As a longtime hunter rider, it’s been ingrained into my head that everything needs to be perfect. In order to do well, we need to have the perfect pace, the perfect distances, the perfect number of even strides between the jumps of a line. Everything needs to be just right. But when it comes to riding, everything is not going to be perfect every time. In a recent lesson, everything didn’t go “just right,” but in the end, I realized that sometimes it is okay if everything doesn’t go perfectly.
Last month, my horse and I had a rough show and my confidence was a little shaken. With another horse show coming up, my nerves have been racing, and I’ve been questioning my ability to jump a 3’ course. In order to prepare for our upcoming show, my assistant trainer, Bridget, and I decided that we would play pretend horse show in my lesson.
We warmed up in the indoor ring and then went outside to jump a course in the hunter ring. After I turned Superman to the first jump, I tried to leave him alone even though I was worried that our canter was too slow. But, as expected, I panicked when I didn’t see the perfect distance four strides out. Instead of just sitting quietly and keeping my leg on, I did exactly what I wasn’t supposed to do. I sat down, gunned him at the jump, and asked for a ridiculously long distance. Superman smartly decided to stop rather than risk crashing through the jump (thank you, Superman, for saving my butt once again!).
“That was stupid.” I said, loud enough that Bridget could hear from where she was standing. “Yes, it was,” she said. “That’s okay, try again.”
I took a couple of deep breaths and reminded myself that I needed to stay relaxed and keep breathing on the way to the jump. We picked up our canter and headed back to the jump. This time, I didn’t let myself panic. I stayed light on his back, kept my leg on, and let him do his job. This time, we made it over the jump, no problem. We continued on with the rest of our course and made it over all of the rest of the jumps just fine, too. It wasn’t perfect—our pace was inconsistent at the ends of the ring and every distance wasn’t perfect—but we completed the course. And, even better, my mind was finally starting to wrap itself around what my trainers have been trying to teach me: if I trust my horse and stop trying to micromanage him, he’ll be a lot happier and our jumps will work out a lot better.
Bridget decided that we would finish with that, saying: “It wasn’t perfection, but that’s okay. We did what we needed to do.”
I resisted the urge to ask to try that oxer or that line just one more time to make it perfect (knowing that often “just one more time” turns into “just ten more times” when you go back and ride worse than you did the first time) because it was okay that it wasn’t perfection. We did what we needed to do: I proved to myself that I could walk into the ring and jump a 3’ course, and I was finally figuring out how to ride my horse the way he wants to be ridden. Lessons like this one remind me that even though it’s really great when every jump is perfect, sometimes the best rides are the ones where everything doesn’t go “just right.”