Monday, June 4, 2018

my white whale

Novice didn't break my leg back in 2015, but it might as well have.

Preparing to move Isabel up that summer was all-consuming. It was my first real year as an eventer and we were out there doing the thing. My horse felt like a million bucks. I felt strong and capable.

We systematically checked each box off the list: 3' rounds at a local jumper show? Schooling higher at home in lessons, including some crazy big xc fences? Flirting with second level dressage moves? Finishing our last two BN runs on our dressage score for second place? Check, check, check.

oh isabel and all her majesty, so much personality and spunk in such a small package!!!
My coaches were challenging us with every step, and I was determined to grow from each mistake. To learn what my weaknesses were, inside and out, so I could get better.

I was still absurdly nervous tho. Not fearful, at least. But the anxiety and tension, the uncertainty and creeping shades of self doubt.... It's insidious, ya know?

At the time, one of my barn mates actually straight up questioned why I would put myself through this emotional wringer if I was going to get so bent out of shape about it.

Which, ya know, that question surprised me haha. Of course I wanted to move up. I knew this was where I wanted to go, and that the feeling coming out on the other side would more than make up for all the anticipation and nerves.

I also knew that progress and personal growth are often decidedly not comfortable. That pushing the boundaries of my bubble meant experiencing some growing pains.

It helped tho that our first N was at a venue well known for being friendly, inviting and soft. Plus I was going by myself. Which may not sound like an advantage, but sometimes when I'm really tense or uncomfortable I'm best left to my own independent devices. So it worked out haha.

And that first trial run went swimmingly for us. Izzy laid down a beautiful dressage test. Stadium was a little sluggish and behind my leg, but not bad. Cross country had all the important hallmarks: up and down banks, ditch, jump to drop into water, plus just enough big jumps to feel like we got our money's worth. And it did challenge us. Izzy seemed surprised to see so many "questions" all in one place, and needed me to ride her forward.

cruisin through her first BN stadium - funny how much bigger the jumps look with a smaller horse haha
It worked out tho, and we won that event on the strength of our dressage (and despite it being a small local starter trial, there were still something like 8-9 riders in the division). It's the only event I've ever won.

Leading up to our second N, my guts were still a churning mess. I knew that we'd get an entirely different experience at Loch Moy than at Olde Hope. And being totally honest, I was way more nervous. Many sleepless nights.

And the day was tough for us. It was a briskly cold fall morning, with early ride times for Brita, followed by hours of sitting waiting for my own afternoon times. Isabel was cold backed and uncharacteristically tense in dressage, actually kicking out a few times in warm up.

Stadium fortunately found the mare feeling much better, but I still made plenty of mistakes attributable to my nerves-induced tight riding. We had 3 rails, and a few more close calls to boot.

Cross country tho.... Ahhhh, cross country. It was like a dream! Isabel felt amazing. Like she owned the world. Nothing was too big for her. She conquered the three stride in the woods, faced down our first ever trakehner, and soared over the final jump like a total and complete badass.

In a word, it was thrilling. It was everything I could possibly have hoped for the cross country run.

And even tho the day was not without plenty of problems and weaknesses, I honestly felt pretty good with it all. I felt like we really were ready for the level. Sure, there was more to learn. And more mistakes to make.

first BN!! and this brush fence scared the crap out of me. she didn't care tho <3
But I felt like we could do it. And was eager for our last two runs of the season - with entries already sent in for another shot at Olde Hope and then a season finisher at Loch Moy again.

If you've been reading for a while tho, you already know how this sad story ends. I broke my leg the day before Olde Hope in the world's stupidest trailer accident. So, poof. There went the plan.

The pain from the leg wasn't too bad honestly - it was not a complicated injury. But the disappointment of losing the end of my season was devastating. I was crushed.

This was my first year as a horse person where everything just felt so good. Where I was calling my shots and relying on myself and nobody else to make my dreams come true. Like all I had to do was set my mind to something, and do my homework, and we'd be able to do it. Hell, I was even scheming on making a pilgrimage to Aiken that winter!

It felt like all that got taken away from me in a flash. Felt like I lost it all before I'd even really gotten to enjoy it.

That might sound melodramatic and overly defeatist considering the injury's prognosis was basically just 12wks to being back to normal. But.... That's how I felt.

Whether it was self fulfilling prophecy, or whether I was actually prescient, who's to tell. Bc I do ultimately consider that the beginning of the end with Isabel.

she has the best tail ever, too
We got back to work well enough that winter. Things actually started out really really well for us, even tho the time out of the saddle had revived all those confidence issues I'm constantly trying to stamp out. But Isabel felt good.

