For most, New Years is fresh start. It is a time for reflection, self reformation,
and new goals with seemingly limitless possibilities. For much of the general population, this inspiration for a new beginning typically manifests in the usual resolutions: losing that extra holiday weight; getting back on a regular gym schedule that WILL last longer than last year's attempt; quitting smoking; finally getting that dream job; meeting that special someone; or simply spending less time on social media. While these are all admirable resolutions to undertake, it goes without saying that the resolutions of the equestrian community tend to sound a little different. For most of us, our goals revolve around riding (shocking I know). Some of these goals are small personal goals, such as being able to sit the trot better; being able to consistently find that perfect distance; having quieter hands and stronger legs; or even just being able to hack your horse confidently alone around the bean field. However, many find themselves setting the bar high at the beginning of each year with larger competitive goals such as making the move up to the next division; qualifying for AEC; competing at NAYRC; or even completing your first Rolex.
These kinds of large competitive goals require even larger commitments of time, money, and emotions from not only the rider, but their entire support system. In a sport where the margin for error is very small and misfortune seems to come with the territory, the pressure to perform and succeed can be immense.
Unfortunately, life has this insuppressible tendency to happen. Just when you think you
are on track and all of the pieces of the puzzle are coming together here comes life to upset the apple cart. Much like those cliché New Year’s resolutions that can be dashed to bits by chocolate cake tasting way too good, that dream guy turning out to be a complete jerk, or by giving in to your cell phone addiction because they just released the newest version of Candy Crush; equestrian-based goals and aspirations are disputably far more easily derailed. We have all been there: the lame horse; that fall or rail that was completely your fault but keeps you from getting that critical qualifying round; and those bills that wipe out your training and show funds for the foreseeable future. When these events of life act to crush a goal it is so easy to be consumed with disappointment and convince yourself that you have failed or let yourself, your horse, and everyone else down.
This is how I see it -- goals are great, the ability to achieve your goals is even better, but the ability to face adversity, fail, and adapt a new goal is the best. This is a lesson I learned as a result of life hitting me hard over this past year.
You see, I am an extremely goal-oriented person and as most of family and friends know,
I am someone who enjoys being busy. Throughout 2015 if I wasn't riding my horse, studying, or working at my internship, I was almost certainly painting, crocheting, upholstering a new piece of furniture for my apartment, or participating in any of my various DIY projects. I crave having something to strive for and build towards and loathe standing still or feeling stagnant for too long. Without a bigger goal firmly planted in my mind, motivation can be elusive for me and I tend to feel very lost. That being said I also have a tendency, as I assume many people do, to put an immense amount of pressure on myself to achieve these goals or else face feeling the sting of failure and self disappointment.
To preface this story, my horse Rhythm, is truly the most special once-in-a-lifetime
horse that I could ever wish to own. I came across his ad on Equine.com when I was 16 years old and searching for a horse capable of novice level eventing. I was young, had no idea what I was really looking at when it came to horse shopping but he liked to jump and so did I, the price was right, and despite him being the only horse I test rode he was vetted and home within a week. Call it blind luck or fate but he has unfailingly danced, galloped, and jumped over every goal I have ever set for myself and has made me the rider I am today. He has instilled a sense of confidence in me that has fed my insatiable desire to keep progressing through the levels of eventing.
We worked our way relatively quickly up the levels together, first novice, then training where he fulfilled my dream to compete at the AEC's in Georgia as he qualified in our first three attempts at the level. Next prelim, which up until this point had been my ultimate "maybe one day" riding goal and to my astonishment proved to be quite competitive with numerous top three placings. That season I set my sights on my first CCI* at Hagyard Midsouth at which he, in his typical fashion, stepped up to the plate. At this point I found myself unsure of what to do. I had never dreamt of having a horse capable of competing at this level but I did know that I loved this sport and I wanted to learn as much as I could from Rhythm. The next fall I staggered as I selected the big letter "I" on my entry for the River Glen Horse Trials. Sure enough, by the end of that November weekend I had myself an Intermediate horse.
Fast forward to that next summer, where we arrived at our third intermediate with two
additional I/P's under our belt, and I had idea of potentially completing a CIC** burning in my mind. This course was huge. It literally had me dry heaving when I would walk it. But trusting that my little red horse would keep me safe just as he always had, we left the box anyway. Things actually went very well up until a very wide table at fence ten almost sent us both tumbling. It was a close enough call that I decided to retire on course shortly after, something I had never done before. The eight hour drive home gave me a long time to let doubt fester in my mind. What was worse than my own disappointment was how badly that one incident chipped Rhythm's good heart. Up until this point everything had gone very smoothly and neither of us had really had our cage rattled so the feeling of uncertainty was quite foreign to us both. We took it easy that next month, slowly rebuilding our confidence. I kept telling myself it was just one mistake, we would both learn from it and with the reassurance of everyone around me, still had my eyes set on the two star in the future.
Then as life would have it, a few weeks later in my jump lesson we were warming up
over some small stadium exercises when Rhythm and I had a disagreement on a distance, he became tangled in a heavy plank and he fell over the back side and onto me. We were both fine besides some minor road rash and body soreness. However, I would be lying if I didn’t say I was completely shaken by the accident and that paired with the near crash a few months early sent me into a riding identity crisis. I started questioning my ability as a rider and the ability of my horse. I let my emotions convince myself that maybe I had been kidding myself this whole time. I thought about my goal for the two star, the goal I had so firmly planted in my mind as the end-all-be-all accomplishment that would finally make me happy and content, and how it would never happen. At this point I was facing my college graduation in just a few weeks which marked the six-month countdown before I sold my soul to chiropractic school and put my serious riding career on standby for the next four years. I could feel the time ticking. I knew Rhythm would be far too old by the time I got out of school to return to campaigning at such a high level and I knew even better I would probably never come across a horse like him again. I wallowed in my failure. I truly felt as though I had let everyone who had helped me get to this point down, especially Rhythm.
After my December graduation I moved back home to Chicago where I planned to get a
job until chiropractic school began in July and brought Rhythm back to my all-time
favorite barn and second home, Baythorne Farm, where we had begun our journey together years ago. I loved being reunited with my barn and for the first time in a while I was really motivated to ride my horse. It was not until I was able to be around this amazing group of people who had supported Rhythm and I through all these years and began to share with them how I had been feeling over these past few months that I realized how asinine I was being.
I’ve seen my peers (adult amateurs of all levels) demonstrate their adaptability to changing circumstances; to take a hit, brush it off, regroup, and redirect. This is the quality that I believe makes adult amateurs, in my eyes, the toughest demographic in the equestrian community.
I’ve decided that is my new goal. Not to move up the levels, not to qualify for anything,
not to win. My new goal this year is to be a tough adult amateur who can roll with the punches. I want to be proud of what I have done, be the best at what I can do, and to be brave enough to adjust my sails when the winds of life change. I don’t want to be recognized for what level I compete at but instead for how hard I work to be the best rider I am capable of being.
For those of you setting your sights high this year, I say go for it. Chase those goals as
hard as you can, work your butt off, commit to your dreams. But remember to now allow those goals, whether you succeed or everything comes crashing down, to define who you are as a rider.
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end."