My horses really did me a solid last weekend. After about three years of journeying with Cassius, we made it to our destination; the 3’6 amateur owners. The hunters, and specifically this division has long been a grand love of my life. I love the handy rounds, and the stake classes. On the occasion that we are fortunate enough to celebrate a Tri-color champion or reserve championship it is the best feeling. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore my Serafina and showing her in the jumpers. But she was actually imported to be a hunter if you can believe that! So I had no intention of ever being a jumper rider until she really started to tell us how unhappy she was in the hunter divisions. Caitlyn had to work on me for about three months to get me in the jumper ring because it just never ignited my soul the way the hunters did. Of course now, because of Serafina I love the jumpers too.
But for the sake of this post, although all three of my horses contribute immensely to my ability to ride confidently I am going to speak a little bit about the hunters and that lofty goal of being consistent, confident and accurate at 3’6.
I have had both Cassius and Mo since they were 6 years old. “My boys” as I always refer to them, are now coming on 11 years old more or less so it has been about 4 years. Actually as I type this it is four years to the week that I showed Mo for the very first time in the foot when he was just a baby and I was so nervous!
Mo has always had a great brain. He does not hold a grudge, and what prompted Caitlyn to believe that he would be a match for me was just that. He was forgiving, smart and had the stride and scope that I needed at that time to get back in the saddle. Yes you heard me – BACK in the saddle. I had a few bad experiences in the ring and was at a point where I was seriously considering just being an owner and no longer competing myself. I was scared, exhausted emotionally, and tired of failing. This is when Caitlyn and I really started bonding and when she noticed Mo, who was imported by Sandra Dalman. Mo was almost instantly a match, and about 8 or so months after that first class in the 3 foot, we had qualified for indoors at 3’3. The very next year, we moved up to 3’6. He is another horse that has had my back for years. Believe me when I tell you that this is not lost on me. For years, I went through horses at what felt like warp speed. There were unlucky injuries with horses that I loved, and bad matches that I tried to make work and resulted in steps backwards. I was barely jumping cavaletti when Mo entered my life. Caitlyn and I decided that he needed several months with her in the ring to gain some understanding of his job and confidence and he progressed as he always does; with relative ease and no complaints. Mo has been my rock when it comes to pushing my riding. He is not the fanciest horse. In fact here in Wellington he did not even jog last week, but guess what? WHO CARES. I am not here for .75 ribbons. I am here to become the rider that I have always expected myself to be: confident, consistent and one that I can feel proud to be. And Mo is integral to that process. To give you some context, all was going so well with Mo that it allowed Caitlyn and I to really take our time with Cassius, who came in to my life about 6 months after Mo did. He was a little slower on the uptake, and he was more athletic, more sensitive and needed more time with Caitlyn. So that is what we gave hime. I flatted him often, rode him on trails, lessoned on him but never with the goal of competing until later on in the journey. As some of you may be aware, within that time, Caitlyn and Cass really clicked and have accomplished three USHJA Derby Finals together. Can you even believe that? Because I can’t.
If someone would have told me that I would one day own a horse who competed in those rings I would not have believed it. But here is the thing about those classes – they require a really solid fitness program for the horse, and consistency for both horse and rider. Given that, I made the decision to remove myself from the equation to give Caitlyn and Cass their best shot at really being a team, and really getting him as fit and confident as he could be. When she rides him and preps him for high performance or the derbies it is a much different ride than my amateur riding style and capabilities. I was the one who knew that for the record, she was always willing to let me ride him. I want to be clear on that because at the end of the day my trainer’s main priority in life has always been helping me realize my goals in the saddle. She has never been the kind of professional that has ever tried to put anything above that. Just so we are clear here. 🙂
Now, with Cass & Caitlyn flourishing and me having the steady Eddy of Mo and the saintly Serafina I was really progressing so nicely and loving it. Then about a year ago, as I have mentioned before, my family’s business was in need of change. Desperately. And I needed to be a part of that. To be honest it was dangerously close to a place on instability that not only made me uncomfortable, it also motivated me to step up and be the change that I wanted to see in that area of my life. What was happening required my emotional, spiritual and physical presence , which meant that the amount of time I was spending in the saddle was less. This did not really much impact me in the beginning because my two horses were always ready for me whenever I needed them. Then last year during winter circuit Mo contracted a virus and was hospitalized for several weeks and out of competition and riding for several months. Slowly, my riding starting to devolve. But my utmost priority is always ALWAYS the quality of life of my horses so this was a no brainer for me that he would have the time he needed to heal, and then we would determine if he could continue to be my team mate after that. First and foremost was his health. From winter circuit to summer, Mo healed, and I was able to ride again but I had fallen out of shape a bit. And that was fine because I was focused on really important things, including my 18 clients with my wedding planning business last year. Yep, 18. You read that right. I was now an integral member of the leadership team within my family’s business and I was still producing gorgeous weddings and events too.
