Recently, in a conversation with other mouthy writers on the Chronicle of the Horse eventing bulletin board, I shared a blogpost I wrote last week for Horse Junkies United. (Post here). It was something I wrote way last fall, after the Olympic games fiasco with the eventing team, and before the USEA convention and the exciting news about new team coach David O’Connor’s pick-me-up program.
I was optimistic and tried to paint a three-prong picture of what us little guys could do to help the big guys. The bulletin board peeps stomped on me! Many posted thoughts that were not what I expected — unhappy with the sport, especially at the top levels of eventing. One comment that seemed to be shared was about how many were interested only in the “grassroots” and uninterested in the “treetops”.
As always, when driving over 1,000 miles in five days for my job, I have many road miles to cover, and lots of boring time looking at nothing but a dotted line. This treetop-roots argument jelled a little and me think a bit. You know, with horses, the higher up you go, the greater the risk. Yes the roots are safe, and solid. You can ride once a week, and still jump your horse probably over a 2-foot jump pretty safely. You can walk, trot, and canter for 30 minutes without falling off and without making yourself tired, or straining a muscle. But what are you? You are safe. You may be some semblance of solid. Your horse is OK. You are OK. At least it seems so. But when something just a little bit out of the safe zone occurs….a blowing bit of paper, a stumble, a car backfires over on the road — suddenly you’re in trouble. And it’s no fun. Is there joy in that?
The tree tops are beautiful. They are soft, supple, and swing wildly in any breeze — the branches break, and fall, and danger up there at the top, is much higher than the safe and solid trunk, much further down. You can stand at the bottom, and choose to look up — and strive to reach those bottom branches. Then, when you get as far as those, you can continue upward and keep climbing. You learn. Your horse learns. Your strength in the saddle increases. Your skill level improves. You provide quicker corrections, more solid equitation, a higher level of riding that benefits your horse. He feels your hands soften, your seat lighten, your leg provide more clear direction. You no longer have to kick to get the message across, and there is no more pulling; only a squeeze with your pinkie finger gets the submission. You can hold a two point without your bottom smacking the saddle cantle. Your horse is strong, supple, relaxed — and every ride is more fun because it is so much less work. You continue to seek instruction, improve your seat, train your horse to respond. You can now canter a whole course of 2-foot jumps easily, seeing each distance clearly. You experiment with extended and collected gaits and can start to sit the trot. Two feet becomes boring. You raise the jumps and your horse soars with you. It’s as close to flying on earth as you can get. Your accomplishment takes you to joyous heights, and the cool thing is, your horse is BETTER because you are better. You strive to be better. Your horse benefits.
The treetops hold risk. They are far more dangerous than the roots. The chances something can and will go wrong with an upper level horse are much greater than you and I with our safe, root-bound 2-foot ride. But don’t you think life involves reaching toward the tree tops with our horses?