When I was younger I would have had no problem telling you that if I couldn’t compete, I don’t know if I would ride at all. I was caught up in that fantasy they sell you, with ribbons and prizes and points and glory. My identity, and a lot of my self-worth, was tied up in competing. For a long time, while I didn’t realize it then, I also definitely felt like I had something to prove.
I grew up riding at a hunter/jumper barn that was one of the best in the area. The trainer rode at the Grand Prix level, there were a lot of good amateur and junior riders in the barn, and plenty of nice horses. I was not that, nor did I have that. I was the barn rat who worked off all of my lessons and would swing a leg over whatever anyone let me sit on. I didn’t have my own horse, and the only way I went to an A show was as a groom (which I did – happily). When I was 16 I finally got my own horse, and I loved him dearly, but he was far from fancy. He was a lower level jumper with a major roar, a lifetime of bad training, messed up hocks, and zero brakes. I spent all of my years at that barn being very aware of my inferiority. I think that’s why, for a long time after that, I always felt like I had something to prove. Whether it was to myself or to someone else, I’m not sure. But I NEEDED to show and I NEEDED fancy horses. (spoiler alert, I didn’t need either of those things)
As one would guess, I eventually burned myself out. Several different times, really, just to different degrees. I am hyper-competitive, to the point where it’s mostly counter productive. As the years have passed I’ve gained a lot more perspective, especially these last few. I’ve really started to remember why I do this – why I have so many extra jobs, why I dedicate so many hours of my life to this, why I constantly try to be better. It’s not because I love showing, it’s because I love horses. It’s that simple.
I used to feel like I needed a more well-defined purpose than that. It sounds so cheesy to be like “OMG I JUST REEEEALLY LOVE PONIEZZ”. Surely to be a Serious Rider (whatever the hell that is), I needed some kind of lofty goal, a pie-in-the-sky dream that kept me motivated and got me out of bed in the morning. But… no. I don’t really need that. I like having that, because I like pushing myself to always be better. But at the end of the day the thing that keeps me going is really simple: the love of the horse. As I kid I knew that. I would unabashedly gush about how much I just loved horses. All of them. Time and my experiences and my competitive nature made me lose sight of that a bit.
I’ve also noticed that my fierce competitive drive and interest in showing tends to ebb and flow. Sometimes it’s like I’ve got a total one-track mind, and I’m hitting everything really hard, and my schedule is super structured and focused. Other times I just need to enjoy my riding time, without any pressure or deadlines or expectations. The latter usually happens when the rest of my life gets really stressful. I find that I just need to retreat to the thing that always has the ability to stitch my soul back together.
The month of May was a tough one for me, between the injury, the fall, some personal drama, a big upheaval at work that has brought me a lot more responsibility, having to move barns on short notice, and one of the dogs passing away. While I was originally really annoyed at having to take some time off from my otherwise pretty stringent schedule in order to let my body heal, I think it actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Henry and I had been hitting it pretty hard since last fall, and I had already felt myself waning a bit, but suddenly it was possible for me to give myself permission to just take a step back. We went on long walks. I rode bareback. I just sat on my horse and looked out at the land and let everything else go quiet. I listened to him chewing on grass and I soaked up the sun and just enjoyed the company of my favorite creature. Those are the moments that remind us why we really do this. They aren’t the ones we write about or include in our highlight reel, but they’re the ones that keep us going. There is no ribbon or accomplishment that could give me a feeling more magical than that.
Because I missed so much of May, I ultimately decided that we’re probably not going to run Prelim at Coconino. I entered Training, leaving the possibility open of changing, but I don’t think I will. The horse owes me nothing and I don’t have anything to prove (hey it only took me 30 years to figure that out) so I’d rather just go have fun and not be stressed about it, worrying if we’re ready. Right now what I want more than anything is to go spend 10 days in some nice weather, enjoy the company of my friends and my favorite horse, and just forget about the rest of the world for a while. I find myself not even caring about the horse show part. There are a lot of things in life that are truly important. Horse shows aren’t it. They’re fun, for sure, but… they’re not it.
At the end of the day I love the sport and I love the horses, and that’s what really matters. The rest of it can come and go. That’s just fine with me.