In a sport of judging, help someone else smile

As a sport, we are surrounded by judging. We are judged for how we look. We are judged for how our horses look. We are judged for how we ride. But in the midst of all of that judging, we should be doing more supporting.

Statistics around rates of depression, anxiety and suicide are terrifying. It’s almost impossible to find someone that hasn’t been affected in some way by an issue with mental health. You can’t see depression from how someone is dressed. You don’t know that they’ve considered suicide from how successful or unsuccessful their ride was. You have no idea if they’re going through an anxiety attack by the brand of their show jacket.

No, you can’t “solve” them. One interaction may not lift all of their thoughts of suicide out of their mind. One saying won’t cure them of depression. But a kind word can soothe.

We as equestrians don’t do enough cheering. We are so focused on how we did that we don’t always look to the other girl in the lineup and say you did a good job. We don’t often help one another in the warm up arena as everyone is trying to navigate a ring of chaos. We don’t always try and lift each other up so everyone can do well and feel accomplished.

Yes, our sport may be about judging, but we compete to also have fun. It isn’t particularly fun to come in last every class or feel utterly defeated by a ride. What is fun, though, is being told by another competitor that they liked your shirt or that your pivot turn in a showmanship class rocked. Maybe you had a fantastic rein back in the line up. Or maybe your horse was extra shiny that day. Little comments count.

So I challenge you, fellow equestrians, just as I challenge myself. Make someone smile. Help another with their 20m dressage circle or just tell them you love their horse. Instead of just saying “maybe next time,” tell them something positive. Lift them up. Although you can’t solve everyone’s mental health issues, maybe just that kind comment keeps it at bay for a moment. It might give someone just that little bit of relief and positivity that they need to hear. You can make a difference.

Things I’ve Learned This Show Season

This show season has been a whirlwind ride and I’ve learned quite a lot. I started my year off with a lot of changes – mostly my horse change. We began leasing Jim in February and purchased him in May. Our shows went from end of April to our last 2 dressage shows coming up next month. Needless to say, we didn’t have a ton of time to get used to Jim and figure out his buttons before we jumped right in!

At the beginning of the season, Jim and I hadn’t quite figured each other out yet. I was becoming more confident again and he was learning the life of a show pony. We had varying levels of ribbons, mostly toward the bottom, as I figured myself out. We did have some great highlights though and started achieving, especially on our home turf. That first blue when I went third, first and first and then went on to win ground poles will forever be one of my favorite accomplishments.

The last off property show we competed in was earlier this month. While I still have a lot to work on, our turnaround was pretty fantastic. We scored first in equitation (which had been our nemesis all year and yes, this is all on me) and two seconds in pleasure and discipline. Year end scores are still being calculated, but I think we may have taken some reserve championships. (We’ll find out soon!)

Our experiences at shows changed completely. While I’m still nervous in the warm up ring, I’ve started settling down in the show ring. I’m not quite the level of anxiety I was at the beginning of the year. I’ve started trusting Jim more to take care of me and be my partner.

And while I was learning him, my husband was too. This was his first year really competing now that we had a horse he could ride too. Although he would try and disagree – he’s too hard on himself – he did amazing. He was the first one to score a blue ribbon on Jim out of the two of us and I am so proud of them. It’s been great to watch him accomplish his own goals and go so far. The funniest moment of the show season was definitely a show in July. I had to repeatedly tell him he had won first in one of his classes! He didn’t believe it! I’m very lucky to have the best show partner I could have in Tom. We are always there for one another.

Going forward into our last two shows and the winter, I know things I’ll need to work on. But I also feel incredibly lucky and accomplished. I have a lot to be thankful for, especially my amazing trainers who know just when and how to push me. Hard work, great trainers and a lot of sweat and tears are worth it. Because out of all of that work comes beauty and success.



When life didn’t have horses

The other day I saw a meme about what life would be like without horses and I could relate to how that feels and the pain it causes.

I wasn’t always fortunate enough to be around horses as much as I am now. When I was young, I think my parents hoped horses were “just a faze.” They hoped the dozens of model horses, the endless supply of horse movies, the horse books stacked up in my bookcase and the constant asking for a pony for Christmas would end. Quite frankly, it makes sense that they would think it was just a faze. For many children, it is. A love of horses starts young in many girls and although they still enjoy them, most get distracted and move on to other sports or boys or just something beside spending all of their time covered in dirt and hay in a smelly barn.

But stubborn, sassy me was determined. I rode in middle school and through half of high school until I had a bad fall. Confidence shaken, I succumbed to a life without horses. I took up dance for my final two years of high school. I had danced from age five to middle school so it wasn’t a stretch. I did do well in dance, but something was missing. In college, I didn’t have access to horses. I was too busy and too broke to do anything about it. So I tried to live without and what a mistake that was.

I struggled to figure out my identity. I made friends and enjoyed college life, but something was missing. I couldn’t pinpoint it at the time, but I was more on edge. My anxiety worsened. I got caught up in a relationship that wasn’t right for me.

