In an industry that is defined by competition, quite often our focus is only on the number–and color–of ribbons we take home at the end of the day. Potential clients judge barns based on how many ribbons are hanging from their show displays. Parents judge their trainer’s success with their children based on how many “blues” the kids bring home. Riders judge other riders’ skill sets by the tallies they write up on their Facebook pages.
But, quite often, the ribbon does not always represent the entire accomplishment, or the skill it took to earn it.
Recently I purchased a new horse. My situation was such that I had limited options, so I took a leap of faith and bought a mare from the Czech Republic -sight unseen, and untried by me. She arrived January 1st, and I named her “Risky Business”, as that seemed to sum up our new arrangement.
“Brisky” and I started our relationship on rocky ground. She had big shoes to fill and, turned out, she wasn’t an easy ride. My expectations of being able to step into the Grand Prix Ring were soon dashed, and I settled for starting my season in the 90’s, as opposed to the 1.40’s, where I had been previously.
There was nothing “easy” about this mare. She earned her nickname as “Dragon” in true style: strong, opinionated and fierce in all that she did. Her demands on me as a rider were higher than any other horse I had ridden. I had to be on my game for each ride: 100% engaged, soft, firm and focused for each step. She demanded complete attention and if I wasn’t all in, all the time, then neither was she.
And so we started our first year together and I found myself working harder, for less, than I ever had before. Up and down the heights we went. Always working on perfecting the ride, sharping the relationship and adjusting my plans and expectations on a day to day basis to accommodate my mare.
And the one thing became abundantly clear to me: it was so much more gratifying to achieve success when it came at such a high price. Winning is addictive and, at the end of the day who doesn’t want to go home with the prize? But suddenly, all of it meant even more. This mare motivated me to work harder. I rode more often, spent more hours in the saddle, and more time getting to know how to manage my schedule to best suit her needs.
What become obvious, was, as much as I might have enjoyed bringing home piles of ribbons, the effort it took to get even one or two made those that much more valuable. Each one was one I had earned, and, regardless of the height of the classes or how many I brought home, they became significant and carried a message that said “you earned this”. Not through luck or entitlement, but sheer hard work.
I have not given up my dreams of getting back in the “Big” classes. I want, as much as ever, to move my way back to the 1.40’s–and beyond–and I would love to do that with my mare. But I am eternally grateful for all that I have had the chance to learn while on this path. Thanks to this experience I have become a better horseman and rider, and I am excited to share that with the other horses and riders in my life.
I think we are at our best when we are challenged by our sport. When it isn’t easy but we stick with it is when we develop as riders and horse people, and I and am grateful to my “Dragon”, and all the horses who came before and will come after, for making me the best version of myself.