The best way to describe this year is
the year that should've been, could've been, but wasn't.
Lt. Worf, my sturdy Klingon war mount, was injured in an
engagement with the Borg at his first show and spent the
remainder of the year at star base 21727, serving as a
very expensive, though very happy, lawn ornament. With
Worf out of action, my hopes were pinned on Katmandu,
or, as he seems to prefer, Kat-man-wont-do.
Now Kat is a strikingly handsome horse,
with talent and potential pouring out his ears, but
sometimes he acts like he was born without the brains
God gives the average potato. His one synaptic nerve
doesn't always fire, and when it does, it often misses
its mark. As if that wasn't bad enough, this spring
Kat's allergies brought about a nasty case of head
tossing, which just about made him un-rideable.
Fortunately, as I recounted in an earlier addition of US
Event Horse, the issue was finally resolved with the aid
of pantyhose, but not before most of the season had
become a bad memory.
An incurable optimist, my hopes for a
good fall season were raised following Kat's strong
second place finish at DVCTA at the end of the spring
season. The hard ground and splint problems, however,
kept me off Kat's back all summer. In spite of my
absence from his back, or maybe because of it, Kat's go
at Waredaca was nearly flawless. The die was cast for
our big move up to training.
Over the years, I've picked up many
sayings related to riding, one of which has stuck with
me: The size of a fence is dependent upon the ears you
are looking through. For the past four years I've been
competing at Preliminary, and as such, novice and
training fences look small, almost a joke. However,
after only a season of novice with Kat, the training
fences looked down right Intermediate in size.
Historians consider the Battle of
Gettysburg the South's high watermark -- for a time, it
appeared that getting off the trailer at Blue Ridge was
going to be Kat's and my high watermark. Dressage was
nothing to write home about, but the coupe-de-grace was
a stop on cross-country where I found myself
somersaulting over Kat's head. Looking at my feet
silhouetted against the bright blue sky, all I had time
to think about was, "Boy, this is going to hurt."
A sickening thud announced my contact
with the ground ... directly under the nose of my
wide-eyed, pea-brained horse. "Alpo" I believe were the
first words that passed my lips when I regained my
breath. The jump judge was quickly by my side.
"Are you OK? It sounded like you broke a
"No, I creak all the time, I'm O.K." The
fall and all the penalty points it represented placed me
squarely in the "might as well consider it a school"
frame of mind. I slowly remounted, using the time to
strategize on the best way to approach the fence the
second time. The third proved to be the charm.
Now a confirmed pessimist, I hacked back
to the trailers thoroughly dejected. I headed down the
rows of trailers trying to sell Kat for a bucket of
spit, but my dirty britches seemed to scare all
potential bidders away. As if to add insult to injury,
Ashley, my student, got a second that day, in her and
her horse's first Training event. It was a long ride
home, and we didn't stop for ice cream.
Things went even further down hill.
Before the week was out, Kat was stopping at X's and
dropping weight like a B-17 over Berlin. With the fall
season now clearly in jeopardy, I packed Kat into the
trailer and headed to my last hope, a lesson with my
trainer, Julie Gomena. She listened patiently as I
explained what was happening, though she had already
heard from her spies about the Blue Ridge Fiasco.
"Huh," was all she said. Opening her
sack of tools, accumulated from years of riding
countless horses, it wasn't long before she got done to
the root cause. Me.
"You've scared Kat. You're riding him
like Worf. God bless Worf, no matter what you did, no
matter how bad a spot you got, he took care of you.
Kat's different. You can't place him at a fence. You
can't push him. Kat wants to find his own spot, if you
try to place him, he gets scared and shuts down. You're
going to have to learn how to sit still and do nothing."
"Do nothing!" The two most feared words
of every person whose mother wished Ritalin had been
around in the 50's. To enforce her dictates, she wired
electrodes to my fingers, and sent a jolt of electricity
any time she thought I even considered taking a hold
before a fence. True to expectations, the medicine began
to show results. Within a week, Kat was once again
happily jumping everything put in front of him. The real
test, however, was how we would perform at a
competition. Three weeks after the debacle at Blue
Ridge, with my 2nd degree electrical burns still
smarting and warnings to go slow and treat it like a
school, I pulled into Waredaca.
Things got off to an almost
too-good-to-be-true start when Kat put in a nearly
flawless dressage test. I had to struggle to keep a
schooling frame of mind. Over and over I repeated to
myself, "You're not here for a ribbon, you're here for
the fun and the Gin and Tonics afterwards." The Gin and
Tonics were the trick.
When I entered the start box for
cross-country, I had only one thought on my mind (well,
maybe two, if you count living): let Kat pick his own
pace and his own spots. Things however got off to bad
start when Kat ran out on the first fence. Now normally
I would have reminded him with my stick, but with clear
instructions to do nothing, including "reminding" him, I
leisurely loped around the fence and represented it to
him. If he could talk, I'm sure he would have said, "Oh,
you want me to jump it?" On the second approach, Kat
jumped effortlessly and hunted down to and over the next
fence. As we progressed around the course, I could feel
Kat's confidence grow as I let him pick his own spots.
And with each good jump, he slowly, but steadily, began
to jump more boldly.
As we jumped, I found myself fighting
the urge to do something. Like a smoker who wants just
one more cigarette before quitting, Waredaca drove home
to me that the cure prescribed was right, but the
recovery period was going to take a lot longer than I
had planned. In fact, I tried to practice "doing
nothing" in all aspects of my life, just to perfect it,
much to the consternation of my wife, whose "Honey Do"
list was now measured in pounds of paper, not length.
With several more lessons under our
belt, I approached our last show of the season with the
forlorn hope that we could pull a good ending to the
season, much like we had done in the spring. My hopes,
however, were quickly dashed when Kat, high on the grain
my wife had been stuffing down his throat six times a
day, decided that dressage would be a great time to
practice his caprioles and levades, which, although
impressive, were not part of his novice test.
Kat's cross-country, however, more then
made up for dressage. A novice, move up to training
level course, Kat bounded down to and over the first
fence, a less than inviting bench that had put my worry
engines in overdrive. Once over the first fence, I found
myself relaxing, and for the first time that year,
sitting back and enjoying the ride. The more I relaxed,
the better Kat jumped, and the better he jumped, the
more I relaxed. Talk about positive feedback!
Though we didn't finish the day in the
ribbons, it was a good end to a season of learning. In
nine short weeks, I had gone from hope, to despair, to
confidence. And with it, I now have a new horse saying
that I'll keep in the forefront of my mind every time I
"Ride the horse you're on, not the
horse you want to be on."