why did the chicken jump the oxer?

I hate to admit it, but I have become a huge chicken.

You might think – “hey jen, how is that even possible! You have a big horse that you like to ride over big jumps! that is pretty brave.”

And I would say, “yeah – in a past life that was true.”

Truthfully, I’m so done with jumping. I want to say that it is mostly Paisley that was done – but I think I was just as done as him. Last summer as we struggled through a few Diana Rich lessons I knew this wasn’t clicking anymore. Why was I spending so much money on these lessons that I was barely enjoying? Diana was fantastic and her lessons were phenomenal – she could make us look like rockstars. But I hated doing most of it. I hated running through the grid over and over, I was exhausted after doing the course again – once more, now just the last oxer. Riding was supposed to be fun! It wasn’t fun anymore.

Maybe my own frustrations are what led to Paisley to begin stopping at fences. In the 6 years prior – this horse had never refused, run out, or been otherwise nervous about a fence. The only thing that had changed was me. I was suddenly afraid of anything more than 2′. How had I tackled BN courses and even some novice and training level fences just the year before?! What changed in me? I have no idea. I haven’t had a fall in years, in fact I’ve only fallen off of my horse 3 times. Once jumping a fence that was entirely too large for me, many years ago, then I went a few more years without any issues, and then I had two falls within two weeks. The first I was warming him up over a tiny x-rail and I was trying to stay forward and out of the saddle, I don’t know why, I guess I decided my 2-point was not being held up long enough? So I stayed up, landed, he did a tiny little trip and I flew over his shoulder. And then the next time I was being stupid and riding him bareback in a halter and trying to trot away from the gate of the pasture and I just lost my balance and slid off like an idiot. I guess all of those situations would be something that would make anyone nervous, but all of them I got back on and did whatever I was doing over again (except that giant fence- that was real dumb. I just made it smaller).

I remember both times as we were running on XC at the Kentucky Horse Park during our two USEA shows that the entire time I was thinking – “I hate this, I hate this, I hate this.” I just could not wait to get to the finish. Both times I was so excited and so ready – but once on course I hated every second. I was so nervous. These fences that were so tiny in my many course walks were now giant, huge, Rolex sized. I would not quit though – so I guess my stubbornness outweighed my fear of what was actually happening.

Last summer he began to get really nervous about jumping. I tried my absolute hardest to not be nervous too. I kept the fences small and the ride positive and light. He was not finding his distances, he was launching over the fence, and then taking off completely. Then he started bucking after landing. This horse has never once bucked during work- not while I’m riding and not even on a lunge line. I immediately stopped and fortunately the chiropractor was out the following week. Nothing physically wrong. Nothing significantly out of place – just his usual spots. I tried jumping again – and it was the same results.

It was disheartening at first, but then I realized that if he doesn’t want to jump – why the hell am I forcing myself to jump? Neither of us are enjoying this anymore. So the jump saddle went to Craigslist and we started riding with dressage trainer Jennifer Flory. Holy hell does she do amazing things to my horse, and wow does he enjoy dressage. Even after these amazing lessons, I’m still asking myself – “what am I doing?” What is our goal now? I feel like I’ve always given myself a goal with Paisley. Establish solid gaits, check. Go to a few local shows, check. Score well at said shows and get some ribbons, check. Go to a USEA show, check. Get a USEA ribbon, check. Initially my next step was- “go to a dressage show” and now I’m like… umm, no thank you. I think I’m good.

Honestly, I think I am good. I feel like I’ve reached these goals and life-moments with my horse that I’ve always wanted. I’m not saying that we are done – but I’m saying I have nothing to prove. Maybe my next goal is to just go on a happy trail ride and not have my horse come home an anxious psychopath like he normally does. That’s a good goal! And once we have achieved that, maybe my goal is to take a trail ride every week this summer.

I don’t really care if that sounds boring. I don’t really care that I have hundreds of dollars of fancy show clothes going to waste. What I do care about is that my horse and I are doing something that we both enjoy, together. This is just the next chapter in our relationship.

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