My PonyKid saw a t-shirt the other day that said I Get My Eq From My Mom. She was all, “Momma! I need this shirt!”
But all I could think was, “Yeah, kid. I’m not so sure you want to go around advertising that particular piece of information!”
If you were to ask my PonyKid, the Big Eq is the epitome of “having arrived.” As for me, I relate more to a funny meme I’ve seen floating around: Me at 13, jumping 2’ on my pony but planning to move up to the Big Eq next year, while me at 35 thinks all the jumps look too big and should be dropped down a bit. It’s such an accurate representation of my life currently that it’s almost not even funny.
I’ve always had a tumultuous relationship with the equitation divisions. Sure, I did the age group eq as a junior, and did okay most of the time but my body conformation fought with me as I tried to be competitive at higher levels. By design, I’m built more like a gymnast. Petite and muscular, even as an adult. I fit ponies better than horses, and I came to peace with it decades ago. My PonyKid, in contrast, has the long and thin build I wished for in my equitation days. She presents a beautiful picture on a horse—far prettier than I ever looked.
At some point in my junior career, I decided that the equitation was just not going to be my thing. Instead I was going to be scrappy and get the job done. A tough rider, but not one that has to look good while doing it. My brain got stuck in that mentality. I decided equitation was just looking pretty. If I’m being totally honest, I probably had a bit of a chip on my shoulder because of it.
The older I got, the easier it was to be slack about maintaining proper equitation. Sometimes it feels like if you’re still on a horse after a certain age, the horse community is just going to let you be. I catered to that mentality, choosing green horses and projects. Doing so took the focus off of me. I could worry about being scrappy and getting the job done. Who cared if my shoulders were back? I just had to get the green bean over the scary jump.
It got so bad that I even told my trainer at the time, “Please don’t even bother correcting my equitation unless it was negatively affecting my horse.” It should have been a red flag when my trainer laughed and agreed with a shrug of her shoulders, but I didn’t see that flag at the time. I was way too happy that she stopped giving me a hard time about forgetting to keep my fingers closed. With this program, over time I developed rounded shoulders and a wretched left duck over fences. But as long as I could get the job done, who cared… right?
It took a sensitive pony, a new trainer, and some serious introspection to remember that equitation is about so much more than looking pretty. There is a reason why all new riders learn to put their heels down on day one. Form follows function. There is always a purpose behind the position. It’s not like I didn’t know all this, but I let myself believe it didn’t matter because I didn’t feel like my equitation could be good enough to matter.
If I had the opportunity to own a string of tolerant school masters who didn’t care if I let my leg slipped back, I could have carried on with my slackness, but instead I bought Eddie. Though he is kind and I love him dearly, he’s not exactly a “Steady Eddie.” If I duck left over the fence, he’s going to land and dive left. If I lift my right hand, he’s going to swap leads and then look at me like, “What? I did what you said.” He is truly like a 900lb lab puppy, and absolutely wants to do whatever you tell him. It’s a lovely quality, but I was confusing the hell out of him with my “scrappy” riding.
There was this “duh” moment when it finally hit home that the reason my pony was getting heavy on the front end was because I was leaning forward. The reason he was swapping leads when we had a long approach to a single on the diagonal is because my body was inadvertently asking him to do it.
By pretending my position didn’t matter, I made his job harder. If I hurled myself up his neck over the jump, I threw his balance way off. By not closing my fingers and then having to readjust the reins, I sent him mixed signals. I thought I was doing nothing, but really I was doing a million little things that left both of us frustrated.
If you look back at the historical purpose behind the equitation divisions, they were implemented for junior riders as a way to instill a good foundation to prepare them for higher levels of competition. Because a proper position doesn’t just make you ride prettier, it makes you ride better. A leg that is secure and underneath you means supports your own weight over fences. Keeping your fingers closed and thumbs up allows you to maintain a line of contact to the horse’s mouth. Eyes up and shoulders back keeps you balanced with your horse. It all works together so that your horse can perform his best.
There is a reason why the juniors that do well coming up through the eq divisions generally go on to be some of the top riders in the country. Maybe it’s about time I removed that chip from my shoulder, and put a little more effort into “looking pretty” on my pony—even if I have no intentions of doing the adult equitation. Even if I don’t have the ideal body and still don’t really care how I look up there. Maybe I have to start believing that I’m a good enough rider to care about my equitation, or maybe I can just tell myself I’m doing it for the pony.
I don’t mind putting in the effort to work on myself, especially if it will make the pony’s job easier. It is mostly convincing myself that I am worthy of devoting time to. As a mom and an ammy and a PonyMom, it is easier to put myself on the back burner—equitation or otherwise. Easier to focus on the green pony, or the PonyKid, or really anything other than myself. Maybe it’s time to change some of that. Maybe it’s time to allow myself to stop settling for scrappy and give myself permission to thrive.
About the Author: Ponymomammy juggles her roles of mother (two human, two ponies, and three doggos), wife, perpetual amateur, and accidental co-owner of Black River Show Stables in Camden, SC. When not shuttling kids, or riding, she can be found feebly attempting to clean or cook, usually in dirty breeches from an earlier hack. Both she and her daughter enjoy showing on both the local, and A rated, show circuits.
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