I was fourteen and not very good at standing up for myself, let alone for my mare.
When my mare needed me most, I started to drop my support to her. It was usually my left hand that would creep forward. To her, this loosened rein signaled: “Holy Cats! I don’t think you can do this!” So my mare began to duck out to the left of the fence we were supposed to jump.
My trainer was furious.
“She is the best horse in the barn! What are you doing?! Keep a feel on her mouth. Let her know you are there! “
I started to resent having to jump her; I never knew when my lack of confidence in her would manifest itself in my left hand. I would be fine for two shows, but then the hand would betray both of us.
It got so bad that my trainer tied my hands together during lessons.
It got so bad that at one very muddy horse show in Pennsylvania, I dropped my hands in the warm up area and my trainer erupted.
“WHAT do you think you are doing?! You can ride every horse in the barn but your own! She is the kindest mare! What type of shock is it going to take for you to stop doing this?!”
And then he did the worst thing. He turned and walked away and just stood, head down, at the gate that opened into the show ring.
My mare and I trotted in the ring. The mud sucked at her sore legs. I glanced down to see how far she was sinking. We started to canter. I looked to the first fence, saw the spot, and moved us over to it. We jumped. Six strides. Next jump. We moved around the side, to a line of jumps with a combination. Beautiful.
We came around the near end of the ring and passed my trainer. I saw the spot to the brown oxer – a brown gate in front and a pole behind - and moved to it. Then my left hand slid forward, breaking contact with my mare’s mouth. She started to take off, and then stopped. Part of me knew she would and I let my body swing to the left – where she always went - but she swung to the right, stopped halfway, and then whipped to the left.
My head smashed against the wooden standard of the fence, my helmet flew off, my glasses fell on the ground, and my mare stepped on them squarely. I can still hear the metal of her horse shoe scraping on the lenses.
Normally, I would have finished the course but my glasses were so mangled that I had to abandon the show ring. We walked out. My trainer threw a cooler over my mare.
“Well, now, THAT was a shock.”