Things didn't stay good tho. It started slowly, some bad misses, some earned refusals and some surprise stops. It didn't feel right. Something was off. And that feeling grew and grew and grew, until suddenly we couldn't get through a jump course without a crashing refusal.

We stuck to BN to start the new season but barely held it together at our first show, were eliminated at the second, then withdrew from the third. Even when I tried to rebuild positive mileage with some 2'6 jumper rounds, I ended up eating dirt repeatedly in front of a stunned and moderately appalled crowd.

I did everything in my power to try to break the cycle. All the physical and medical interventions I was permitted to pursue (including some I opted to do unilaterally, as unfortunately I was not granted as many permissions in this area as I wished...). Brainstorming with all my trusted coaches and peers. Isabel even got her first training ride.

It was too much, tho. Again I know this sounds melodramatic, but the spell was broken. I was tired and discouraged. Didn't want to keep pushing if we couldn't rule out anything physical, but also was wracked with guilt and self doubt that it was all my fault.

So we stepped back from training, even from riding in the arena. Just went out exclusively for trail rides, before those eventually dwindled to nothing as well.

looking anything but boring at her second BN
I will never, ever be able to fully quantify just how important Isabel was to me as a horse. She taught me so much. She gave me so much. Honestly she gave me everything she had for 3.5 years. But those last 6 months? Well, she just felt done. Like she was over it. Ready to not be a sport horse in training anymore. And ya know. Who can blame her?

I will be eternally grateful for the time I had with her tho. She's just.... wow, such an incredible mare. She and I were never best friends, she was never the type of horse I would have chosen for myself. But yet she was perfect for that time in my riding life.

And I like to think she enjoyed being a fancy sport horse too. She had been bred and carefully started by a horsewoman entrenched in the local scene here. A product of Ann McKay's storied Arab and Arab-cross breeding program. Then, sold as a 5yo, she spent the next few years passing from field to field, living life as a pasture pet and occasional trail riding speed demon.

Her owners during this period were drawn in by her beauty and spirit, but simultaneously intimidated by her presence and sensitive hot blood. So she languished doing nothing, tho learned to be a little devilish about it anyway haha.

finally proving herself as a novice xc machine
So when I got the lease on her in the most random and serendipitous circumstances, she was basically completely raw material. Well-started as a baby, but with a slightly feral air.

Her raw talent shone through tho. And after a year spent getting to know each other, we were finally able to begin making real progress. Thus I began my foray into eventing. Everything we learned, we learned together for the first time. Real dressage. Cross country.

Our first intro level event was her first just as it was mine. And by our ninth event, we were leaving the start box to run N. It felt incredible. For that, I'll always be grateful.

Rebuilding tho after that... Was challenging. I rode so many different horses that summer, desperately trying to cling on to that strong, capable feeling I had had with Isabel. Instead, tho, I felt threadbare and empty. Ended up painfully falling off a bunch more horses that summer, shattering whatever was left of my confidence.

Even when I finally settled on buying a thoroughbred 4 weeks off the track, I was crippled by self doubt. Was I trying to hide my inadequacies as a rider behind the shield of a green horse??

i swear she had wings
It's interesting tho. In some ways, there are parallels between Isabel's journey and Charlie's. Both were old enough to have reached a state of emotional maturity when I met them. And both had a foundation from which I could build.

Isabel's foundation was her early start by a breeder who was thoughtful and careful with her. And even tho that foundation had grown rusty over the years as a pasture pet, it was still there.

Likewise, Charlie's foundation was having already had one successful career. He raced for four years, the bulk of which was spent with a single group of owners and a trainer who loved and cared for him, and were thoughtful in his training.

He therefore knew how to have a job already. Knew that there were expectations of him; and understood to a certain degree the balance between work and reward (tho that balance has shifted much more in the direction of "reward" since he became mine lol!).

Charlie's been such a great horse to work with bc he has let me continue building on this foundation. Has agreed to learn the rules to a new game. And to jump through new hoops to get those rewards.

Plus it's so freakin easy for him. He's bred for sport, bred for pure raw athleticism. And he's giant, too. Basically, as far as I am concerned, any thoroughbred with a willing attitude can do Novice, it was just a matter of finding one who was the right fit for me.

forever the most special mare <3
And that's Charlie. He's so easy to trust, and so easy to believe in, that it didn't take long for me to set my sights on getting back to where I was when everything felt so good, before I broke my leg and before things fell apart with Isabel.

It might seem small to an outsider, inconsequential or arbitrary. Or whatever you want, honestly. It hardly matters, after all. Except to me? It means everything.

