It is springtime and I am in a happy mood. We had record-setting snowfall this winter, which made lots of people pretty cranky. For me, winter was mostly amusing, because it came in with a fury and made it known it was here to stay, so I accepted it. I actually was thankful it didn’t give us little peeks of spring only to dash our hopes against the dreaded frozen snowbank of despair. I didn’t try to ride horses in 4-foot snowbanks with sharp winds biting our faces. I gave in to the howling winds and undulating expanse of white in my outdoor riding arena from January to about mid-March by feeding extra hay and giving lots of kisses and cookies to plenty-warm muzzles. I set to humming a happy tune while cleaning the closets in my house and dusting ceiling fans. I went into total acceptance of the reality of what this winter was, and it made it a really lovely time for me.
But we all love spring when it comes (and spring with the spring cleaning done is a knockout combination.) The flowers and seeds are planted, the birds are back and the air smells pungent and fresh. The horses are out at grass when not working their one hour or so per day and their coats are getting slick as the last bastion of dead winter hair releases its grip.
And now I have to learn to ride again. This is the only part of this spring that is seriously harshing my buzz. We’ve all had those moments where we realize that what used to be easy for us is now daunting. Whether that is riding outside of an arena, cantering or whatever your used-to-be-comfort zone encompassed, we all have experienced the moment when we realize our world of possibility has shrunk. At that moment we have a choice: either live in the shrinking world, or push back the walls.
Last fall I was galloping and jumping somewhere around 3’6” and flirting occasionally with 4’. And it was easy. It was thrilling. It was a gift from the Universe that I thoroughly enjoyed and was grateful for. This spring feels like starting all over again, and it doesn’t help that I have a really Fascinating Pony (FP) in for jumping training. We are up to 2 feet which looks giant to me right now from the vantage point of 12 hands.
Each day when I feed, I walk by my jumps, which had been set at 1’-2’ for FP training. Over time that height had started to look normal to me. The me of last fall would not have considered them even warm up fences. One of my horses literally shies at fences set that low. (This I found out right after informing an international clinician, who had asked about my and my horse’s experience, that 4’ hunters were in our past. I trotted away at his direction and had an inglorious stop and near unplanned dismount at a 1’ vertical. Spectacular.) But after this winter of not riding and the early spring of cavaletti and 1’ grids, 2’ was looking big to me. The walls of possibility had slowly pushed near enough to me that I had to keep my elbows in to turn around. So I made a plan to push back.
I started by changing the default setting on the jumps to 3’. This required a lot of extra work because every time before I worked FP, I had to lower the jumps and afterwards, I had to raise them. But something about walking past those jumps set at 3’, which looked a little big to me at first, stirred a memory from last summer of walking championship level eventing courses and at first saying “Oy chee mamma, that’s big.” And then walking them again and maybe again, and finding them acceptable on further consideration. The easiest part comes next: simply putting those jumps between the gunsights of my wonderful horse’s ears, and thoroughly enjoying being lifted effortlessly over, flying and grinning.
After a few days the 3’ fences in my arena were not big to me anymore and I jumped the made horses over them while they yawned and my heart raced. It occurred to me when I untacked their unimpressed selves that humans think entirely too much.
So tonight when I feed I will set the jumps to 3’6” and look at them a day or two, get my mind around the height and then canter on down to them and jump them. It won’t be easy at first, but easy will migrate home to roost like the predictable bird it is. I will be back and I will feel better, and who knows, maybe I will crank them up more and look at them with feed buckets in my arms, and feel future easy flight.
This process of pushing back the walls is like wading into a cool spring-fed lake. We walk out and the water gets deeper and colder and we wonder if we should continue or just go back to the warmth of the sandy beach. When we choose to take the plunge and glide, swimming along in the balmy top few feet of the water, we remember that the acclimation process we had to go through to get there was simply the appropriate price of admission for the ride.