Kitty Hawk and I were top of our game when I was slapped in the face with reality. She was diagnosed with navicular and was restricted to flat work. The news was devastating. After a lot of tears and mourning the loss, I learned my first lesson of acceptance and realized that our relationship did not end, it just changed. She remained in my life for many years after I stopped showing her and we continued to go on trail rides and enjoyed playing on the flat.
Enter Joe, a beautiful 16 hand, dappled gray thoroughbred with a heart of gold. He was willing to do anything that I asked of him and had a huge smile on his face while doing it. He was one of those horses that comes into our life for a very short time but changes it forever. Joe was my equine teacher in the lessons of acceptance and humility.
I remember the day I brought Joe home like it was yesterday. This was my first horse that I could actually call my own. I wasn’t leasing him, I owned him. At 13 years old, I was the luckiest girl in the world to have my own horse. To say that I was ecstatic is an understatement. My confidence was high and knew that we would be successful as a team.
The first month of our relationship together was perfect. We were in perfect sync while getting to know each other. We were having incredible lessons and advancing in ways that I could not have imaged. I felt like we were made for each another and I was given yet another incredible equine partner. Things couldn’t have been better. The show season was starting soon and I was riding everyday in preparation. For one of my lessons we decided to trailer Joe to a local equestrian center that had a show jumping and dressage ring as well as a cross-country course. I showed there many times with Kitty Hawk and was very comfortable with the area.
Joe, trailered beautifully to the facility and our warm up was going well. My instructor, Sue Cassell, set up a jumping course for us and off we went. We have been jumping since the first day I got him so this was no big deal. Jumping the 3.5 foot fences felt like we were cantering over ground polls. Joe jumped with ease and loved every minute of it. Our first couple fences went well and we continued on with the entire course. The last line was a triple combination with an oxer to complete the course. As we were rounding the turn for the final line I remember thinking, ” This is easy, we got this”.
The first fence was perfect and the second was even better. As were taking off for the oxer, the last fence in the line and of the course, something felt different, but I had no time to react. While in mid-air, Joe bucked and I went flying head first into the ground. I was unconscious for a moment and had no idea what happened. I remember my mom, my instructor and Joe came over to me in a frenzy. As I was opening my eyes with my mom in a panic, there was this moment when Joe and I locked eyes and knew that he was confused on what had just happened. He came up to me, nuzzled his nose on my face as if to say, ” I’m sorry” and I started to cry. I felt a connection between us that I had never felt before. I knew that he did not buck me off intentionally, however I was not exactly sure the reason at the time. This was the beginning of my lesson in humility.
After a couple of days of recovering for the soreness I was back out at the stables ready to ride. I was determined not to let a little fall create fear in me. As we were warning up, my self-confidence started to improved and my fear began fading away. Our flat work was evolving nicely and I started to feel synchronicity between us. After about 40 minutes my confidence was back and I was ready to take on some fences. We did a couple single verticals that went very well, my nerves started to settle and I started to relax.
I set up a double combination, Joe jumped the first vertical with ease and we were approaching the second at a nice canter. As we took off for the second fence I could tell Joe was uncomfortable and the next thing I knew I was on the ground with a very bruised tail bone and ego. As I sat there in confusion and pain, Joe walked over to me, nuzzled his nose in my neck and gave me a look of, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it”. Once again, he bucked me off in mid-air over the fence and I went flying.