Autumn is a time of transition, and for me it is no different. Twinkle and I have competed together in our last show as a team, and we’re parting ways. This was always the plan: Ride and compete with Twinkle for a year, then go on to riding Drifter full time. It’s bittersweet all the same.
Looking back, Twinkle and I made enormous progress in a single year. Last fall and winter, she was at a point where she would refuse a ground pole sometimes. A ground pole, you guys. And now, we’ve made it to jumping up to 3 feet at home with boldness and confidence. We’ve worked on adjustability in the gaits and respecting the leg; in a recent lesson, we jumped over one of those blue plastic barrels (you know the ones) with no standards or guide poles. Just a stand-alone blue barrel, laying on its side. Those things are both skinny and fairly scary-looking, but she did it without a question.
Her confidence (and mine, too) can be sorely tested at shows, though, and after a couple of early-season setbacks, we decided to compete at 2’3″. It was a good decision. In our last show together, we did not refuse a single fence. In schooling and in actual competition, Twinkle jumped it all with aplomb. This was a huge milestone for us, especially considering that it’s only in the last month or so that she completely stopped refusing at home, too.
It’s my theory that we learn something from every horse we ride or spend time with. I’ve had occasion this summer to say to more than one of my teammates:
“Good riders don’t get good because everything goes right all the time; they get good by dealing with the hard rides.”
I say this from experience – and specific experience with Twinkle. She has taught me a lot in a short period of time.
We started this show season with a fall that left both my leg and my confidence bruised for about a month. Then we followed it up with the show that sent us down a division. While that did turn out being a good decision in the long run, I was feeling frustrated that we could do so well at home yet do so poorly at shows. And while I wasn’t exactly fearful, I was hyper-aware that Twinkle was prone to stopping, and that could lead to a severe injury. That’s not something I normally dwell on, but it was on my mind a lot. I seriously considered stopping riding Twinkle at all at that point because I simply didn’t trust her to go over the fences, even when we got the right distance, were balanced and the striding was right.
Fortunately, my ever-patient trainer talked me through it and coached us slowly back to confidence. What those incidences did, however, was teach me that I should never expect or trust a horse to go over the fence. I spend a bit of time riding too defensively, but eventually got to a place where I am more balanced, my position is better and I feel comfortable that even if we do have a stop, I’ll stay on.
Another thing that Twinkle taught me – and I taught her, I think – was adjustability. As Twinkle became bolder over fences throughout the summer, she got very rushed and charge-y. We had several lessons and rides where we had to re-install brakes; sometimes I would even have to force a halt in the middle of a line. That’s right: The horse that used to stop had to be taught to stop between fences. It sounds insane, but it took a very short time for Twinkle to learn the lesson. Suddenly, instead of just having a “go” and a (sometimes) “whoa,” we had several different speeds to work with. There’s very little that I can think of that feels as cool as riding a canter that you can lengthen with a little leg squeeze and shorten with a bit of extra weight in your heels.
And that very quickly led us to getting better distances. I worked on this (and continue to do so) even when I’m on the flat. I pick a spot and count down my strides to it. Sometimes I’ll put down a pole to work on it; sometimes I just pick a fence post or a leaf on the ground. I’ve gotten to a point where I can pretty consistently count down from five strides out. You may be thinking that I should have been doing this all along, but it’s nearly impossible when you don’t have that adjustable canter. I’m very proud of this new skill. It has also helped us cut down on chippy distances.
And so. We’ve come a long way together, but it’s time we go our separate ways. Twinkle will be taking a younger rider on a new path, and I will be applying all that she taught me to my adventures with Drifter. I’m so thankful for the opportunity I had to ride her – highs and lows included – and I’m also glad that I can still see her all the time. (And maybe, just maybe, sneak her a cookie now and then.)
Here’s to Twinkle Toes, Twinkle Dink, Dinkle Doodle, Stinkle (but only on certain days), Twinkle Doodle Dandy. You’ve sure put a twinkle in my eye.