A couple weeks ago, my heart horse Aria let me know she wasn’t comfortable jumping. We sent her home early from the horse show, and after consulting with her vet I decided to end her show jumping career.
But don’t worry, this isn’t a tragedy. It’s a love story.
After an exhaustive and exhausting search for my equine partner, I bought Aria in October 2014. I rode Western as a child and had just returned to riding as an adult, excited to learn to jump. I was at roughly crossrail level, and 6-year-old Aria had just started to jump small fences as well. I thought it would be perfect.
It was not perfect.
There’s a reason that inexperienced riders are usually encouraged to ride schoolmaster horses. It’s so that at least one of you has some kind of clue as to how things should go.
We were the blind leading the blind, but we had one thing going for us: we bonded quickly.
She was perfectly open to being best friends, and I lived my barn-rat-horse-girl dreams. In the early days I handled most of her care myself. I hauled hay in the back of my SUV and lovingly made her lunch bucket every day. I spent hours grooming, cleaning her stall, and just hanging out with her.
Aria trusted me to take care of her outside of the ring, and she took it upon herself to handle all jumping concerns. It was a big responsibility for a young, inexperienced horse, and the early result was often leaving out strides, skipping lead changes, and going way too fast, but I never felt unsafe.
My life’s goal was to make it to the 2’6 hunters. We got there within a year, and after a few more we were successfully competing in the 3’ AA hunters. But one day after a particularly enthusiastic hunter round, we decided to try the jumper division instead. It was undeniably the right place for her, and we spent most of our show years in the 1.0 low adult jumpers, a place I’d never even dreamed of.
I don’t know who I am as a rider without her. Everything about how I ride is because of her – the way I sit, the pace that’s natural, the amount of leg and hand pressure… all calibrated to her exact specifications over almost a decade. Without her, nothing feels right. She taught me a secret language I can’t speak with anyone else (IYKYK) and losing my sport partner feels like a punch in the gut. But I’m looking on the bright side and reflecting with gratitude on everything she gave me.
Because she is strong and bold, she made me feel that I was too.
Because she walks in like she owns the place (every place), she made me feel like I belonged there too.
Because she tries her absolute best, she inspired me to work harder than I thought I could and to learn as much as possible.
Because she greets every day with joy and enthusiasm, she showed me that’s the only way to live.
Her heart is larger than her scope, her bravery exceeds her raw athleticism, and her loyalty outweighs everything. She’s the brightest light. She’ll be mine until the end of her life, though the next chapter will look a little different.
This fall and winter I’ll be following your show ring journey while I figure out the next steps of mine. I’ll be photographing at Flintridge Autumn Classic, Huntington Beach Spooktacular, Sunshine Series, Desert Holiday, and the entire Desert Circuit. There’s just nothing like equestrian sport, and I’m grateful to be part of this community.