In for the High Jump
When I first started horse riding I quickly became fascinated by the skills of international show jumpers. I was always anxious to watch the show jumping on the television and many rows would erupt between me and my parents about staying up beyond my bedtime. My first love quickly became the puissance events and I really wanted to give this variety of show jumping a go.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="512"] Ellen Whitaker Jumping at Olympia[/caption]
Puissance is the show jumping equivalent of high jumping. In these competitions a fence is progressively raised higher and higher. The competitors are knocked out if they fail to clear the fence and the event continues until only one jumper remains or two reach a draw.
Once I had honed my show jumping skills, achieved some clear rounds and then competed in a few competitions, I was anxious to enter puissance events. I was competing on my riding school’s horses and the horse I used for show jumping was a brilliant jumper and fabulous against the clock. However, he was a little on the small side. I was offered the chance to ride a different horse for puissance and couldn't wait to test my skills.
No Need For Competition Mix Here
I was fearless then and would have tackled any fence that the organisers decided to construct. I should have considered that I was riding a horse which had not been fine tuned for jumping and so might struggle with the extremes of puissance. The riding school horses did not benefit from diets designed for peak performance. There was no competition mix for horses to get more energy, just regular feed and forage. I didn't even know that there was such a thing as competition mix for horses and perhaps it wasn't that common back then!
Anyway, when I entered my first puissance competition I couldn't wait to get in the arena. The first few rounds went really well and my borrowed mount tackled the fences with ease. I was beginning to think that I might have stumbled across a horse with a hidden talent. I was sensible enough to realise that he might soon start to struggle as the fence was getting very high. But before I knew it there were only two people left in the competition and I was one of them.
Higher and Higher
The height of the fence was raised again and it now looked enormous. My rival refused the fence so if I could get over it I would win. I urged my mount forward to the fence but in the final stride the horse abruptly refused. Unfortunately I kept moving and flew over the massive fence. I landed in a muddy puddle on the other side. I then looked up to see my father staring down at me. I hadn't known that he had come along to watch. His amused look was all the encouragement I needed to regroup and go again.
As both I and my rival had refused we were invited to jump again. My rival refused a second time but I was determined that one way or another I was getting over that fence, this time still on the horse. I gathered myself and the reins, pushed onwards and rode with determination. I think the horse had understood that failure was not an option and duly sailed over to win the competition.
That horse really did have a special talent. God only knows what it would have been capable of if trained and prepared specifically for high jumping. In spite of everything we did win several events. Who needs competition mix for horses? Ironically the horse had the most inappropriate name – Sissie! He certainly wasn't!
By don carey (originally posted to Flickr as ellen whitaker) ,