I’ve been cross country three times now: twice for schooling, once for showing. I was initially seized with terror at the very thought of jumping immobile obstacles in wide open fields. What if I fall and become seriously injured? What if I’m paralyzed? What if I just can’t make myself do it? What if we jump a log and suddenly gravity breaks down and the momentum from our launch sends us reeling into outer space and we’re doomed to orbit the planet forever?
Some of my fears were less rational than others. However, they were all irrational because while I have a lot (author’s note: there is no font in existence that is able to emphasize the whole “a lot” thing enough) to learn, I’m a seasoned rider by now; because I know what the honest horses that I ride are capable of; because I know they wouldn’t do me dirty as long as I didn’t do them dirty.
And let’s be real here, folks: because I could literally swing my own leg over many (okay, most) of the obstacles in the divisions I ride and hardly break stride.
Despite my initial trepidation, by my third cross country trip my inner dialogue of “Eeek!” had changed to “Woohoo!” There’s just something about a cross country course that does that to you.
I don’t remember what it’s like to be anything other than a rider. I didn’t start taking riding lessons until I was 10, but even before then, somewhere in my blood, there was something that stretched eagerly toward the unique partnership between horses and their riders. Whatever it is that drives equestrians forward must be the same thing that makes long distance runners suffer through mile after long mile all in pursuit of the famed ‘runners high’.
This past weekend I went to my first three phase trial at Sporting Days Farm in Aiken, SC. We walked through the course in the rain the night before, and the next day, after an invigorating stadium round, I found myself waiting in the start box aboard my trainer’s horse, Metro. When they counted down from 10, my heart didn’t thump nearly as loudly in my ears as I thought it would. Everything seemed peaceful and relaxed. Then came “3. 2. 1. Go!”
As a diehard introvert, I relish solitude as much as I enjoy the company of others. When Metro and I took off, I barely noticed the jump judges and photographers out on the course. Their blurred figures grew, shrank and then vanished in my peripheral vision as we thundered past them, focused only on the jump ahead and the location of the next jump after that. We were on our own. All that mattered was what the two of us told one another in those minutes. I didn’t have time or attention for anyone else, only for Metro and myself.
When you’re riding the cross country phase, you’re forced to trust your own choices, and your riding is better for it. There’s no opportunity for second guesses. There is no one on the ground to tell you when to hold or move toward a jump. No one can ride the horse for you. No one can jump the jump but your horse. You can only rely on each other to get through the course successfully.
That sense of solitude and nothing else really mattering is coupled with the fact that, despite the incomparable feeling of hurtling through space at 30 mph aboard a flesh and blood locomotive engine, there is plenty of time to ride the course. Metro was excited – I was excited too – so we galloped all out when we had space to, and in those moments it felt as though nothing could touch us. When we needed to slow down and take our time getting used to the water obstacle, we could. There was no pressure!
Galloping a horse through the wide open fields also feels so natural. The only way to describe it is that it as though it’s what you were both born to do.
When I jumped the last fence, which just so happened to be the most affronting one, I felt a bubbling sense of emotion tighten my throat. Pride? Power? Gratitude? All three and the fact that I was 2 days without sleep and running off of 5 hour energy shots, perhaps. Either way, there’s something about a cross country course that makes you feel like the strongest, bravest version of yourself.
Big shout out to Halliea Milner of Go With it Farms, her fabulous horse, My Stubborn Side, and my parents, Pete and Susan Clymer, for making this weekend one to remember!