When are you going to ride again?
I joined Instagram in 2013 and began my account because I was an eventer. I was so passionate about riding, I figured, why not share? I broadened onto more platforms and shared even more. I wanted to connect with my fellow equestrians and share my journey as it was happening. Many of those who have followed for years have offered nothing but kindness & support for ages.
But with time, inevitably, comes change. People grow up and out, make decisions to produce happiness, and change when they learn more. I mean, 14 year old Jill was nearly clueless! At 20, I am still relatively clueless, but my genuine search for knowledge has finally begun. Needless to say, things look a bit different now.
Arguably, the biggest change I made in my social media career was to opt out of traditional training & search for something that I could connect with more — something that would satisfy both my desire to train/work with my horse and my horse’s desire to relax. Using traditional methods was stressful for both of us. I wasn’t happy with what I was doing, and I wasn’t happy that my horse was so stressed.
I decided to actively pursue +R (positive reinforcement) to see if it would turn our relationship around and satisfy that goal. This meant loads of reading/researching and a TON of thinking on my end. I wanted to get good at this fast, not only for my horse’s sake, but also because of those watching: some rooting for me to succeed, and others waiting on me to fail or at least give up and go back to who I was.
I am frequently asked when/if I’ll return to eventing, if I’ll ever ride again or even if I’m afraid to ride. I know they are harmless, and those who ask are usually just genuinely curious. However, it’s difficult to accept that a choice I made in an effort to improve my life and my horse’s life is not well understood, it’s not particularly exciting for an outsider, & it’s not relatable for a great majority of those following me.
While yes, my online presence is my own doing, sharing my journey is more complicated now than it was before. I frequently experience moments in training scenarios where I feel that I should just throw in the towel, return to “JETeventing,” and go back to “normal.” But, I can’t.
I struggle to produce content that is interesting to my following that’s been loyal for so long to “JETeventing.” The videos pertaining to +R just don’t do as well as the videos where I’m riding. The pressure to do more, add wow-factor, impress, entertain, etc. is exhausting. I realize that it’s not popular or “cool” to work from the ground for so long. It’s not impressive by the traditional standard. I mean, that’s what horses are for, right? To ride?
I have to disagree. I think there is much to be gained from working with a horse on the ground. After all, groundwork is just riding where you have to stand and riding is groundwork where you get to sit. It all connects, and I think in most programs, we’re too quick to jump on the horse. They have so much more to offer rather than being a vehicle to a ribbon or an adrenaline rush. They teach us patience, communication, and responsibility.
I want to share what they teach, my love for my horse & my passion for working with horses in the way that I do. I want to focus on my happiness & my horses’ happiness. Yes, it will take me longer to restart a horse with +R than it would a seasoned pro. After all, I began +R in August of 2018, so I’m still a new kid. That doesn’t make the method flawed, it just makes me a novice. I’m confident I’ll get there in time, I’ll ride my horse if she’s willing, and I hope to one day be flying with her bridleless over jumps and relaxing on trails. I don’t know if eventing is in my future, at least with my personal horse, but my main concern for now, is to enjoy her. And boy, have I. I enjoy working with her at liberty using +R on the ground much more than I ever enjoyed riding! If you’d told me that I’d be saying that a year later, I’d have laughed in your face. That wasn’t me. I was a serious competitor, not some weird voodoo horseman.
But the reality is, I didn’t enjoy her when she was bucking and rearing and acting like she was about to explode, and I didn’t enjoy kicking and pulling. She certainly didn’t enjoy that. But that was all I knew. Our relationship wasn’t wholly bad, but it was seriously flawed due to my lack of education. Now, I’m after a clearer, more refined communication with my horse. If that means another year on the ground, I’m okay with that.
So to answer the burning question, I will ride her once I’m confident that our communication is clear, when the cues produce reliable responses, and when the foundation is strong. I am in no rush to jump on her without a sturdy +R foundation. We would come crumbling down all over again. I want to retrain everything that makes her nervous or uncomfortable to things that make her content and joyful in our work. My approach may be uncommon, but I want what everyone wants: a calm, safe, and, most importantly, happy horse. It may not be thrilling to watch, but it’s incredibly exciting to experience. It doesn’t make me less equestrian any more than jumping big would make me more equestrian. I remind myself of that often & continue to chase that goal with integrity.
So that is what I am going to do, despite the pressure to get back in the saddle.