Finally, during my second out of three years at university, I reached out to a friend with a Morgan/Arabian mare in her backyard. My friend was attending school in Ohio and her mare needed some love and work. I readily agreed.

I started to blossom again. I soon got out of the bad relationship. I caught rides to see the mare as often as I could. I begged my now husband (then a friend) to bring me to see her. I arranged for my co-ed community service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega to do work at a local horse rescue. Seeing others enjoy the 1,000 pound animals that I love so fiercely was amazing.

After college graduation, I found myself at a barrel racing barn volunteering to ride a green horse for his owner. Although that match didn’t work out, I came across my first lease horse, Bo. And the rest is history. Even though I didn’t stay long at the barrel racing barn, it was enough to open my heart back up. My then-fiance fell in love with equines too. The anxiety-induced panic attacks started to lessen. I gave up trying to be someone I wasn’t.

So when people ask me why I spend so much time at the barn and thinking and dreaming of horses, I can simply say it’s not a hobby, it’s a lifestyle. It’s a passion I cannot be without. It’s part of who I am and I’m proud of that. And I never want to know a life without horses again.

Knowing when it’s just not your day

My morning today was almost comical it was so terrible. After waking up after our alarms and both exhausted, my husband and I knew it was just “one of those mornings.” Trying to get him out to work on time, he had a thermos of coffee. After eating breakfast at the table, he walked away leaving the thermos. Well up came the cat and when I tried to shoo him away, proceeded to startle and drag the placemat off the table, throwing the thermos on its side and coffee everywhere…And when I say everywhere I mean everywhere. It dripped down the table, all over the chair and onto the rug. It soaked through the rug and onto luckily…a tile floor.

Exhausted and now cleaning up spilled coffee, I held back rage and tears while dashing for the paper towels and carpet cleaner. Thomas helped me sop up the mess and – since he was already running late – ran out the door.

After scrubbing the rug and getting the table and chair dry, I flipped up the carpet so the bottom could dry and stand up. What’s on the table? Thomas’ cell phone. In the chaos of running out the door, he forgot it. “Ok I’ll just email his work email and let him know. I got this.” Did that and settled down to finish my own coffee and get ready for the barn.

I hoped my entire day wouldn’t go so horribly. Nothing horse time couldn’t fix, right? Wrong. Not even 30 minutes at the barn and one of the guys working on the new fences at the farm come down to the lounge. “You have a horse running around.”

Sure enough, there comes Jack running down the hill right toward me, having gotten out of the round pen from turn out time. The gate must have just been not snug enough. He usually didn’t break through it. Thank god telling Jack woah does actually make him stop and he does listen. Grabbing him by the halter, I hauled his butt back into the barn.

That was my last strike. I was done for the day. I gave up and went home. Because sometimes you have to know when today just isn’t your day. If I had proceeded to try and work Jack, I would have lost it. I was almost to tears as it was and it just wouldn’t have been productive for either of us. Sometimes it’s not worth fighting through.

Knowing when to take a “chill pill” and cool off is important both in a relationship with a spouse and with a horse. I knew I was in no mood to be productive. I needed to step away and take a break. Knowing when you have reached this point in your marriage and communicating that you need to step back for a second and calm down before you say something you’ll regret is important too.

Sometimes days just don’t go your way and crazy things combine to make it terrible. But  tomorrow is a new day. You can make the most of the rest of your day and try again tomorrow.

Confidence under saddle and in a marriage

I learned a tough lesson today, but an important one. That’s the importance of confidence; not only under saddle, but in my marriage. It’s that take a deep breathe, you can do it, focus kind of attitude.

Under saddle today I learned it from Jack. He has no confidence so therefore he looks to me to provide the security and comfort he needs to perform what I ask of him. I tend to be an anxious person and this doesn’t get me far in my riding. The second I’m anxious, I brace and Jack acts up since he thinks there’s a reason to be anxious. It’s the herd mentality of paying attention to the leader so you know when trouble is around.

Thankfully I have some awesome trainers who are helping me tackle my anxiety, take a deep breathe, relax and focus. Once I do, surprise! Jack does what I ask of him.

Now it isn’t an easy concept and I’m sure I’ll be battling this for many, many weeks to come. There will be good days and there will be hard days. But I’ll get through them.

When it comes to my marriage, confidence helps in a lot of ways. It’s not only sexy, but it’s also a comfort to my husband. When he’s nervous about something, I can help with my confidence and help him through it. So when he’s running out the door and worried about how he looks for a promotion, I can confidently give him a kiss, tell him how amazing he looks and get him out the door on time. And this goes both ways. Sometimes I need him to be the confident one to help me out. It’s one of those things that has to go both ways. Therefore you support each other and it’s not a one-way street.

So my motto for this week is confidence. I’ll be trying to absorb it into my riding time and be confident in my home life.