For me, returning to this level, low level tho it may be, and doing so with yet another horse I brought along myself - one so different from the first... For me, this has been my one steadfast objective since deciding to buy my first horse nearly 2 years ago.

And somehow it still feels like just the beginning. It feels like the story is starting fresh again. Like I can finally put some of my demons to rest, and step away from trying to rewrite or recreate the past. It's time to turn my attention wholly to the future and whatever may come. It feels good and I'm just so so excited <3


  1. <3 I agree - it's definitely just the beginning with Sir Charles!

  2. I can relate so much to this! I spent years riding various lease horses, I would slowly make my way to jumping 2'6" confidently then the lease would end etc. and I'd have to start over with another. I was finally able to buy my own horse, I had her for 5 years and she was amazing. I did everything you could imagine with that mare, we chased cows, galloped on the beach, did judged trail rides, but her real talent was jumping. We were just getting comfortable at 3' when she injured a front leg, I gave her the winter off, started back to work and a few months later she injured the other front leg. When she injured a front leg for a third time it became clear that she needed an easier job. I found her an awesome new home as a therapy horse for a teenage girl and went shopping for a new horse. I ended up with a gorgeous 4yo warmblood that turned out to be decidedly the wrong horse for me. I tried for a year and a half before admitting defeat and selling her. Now I have yet another lease horse, who thankfully is a saint and is helping rebuild my confidence. In 2 months I've gone from having panic attacks over 18" fences to starting to jump 2'6" again. Sometimes I wonder why I keep trying, I'm seriously considering changing disciplines entirely, maybe I'm just not cut out for jumping. But then I look at old pictures of jumping my mare and feel sad at that thought of giving up. I think the mental aspect is the hardest part of this sport!

  3. You have such an amazing future ahead of you with Charlie. You two are a great pair and all the slow and steady work you’ve put into getting here with him is paying off. Bask in your moment, you deserve it!

  4. Can't wait to see what the future holds for you and Charlie!

    Very much relate to this, having been knocking on the door of PSG with Pig last year and now starting over with a baby that sometimes makes me doubt I know how to ask for a downward transition! Lol. We'll get there, but man is it disheartening.

  5. <3 I completely get it. Isabel reminds me so much of Savvy. She gave me so much, and even though we only did starter level, I just felt like we were such a team doing the stuff together with her giving her all. Seeing you do well now with Charlie just makes me so happy for you! You've put in a lot of hard work to get here.

  6. I think Charlie was a great pick! And nothing is more important than a horse that you trust <3 I'm excited for your future together :)

  7. Love this! So much truth here.

  8. This made me tear up. It is a fight and a struggle to make those dreams happen. It's wonderful that you have a partner who is in it with you ♥️

  9. All the feels. To lay out your emotional and mental journey all in one place. So many of us have gone through this in similar ways, even though the details may be different. Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing.

  10. A lovely tribute to a special horse <3

  11. This is fantastic - a lovely tribute to your time with Izzy and how it carries over to Charlie. I was just thinking this this morning. It doesn't matter what level it is, but everyone of us has our own Rolex. It's our big goal and what we work for. Congrats on reaching one of yours with Charlie!

  12. So many feels! Sounds like you an incredibly special relationship with a very cool mare. Everyone experiences their own journey, so glad yours had brought you to Charlie, and you two together to Novice. I wonder what the future holds! Best of luck!

    <3 Kelly @ HunkyHano

  13. I feel like Bridget and my story parallels yours and Izzy's quite a bit. I get being so, so, grateful for what they gave us, while simultaneously losing confidence and feeling a little disappointed. I'm so happy you found Charlie and am sure the future holds all sorts of great things!

  14. Totally just the beginning for you and C! I enjoyed reading about you and Isabel, but it was clear towards the end that you both wanted different things. So glad you're getting to do all the things with your very own horse!

    And I feel ya on sometimes needing to do things independently. While having a trainer or a support team is great, sometimes it's just one more thing to stress about!

  15. This is a lovely tribute to Isabel! It's interesting how horses come into our lives and set things up. The two of you had a great partnership and she helped you get ready for the challenges of an OTTB. Charlie seems so honest and capable. He's going to provide you with lots of amazing rides.

  16. I feel EXACTLY the same about third level. Mikey never quite got it, and he died before he could. It was crushing to lose him while I was realizing he didn't want to do third- he was happy being a second level schoolmaster. I got Penn, the confidence I got from Mikey brought up a gloriously confident and friendly horse back to third level. Third does feel like my demon level as we've had yet another setback at this stage.

    This is a lovely tribute to Izzy, and flows beautifully into the story you and Charlie are just beginning! :)


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