Two years ago, I walked off of the cross country course with my shoulders sagging and my head hung low.

Photo by Brooke Schafer


I had dropped my reins, determined not to take a single ounce of the disappointment out on the horse underneath me, while flashbacks to my childhood whirled through my mind. 

It was 2016, and I was on the most talented horse I have ever sat on.

And in 2016, I was just cocky enough to crave some of that talent.

Sure I had sold some pretty fantastic horses, and currently owned one who was solidly competing at training level, but I dreamed of more. 

I had never gotten the chance to have those dreams as a child, because I had never owned a solid horse. My one childhood horse Levi had been talented enough on the flat, but he was never brave enough on XC. And my current horse was brave enough over fences, but I truly felt that his ability and scope would be maxed out at training or prelim.

And then Nixon showed up.


At 17.1hh, with a massive glistening black shoulder, and an eye that screamed “let me at it,” I thought I finally had *that* horse, and this was only confirmed by every 4* rider that I rode him in front of. They all told me that Mak was cute, but Nixon was limitless. They told me that Nixon was who took me all of the way.

In a clinic with Doug Payne


But none of them had to ride him every day of that journey.

Because while Mak was cute, he was also safe. The same horse day in and day out. An old soul in a young body. And in contrast to that, Nixon was hard. He was hot. He was scary

He was scary enough that after that elimination in April of 2016, I didn’t feel as though he was rideable enough to enter another until yesterday. Exactly 2 years later.

During those two years, we earned our 1st level scores towards our bronze medal. We clinicked. We schooled. And we sweated. We had some good moments.

And I thought I had him mentally back last spring, and then that was quickly shattered as he kicked his way out of my trailer and left his hind leg in pieces. And after that, I thought he was done.

Nixon didn’t seem mentally the same after that fateful day in March, 2017. Where he was once cocky, he was now anxious. Where he was once bold, he now had a spook. And when he spooked, he ran. And when he ran, he RAN HARD.

Not the easiest ride. Photo by JJ Sillman


In December, he took off with me. In dressage tack, and in the arena. Something he had never done. Unjustified. And I pulled him up, called my fiancé, and dissolved into tears.

I wanted him gone.

I rode alone every day, and this was no longer safe. I started calling the few people I trusted to give him to, and made arrangements to find a back 40 if that didn’t work. I chucked him into the field and kissed my 4* dreams good bye. I was resigned and content to go training for the rest of my life.

4* dreams


But then, something happened.

The minute I gave up, he stepped up. I stopped trying to put him in that 2nd level frame to get more scores, and trotted him around for 10 minutes a day like it was an AQHA show, and he took a deep breath. I didn’t jump him for 3 months, and when I did come back, we did courses of crossrails at the trot. 

I made every ride be simple. Short. End on a good note.

I brought back trail rides, adventures to masterson, and happiness.

And Nixon thanked me by simply behaving.


Now; he’ll never be an easy ride, and I’ll never be able to put a beginner on him, but for me, he is rideable.

And yesterday, we finally showed just how much. Because yesterday, we had our beginner novice redemption ride.

In the pissing rain, and without a warm up, Nixon stepped up to the plate, swung, and hit it out of the park.

We had a workmanlike dressage, a forward and happy stadium, and then the kicker of it all—we lived on XC.

A relaxed dressage. Photo by JJ Sillman


I haven’t even schooled this horse over XC jumps since last August, so my goal was to trot. Trot in, trot out, and treat it like stadium. If we need a halt, we need a halt. If we need to walk a jump, so be it. The goal was to have a conversation, go between the flags, and stay on. And Nixon did all of that and so much more.

No death defying stop. Photo by JJ Sillman


He trotted the first fence relaxed and happy, and then cantered off, excited to be out in the open. I brought him back to a trot and along we went. And then about 8 strides before the next jump, he broke into a gallop, and I thought “this isn’t going to end well.”

Trotting the first jump. Photo by Brooke Schafer


This is how our last XC round had ended. With him bolting, me see-sawing, his head between his knees, and then the inability to even see the jump, and a stop.

So this time, I decided to trust him. 

I lifted my hands, sat up, and rode his 22’ stride with bravery. I added leg instead of going into the fetal position; and I stayed calm.

And for the first time, he just kept his stride, and up and over we went.

Galloping boldly. Photo by Brooke Schafer


For 16 fences, it was the same. We trotted, we galloped, we saw the jump, we got excited, and we went over it.

I was near tears by the end of the course, realizing just how many battles had to be won to get to this place. 

I had to battle his body as he shattered piece by piece in his fits of rage.

I had to battle his inability to get back onto a trailer after that incident.

I had to battle his brain as we rewired it, praying we could bring it back.

And I had to battle my expectations for this horse. I had gone from the highest of highs—believing he was my horse of the future, to the lowest of lows-wondering if he needed put down.

And I had finally settled somewhere in between.

Nixon might never get an FEI passport; hell-he might never go Novice. But for this one day, for this one time, he finally got to call himself an event horse. He finally got to finish something that everyone had said he was built for.

He finally got to have that redemption ride, and I got to be the one in the irons.


I can’t tell you how much a ribbon from an unrecognized event in the rain can mean to someone who has an extensive record in every other world, but it means more than you will ever know. It took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get to that rosette, and while this isn’t the beginning, it sure is a peak in this winding road we take with these horses. I can’t wait to see what’s ahead.

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5 Comments on “Redemption Ride

  1. Sometimes it is so hard to trust the horse that we have. We set our goals so high, knowing that this special horse that we somehow stumbled upon can take us there. And then something happens, whether it be injury, a bad spook & accident, etc. And we lose our confidence. We lose our trust in the horse we thought would finally make it all happen. And then, somehow, once even MORE work, and time, and tears are put into them, they surprise us. We really do have to trust them beyond reason for them to be able to show us what we always knew what they were capable of! So hard, but so worth it. I’m so glad you had this ride and are able to move up and forward from here!

  2. I could not finish Nixon’s story with dry eyes! A gifted writer- – you pulled me in emotionally! I felt as though i had lived your experience every step of the way!
    Hope to hear more about you both!

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