Today I received a text from a student’s mom: “We got a phone call from Washington International; X qualified for WIHS Pony Eq [To be held this coming Sunday]. I’m not sure what we should do.” On the one hand, I was elated for my student. She saw a lot of success in the qualifying classes when she competed in them. She wasn’t particularly trying to qualify for the championship, but there were points in the season when we thought it might be within reach.

Once the pair qualified for Pony Finals, we took a hard look at their competitive schedule and scaled back a little. The rider had already begun to ride and compete a horse in the jumper divisions. In addition, the pony is slightly older, and both she and the rider were clicking so well, we decided to “save her legs” and make certain she was fresh for the big finale at Pony Finals. As they did fewer shows, the rider slowly moved down the rankings for the WIHS class, which was expected. We didn’t feel the need to push; if it happened, it happened, but we didn’t want to chase points.

Pony Finals came and went, and the pair had an amazingly successful time. They finished in the top 20 overall, and within the top 10 over fences, in their section. It was amazing – the highlight of their season, and a testament to how hard they worked over several years to solidify their relationship and truly learn to read each other. It was magic.

Since Pony Finals, the pony has had an easier life. We’ve been seeking a lessee for her, both in the barn and out. She’s a special pony, and she deserves a special person to love on her like her present child. In the meantime, her rider has concentrated her lessons and showing on the jumper. After such a stellar performance at Pony Finals, the pony earned a little physical let-down. She is in work, but hasn’t schooled over jumps at her division height in a couple of months.

Fast forward to today, when the call came. Rider was beside herself with excitement, Mom was overwhelmed with thoughts of “How do we fit this unexpected event into the weekend” and “The pony needs to be body clipped!” And I was pondering… First, we have a full schedule this weekend. I have a family event on Saturday, and then we have our in-house horse show on Sunday. Showing at WIHS is more than just the day of showing, since you have to ship into Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, Maryland to then get commercially shipped into the District, the day prior to the class. We’ve had riders qualify for WIHS in the past – it’s fun, but it’s complicated. Second, I have a bunch of riders counting on me for the in-house show on Sunday. Third, and most importantly, the pony hasn’t been jumping competition height recently, and hasn’t had a serious jump school in over two months. She’s jumped here and there, but nothing at the level she’d have to do when competing Downtown.

Mom and I chatted via text. What to do? How would this work? Is this the right thing to do? Fitness matters. A lot. I had a gnawing thought in the back of my head. Is this the right decision for the pony? The more I pondered, the less sense it made. I knew this was a momentous occasion for the rider. But I (we) care so much about this pony and her health and longevity.

One the one hand, it’s a single trip, 10-14 jumps in the show ring, plus whatever we’d need to get ready for the class. Pony is a pro at it. Kid rides sharp and can help pony to make it a straightforward effort. On the other hand, it’s at her maximum jump height, and she hasn’t been doing that in a while.

Hmmmm… Not a lot of jumps…. But what if it went wrong and the pony got hurt? Or even had to work harder than she has to (or has ever had to) because she’s not fit for the job? We all love her so much, and no one wants to envision what could go wrong.

So I did what (I hope) any trainer who teaches horsemanship would do: I put it forth to the rider. I laid out the issues, but said we all knew how much competing at the Capital One Arena would mean. “What is the horseman’s answer,” I queried.

Not even a hesitation. Discussion over. This mature twelve year old gets it. She didn’t want to over-face her pony, given her current level of fitness. Not worth risking her. I know that deep down, all of my students would make that same choice. We love our horses more than the thrill of a chance to ride at indoor finals, if that chance involves a risk to the horse.

I’m proud of the rider, proud of the mom’s support, and happy for the pony, who is patiently waiting for her next little rider. And along the way, that rider will fall in love, learn to ride and above-all, come to understand the privilege and responsibility of caring for these magnificent animals.

The Horseman’s Answer

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