With a frustrated groan, Haley pulled the horse up just before the jump. His muscles, tense with fear, relaxed as they cantered back toward her instructor. The man was shielding his eyes from the late-morning sun, squinting at them thoughtfully.
“I don’t get it, Jorgé. Nothing bad’s ever happened to him...why is he so scared to jump?”
The man just shook his head. “Something’s got him spooked, all right. You could see him tense up as soon as you started toward it.”
Haley looked around the arena, trying to see it from the young gelding’s eyes. No weird shadows, leaves blowing or dogs running around. Nothing he hasn’t seen a hundred times before.
“Trot him around the ring. Just the perimeter, don’t turn him to the jump.”
The gelding’s gait was free and relaxed. Up, down, she rose in rhythm with him, a smile tugging at her mouth. Everything about Mozart said “talent,” from his eagerness to please to his perfectly balanced movements. From the first time Haley had settled into the saddle on his back, she’d known he was destined to be great. If he can just find some courage.
At Jorgé’s command, she signaled the horse to canter. He flicked an ear, listening to her voice, but otherwise stayed calm. Over her shoulder Haley heard: “Try the jump from the other direction,” and she turned him gently toward the middle of the ring.
The second he saw the crossrails, Mozart’s pace slowed even while his breathing quickened. She pushed him forward with her legs until they were just in front of the jump. She could feel him bracing to stop. Again, she guided him away. Again, he relaxed.
“He’s not going to take it today, is he?” She looked down at the man walking toward them.
Jorgé stroked the gelding’s neck. “His body’s ready but his heart’s not in it. He doesn’t believe he can make it over that jump.”
Haley stared at the crossrail. Barely a foot tall, it was an odd symbol of defeat. Mozart could walk over it without a second thought.
Her instructor continued, “But it’s your job to make him believe he can make it, Haley. He’s insecure; you have to give him confidence. You have to believe in him before he can believe in himself, girl!”
He turned, heading for the barn, as she thought about his words. But I do believe in him! She reached down to hug the horse, causing his ears to swivel back at her sudden motion. “I love you, you big goon,” she said, then added, just in case Jorgé was right, “And I want you to know that I believe you’re a great jumper.”
Mozart swished his tail.
After the horse was thoroughly cooled out and groomed, Haley led him back to his pasture and turned him loose. He stood at the gate for a moment, nickering for his friends. “They’re in the back pasture, silly; they can’t hear you,” she told him. He tossed his head, threw a happy buck in her direction and took off at a gallop. Watching him sail over a fallen log in his path, Haley sighed. “Why can’t you do that when I’m on your back?”
Her dreams that night were troubled. She and Mozart were at a show where he kept refusing the jumps. Riders she’d long admired sat in the stands. One by one, their faces blurring into a dizzying collage, they each shouted, “You don’t encourage him!” and “You don’t believe!”
She was still tired when she rode Mozart out to the ring the next morning. “Ok, boy, we’re going to take that jump today.” The gelding danced underneath her, enjoying the crisp fall air.
Haley walked him over to the crossrail and let the reins go slack. The gelding stretched his nose out, sniffing cautiously. His lips explored the rails. Haley held her breath. So far, so good.
It didn’t take long for the horse to get bored. Closing her legs lightly against his sides, Haley urged him forward. He took a step, lifting his feet over the rails. Progress! She turned him around and he walked over it again without hesitation.
Within an hour, Mozart was jumping like it had never been a problem. “All you needed was a little encouragement, wasn’t it, boy? You just needed to hear that somebody believed in you!”
Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
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