It was our first time showing at the Beginner Novice level, where the jumps are a maximum height of 2 feet 7 inches. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a horse show. Cherry and I have only been partnered since April. We’ve made a lot of progress, but we’re still learning about each other. This weekend continued to solidify our new partnership.
It’s important to remember that despite their size, horses are prey animals. Their fight-or-flight instinct comes from the fact that in the wild, they could be a carnivore’s next meal. While domesticated horses are rarely at risk of being hunted, this is a deep-seated development in their brains that doesn’t go away. It takes enormous trust for a horse to allow a human to sit on its back and ask it to perform. Likewise, riders trust that this powerful animal will not intentionally hurt them.
When I was searching for a new horse, I looked for one that was athletic and able to compete, but also level-headed and unlikely to burst into hijinks under the saddle. My Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) increases my risk of injury from falling and means that I need to take precautions. The first and most obvious is the temperament of the horses I ride.
This weekend, Cherry showed both her incredible athleticism and her gentle nature. During the jumping phase, we approached a jump at the wrong distance. Cherry managed to clear the obstacle, but I had given my reins to her so that she could move freely and the awkward jump caused me to lose a stirrup. When we came away from the jump, I was off balance and had little control. Many horses would have taken advantage of the situation to act silly. Cherry kept her pace and let me get things back together. She wasn’t going to take the next fence unless I told her I was OK. When I did, we completed the course flawlessly.
It’s not always easy, but the physical and emotional benefits of riding are worth the risks and tradeoffs. This weekend reminded me just how lucky I am to have a sport that I can still participate in despite my EDS.
Note: Ehlers-Danlos News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ehlers-Danlos News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Ehlers-Danlos.