As we say goodbye to August and welcome September and all of her changes, I spent some time this past weekend scrolling through photos from this time last year and reflecting on my riding journey and the changes both good and bad. My camera roll and my heart are full of pictures of Ziggy and I. Ziggy is a horse that I planned on buying when I decided to look for my first horse, and he is the horse that made me fall in love with off the track thoroughbreds. He is a ten-year-old, 17.1 hand, big-bodied, bay gelding with so much chrome. He has the most incredible personality I have ever come across in a horse and the most heart. He was the most cuddly, gentle giant, and I fell in love with him pretty quickly. Ziggy was the horse that inspired me to document my riding journey via theblackequestrian.com.
When I met Ziggy in July of 2019, he was underweight and had been out of work since the winter of 2018. He needed some groceries, patience, and consistency. I had only been riding (inconsistently) for just about a year at that point, but his willing personality and babysitter nature convinced me he was not “too much horse” for me to take on. I was taking the one-hour drive to his barn in New Hampshire every night and riding consistently – probably the most consistently I’ve ever ridden, to be honest. I rode late at night; I rode even if I was alone, I rode even when Ziggy was hot and spooky, I rode if the rain was beating against the indoor and thunder was cracking in the distance. I rode in all of the conditions that I wouldn’t dare ride in today. I was dedicated and laser-focused on improving my riding and getting him back in shape.
Ziggy had an interesting quirk – we later learned it was pain-related – he would get SUPER speedy in the canter. For about a half lap around the arena, he’d be a runaway train. I could talk to him, half-halt, massage the reins – it didn’t matter; He would take the bit and run full speed ahead. Once he got into a rhythm, he would relax his jaw and listen to my aides, and only then was I able to bring him to a slower pace where he was using his back and rounding out rather than leaning on my hands. I had only just learned to canter when I began riding him, and even though my heart would race when I asked for the canter, I could get through it, and with the help of the trainer at that barn, the speediness got a lot better. I cantered my first jump on Ziggy, and I was jumping cross-rails and verticals alone with no fear. I had my first fall off of him in the canter, and got up, dusted myself off and hopped right back on and asked for a canter again.
In just 12 months, I seem to have lost my sense of fearlessness. I’ve become timid, insecure, and second-guess myself at every turn. I have become insecure in my handling of horses, I have a mental block when it comes to cantering, and if my horse seems to be off, I back down rather than being the leader I know I should be. I am the first to admit that I am not the most knowledgeable horsewoman. I did not grow up in the saddle from before I could walk like a lot of other riders, and although I have learned so much in the last two years, I know that I have so much more to learn. What I am, though, is smart, hungry, and resourceful. When I don’t know something, I do my research. When I don’t understand something, I ask questions until I do. I learn as much as possible, and that is what has always gotten me through unfamiliar situations. To look back at myself one year ago and realize I was riding a horse that today’s Shaq might not even want to get on has forced me to do some self-reflection into why I’ve become this way.
I am such an idealist, and the stars seemed to align when I found Ziggy – he was everything that I wanted in a horse. After Ziggy’s pre-purchase went worse than imaginable (he was declared pasture sound only, which is a testament to his sweet nature, he tried his heart out for me and took care of me despite the discomfort he was in), I began to second guess myself. It felt like I couldn’t trust myself; He was in pain, and I had no clue. Those feelings showed themselves more when Bear came home. I didn’t even want to hand graze him without asking my trainer if she thought it was okay because I was so afraid I’d “break him.” When saying it out loud, I know how ridiculous it sounds. What I didn’t realize at the time how much Ziggy had impacted me. The responsibilities of working with horses are not something I take for granted. I have the utmost respect for all living things. Horses give me so much love and trust, and I have to be their advocate. When I fail them, it makes me feel unworthy of sitting on their back. I repeatedly questioned my abilities after Ziggy’s purchase fell through.
Other factors have contributed to my regression in riding and handling horses over the last year. I am not as fit as I was a year ago. I was coming out of an unfortunate barn situation, so I am not as desperate for saddle time as I was a year ago. There was a scrappiness in me a year ago that pushed through any fear, anxiety, or doubt that I felt. A year ago, I was fueled by the doubt of those around me, and I set out to chase down a dream that I realized others around me did not think was attainable. Bear is another actualization of everything that I dreamed of in a horse; however, I feel crippled by the fear of history repeating itself. Just like in parenting, there is no blueprint for building a relationship with your horse. Every horse is different, and every handler or rider’s journey is different. Looking back on it now, I know that I had Ziggy’s best interests at heart – I didn’t even ride him for the first few weeks because I wanted to bond with him and put on some weight and build some muscle before I asked him to do anything. I did the best I could at the time, and I had no reason to think that his owner knew he was un-rideable and was concealing that fact from me. I know that I am the type of person that would do everything in my power to ensure my animals are happy, healthy, and loved. We are sometimes our own worst critics, but I am learning that I need to be as forgiving to myself as I am with those around me.
I can acknowledge that I have become comfortable and complacent. I do not give myself the credit that I should. While I am still very much a beginner rider, I am not so beginner that I cannot canter a horse. I have convinced myself and, in turn, those around me, that I am not ready for tasks that I know in the back of my mind, I was doing just 12 months ago. We are not defined by our mistakes, but by the way, we learn from them. I do not want to look back on my riding journey in ten years and wish that I stopped selling myself short – regret is something that I refuse to have been a part of my story. I want to be brave, honest, and step into my power and trust myself to be humble enough to know when to say, “I am not ready,” and have those words said out of honesty and not fear.
Looking ahead, I pledge to respect myself more to chase my dreams unafraid, with everything in me. I pledge to my horse to be the best horsewoman that I can be for him, whether that be out of the saddle, getting myself back in better shape, or studying all that I can to understand his needs better. I pledge to my horse to drown out the noise, the fear, the doubts, and focus on doing what is best for the two of us as a team, and I pledge to myself to trust in who I am and all that I know I am capable of.
*P.S: Ziggy’s story has a happy ending! The wonderful owners of his barn took over ownership after his seller abandoned him after his PPE. They cared for him and loved him and let him enjoy his days in the pasture. His original owner after he retired from racing ended up boarding her new horse there not knowing that Ziggy was there. She has since reclaimed ownership and he is being loved and cared for with his new horse siblings!*