Some roads are straight and wide, with perfect yellow lines, gorgeous shady trees and passing zones for miles.
Someday I’d like to see one of those roads.
I tend to find myself traveling on the hilly, twisty, poor visibility roads that are wrought with potholes and are in various stages of repaving (aren’t those grooved lines the worst?). But every once in a while, after navigating an especially tricky climb around a blind turn, you find yourself face to face with the most wondrous view, and you pause to reflect on just how beautiful life can be when you’ve worked so hard for that one moment.
Life with Cotton has certainly not been the fast lane. It’s been every direction a road can be . . . with tolls. He’s not always been easy, but he’s always been fun. More than that, he’s always been honest. That horse, though a bit of punk from time to time, is the most genuine horse I’ve ever met. So when he is trying to tell me something, I need to listen.
Most people who know Cotton know that we have had quite a time getting him comfortable with jumping down a bank in competition. He even spent several months with Dom Schramm last winter learning to go down on long-lines to build confidence. In schooling he’s usually great, and in fact I schooled him just a few days before leaving for Full Gallop’s P/T division this past weekend and he hopped right down a simple bank.
After putting in a really beautiful Dressage test and a Stadium round that had me wishing my saddle came with a seat belt, we headed off on a sturdy but appropriate for the level XC course. In typical Cotton fashion he carried me eagerly to the first 5 fences and felt absolutely fantastic. The first of two down bank questions came up at fence 6A, at the bottom of a long downhill gallop. I felt Cotton start to question his confidence as the bank came in to view and when we got to the edge he stopped. Although he hopped right down on re-approach and popped over the B element, something in that moment changed him.
I can’t describe it any other way except to say that he just felt deflated. His confidence was shaken and despite every ounce of positive encouragement I could give him, he was sticky and backed off at the next 5 fences. I felt this once before when he stopped at a different bank last year; that same distant sort of feeling like he was here but not here.
He felt broken and it broke my heart. I told him “Cotton, I’m going to give you one more fence to tell me you either want to be here or you don’t, and I promise to listen”.
So when we arrived out of the woods at the 2nd water combination and it felt like a movie scene where the camera is rolling forward but the character is moving backwards, I knew.
I knew and I raised my hand. I patted my horse and told him I would never put him in that situation again. Maybe a Dom, or a Doug, or a Boyd could cruise him around and make him feel like Superman, I don’t know. But I’ve realized it doesn’t really matter what someone else can do. Cotton and I are a team, and teammates don’t let each other down.
My horse has never lied to me, and I won’t lie to him. We could go back to Beginner Novice or Novice where there aren’t banks (or very small banks) and he’d be fine. But honestly, he’s so good at the other phases and enjoys it so much that I think we’ll continue doing Combined Tests, straight Dressage shows, and probably some Hunter Derbies and Open Jumpers. He’s a solid 2nd level Dressage horse, schooling most of 3rd, and he cruises around 3’7” like they’re cross rails.
The Startbox might be closed, but there is a plethora of doors still open that are about to get a big heaping scoop of Cottonpickwabbit served up piping hot. And they have no idea what’s about to hit them . . .