Jun 12, 2015

When Speed Bumps Lead to Understanding

Katy and Oz Poof of Purchase. R: Sherry Stewart photo.

Katy Groesbeck of KG Eventing reflects on the trials and tribulations that made her the rider that she is today, and offers encouragement to those who may be facing challenges in their own riding.

We all run into speed bumps from time to time in our training. Some speed bumps seem to be minor; we move past them without too much trouble. Other speed bumps, however, seem to loom like mountains standing in the way of our path toward progress. These are the speed bumps that keep us up at night and can consume our every waking thought. It's easy to fall into wondering, "How will I ever get past this?"

Whenever my students are running into problem areas with their horses, I like to try to reassure them with a few stories of my own. For instance, many people knew Wort (Oz The Tin Man) only after he rose to a certain amount of stardom as a successful FEI event horse, frequenting the leaderboards on the West (and occasionally East) Coast. However, what many people don't know is that he and I spent quite some time struggling to make it through triple combinations in show jumping that resulted in several eliminations at local schooling events. For three summers in a row, I planned my whole year around one event in late August that was for junior riders only, and for three summers in a row I got eliminated (once for falling off on cross country). I look back now with a laugh on what was such an insignificant blip with a horse who later carried me to many double clear show jump rounds at all levels, but at the time I was consumed with worry and doubt that I would ever improve.

And as a matter of fact, Poof (Oz Poof of Purchase) was eliminated in his first event (coincidentally the same event where Wort and I had problems) for refusals on cross country. We were going Novice. He later became one of the most fearless cross country horses I've ever ridden and to this day, at age 20, he'd be my first pick to ride around a tough cross-country track.

Poof, in fact, has been the unsung hero of my riding career and education. Wort was a star and real workaholic; we understood each other naturally and when we were "on," we found many competitive successes together. I could always count on him to make me look good. Poof, however, was the horse I never understood and, frankly, hated to ride as a kid. He was spooky and I could never get him to focus. He was talented beyond belief but I could always rely on him to humble me in front of an audience. He was never naughty, but I didn't "get" him. Countless times we would be winning an event (or close to it), only to have two, three, four, or even five rails in show jumping. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, I could not change the outcome, and my waning confidence in the show jump ring only added to our on-again-off-again relationship.

Fortunately I eventually grew up some and I learned not to take it personally or let it get into my head so much. I slowly grew more patient with him and as my riding education expanded I became more of a problem-solver. For starters, I learned how to help Poof become stronger and more confident in himself, but I also began to see Poof's quirks not only as an endearing part of his personality but also as a challenge. Could I ride well enough and be a good enough horseman to harness them into performance?

Poof made me work harder, gave me more grief, cost me more frustrated hours in the arena than Wort ever did, but some of my greatest successes - not the ones that ever made it to a scoreboard or magazine article, but successes nonetheless - were with Poof. I only ever did accomplish one double clear show jump round with him, but it was a feeling I will never forget, made even sweeter by the fact that he won a CCI2* that weekend on his dressage score. And so many of the lessons I learned with Poof have been invaluable in my work with horses since then.

Today, Poof is a dear friend and I look forward to his company when I go home to visit my mom. Even after a two year hiatus, I was able to step on him as if not a single day had passed since our last ride. We still like to share a good laugh from time to time about the hell we have put each other through. At a combined age of 45, we finally understand each other.

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Sport Horse Health and Performance Series

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