Trust Your Eye

Pirate running Intermediate at The Fork, April 2014

There are no words to adequately express how I feel about Pirate’s comeback. It wasn’t just a second chance; it was God giving me my life back, against all odds. I love my family and friends fiercely, but Pirate is my world. That horse is the love of my life, and he represents everything I ever wanted as a child, whilst getting run off with on my pony in a family friend’s back yard, traveling the Northern Virginia countryside with my Godmother, or simply dreaming at night of the day it would be my name they’re announcing at Badminton. (We may not be there, but what’s a dream worth if you don’t say it aloud?). The whole time, it was Pirate I wanted…even before he existed. I wanted my fearless Laddy Pony on stilts, a big version of the indestructible pony that is my childhood and became my introduction to the sport that defines me. The horse with a heart of gold, who could and would jump anything for me, who would put up with the most atrocious riding out of me on some days and love me anyway…just the horse who would love me anyway, really. I can do no wrong to him, and he is the brightest part of my day, every day. That horse comes to work every day with the biggest smile on his face, so happy to face whatever challenges await, from a dressage school to a hack to a cross-country course. He loves his life. I love my life with him, my big fearless upper level horse who carries me through more than he’ll ever know. And God gave that back to us, when He answered my prayers, and rewarded my faith that it wasn’t just over, wouldn’t be taken from us like that.

I know what people told me, what people saw. They saw a horse with a broken neck and a girl who refused to let go of her future. Pirate was supposed to be done, and it would have been easy to accept. This was no minor injury. This wasn’t a little crack in the neck; this one was bad. He shouldn’t have ever been rideable again. But, after the initial shock wore off, I simply decided not to accept this fate.

Life doesn’t always work this way. But sometimes - sometimes – you can choose what you will and won’t see, believe, and accept. It can come back to bite you if things don’t go the way you want. But what if I had simply given up on this horse? Where would he be? Where would I be? I don’t want to know. All I know is that I want no part of a life without hope. And one step beyond it, faith. In something, anyway. You have to believe in something. It’s different for everyone. I chose to believe in this horse.

There is a great Jim Carrey quote; “Hope walks through the fire, and faith leaps over it.”  One you wish for.  The other you believe in.  You can hope it happens, or you can believe that it will.  One inspires you, but the other empowers you. You get to decide how you will play with the fire.  Pirate leaps over everything, doesn’t he; so why not this?  We’re not often so lucky in life as to will something to be the way we want it, against all odds.  I was this lucky.  I will not forget it.

I trusted not what I heard, but what I saw. I saw a horse who wouldn’t give up, either; a horse who could barely move at first ask to be let out of his stall for a walk, please, just let me try. A horse who knew he was hurt, but tried to trot around his paddock anyway…until one day, he could. He watched the trailer being loaded; until the day he was on it again. I watched the horse who would never move normally again gallop around his field. And then, one day, I watched the world through his ears again; a view I was always supposed to have. I saw a cross-country course unfold in front of us, and it wasn’t a dream. I saw the fences get bigger as we moved back up through the levels over the early spring months. And I saw our line, our stride, our distance, better than ever before. Because finally – finally – I trusted my eye.

The horse who was never supposed to be ridden again tackles Intermediate at The Fork 6 weeks into his comeback tour.

Our first event back was set for Valentine’s Day weekend, and there could not have been more standing in our way to get down to Paradise HT. A freak ice/snow storm in Charlotte led to my truck getting hit by a tow truck, zero riding in the lead-up to the event (half the snowy ground, the other a bad case of pneumonia that was supposed to keep me off the horses and in a hospital bed – as if I would miss P’s first event after all this, you kiddin’?), and a trailer completely stuck in a heck of a lot more ice and snow than we are used to around here.

Thank goodness for an indestructible truck, ponies being good sports, and an awesome neighbor/friend with a tractor, because somehow, we hit the road to Aiken before dark…driving down to a little town frozen in ice itself, and without power. An earthquake even hit overnight. But, after all he’d been through, I’ll be damned if any of this would stop Pirate from trotting down centerline the next day, and running off with me in stadium. He was so happy to be back. The next day’s cross-country course goes down as one of the most emotional experiences of my life.

We were struck with bad weather and footing at the next few events, but Pirate continued to feel better than ever on course. He was brilliant, plain and simple.  I was fortunate enough to have Eventing Nation continue their interest in us throughout our season, and after a string of great Prelim cross-country runs, well, why not move back to Intermediate at The Fork? Pirate gave me every reason to believe he was ready. And he was. He was just…incredible. Take a look at him cruising over Fence 3 on course if you don’t believe me that it was effortless for him.  That might have been the second most emotional day of my year.  Share in my joy here on the helmet cam…even if it sounds like terror at Fence 2.  ;)

From there, we had a little break, and then went up to the Virginia CCI*. Of course, Pirate skipped around the course like it was absolutely nothing, cruising in 30 seconds under optimum time (8 min), barely blowing, to post a double clear.  (Join us on the ride here; it is truly a beautiful track, and the helmet camera is worth watching just for the view!).  We just missed the top ten in our huge division thanks to 2 silly rails on a course that was demolishing others, but P walked away feeling like the star that he is, and that’s all that matters. I drove home with my mother and two dear friends giggling like a schoolgirl for the impossible season we had just wrapped up…and so very ready to see what the world will reveal to me next.

Nothing in life is more than our perception of it, really; no one really knows what we are seeing, and what we are missing. We only see what we want, or what we can. All you can do is trust your eye, and believe in what you see. Gallop down to your fence knowing the distance will come to you, but don’t stare it down too hard or you’ll interfere. Your eye alone can sometimes be wrong, but the moment you doubt it, your horse will lose confidence in you. Don’t forget, your horse knows more than you do; I’ve always found that thought comforting, that I have someone working with me who knows more than I. You’ll feel it, if you’ve got it right or if you haven’t. You’ll just know. You can trust what you see only so far, but you can believe in whatever feeling it stirs in you almost always.

So yes, trust your eye – but also your instincts; for they become your fate.

 Huge thanks to our entire support team in this process.  There are too many names to list, but shout-outs as always to Francis Whittington for giving us hope when all was lost; Ian Thirkell at ArcEquine for his generosity and support; our amazing vet and farrier team (Ansel Bussinah, Dr. Travis Blackwelder, Dr. Alexis Sage, Dr. Sarah Feathers); Pirate’s grooms and my dear friends, Brittany Bertrand Vuong and Emily Gray; his biggest fan (and forever “Head Groom”) Momma Colleen Briggs; my incredible family and friends, who got me through the best and worst of it all; and last but not least, Jamey Price, for the photos – and so much more.

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