Many of you know that I am a rerider, meaning that I had stopped riding for an extended period of time, but I never shared my experience before I had stopped riding. So sit tight and buckle up, because we’re going back over a decade ago. But can we pause to appreciate Baby Kaitlin and George…
My riding journey started when I was in grade three after my sister and I had spent over 3 years tormenting my mother to buy us a dog. With only an appreciation for animals, my mother would have never welcomed a dog with open arms into our house- so she got my sister and I into horseback riding. To her, this was a quick and easy fix to all her dog related problems.
I rode once a week, 9:00am on Saturday mornings in a semi-private lesson with my sister. As a child and still now, as an adult, I consider myself so lucky that I was able to ride these majestic beasts. Truth be told, I used to be terrified of horses. I would start shaking in the saddle, while grooming and you couldn’t pay me enough to get them from the paddock. Until I met one chestnut thoroughbred called Tara. She taught me how to be confident in the saddle and canter. Unfortunately, Tara moved away when someone bought her and shortly after that, the barn decided to close.
My sister and I transitioned into a new eventing barn, once I had moved barns we created friendships and relationships with horses that left me wanting more. Riding once a week was never enough, but my parents availability left my craving unsatisfied. So, I started working in the barn for free rides, lesson and more horse time. More saddle time meant more time with my all time favourite pony called, Tobey.
This pony stole my heart the minute I saw him walk by. Chunky, fluffy, orange and adorable my heart was set on him. He taught me everything from how to sit a buck, jump a course and how you always need more leg. After one chipped tooth later and some falls, I was ready to make a bigger commitment in my riding career. But truth be told, I was never the competitive type and unfortunately my parents couldn’t afford the time to spend taking me to all the commitments showing required. So I continued working in the barn and helping out with clinics to earn free saddle time. As my love for the sport grew so did my friendships with other riders and I couldn’t imagine my life differently. I spent over four years at that barn and loved every second of it while it lasted.
I vividly remember the day my riding career came to a screeching halt. It was during a March Break camp in 2010, while I was halfway through grade nine. During the last day of the camp, the barn put on a mini schooling show- like many camps do. I to this day do not remember why I wasn’t riding Tobey, but unfortunately it just worked out so that I couldn’t. Instead I was riding, Romeo, he was a beautiful ride but nasty on the ground. I was riding Tobey the whole week and out of all horses in the riding school, Romeo was always my last choice because of his ground manners.
It seems like the last Friday of the camp was not my day nor Romeos. We were warming up and it was like any other ride and was going fairly well, until we stepped into the show ring. With a strong canter and eyes up towards the first jump, I found myself laying on the ground- convincing myself that I was fine. Because it was just a schooling show, I was sent back to the warm up ring to shake everything off and to come back after the next person.
With tears rolling from my eyes, I started my warm up again, before heading back into the show ring. I’m happy to say that Romeo and I made it over all of the fences, but going over the last oxer, Romeo took the long spot and I lost control. As we made it over the jump, he bolted for the bleechers that were up in the ring, making it 6ft shorter than usual. With long reins and no room, the only out Romeo saw, was the door of the arena. In hopes of trying to gather my reins and slow him down, I forgot to duck and practically split my helmet down the middle, as my head hit the doorframe.
My 7 years of riding came to a cease and desist all thanks to a silly mistake of not ducking. I’m sure you can all guess this all resulted in a severe concussion. This concussion took over two years to heal from. I wasn’t able to finish grade nine, but I was able to take the class average so that I got the credits because of my grades at the time. In grade ten, I still wasn’t 100% and I wasn’t able to take any exams or attend assemblies. I was absolutely crushed. By the time grade eleven came around, I was back in the normal swing of things, but my doctor had yet to clear me for contact sports.
Eventually the sadness turned into numbness and when I saw horses and people riding, I just turned away from it because it hurt so much not being able to do it. So let’s fast forward three years when I started my second year of university. I was living in downtown Toronto on the eighteenth floor facing West- with a view of Drakes old penthouse and Lake Ontario. On the nights I wasn’t out, my life was quiet and I spent a lot of time looking at the lights reflecting on the lake in the distance. I would always say that my mind was congested while I was living there, so I would borrow my parents car and drive as far away from the city as possible.
During the first quarter I met a guy called Marcus, as many of you know my boyfriend. As we became closer I opened up about the 7 best years of my life, because when I was on the back of his motorcycle it reminded me of the feeling of being free and one with something other than myself (not to mention on a sports bike, as the passenger you’re basically in two point). That January in 2018, I had made an agreement with my parents that if I move back home, I could start riding again. My mother was both over the moon and biting her nails, as she never wanted me on a horse ever again. February 1st, I moved back home and in the same day, bought new riding gear from the nearest tack shop.
After just over seven years of being out of the saddle, I couldn’t have felt more at home when I got my butt into one. Phoenix was a beautiful draft x tb, I rode her for about 3 months and she helped reteach me. I loved that mare, but we weren’t quite the perfect fit, so I started searching horses to part-board. I rode some of my coaches horses but I didn’t click with any. That is when I decided to take the leap and search for a lease.
It wasn’t until I tried a horse called Alcatraz who took me on this crazy journey, so naturally, I’d document it. This is when Eyes Up, Darling was born. I needed a positive, safe and creative outlet for my equine struggles with Taz. Truth be told, within the first two weeks of having him, I wasn’t able to canter him, lead him without a shank or really do anything with him. I was so close to ending the lease that I had inquired about it with his owners, but they refused to take him back. Needless to say, he was not the horse I thought I was getting, but I had to make it work somehow. Silly, wide-eyed and ambitious I only tried Alcatraz once and that night decided to lease him- I do not suggest this as I’ve learnt the hard way.
I put my heart and soul into that little ottb, all to have him torn away from me within three days. Marcus and I had gone camping and while we were away, Taz managed to get an eye infection that resulted in an eye ulcer. For a month before he went back to his owner, I spent hours grooming, loving, and grazing him. The care he needed I could no longer provide as his medication needed to be administered twice a day and living an hour away- it was financially impossible (gas money is expensive).
Just for some background, Alcatraz is the only horse I would consider a project horse. He was severely underweight and didn’t have enough muscle to properly transition into a canter- nor did he know how to jump. By the time he left, he was a totally different horse.
As I speed through the process of finding my little peach, Lexington, I feel at ease knowing that this is where I am supposed to be. You’d think I would’ve learnt my lesson by only trying a horse once without a trainer, but I guess not. Thank goodness this time it worked out. My equine journey started over fourteen long years ago and somehow the saddle called me home and that's exactly what being with Lex feels like. My riding story doesn’t show rosettes and a show resume, but rather my resilience, determination and drive for what I’ve always wanted- a pony of my own. I’m blessed at 22 with a healthy brain, a huge support system and a fiery dragon.