Horse Nation’s official show-mom-in-residence Barbara Hamilton is back with the story of how her daughter and their new pony overcame the challenge of not being challenged. Be sure to follow Barbara on Twitter @thehorseshowmom!
I recently read The Eighty-dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation. In it the author tells the story of how Harry de Leyer buys Snowman from a trailer heading to the kill pen. He was hoping he could turn the plow horse he bought into a jumper. But the horse (Snowman) would just crash through the jumps, even the little cross rails—only later did Harry realize the horse couldn’t be bother with the smaller jumps. But give him a fence over four-feet and he would jump it perfectly.
Which leads me to my story. My daughter recently started riding a new pony, and for a number of reasons she wasn’t having her best show experiences. Courses and classes she did easily before were suddenly a challenge. She felt the pony was going to act up. The pony was going too fast. The pony didn’t like other horses near it in the ring. The list went on and on. As a parent it was killing me; they did so well together in practice yet at the shows they seemed to just fall apart. And my biggest concern was her confidence was going down and down.
Krista and Sarah, our trainers, decided to take her to a local horse show—one she’s done very well in before. She took second after the first flat but things soon started to deteriorate quickly. By the second flat class I could see she was getting anxious and she was pulling the pony, which then did a few cow kicks. What was going on? When she came out of the ring she looked at me and I could see how upset she was so my husband and I didn’t go over to her–we left her alone with her trainers. She had been doing so well in practice, they were planning on moving her up that day to a harder class and now all I could think of was they’ll never move her up after this.
She started to pull herself together over the jumps and our trainers decided to put her in the harder class. As she was coming out of the ring they told her she was going on again in the next class. It was like a cartoon: Suddenly her eyes became the size of quarters. I knew she could do it. She just had to believe it herself and work together with her pony. She went back in and did a practice round and they both looked great. Now it was just a matter of waiting for her to go on. Again my husband and I left her alone with her trainers. She entered the ring and I know I was holding my breath—I just wanted her to have a good round. During the round they both looked like they were having fun. No pulling, no anxious looks. They looked like a completely different team. Our trainer Sarah said to me, “I swear that pony likes this course better because it gives her something to think about.”
And all of sudden I thought back to Snowman. Maybe her pony was bored and was just going through the motion (I’m not blaming her pony for their total performance). Maybe together they were both just better when they had more of a challenge. Whatever it was, it was clear they were having fun. Her first time doing that class she ended up getting 4th, 3rd, and finally 2nd in that order. Her trainers pulled her out before the flat classes because everyone felt her pony had done more than enough for one day.
After finishing, what a difference in my daughter. She went from feeling defeated to feeling terrific. Her confidence was back and most importantly she was laughing and enjoying the rest of the day with her friends from the barn. I was so happy that it ended that way and proud she was able to come back and collect herself after she felt she hadn’t performed up to her potential.
And I think we all learned a lesson that day—sometimes a new and harder challenge in riding is the perfect answer for not just a rider but her pony as well.