I notice a common theme among riders, myself included, that the perception of success in the hunter jumper world directly relates to how high we jump. Obviously, grand prix riders – as well as high level hunter riders – are extremely skilled at the sport. However, jumping lower does not mean that we are not skilled also. There is so much more to riding than height.
Skill and success in the sport should not be solely defined by the height we jump – just as it should not be defined by the ribbons we receive. Success in the sport, as riders and trainers, should be defined by our horses’ attitudes and willingness to do what we ask them to. A happy, willing horse is a sign of a skilled rider. A happy, willing horse trusts and respects his or her rider; and therefore will do what is asked. Maybe this horse is not physically capable of jumping grand prix courses; or maybe it just doesn’t have the desire to jump high. I believe that horses have to want to jump high, and no matter how good their riders are some horses just don’t want to jump higher than three feet.
Many riders will never have the means or opportunity to ride a grand prix horse, or hunter derby horse. Yet, that does not mean that they are not any good. It is so sad to me that a rider’s ability is still only recognized when competing at a high level, when there is so much more to riding and training horses; and for many, competing at a high level is unattainable for reasons that have nothing to do with their ability. Horses physically and mentally capable of jumping big are often extremely expensive. Yes, it is possible to find a talented horse at a lower price tag, but they are few and far between. Also, bringing a horse along to jump very high is extremely expensive as well; it can take years of training and showing, and that costs a lot of money. I am not saying that only rich people can make it to the grand prix level, and I am not trying to discredit grand prix riders by saying that they only got where they are because of money. I am simply pointing out the fact that many riders will not have the opportunity to ride at that height, but that does not make them any less skilled and talented; and it also does not mean that they are incapable of jumping that high. That is not to say that I think I am capable of jumping five feet right now because I know that I am not at this point in time, but I do believe that I one day I will be (just not any time soon). While I believe that hard work and determination can get us where we want, we cannot solely define our abilities by the height we jump. We must appreciate the journey, and work hard wherever we are at the time.
Being ashamed and embarrassed about jumping smaller jumps is counter productive. I find that when I am simply grateful to be jumping at all, and work to make those small jumps look great, I improve. But when I get caught up in the fact that others may not see me as skilled if I go to the horse show and compete in the three foot classes rather than the hunter derbies, I do not ride as well.
Like I said, this post is not meant to discredit people doing the big stuff. I have so much admiration and respect for grand prix riders, and high level hunter riders; I love watching them and learning from them. I simply want to encourage those of you doing smaller stuff; to tell you that fence height does not define a rider, and that wherever you are right now is valid. Whether you are jumping five feet or two feet, I hope that you get out there this week and make it great!
Have a great week, everyone!