Big Eq = Big Pressure?

Photo by Evelyn Szczepanek / ES Equine Photography

By PonyMomAmmy

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve had some thoughts to share. The truth of the matter is that this past year has been a year of transitions—and transitions are hard for me. Transitioning from ponies to horses (Seeing as how I’m older than I’d care to acknowledge and still prefer ponies, this is a bit out of my comfort zone), transitioning from the hunters to the equitation (There’s a reason I still love ponies and my short little legs were never going to do me any favors in the equitation, so this is also a bit foreign for me), and perhaps the hardest to swallow, transitioning away from being a kid. Long gone are the pigtails and bows, but recently I am really missing those simpler days…the days where I still had all the answers and things were, or felt, easier.

My kid has always been goal-motivated. She works her best when there is something she intrinsically wants to achieve. She decided that she wants to ride on an NCEA team in college. To do that, she needed to start showing in the medals. And just like that, my dreams of a barn chronically full of green ponies went up in smoke. I want to be perfectly clear: While it might make me a teeny-tiny bit sad that her dreams didn’t look like my dreams, I am overwhelmingly proud of her drive and determination. I support her goals wholeheartedly. She is her mother’s daughter, and when she sets her mind to something, well, it’s best to just move out of her way.

Initially moving into the equitation was really appealing to me. The very simple fact is, that to win at the higher levels in the hunters, it’s really very difficult to compete against riders with budgets that exceed the cost of our home. The idea of being judged on the rider seemed to create a more level playing field. Of course, what we have found is that in order to win at the higher levels in the equitation, it is still hard to compete against riders with budgets that exceed the cost of our home. For her first year doing the equitation, we did what most families with budget constraints do, and we found a nice horse, with a good brain, who was pretty green in most respects, and like neon green when it came to the more technical aspects required for the job. So what we had was a kid who had never done a counter-canter (at least not intentionally—ha!), or haunches-in, or a turn on the forehand, riding a horse who had no clue what she was asking.

To be fair, she managed it all very well. There were four medal finals that she wanted to qualify for this year, and she qualified for all four of them—a major accomplishment in less than a year, on a horse with zero record, and a kid with no eq-speriance (See what I did there?!). But as the year went on, it seemed like the fun was fading. They were going through the motions, but neither of their hearts were in it. We came to the eventual conclusion that the horse was not as well suited for the job as we had hoped, and the enjoyment was waning.

I asked her just recently which she enjoyed more—the hunters or the eq—and she, without hesitation, said, “the equitation!” When I asked her why, her answer made perfect sense: ”If I win the under saddle, it’s because I have the nicest moving horse. It has very little to do with my riding. Of course you have to ride a hunter, too, and it takes skill, but at some level, it’s determined before you even enter the ring. In the eq, if I win, it’s because I was the best rider. It’s my win.”

“But,” I asked, “if it’s your win, are the losses that much harder too? Is it also your loss, if your horse cannot hold the counter canter, even if you’re asking correctly?”

“Yeah, it’s that much harder when you don’t win,” was her quiet reply.

And just like that it all came into focus for me. When things started to go sideways with her green horse, she was putting the full blame squarely on her own shoulders. The kids who are drawn to the equitation are little perfectionists. Naturally, they are the ones who are destined to succeed in a literal arena where the tiniest of details are scrutinized, and live streamed, and it feels like the whole world is watching. A five degree difference in foot angle can make or break it—and don’t forget to make everything look effortless! So, we have this group of high-achieving, result-oriented, kids, most of whom are on a tight timeline before they “age out,” and we put them all together in a handful of finals, and expect them to enjoy the experience. It’s a pressure cooker waiting to blow.

She needed a breather. Timing wise, it could not have worked out better. Her short stirrup/children’s pony came home from his last lease and spent a couple weeks at the farm before he left to teach a new kiddo the ropes. She took her beloved pony hacking through hunt country, and they jumped around bareback. She acted like a kid again. She remembered why she fell in love with this sport in the first place. She remembered that this is supposed to be fun!

I’m not going to lie: I tried really hard to suggest that maybe taking a step back from showing wouldn’t be the worst idea. We could keep the ponies instead of leasing them out, hack in the woods, jump bareback, take them swimming on hot days—you know, have fun! I suppose I should have known better than to think she would have changed her goal so easily. Change the path, but never the goal!

The “pony reset,” though, was exactly what she needed. She found the joy, and her confidence, again. We have been trying horses for ages it feels like, but none have felt “right.” After a reminder of how things are supposed to feel, the next one we tried, she rode amazingly. Maybe he would have been the right match without the help of her pony, but I like to think he reminded her of just how far she’s come, and just how much more she can achieve. As of the time of this writing, the horse in question is being vetted, just in time to head to Harrisburg and NHS (We’re just praying to the god of skinny punks that she gets to ride him a couple more times before her indoors debut).

I considered changing my pen name, since “PonyMomAmmy” doesn’t apply so much these days (Frankly, “OctopusOnRollerSkates” would be far more accurate). And I most certainly considered stamping my feet and whining loud enough for everyone to hear that I want the ponies back—forget this equitation nonsense! But as it turns out, I am still very much an ammy, and I will always be a PonyMom! For as long as she wants to keep swinging her leg over the back of a pony or a horse, I will be right there cheering her on, and the ponies that came before the horses will always be her foundation and her reminder of the reason why she started. Good ponies make for good riders, and we have been fortunate enough to have some really great ponies. They have prepared her well for this next level, and in that respect, those ponies will be with her for every stride at finals and for the rest off forever.

This Post Brought to You by: 

The Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association (PCHA)

The Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association (PCHA), a non-profit corporation, has as its main purpose the promotion and development of the sport of horse showing, primarily in the Hunter/Jumper, Western and Reining disciplines. These objectives are accomplished by setting the standards for showing on the West Coast and approving shows that meet these criteria. 

Founded in 1946, the Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association promotes the interests of owners and exhibitors, cooperates with exhibitors, officials, and management of competition, publicizes and advertises PCHA sanctioned shows, encourages and assists owners, exhibitors, and breeders of horses to maintain, develop and improve the quality of horses of the Hunter, Jumper, Western and Reining divisions.