By Becky Shipps
I’ve done a lot of moving up in my life. I started riding at the age of six, was showing by seven, and it’s been steady (or at least I like to think steady) progress from then on. I’ve spent most of my show years in the equitation ring and had some great success. But two years ago I realized that we were bored – both me and my horse of a lifetime (Calando) were tired of roll backs and counter canters and flat phases. My trainer suggested we try some jumper classes. After a lifetime of being told I wasn’t bold enough for the jumper ring, it was finally time to find out!
My first year was tough but we had a great time. I was proud of myself for remembering 14 fence courses and a jump off, and Calando seemed happy to be jumping bigger fences. We both made some mistakes (I admittedly made more than he did) but we didn’t let our mistakes get us down. In fact, making mistakes helped our relationship a lot. In order to be successful in our new roles, we had to trust each other – he had to trust me to get him to the right fences on time, and I had to trust him to get us safely from one side of the fence to the other.
We’re now in our second year of our jumper career and both of us feel pretty confident. That is, until our lesson last week. My trainer came out, watched me flat, and started setting fences. Everything looked about our normal height… except the purple oxer. It looked really tall, and the spread looked, well, huge. Not sure if my eyes were playing tricks on me, I walked Calando over to it. Calando is 18h tall, so there aren’t too many jumps that look big when you’re sitting on him, but that oxer looked big even up close.
I put it out of my mind, and my lesson went well. I jumped a couple courses, excluding the big oxer, and we were feeling pretty good. My trainer called me over to give me one last course. I listened as she dictated the course to me: “liverpool, blue vertical bending to the coop… and let’s end on the purple oxer.” I looked over at the oxer and got that sicky feeling in my stomach. But then I got excited – that terrible feeling meant that I was about to do something that scared me, which meant I was about to learn something and grow as a rider. The first few fences seemed easy, but I’ll admit when we turned the corner to the oxer I thought something along the lines of, “Well, here we go!…?”.
We nailed it. I found a nice distance, gave a good release, and, as usual, Calando popped over the oxer as steady as could be. As soon as we landed, the frantic patting started. I told him what a good boy he was and silently thanked him. I looked over at my trainer who was smiling. “You’re not going to see any fences bigger than that at the adult jumper finals. That oxer is 4’3” with a 4’ spread. Great job, now do it again and get straighter at the base.”
We jumped a couple short courses including that oxer a couple more times, and by the end of the lesson I didn’t have that sick feeling anymore – I was so proud that I actually had the guts and the confidence to even consider pointing any horse I was sitting on at a fence that big. A couple years ago, I would have said no way, but now when I get that sicky feeling, I get excited because I know that I’m growing. I guess for me, growing pains come in the form of sicky stomach feelings.
Not all my growing moments are as smooth or successful as the afore mentioned story, and when mistakes happen, I always thank Calando for keep us safe. But I also remind myself that it takes a lot of courage to sit in my saddle and try to learn. It would be easy for us to stay where we’re comfortable, but it is so very rewarding to conquer a new level or improve your skill.
I’m an amateur, and that’s all I aspire to be. You won’t see me riding at the WEG, and grand prix probably isn’t in my future. My goal is to ride my horse the best I can and in a way that allows me to learn and grow as a rider. And so, to all my fellow riders who have a similar goal, whom are moving up themselves and who might feel discouraged, keep going. Do things that make you a little nervous, don’t let your mistakes discourage you, and safely test the limits of your skill. You never know, you might just impress yourself.