One of the pearls of wisdom I got from a coach about 16 years ago (thank you, Amy!) was that some days it’s better to just get off your horse and go back to the barn then to fight through an issue. We all have days like that. It seems like you and your horse are out of sync, can’t do anything right, and you get frustrated and angry.
Today was one of those days. I don’t know if my horse was feeling stiff from hunting, or whether I just plain wasn’t riding well, but it just wasn’t coming together. I know that there are times when it’s you need to make that certain breakthrough, but today we weren’t doing anything that important. I finished the school with something easy that my horse (and I) could accomplish and took him for a hack on the buckle.
Knowing when to call it a day is an important skill in riding. It’s not always clear cut. But those are the riders who choose to retire on XC when their horse is not quite right, or when they’ve had a stop that shouldn’t have happened, choose not to compete because the footing isn’t good, or decide that their horse has reached its potential and shouldn’t be pushed any harder.
Our horses, for the most part, try hard to please us. I am grateful that my horse has taken such good care of me during the 12 years that we’ve been partners; it is my responsibility to make sure that I know when to back off and when to push. As another wise instructor reminded me, you need to make each ride a good one for your horse.
While I was hacking out, I reflected on the role that rider responsibility has played in some of the tragic accidents that have put the eventing community in the spotlight. Obviously, there is a huge difference between not fighting with your horse over a schooling issue and competing at an international caliber event, but there are some parallels.
A tremendously moving article that appeared on May 9th in The Chronicle of the Horse by Danny Warrington touched on this topic. Warrington is an advanced-level rider and professional teacher and trainer at Warrington Eventing near Fair Hill, Md. He was married to international rider Amanda Warrington who died in an eventing accident 10 years ago, and he rode steeplechase races for 10 years. This article alone made my Chronicle subscription worthwhile this year. I’m excertping part of it below only because it has appeared in a public forum with the blessing of the publisher.
Know When To Call It A Day
You have to be aggressive in this sport. It is X-C; there is an X in front of it. It is an X game. This is an adrenaline sport, and you have to be on the edge. It is tough; it is a thrill. You can’t come out and ride it like it’s the hunters either, but you have to know by the time you get to the upper levels, that there is a day that you have to pull up.
It’s part of the game to say, “This is not my day” and go home. I did it at the Fair Hill CCI*** (Md.)—my horse had two more stops to go [before being eliminated], and the stops he’d had were not horrible, but my horse said, “You know what, I don’t want to do this.” And I said, “OK, let’s go home before we get hurt.” And I went home and didn’t get hurt.
When you have consistent things telling you that you are having a bad day, you’ve got to make the decision: Do you want to pull up, or do you want to go home in an ambulance? I’ve got to tell you: pull up! Walk your horse home. There is no shame in retiring.
Go home, school, figure out what’s going on, and maybe, your horse isn’t a four-star horse. Maybe your horse isn’t a three-star horse. Maybe you’re not a four-star rider. Maybe you’re not a three-star rider. Those are facts you have to face, but don’t kill yourself trying.