The thudding rhythmic beat of the hooves is music to my ears. The momentary pause as man and beast soar over the jump is grace in action. The competitors make it look simple. They just gallop around the course in a collected manner and then spring up over the jump. I’m not sure the audience can fully appreciate the hours of practice and training that goes into the presented teamwork of horse and rider. This is a dream come true, it is the riders dream come true.
I attended the Nations Cup At Spruce Meadows held in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on September 9, 2017. It wasn’t only an outing to enjoy the beauty of the equestrian sport but it was a small reunion between a few Equine Studies college friends, and myself. We hadn’t been together in over ten years. So what better way to reconnect than to horse around at Spruce Meadows? Yeah, it’s a groaner.
The horse is an instinctual animal that has survived for hundreds of years by living according to it’s fight or flight instincts. I reluctantly add that horses by nature’s choosing are creatures of prey. In the wild they are hoofed grass eaters subject to the laws of the hunt. The weak and slow of the herd are meals for packs of roving wolves, nature’s henchman of the bush. Most horses choose flight over fight, unless they are cornered, and then watch the kicking, striking, and biting commence. This fact alone should add to your admiration for all who sit astride a horse in hopes of controlling the outcome.
I’ve had the pleasure of horses in my life since I was a naive little pea pod on the vine of life. (Such a bad metaphor, no comments from the peanut gallery.) In my days of being tossed, trampled, struck, bowled over, bit and kicked by horses I know painfully and personally, horses are not just instinctual beings, but are emotional creatures as well. They form strong bonds of companionship between other horses, and given time and trust, between people as well. Horses are sensitive to emotion. They can sense fear or hostility in a person by simply being close to them. They don’t need the demonstration of trembling hands or a baseball bat to the fence, to know a person can’t be trusted in that state of mind. This means, for a rider to be successful, they must be calm and confident, even in the face of their own personal fears. The trust between horse and rider must be like the trust between a flying trapeze performer and their partner who catches them. There can be no hesitation, or doubt, timing is everything. Welcome to the Spock Academy for hopeful equestrians.
Now lets add to the mix, the fact that horses actually do have ideas and desires of their own. Sometimes a stallion would rather be mounting a mare than leaping a fence. It takes a strong hand to guide a stallion to a rider’s whims. Sometimes horses are having a bad day. Maybe they miss a stable-mate, or are feeling lazy, like they would rather just lie around the pasture. It’s a whole different ball game when a sport includes a non-verbal teammate.
Ultimately show jumping is communication between man and beast, for the jumper to be successful the horse must want to jump. Somewhere inside them there is the desire to soar. And as I watched the jumping events it is clear to see the horse trusts it’s rider, and the rider trusts his horse. The horses accepts the encouragement and challenge from their director to jump fences they wouldn’t consider jumping on their own.
It’s bloody amazing. The professionals in any sport can make the task look easy. The teamwork in show jumping seems effortless, and therein lays the magic. It is the slippery fricken magic of appearance. We don’t see the in behind scenes of hard work, or countless hours of practice and failure. We haven’t seen the riders struggle to maintain a positive outlook through their feelings of frustration, doubt and fear. If these show jumpers can trust their horse, who by nature is a creature of fight or flight, to go over jumps for them time and time again— then I think you can trust yourself to accomplish whatever dreams you can conjure up in your limitless mind.
You got this. Oh yes. Damn right you do.