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Am I letting my horse down?

From: Leah

Dear Jessica, I am feeling so depressed about this question, I hope that you will share some of your wisdom with me. I am a first-time horse owner and was lucky enough to get a really wonderful mare for my first horse. I hope that Peekaboo will be my "forever horse" because I love her very much. She seems to be very fond of me too, which makes me happy. In fact, my horse makes me very happy, even if I'm not riding her but only feeding her a carrot or giving her a hug. She is a real friend.

Before I ask my question I need to tell you some of our history. I had bad lessons from an instructor who rushed me into things before I was ready, mostly I believe because she was in a hurry to have me join a group lesson (more money for her). The others in the group had been riding longer, some for a year or two and some for six months, I was the only one who was completely new to riding. Well I'm sure you can guess what happened, the instructor sent me down a line of jumps and the horse ducked out after the second one and I fell off and got hurt, also very frightened. When I healed I was too afraid to go back to that instructor, and anyway when people heard about my injury they all came to see me and told me stories about all the other riders who had been injured riding with that instructor, apparently she is well known for damaging riders! I wish they had told me that before I fell and was injured. One of my visitors recommended another instructor who just taught a few people at a small private farm with two school horses, nothing like the first place, practically no facilities (no indoor arena and no jumping course, just an outdoor arena and some jumps in a field) but so much better because it is much more low key and much better quality teaching. After two years with her I was still a bit nervous of jumping, but able to do it safely. Then I bought Peekaboo who was also nervous of jumping, and we rode on the flat for another year, just going over a few cross-rails or very low single jumps once in a while to check if we were still afraid. Peekaboo is such a sweet mare that I don't think anything could frighten me as long as I was on her back. She trusts me too and we have begun jumping this year, real jumps that is and not only a once-in-awhile cross-rail.

Last week I went to my first jumping competition. It was just a local schooling show very near my boarding barn. I thought that it would give both of us a pleasant low-pressure experience. We placed in two classes! I had signed up to ride in 3 but changed my mind about the afternoon one because there was a heavy rain over lunch and I was worried about Peekaboo slipping. Peekaboo was so good, and I felt confident on her. Then a woman I didn't know came over to me and asked me why I was putting her in classes that were so far below her ability. At first I thought this was a compliment and was thanking her, but then she made it clear that she thought I was a bad rider and had no business with a nice horse like Peekaboo, and that Peekaboo could do much better if she had a good rider. She even gave me a card and said "You can call me if you decide to give that horse a chance."

I put Peekaboo in the trailer and I sat in the other side of the trailer and cried. I felt like we had come so far together and we were getting to be a real team, not just a horse and rider but a horse who trusted her rider and a rider who trusted her horse. It hurt me so much to think that I could be wrong and that I am hurting Peekaboo and holding her back from what she could do, and that I am letting her down just by owning and riding her. I went from so happy to so sad in just minutes. I really thought my heart was going to break.

Well I got home in tears and ever since then I have been trying to decide what is right. I know that I am not going to call that woman, because I think she was a horrible woman, but I worry every night that what she said might be right and maybe I should try to sell Peekaboo to a better rider. I feel that I have been making progress with my jumping, but maybe I can't make enough progress to keep up with Peekaboo. The thing is that I trust Peekaboo so much, and I really love her and I know that some people say horses don't have affection for people but I believe that she loves me back. But I don't want to let her down. I am starting to enjoy jumping as long as I am on Peekaboo, I don't think I could ever jump another horse, but with her I can be brave even when I am jumping. But I want to do what is right for her. Please, please help me do the right thing.


Hi Leah! You're already doing the right thing, so please stop worrying. You certainly do NOT need to sell your horse - what you need to do is relax and enjoy her. Your instincts are good - you and Peekaboo obviously DO have a partnership, you ARE a team, and you should stay together. Your instincts about that woman were good, too - "horrible" is a fair description. I don't know what motivated her to say those things to you, but I could make a few guesses. Let's just say that there are some people get so caught up in their drive to compete and win - or to make money by selling horses to other people who want to compete and win - that they completely lose sight of what riding should be about, which is the development of a true partnership between a horse and rider.

Riders who aren't really sure of themselves often worry that they are "not good enough" for their horses, and that they are "letting their horses down". Ask yourself these questions:

1. Does Peekaboo come to you when you arrive at the pasture gate and call her?

2. Does she work - and jump - willingly and cheerfully?

3. Does she seem to enjoy the time you spend together?

From what you've said, I'm sure that your answers are YES, YES, and YES. So - stop worrying.

DO WHAT YOU AND YOUR HORSE ENJOY. If you want to improve your own skills, take lessons, take clinics, read books, watch videos. If you ever think that your horse is having problems with saddle fit or shoeing or teeth or general health or nutrition, consult saddle fitters and farriers and dentists and veterinarians and equine nutritionists. In other words, do everything you can to make yourself the best and kindest rider you can be, and do everything you can to make your horse the healthiest, soundest, and happiest horse she can be. Enjoy your time with her, and do everything you can to ensure that she enjoys that time as much as you do. If you do all of that, and focus on keeping your horse healthy and happy whilst you improve her training and your own skills, YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY LET HER DOWN.

Don't worry about what some stranger with heaven-knows-what agenda says to you, or what she thinks, or indeed what anyone thinks, other than your trusted instructor! The question is: What does Peekaboo think? You are NOT "letting her down" by providing her with a sport she enjoys and a partnership with a person she likes and trusts. You would NOT be improving her life or her happiness by selling her just so that she could belong to someone who would make her run faster and jump higher. If she could talk, she would tell you that. Ribbons don't mean a thing to horses. Partnerships, on the other hand, mean everything. You've given your horse what she needs and wants - trust in you and confidence in her own ability to jump (which is, if you think about it, also what SHE has given YOU), so don't allow anyone to frighten or bully you into giving up your horse and your partnership.

Competition is OPTIONAL - you don't need to compete, and you certainly don't need to compete in order to "prove" anything about your horse or yourself. As long as you're making progress, who cares how slow or fast that progress is? If you enjoy competing, and Peekaboo enjoys competing, then go out and compete at a level that's comfortable for both of you. Push yourselves a little bit, because it's good to stretch yourselves a little, but don't push yourselves so hard that you stop enjoying the process. The important thing about riding, and the thing that some people forget (how sad for them!) is this: WE DO IT FOR FUN. You and Peekaboo had FUN at your competition, at least until that woman interfered, so by all means go to competitions if you enjoy them. Just remember that it's your HORSE's opinion of you that matters most, and Peekaboo has made it clear that she finds you a totally suitable partner. Hold that thought. ;-)


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