• Maddy Brown

Dreams On Hold: Listening to My Horse

The feeling of soaring over a big jump on an athletic horse is one that’s pretty impossible to replicate. It’s also one that’s addicting. Like I’ve said before, I was a big weenie about jump height as a kid. I rode a lot of older horses and a lot of ponies, all of whom tend to be limited in the scope department. While that feeling of jumping big on a capable horse is exhilarating, the feeling of outjumping the ability of a horse is terrifying. And so I stuck to smaller fences and was perfectly happy with that, until I met Arli.

Jumping Arli is like being on a rocket ship. It feels like there’s no limit. His power and passion are contagious, and it always felt like there was nowhere to go but up. Last summer, I really got infected with the big jump bug. Both Arli and I were fit and eager, and with the help of our friends, we grew braver and braver until we were jumping the top hole on our standards at home. We competed with huge success all last season in the 1.10m jumpers, stepping up to a couple of 1.15m classes in the fall.

We’ve won a year end tricolor every year since we met in 2015 and I’ve won more on him than I have on probably all of my other horses combined. He has this desire that’s practically palpable any time you watch him go. He lives to jump and go fast. And that’s how I knew something wasn’t quite right when he felt stressed and lackluster at the first two shows we’ve attended this season. I started to feel his passion be replaced by anxiety when the jumps went above a certain height. It’s not a veterinary issue, or a fitness issue, or a training issue. I can just feel him saying he isn’t really feeling it.

This year was supposed to be another move up season, with my sights set on the 1.20m by late summer. We did our homework all winter long and my fear of big jumps was gone. I was ready to go and do and win, but my horse doesn’t seem to share that anymore.

Arli is, with all cliche and stereotypical horse girl things aside, my heart horse. He came into my life in a time where we desperately needed each other. He was my rock during one of the hardest times of my entire life. Everything I’ve done for the past four years, all the work and the dedication and the money and the struggle, has been for him. He’s made me brave in every facet. I have a connection with him that I’ve never had with any other animal and we understand each other on a level deeper than I’ve ever experienced. And for those reasons and many more, I owe it to him to listen to what he’s telling me.

When I came to this decision the other day, I was sitting on the ground in the middle of the round pen. Arli lowered his head into my lap and somehow I just knew what needed to be done. He’s not being retired, but we are going to take a step down. Though I expected to be heartbroken, or at least disappointed, in making this choice, I felt only an overwhelming sense of peace. So we’re not going to reach the 1.20m. We probably won’t achieve a lot of the goals that I had for us, and my dreams of jumping in the big classes are being put on hold. But that’s okay with me. I’m going to enjoy the years I have left competing with my righthand man, and we’re going to be the winningest pair out there at 1.0m. Being an equestrian is about more than blue ribbons and big jumps. It’s about listening to your horse, and that’s what matters most.

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