and finished the course I was set out to do.
However, that was not the case on Saturday. When I hit the ground, I was certain that if I moved even just an inch my body would shatter into pieces and I’d be sent to the hospital in an ambulance. I couldn’t get up for minutes, until I was rolled onto my back, then I stood up, and I slowly walked foot by foot back to my stall without even getting to do that course.
I almost thought I wouldn’t be able to ride the next day either, and that weeks of training would’ve gone to waste. But the next day I ended up getting back on my horse and started jumping, and though my entire body was shaking every time I thought my horse would refuse a jump, we ended up clearing both courses.
But I guess there’s both pain and pleasure in horseback riding. There’s the sense of accomplishment when you jump a new height or when your horse comes to say hi to you and nuzzles his nose into the palm of your hand when he thinks you have treats. But there’s also the hours of pain whenever you fall off or when a horse steps on your foot. There’s the moments of self-degradation whenever you see a person with better position or better clothes, and the constant thoughts that plague your mind thinking that you’ll never be as good as them.
I’m not going to lie and say that my confidence in my jumping is back, because it’s not, and I don’t think it will be anytime soon (or, at least, until all the bruises go away), but it was a learning experience to some extent.
I’m going to fall off, and probably more times than I wish, and I’ll get back up, and fall and get back up, and that’ll keep happening, but I’ll still continue riding until I no longer can.
If I hear just one more person saying that “horseback riding isn’t an actual sport,” I will literally rip out their eyeballs and stuff them in their ignorant mouths. Maybe not literally, okay, but seriously, figuratively.
I don’t think I can handle another baseball or golf squirt trying to explain to me that “the horse does all the work,” because all I do is “sit on it.” Well okay, Richard, I don’t really see you doing much exercise when you walk along next to your caddie. Have you ever tried even holding a horse, a living being that weighs like a thousand pounds and usually really isn’t in the mood for cooperation? I bet your baseball bat doesn’t step on your feet ten times a day.
And how about the fact that riding horses literally consists of trying to control a usually gigantic flight animal that could probably kill you if it really wanted to, and to do so you literally have to use every single muscle you posses in your tired, half dead body? Then try doing that for like an hour a day, without getting 100% frustrated, or, you know, dying.
I’m not necessarily a person who trusts easily. It takes me a long time to open up to someone, to let them know what goes through my mind or what makes me tick, what makes me happy or sad. But somehow, I manage to put all my trust into a creature who could kill me if they truly wanted to.
I don’t consider myself a daredevil. In fact, I have irrational fears of even the smallest spiders in my room. People question how I manage to be brave enough to get on a 1500 pound horse and ride around an arena galloping over jumps with no anxiety, and honestly I don’t know. The sport is dangerous. Just last year, my roommate had broken her back falling off a horse, and I’ve been close to falling onto a boulder when my horse bucked me out of the dressage arena.
Even then, this didn’t phase me at all. I brushed off the dust, laughed it off, and got back on with no problems. My trust with my horse was still secure even though my luck could’ve been way worse.
For the past year, since my back surgery, I was constantly warned that one wrong fall would potentially break my back and leave me hospitalized for weeks with the chance I wouldn’t be allowed to ride for a long time.
But I still took the risk, and it’s because my love for the sport was stronger than my fear of pain and injury. Every day I still ride, and every day the fact that horseback riding is considered one of the most dangerous sports in the world barely passes through my mind as I work with my horse.
But that’s the thing about anything everyone loves. Everything is deadly to us in some way and form, and that same exact thing gives some of us life. So horseback riding may be dangerous, but I feel like others can agree with me when I say a rider’s love for their horse is worth devoting their time and trust into these animals despite the threat that floats through the air every day someone steps into an arena.
There are many things I love in life, and one of those happens to be animals, more specifically horses. I’ve grown up around horses since I was young. Horses are amazing, and if anyone knows me, I talk about horses all the time. My aunt had five of her own horses, and her retired off-the-track thoroughbred named Maggie was one of the first horses I ever learned how to ride on.
Horses have always been a very important part of my life. In sixth grade, my uncle told me that he signed me up for horse camp, and at first I thought “Ha. Very funny, not happening.” But I never would’ve thought that that camp would’ve been an open door that led me to one of my true passions. I never thought I’d be owning my own horse.
It was in April of my freshman year. My aunt came up to me and asked me if I wanted to go to an auction to see baby horses. I knew, logically, I should’ve said no, because I knew we were going to fall in love with one of them and then we’d want to buy a new horse. We already had five horses, but you can never have too many horses… right? Well, neither my aunt nor I believed that because when we left the auction, we already had our hearts belonging to one horse.
His name is Scapa. Right now he’s two and a half years old, but he was just a yearling when I got him. It was less than a month before I was getting my back surgery, and I was not sure if I’d have the chance to ride for another year, but I knew I still wanted to work with horses. My aunt got him for $1500, and over the summer before my sophomore year it was my job to help train him for his first halter class, where he won third place.
Though I’ve only had Scapa for a year and a half, I’ve realized several times that Scapa will most likely live into my forties. While I’m in college, going to law school, and even afterwards, my horse will still be there. Horses will always be there for me, and the fact that as I grow up Scapa will be also, it’s something really special that I’m incredibly thankful for.
People who’ve never been around horses are never really able to understand how much of a treasure it is to form a bond with a horse. Horses have always been my best friends in animal form. Any time I’ve had a bad day, I would go down to the barn and my horse would immediately make my mood happier. From horse shows to camping trips to Ireland, the highlights in my life have always involved horses, and it’ll probably be that way for years to come.