I wrote a fun blog this winter about keeping my now six-year-old gelding home to play in the snow rather than taking him to board where there was an indoor and we could focus on building strength and increase his dressage training. I also stand by it. He came out to work this spring fresh and eager and ready to advance his skills and, aside from the one brisk March day when he saw an invisible puma in the trees and dumped me into a bush (forcing me to walk the half mile home (!)), he’s been fun to work with and I’m enjoying every ride.
But the horse I’m riding this year won’t be the horse I ride next year and already I can tell he’s going to need a different program this winter as we begin our approach to the FEI level. Luckily, I have a trainer friend who rides so beautifully that she can make a three or four-year-old warmblood look like it actually steers (spoiler alert: they don’t) and has a knack for developing young talents toward the upper levels in a systematic, sympathetic way. I initially had Kashmir signed up to go to her for some of his earlier training, but he’s been such a late bloomer that it didn’t make sense until now.
Next winter, I will kick my kid out of the nest to see if he can fly.
I’ll be honest with you, readers, I’ve made the decision and I’ve secured his spot in her barn because the horse trainer/competitive rider part of me knows that I don’t have the skills or the time to bridge the gap between his young horse work and the coming adult job he’s expected to have. This is absolutely what needs to happen for us to advance. I know it in my logical mind, just as I know every good trainer needs input from other trainers to keep advancing in their work.
Now tell that to the mother part of me who has raised Kashmir from a weanling and doesn’t want him to leave my sight. Ever.
That part of me kicked in immediately after I talked with my trainer friend, the part that began to weave threads of doubt into all of my logical, well-thought arguments. “But he’s just a baby!” screams the part of me that loves to squish his nose and cuddle with him in the stall at night check. “He’s got quirks that make him unique – she’ll take the quirks out of him! She won’t understand him!” is the other over-protective mother bear side of my illogical argument. (Spoiler alert: He is, at his core, a typical Dutch gelding to the degree of almost being stereotypical. He’s extra cute, of course, but still pretty much like the rest of his peers.)
If you’re a parent preparing to send your son or daughter off to college in the fall, I bet you live with a larger version of what I’m going through right now as you look to the months between graduation and first-year move in.
And if you are that parent reading this, I ask you to join me in siding with the logical side of our brains that know our kids need to go out in the world. We have prepared them for this since they were young. We have educated them to the best of our abilities. We know they are smart and capable and we are ready for other people to recognize these qualities in them. What’s more, if we keep them at home and shelter them in the way we’ve done until now, they may not reach their full potential.
We need our trainer brains to override our mom brains, readers.
For my part, I’ve recruited a host of friends and family to be the voices that keep my trainer brain winning the battle over my mom brain and encourage you to adopt whatever mantra and support system will help you do the same as you prepare to pack your students up for school this fall. (Obviously it’s a little different when we compare a horse going off for 30 days of training and a student going off for four years of education, but emotionally I think the similarities are many.) But if we work together collectively for the betterment of our students and our young horses, I think we’ll be able to usher them all safely into adulthood.
(Don’t worry, though – we can still keep squishing their adorable noses. That never goes away.)