What They Taught Me: Nitro
One day, when I'm competing at preliminary (hopefully), I will think of this horse and dedicate crossing the finish flags at least partially to him.
|Majestic as hell.|
In autumn of 2012 I had a bad fall. I've fallen off probably a hundred times, but this one was definitely the worst. My horse and I careened into a cross country jump and luckily knocked it over, or it would've been a rotational fall. I cracked my head pretty good and finished the show in the ER. While I got some excellent pain meds out of the ordeal, it definitely put the scare in me like nothing else had.
Unfortunately a few months later, we had to put my horse down for completely unrelated reasons. Even though we had competed in another event I felt like I hadn't properly faced down my fears. I had been too scared to even jump him over a crossrail without clutching at his face and for the first time in my life I really didn't want to jump.
I think everyone goes through this at one point. Eventually you have a bad accident. Whether you fall off or not you ask yourself: do I really need to do this? Is this still fun for me? And with any luck the answer continues to be yes. But even if it's not this experience taught me that's okay too. As a young idiot thirteen year old I scoffed at the middle aged women who 'only did dressage' because they were too scared. And some of them rode when they were younger and were fantastic competitors and they were, in my opinion, a shadow of their former selves.
But in one day I learned that it wasn't giving up to take a step back. It wasn't my time to take a step back, but I came to terms with the fact that one day it might be, and that was okay. Also my thirteen year old self was an ignorant asshole.
My trainer, Megan, didn't give up on me though. The women I train with at Bit O Woods amaze me. They seem to know what's in my head even when I don't. I felt like giving up, but she knew deep down I wouldn't be happy yet only in the sandbox. So she started by making me remember that I was not only good at jumping but I loved it.
|Nitro with another student in the irons.|
Nitro is a little palomino lesson pony at my barn. He is grumpy and stiff and very hard to flat but he is a saint over fences and has quite a pop to his jump once he gets going and ridden correctly. He has a big horse's jump in a little horse's body. She also put me in a semi private lesson with one of my best friends (let's call her A), who was training her green horse to jump and thus was only jumping pretty small stuff.
The first few lessons I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest. We would successfully navigate four jumps and I wanted to stop before something awful happened. But we had time left, and my friend was ... exuberant, to say the least. I thought Megan had put us together for convenience's sake; we carpooled so it made sense we rode together. But later on I realized it wasn't convenience but genius on her part. It was hard not to have fun when A was running around in excitement making mistakes left, right and center but not caring and it ultimately not mattering.
As winter wore on I got bolder and bolder. I no longer shit my pants when she put the jump up a hole after warm up. I jumped the chevron and was happy about it. I think we even jumped the liverpool. We went out into the jump field and I jumped everything in Nitro's height range. Even when he was sassy and porpoised his back like the cheeky pony he is, I just laughed and dropped my weight into my heels and waited it out. Instead of being petrified when he jumped four foot over the ditch I had a good laugh. We had ugly jumps and I made mistakes but I felt safe and more importantly, I was having fun again.
It culminated with what ended up being my last ride on him. I hadn't been off the farm and jumped anything bigger than about two foot since my fall. I had begun riding a more size appropriate lease candidate and was confidently jumping her. But I think Megan felt I needed one more test: Nitro and I went to Fair Hill to go cross country schooling.
The idea didn't initially scare me, but we got off to an auspicious start when Nitro panicked at the parking lot full of trailers. But once we got into the woods he settled and from then on it felt like I was just on a fun trail ride. Again, A's exuberance paved the way but I happily led greener horses over the ditch, over some smaller fences and through the water. I felt like I knew what I was doing again and it was SO FUN.
|A and I, having an absolute blast.|
I haven't ridden him in years but every once in awhile I visit him. He pins his ears at me, and then realizes I have a cookie and becomes very sweet. Without him, I would never have found the courage to jump again. I would never have gone training level, or jumped around 3'6" with a smile on my face. I would not have bought Runkle.
So thank you Megan, for putting me on Nitro and knowing exactly what you were doing. And thank you Nitro, for giving me my hops back. I owe you one, buddy. Every time Runkle and I leave the ground.