EN Today: Appreciating the journey

Jessica Bortner-Harris takes a moment to contemplate what she’s learned about herself and her horse, Bug, from the sport she loves.

We’ve been following Jessica Bortner-Harris and her horse “Bug” since they moved up to Advanced level this winter.  Jessica recently agreed to write a bit more for Eventing Nation, and we are proud to have her on board!  Thank you, Jessica, for writing and thank you for reading. — Visionaire

From Jessica:

Appreciating the Journey

In light of the tragedy surrounding the Pollards and their horses, I have been contemplating why we do this.  We spend hours and hours doing a lot of hard work with these amazing animals that can’t tell us what they are thinking or feeling.  We put our hearts and souls into those big, kind eyes.  What do we gain from it when there can be so much heartbreak involved?

Of all of the things that Bonnie Mosser has taught me, it is that we should enjoy the journey of this sport, not just the victories.  No matter what happens, we should enjoy how we got there, or it isn’t really worth it.  I love that.  Bonnie is so insightful, and this one insight has shaped how I feel and think about everything I do with my horses.

With every horse that I have ever owned or trained, I feel like there is a story of their journey that goes along with it.   During each journey, I learn so many things about each horse that sets them apart as well as things that they have in common with others.  As a trainer, this is what shapes how I treat each and every horse.  If I try the cookie cutter approach, I fail miserably, as not every horse is the same.  The journey not only teaches me about the horses, but if I am careful to listen, it teaches me a lot about myself as well.

I will use Bug as my example to keep this from being a novel, as he is the most well known, and his story has already been told.  I have had Bug for almost 7 years now.  The things that he has taught me go beyond counting.  However, when I think back over our journey together, I try to concentrate on the little things that have really cemented our partnership.  This sport is all about the partnership, right?

The things I have learned about Bug:

    1. He LOVES to put his forehead on my chest and get a head hug.  He especially likes it if I  pull down on his ears and kiss his forelock at the same time.  I know, I know.  What horse loves that?  I swear to you, he does.
    2. He feels the need to be touching me if I am in close proximity.  He will put his nostril up against my leg and keep it there, even if I move around.
    3. He knows my voice and footsteps.  He can be quietly eating in his stall at a show, but if he hears me in the next row over, he will whinny to me.
    4. Besides me, his best friend is my stallion, Renn.  Their stalls are back to back, and they spend all day trying to play between the cracks in the boards.  Bug is the boss, though.  Stallion or not, Bug knows he’s best, and no one is going to tell him otherwise!
    5. He loves Honey Maid Graham Crackers.  Bug isn’t really a horse that will eat people food (he won’t even eat peppermints!), but he loves his graham crackers.
    6. He is very vocal.  He has a different set of groans that he makes depending on the situation.  His happy groans after a jump round are the best!
    7. He hates to be disciplined.  If he gets in trouble, (which isn’t very often) he will pout until I tell him that it’s ok.
    8. When I’m cleaning his stall while he is in it, he will follow me around and stand on my pitchfork to get me to scratch him.  He will then move his body around until I am scratching the correct place.  I can’t let him scratch me back, though, as he is too rough with his teeth!
    9. He LOVES to look out the window of the trailer as we are traveling.  The way my trailer is set up, there is a window right by his hay manger.  When I look in my side mirror, I can see his white blaze pressed up against it the entire trip.
    10. He is a saint!  He will pretty much let me do anything with him.  He can go from Advanced horse to backyard pony in 2.2 seconds.  He loves attention, so he will do just about anything for a cookie or to get his photo taken.

These are just a few things that I have learned on my journey with my amazing horse.  Not only has he taught me about himself, but he has taught me a lot about myself.  Here are a few things that I have learned:

    1. I am incredibly impatient.  I want things to get better right away.  I think this is pretty common for a lot of us.   However, though I am impatient, Bug and all horses in general, have been teaching me lessons in patience for years.  It is amazing to me how much better I have gotten in that respect.
    2. I am extremely competitive.  However, no matter how badly I want to do well, I would not put my horse’s health second to that.
    3. I am a much more natural jump rider than a dressage rider, but if I stick with it, I, too, can become a DQ.
    4. I have the capacity to trust my horse more than I ever imagined.  Before Bug, my old event horse was a dirty stopper.  I used to ride very defensively, but Bug has taught me how to trust again.
    5. No matter how much he wants me to pull back on the right rein when he hangs on it, I CAN ignore that inclination and still be light.

The lists of things I have learned on my journey are never ending.  They have molded me into the person, rider, and trainer that I am today.  The journey, no matter where it takes us, has to be the best part.  There are a lot of highs and a lot of lows with horses.  If we don’t appreciate the journey, there really is no point.  What things have you learned about yourself and your horses on your journey, Eventing Nation??



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