Thursday, April 10, 2008

Jumping for Joy


When I was in high school and considering different college programs, I remember my father saying “Whatever you do, make sure you like it, because you’re going to be doing it for a long time.” This was some of the best advice I’ve ever received, and I use it to this day. Writing is challenging and frustrating at times, but when everything comes together to create an exciting story, writing is absolutely wonderful.

I was lucky that both my horses loved their job as well. My first horse, Spencer, was never happier than when he was sailing over a course. He used to be turned out with two aged Morgans named George and Martha. He would gallop around them, away and back again, trying to get them to run and jump with him. George would occasionally lift his head, chewing slowly, with an expression that said ‘Spencer, you have to be kidding. Our running and jumping days are over, son.’ So Spencer would go off and do the jumps in the field on his own. The owner of the facility would sit on his back porch to relax and watch the turned-out Spencer jump for the sheer joy of it. His form over fences was very good, which told me where the talent was in our partnership. It was obvious he didn’t need me in the saddle to be a great jumper, but he loved me anyway, and we had the best time jumping together.

My second horse, Topper, used to be turned out in the indoor ring in the winter, and he did some breathtaking turns and jumps in there. He would probably have had a great time doing some jumper courses if he didn’t have a less than daring rider in the saddle (Ahem…that would be me). Being a kindhearted gentleman, he would instead take me over my comfortable hunter and equitation courses and never yawned once.

One year Topper had a leg injury. I went to an away show with my barn and rode my trainer’s old retired Grand Prix horse, Tron. He was a sweet, wonderful fellow who lived to jump, but arthritis was starting to keep him from the big fences. Occasionally my trainer would feel sorry for him and take a few big jumps to make him happy, but the next day Tron would come hobbling out of his stall. Given this, I thought he’d enjoy my small equitation fences, and he did seem quite proud taking me around my little course, although my husband mentioned Tron was finding the course challenging because he was trying to jump the fences instead of step over them. I ignored this probably accurate statement and listened for the class results to be announced. I was delighted to hear we’d won the division.

My husband and trainer both insisted that if I took Tron in any more classes I should gather my courage and try some higher fences, which would still be small from Tron’s perspective. I was pondering this option as I rode Tron back to the tent where he was stabled. We were relaxing, just plodding along on the hot summer day when suddenly Tron started dancing and sidestepping under me. His whole body was quivering. Startled, I looked up to see we were in front of the gate to the Grand Prix ring. He wanted to go in! He definitely had the wrong rider in the irons for a Grand Prix course. Gently, I urged him on and my heart broke when his head dropped disconsolately. Here, clearly, was a horse who loved his job and jumped for the sheer joy of it.

Now that Topper is in well deserved retirement, he’s still jumping, too. He lives on my in-law’s farm and one day my sister-in-law went to bring him in. She was reaching for the gate when Topper decided to save her the trouble and leaped over the gate to meet her on the other side. At five foot three, my sister-in-law ducked, but only barely needed to. After she got him in his stall, she went out and measured the fence he cleared. Five foot jumps was apparently still well within his abilities and he just wanted to let us know it!

On the days when writing is more like pulling teeth than a generous flow of words, I remember some of the amazing, talented horses I’ve ridden. Their dedication and love of sport run through my head with my father’s words “Do what you love.” I love writing and I love horses. I’ve been truly blessed.

Here’s to a wonderful week for everyone. Happy riding!




Kit Ehrman said...


What a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing it with us!

Anonymous said...

I loved this post--it was so much fun to read.--Laura

Mary Paine said...

Thanks Kit and Laura. I've been so lucky to have had wonderful equine friends through the years!


Jami Davenport said...

What a wonderful post, Mary. Many horses love their jobs and the attention it brings them.