It finally happened. I finally felt the twinge of disappointment and sadness about not showing this season. Well, let me clarify. I’m still not sure that I miss the actual showing aspect (aside from XC, of course), but I sure do miss Coconino itself and my two week summer escape/vacation/adult summer camp. All year in my facebook memories, old pics of lots of different horse shows have been popping up. My reactions to them have ranged somewhere from “oh yeah that was a fun one” to “god that was hot and humid and miserable, never again” (looking at you, Chatt). And then the Coconino memories started popping up this month and I felt my first true sense of longing. I had really wanted to take both boys this year, Henry to show and Presto to just hack around. They ultimately had to cancel their summer shows, which eased the FOMO, but it didn’t really make me any less sad about it. I absolutely love that place.
It’s nice to know I’m not totally broken though. I was starting to wonder. I have to admit that I thought that there was a big silver lining to the horse world’s forced covid break from showing. For the first time I saw lots of pros posting on social media about trail riding, or riding bareback, or doing other fun/silly things with their horses. The same seemed to be true of everyone who was able to keep riding and accessing their horses during that time. It was almost like we all took one big collective deep breath and there, for a hot minute, we were all back to being plugged in to what made us fall in love with the sport in the first place. For the sake of riding and training progress, maybe the forced break wasn’t great, but for horse and rider mental heath… I don’t think it was a bad thing.
I also think that a big part of not missing it as much as I felt like I should is because I’ve admittedly become a bit disillusioned with upper level horse sports in general over the past several years, and like it or not, it’s trickled down a bit. Looking back I think it really started with a big name rider/trainer/coach saying that the USA has to “be prepared to win at all costs”. That comment latched on to my brain and dug in deep. It still makes me feel queasy.
It got hammered down a bit more after listening to some interviews with top level riders that, while they spoke kindly of their horses, definitely gave off a “horse as a means to an end” type of vibe. I know there is a huge difference in people who are trying to make it as a top rider in the sport vs people who just have a horse or two or three that they deeply love and are committed to having fun with. We want different things out of it, and that’s okay. I used to be the former and have kind of morphed into the latter so I see both sides.
In my head I think of it as “horse oriented” vs “goal oriented”. The former buys the horse and if necessary adjusts their dreams/goals in accordance to what that horse needs/wants, whereas the latter has very specific goals for themselves and buys/sells the horses that will or won’t get them to said goals. And there’s nothing wrong with either, in my mind. It’s 1000% fine to have clear cut goals for yourself in your athletic endeavors. I don’t think everyone has to keep a horse forever, not by any means, or stick with a situation that makes them unhappy. We don’t all have to approach or enjoy the sport the same way. But I do think that everyone has a responsibility to the horse, and it admittedly bothers me to hear them talked about as if they’re a piece of equipment vs a living breathing animal. Used up, pushed to the limit, and spat out. Putting bandaids on physical issues to try to eke out one more show or season, or resorting to some barbaric methods just to gain some advantage. Not everyone does that, of course, it’s just a small percentage, but now that I’m really listening for it… I hear it and see it more than I’d like in the show world.
Most recently was the Andy Kocher debacle with his electrified spurs. I kinda feel like at this point nothing surprises me anymore (especially from that guy, whose list of horse welfare offenses could fill up a CVS receipt). It’s infuriating to think about how long he’s been getting away with this. It’s infuriating that he was still winning. It’s infuriating to think that people around him KNOW what’s going on, likely including some of the owners, and they felt it was permissible. It’s infuriating that even now, in the face of a mountain of photographic evidence, people are still defending it (god if there’s one thing the last year has taught me it’s that no matter what the atrocity, there will always be people waiting to defend it). And it’s especially heartbreaking to see a top level judge/official say things like “you would be surprised at how many top level riders use these”.
Ugh. It’s disgusting.
It’s all been weighing on me a lot a lot over the past year or so especially, and I’m still grappling with how to get my brain around it. I love horse sports. I always will. The things horses will do for us is amazing. But there’s a dark side to it, too, and I don’t know how to (nor do I want to) compartmentalize that. It has made me think long and hard about my own motivations and decisions though, that’s for damn sure. I don’t want to be someone that uses a horse up, or ekes every last bit of “usefulness” out of them. I don’t want to become willing to slap bandaids over physical issues or resort to questionable training tactics. No competition is worth that to me. It’s repulsive, and it’s stained my view of everything.
So it kind of makes sense that the first memory in my feed that really made me remember what’s so great about horse showing was Coconino. That’s the show where I get to live 40′ away from my horse’s stall for 2 weeks straight, able to see him any time of day or night. That’s the show where we get to hack through the pine trees before or after our rides, and just unplug from the world and enjoy the view. That’s the show where the cool weather and crisp mornings make him happy and comfortable. That’s the show where I sit outside of his stall every morning before anyone else wakes up and share breakfast with him. That’s the show where I’ve always felt most connected to my horse, no matter the outcome. That’s the show where I’ve inevitably driven home bursting with pride for my horse and all that he’s done for me, whether we had a ribbon or not.
That’s the epitome of what I love about horse showing, and that’s why I do it. I remember now.