I spent much of last year competing here and there in the 3’3 when I could with both Mo in the hunters and Sera in the jumpers in the low adults because I just did not have the confidence to step back in to 3’6. Caitlyn and I decided that she and Cassius should do derby finals one more time first because I wanted them to have that chance and second, because I was not ready to ready assume that ride just yet. I spent most of my time cheering them on last year and loved that. But in the back of my mind I kept thinking about the 3’6. I kept wondering if I would ever have the time or the strength to get back to the division that I loved. And do that with both Mo & Cassius. It was a voice in the back of my head almost every day. Just nipping at my inner perfectionist, who voraciously pursues goals. I actually live for them.
Caitlyn knew it and never once wavered on her belief that I would get to where I wanted to go, but I really started to question myself. When I began riding Cassius more I still struggled with the lead change, and the ride. But even with that I just could not let it go. I had to prove to myself that I could get where I wanted to be. I think mainly because I needed to know that regardless of what my life put in my path, or threw at me that I would stop at nothing to hang on to my passion and my need to prove things to myself in the ring that taught me lessons I carried in to every element of my life.
December of 2019 arrives and I have barely ridden the last few months. The horses are going South and I am like maybe 1/4 of where I thought I would be. But I learned something this year that is the reason I am writing and sharing this blog for you who has been kind enough to read it. The thing is that life ALWAYS throws shit at you that you don’t expect. And sometimes that does mean that you have to amend expectations, but more often it means that you search deeper for that confirmation in yourself that you really want the thing that you are pursing. Every time I had to cancel my plans to ride, I knew that I would get to Florida in January and I would ride. Even if I showed in the 3’6 the very last weekend of circuit, I was not leaving this place without that goal checked off the list. I have mentioned over and over again how living with auto immune and PCOS factors in to my riding. And that now being 41 and a little heavier than I would like also factors in to my ability to push myself. All of that is real life accurate, friends. My eyelashes hurt the first week I was here. But I kept going.
I decided to allow myself the imperfections. The extra weight, the mistakes. All of it. Why? Because why NOT? In the process of finding out if I truly had what it took to reach the goal I had set for myself I learned that allowing myself to truly participate in the process was crucial. Also crucial? The understanding that I had nothing to prove to anyone but myself. Period. I will share something with you – I cannot stand the outfit that I have to wear when I compete. Beige pants? a tight jacket that is short and makes me feel like a fire hydrant? In any other circumstance I would say HARD PASS, LOL. But this is what we wear in this discipline. And really, who gives a shit if I feel uncomfortable besides me? Do my horses know that the outfit makes me uncomfortable? Should they have to accommodate my ego when they are giving their all to help me accomplish these goals? Absolutely not. So, I allowed myself. I set small goals and just kept at it.
And, last week, after all of that, I stepped in the 3’6 older A/O’s with both Cass and Mo. For Mo it was over a year and a half since we jumped that height in competition. With Cass, it was the first time. There was no fanfare. I think part of me expected like trumpets or something but alas, just me, my trainers, and my horses showed up at 8 am and warmed up. And off we went. Can I just tell you – it was GLORIOUS.
But it was not perfect, by any means. Mo almost jumped me off at an over in our handy and then almost bucked me off after I landed a little hard following the jump (he decided that day that maybe all his lack of grudge holding should be something he reminds me of, LOL). Several years ago I would have stopped going. I would have come out of the ring after such a big “oops.” Now to be clear, nobody was hurt and it was more funny and unlucky than anything so guess what? I managed to keep my ass in that saddle, sat up, and went right on to my trot jump that came after that over. As I mentioned before, life throws shit at you, and if you cannot learn to keep going then you can’t progress. So all this time that I thought I was “missing” the achievement of hitting my goals, I was actually learning much deeper fundamentals that I apply in the saddle and when my own two feet are on the ground.
I can’t express how much I enjoy riding now that I am returning to a place of confidence and strength. While we will now take the time to figure out this height together, Cass and I did manage to jog three times, which included a nice finish in the handy round. Sometimes things take longer than you plan for, but if you can stick it out and just keep a little faith, the immensely satisfying feeling of getting where you have longed to go is really one that even I couldn’t find words to describe. I am so proud. I celebrated two days of fun with prayers of thanks, and a heart full. Thank you Caitlyn, Cody, Marissa and team for all you do. Thank you Mo for always being my confidence booster, and thank you to my big, beautiful hearted Cass for the most stress free, fulfilling and fun weekend. We GOT there. We answered the question of “let’s see if we can do this” and man was that satisfying as could be. I hope to compete with Mo in the 3’6 this weekend to keep practicing the height in the ring again, and I will show Searfina this weekend too. Cassius will have the week off of showing so he can prepare for some things with Caitlyn after some rest this week.
As I sit here, in the sunshine on my laptop concluding this blog I can tell you this one thing is the thing to take away from all that you have read here today: never give up on a dream. Or yourself. And when it gets hard, push harder when you can, and let it go when you have to. But let it live in your heart and let that be the spark that fuels the fire of your existence. Get after it friends. Sending love your way ❤️