I’ve never had a made horse. I’ve had two close encounters with horses that weren’t as green as grass. The first was a lease on a fancy “big eq” horse. My mental game was sh*t and he was difficult enough that I couldn’t get a qualifying score on him without making chocolate chip cookies out of every round. The second horse was an intermediate level event horse I got the ride on because he threw my boss off too many times and she was sick of him. I got to compete him at Training level for a bit until I too started eating dirt.

That’s it.

Every other horse has either been an off-the-track thoroughbred with one or no rides under their belt after leaving the track, barely broken out babies, or hunter jumpers with a nasty enough buck, stop, or lead change problem that they were in my budget.

The good thing about this? I learned to ride. Not just the sit there and look pretty ride, but how to really get in there, be scrappy, and get the job done. I’m also very patient, because chances are I’ve experienced worse.

The bad thing? I have a lot of emotional baggage when it comes to my riding.

I learned how deep my baggage ran the other day when cross country schooling my young horse. His first event was coming up later that week. Unfortunately, life had gotten in the way and due to my negligence, he hadn’t seen water (or any cross country fence) for the past 9 months. It was no fault of his own, I just decided to prioritize my other horse and was too busy to give my youngster the cross country schoolings he needed.

He wasn’t bad though. He spooked around until he quieted down, and then he acted as if he’d been doing this his entire life. Into the water, no problem. Natural fences, no problem. A skinny in the water? Even better, the most fun he’s ever had. Dropping into water off banks and over brushed rails? You got it, he was all over it. You’ll notice I said he wasn’t bad. I brought my baggage into the ride. My other horse has a nasty stop. He will stop at anything that he’s not quite sure of, but even with the best approach, he will stop at water if you aren’t ready to put up a fight.

When my trainer had us approach the brushed rail into the water, I was ready to throw up with anxiety. Even though it was only a solid training level obstacle, and my youngster is moving up in July, I can’t even count the number of times my preliminary level horse has stopped at that exact fence. The first time into it, I bombed it. My hands were too high up, I rode too aggressively, and it was truly awful. I failed my youngster. He didn’t care though. He dropped right into the water like it was his job. Because to him, it is his job. I point, he jumps. It’s not always pretty, but it always happens.

By the end of the lesson I was smiling. Smiling on cross country? I haven’t done that during my ride in years! It’s always been hard, always a fight. I’ve never had a horse that wasn’t damaged or jaded. I’ve never had a horse whose initial reaction is “yes ma’am.” I’ve only ever had one other honest horse before.

That is how it’s supposed to feel like. I do this because it’s fun.

This feeling also led to the jumping retirement of my other horse. Because, it’s not supposed to be this hard. If it’s this hard, he doesn’t want to do it anymore. If it’s this hard, I’m only bringing more baggage to the table with my other horse. Neither one of my horses care about their potential, only how they’re treated and cared for. If it’s that hard, it might be time to find a different solution to your problem. Which is what I’m working on doing this year.