Have you ever had that moment where you realize everything you have worked for, trained for, spent your life savings on, and truly believed in would happen - suddenly becomes apparent that it never will? No matter what, no matter how much harder you work, or how much longer you try? They say in life you can achieve anything you want if you truly work for it, and I believe this. The problem is, in the horse world, things are a bit different.
I had a revelation last weekend, and I can thank my non horsey husband for the help. You see, we headed to Wits End Combined Test last weekend, my friends and I. I entered Archie in the Training division, his first. It was to be a good prep doing just the dressage and stadium and then enter him in the full horse trial 2 weeks following. I was nervous when we arrived but walking the course I felt confident we could do it. We have been schooling 3'9 at home regularly and Archie has been going fabulously. We did our dressage test, our first time doing the Training test and it was the best test Archie has ever done. He was relaxed and attentive. We scored a 56 (US equivalent 38) which for Archie, was great. I was feeling pretty good thinking that finally, all this work is paying off and we are actually going to be competitive in the dressage this year.
I knew the minute I entered the warm up ring that stadium was not going to go how it has been going at home. He ran at the cross rail and was totally ignoring me and the aids. I came around again, same thing. Third time I approached the cross rail, then halted in front of the fence. By this time it was my call to enter the ring. I trotted in, picked up my canter and AHHH my rein broke right in half! I was able to pull up and the judge kindly let me go and put on my spare reins. Whew, that could have been ugly.
I'm not sure it would have been any uglier than our stadium round though. The ring at Wit's End is very unique, its built on a hill with undulating ground throughout - and I actually really like the set up. It's different, its fun, it adds to the challenge. Unfortunately for us, we didn't get to have the fun everyone else did. I picked up a beautiful canter to the first fence, a nice oxer heading up hill on a related distance to a vertical. We had the perfect spot but at the last minute Archie gunned at the fence and we took the entire thing out - poles flew between his legs, standards on the ground. I thought to myself "I did everything right there, there was NO need for that". The rest of the course continued on similarly. I would get a great approach, then Archie would run away with me to the fence, taking it out, or running off with me after. I had to actually circle him and pull him up twice on course to regain control. Something I have never had to do.
When I got home I put Archie in his stall and cried. It's not fair that I work so hard for so long and I am still dealing with these same issues. It's not fair that everyone else can have a normal horse yet my horse refuses to be normal for stadium. It was a big pity party and I was the guest of honor. Sometimes you just need a good cry. I talked with Jesse and just told him how I felt that in life you should always be able to achieve what you want. You should always be able to get there with hard work and dedication, so why is it not working? I would understand if he didn't have the talent, or the scope, but he does. He jumps around almost 4' courses at home easily. Then Jesse said something that made more sense to me than anything else I have heard in a while.
He said, "Tori, of course you can achieve what you want if you work hard enough for it, but when your sport involves a partner, they have to want it too. Archie doesn't want it, no matter how badly you want him to". Wow. I just kind of stood there staring at him. "You are so right". He is right. With horses, you can't make a horse be something it just doesn't want to be. Archie may be a beautiful dressage horse, probably the best cross country horse I have ever ridden, but he is not, and never will be a showjumper. I can spend my whole life working towards something, but if my partner is working against me, it's a lost cause. At that moment, it was like a weight lifted off my shoulders.
No matter how badly I want Archie to be an event horse, no matter how talented I think he is, it doesn't matter one bit if he is not in the game with me. He is such a good boy that he will try anything I ask, no matter how much he doesn't want to. I realized that all these years Archie was trying to tell me something, and I was ignoring him. Archie loves cross country, he hates show jumping. He likes 2 of the 3 things us eventers do. Archie does not want to be an event horse. I decided that having a good day only half of the time just isn't good enough anymore. Not for how much work, time, and money I spend on a sport I want to be competitive in. I love Archie to pieces, he will always be the love of my life, but I will not be eventing Archie any more.
Archie will be happiest being a horse, out in the field grazing day in and day out. All the tension, stress, and nerves are from being ridden. I feel it would be best if Archie retired early and went to live at my parents farm where he can just be a horse. He is sound, he is healthy, and I will still ride him over there. I won't be jumping him anymore though, and we won't be showing. Some horses are just too damaged from the track to have any sort of normal riding life, and I think Archie is one of them.
I feel happy with how much we did accomplish, we had small victories and it certainly was never an easy ride. He allowed me to continue eventing while I had no other horse options and stay in the game. It was a huge learning experience seeing how a horse can go from being a complete nervous wreck at shows to a calm and cool been there done that show horse. It's obviously a hard choice to make, and I will always question whether it is the right choice in the long term. For now though, the stress and disappointment that comes with eventing Archie has taken its toll. It was fun while it lasted. I am ready to start a new chapter.
Happy retirement Archie.