Through a series of unfortunate events, the ponykid and I found ourselves suddenly and inexplicably without a trainer, two days before leaving for a horse show. Aside from dealing with the emotional and logistical details of finding a new trainer and a new boarding facility, there was the looming question of “what about the show in two days?” Ponykid and I were both planning on showing, but she was especially excited at the opportunity of showing in the big Tryon stadium that weekend.
Me? I folded like a cheap suit. No way was I up for taking on a new trainer, a teenager, her green pony, my quirky pony plus my own raging nerves! The kid, however, surprised me with her resolve to go show as planned. I would learn as the weekend went on that I had severely underestimated her grit and ability to persevere in the face of adversity.
When I was a bit of a wreck, she was calm and focused. When I was wondering how to adapt to a new trainer’s show expectations, she took the reins (literally and figuratively) and made a plan, learned her courses, checked in at her rings, and cleaned her tack—the kid was on it! And because she was so on the ball, it gave me some time to sit back and reflect on the changes I saw in my kid’s attitude, as well as her riding, over the course of a few days. What I originally dreaded, was in many ways, a blessing in disguise.
The schooling ring has long been a nemesis. Her pony could get a bit frazzled in the crowds. Add to that, that the trainer for the weekend had never seen the new pony jump a course or coached Ponykid (like, ever) and they were schooling in a massive stadium? I was fully prepared for things to go sideways.
It didn’t take long for the pony to make a bid for a long spot and land playing on the other side. I could see Ponykid holding her breath from 100 yards away, bracing for trouble. Instead, the trainer called out to her to work her way into the middle as soon as she could clear a path. They stood in the middle of that chaotic stadium for 10-15 minutes discussing what had happened and how she could ride through it. I could not hear the conversation, but I could see the kid’s shoulders start to relax. I could feel the tension leaving her body. The pony could feel it too.
The rest of schooling was smooth sailing. Walking back the barns, the kid chatted with the trainer about a particular issue she was having with the pony, and of her own accord, suggested a minor equipment change. Her expression when the response was “That is a great idea. I’m glad you thought of that,” was enough to make my momma heart swell. I had never realized how insignificant she thought of her own ideas. Seeing the gratification on her face, from simply feeling heard and validated, spoke volumes.
The derby Friday night was not flawless, and that was okay! The goal for the weekend was to learn and have FUN! The green pony had, well, a green pony moment towards the end of the classic round, but Ponykid rode through it, finished her course, and came out smiling. As the three of us made our way back to the barn, they discussed what went well, what didn’t, and what ideas they had for the rest of the weekend.
I was a little surprised at how a last-minute change had changed her attitude for the positive. I am a firm believer in the mindset of “it’s never the pony’s fault,” which by default puts the responsibility squarely on the rider. But changing the dynamic allowed the kid to take ownership of her mistakes, but also her successes. No one told her what she must do. They asked her what she thought, provided some input, and discussed the results after they tried it.
As the weekend went on, her riding got better and better, earning top ribbons in several over fences and the flat and finishing the weekend out with reserve champion (out of 14 really lovely large ponies). While truly much of the credit should, and does, go to the past trainer for laying a good foundation with both kid and pony, I 100% believe the change was what finally pushed her riding to the next level.
All weekend, Ponykid really hustled and stayed one step ahead of me with her pony. She kept her trunk organized, her tack and pony spotless, hay net and water buckets filled, courses known, rotations checked in. I did virtually nothing. I think it was the first time she took ownership of the entire process.
With all this extra time on my hands, it really made me think…in the past she had always felt that in order for her riding to be validated she needed to win. I could tell her all day long that as long that as she tried her best and had fun that was good enough, but she never truly felt that way. She had this inner fear of letting someone down for so long, that she was afraid to take the initiative and attempt anything before being told what to do. After having someone trust that she knew her pony better than they did, she had the confidence to act accordingly.
I would never have expected the weekend, which I was dreading, to have had such a positive impact. While I am still deeply saddened by the parting of ways with a trainer, I am quickly realizing that maybe it took a series of unfortunate events to help my Ponykid realize she was stronger, smarter and better than she knew. It took a different perspective for her to feel empowered, and not defeated. And it took a kid with more grit than her momma, to show me that she now has some really exciting opportunities on her horizon.
About the Author: Ponymomammy juggles her roles of mother (two human, two ponies, and three doggos), wife, and perpetual amateur 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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