Tuesday, May 7, 2019

we choose this: from success to significance

I was't born into horses, I didn't grow up with them. Horses weren't simply a natural part of life during my childhood. Instead I grew up in Baltimore City in a decidedly non horsey family.

But I *was* born with a distinct, urgent need. A fierce resolve that manifested, like so many other little girls, as an obsession with all things horses. My appetite for anything and everything horses was insatiable: the big book of breeds, glossy stickers, Saddle Club books, model horses (I was a Grand Champions girl haha), and, of course, literally any chance to see a real horse in the flesh.

  #dreamscometrue
Eventually, my parents agreed to let me start taking riding lessons. And this whole.... thing grew uncontrollably from there.

Throughout each phase of my life, I've had to reaffirm this choice, this dedication to horses, again and again. In high school, that meant opting to spend every possible moment at the barn -- helping out with even the most boring, dirty, labor intensive chores.

pc Austen Gage
Once in college, again the choice was mine to pursue opportunities in a new and unfamiliar town. To join the equestrian team and take on a job managing the lesson barn at my new farm.

Same story after graduating college. Finding my place in the horse world as a horseless but passionate adult amateur was much more difficult than I expected, and took a few false starts to gain traction. But I was persistent. Then Isabel more or less fell into my lap, a paradigm shift that opened the door to brand new choices and opportunities.

    ....
Most of you already know how that turned out. I grabbed hold with both hands, leaping at the chance to close in on all those distant dreams. I went all in, and in turn Isabel gave me more than I ever could have hoped for during our lease period. All those experiences were what finally led me to my first ever personally owned horse: Charlie.

My horsey habit today is the product of all those choices over the years, the product of my own uniquely personal journey and experience with horses. I imagine this is true for everyone, and that everyone's journey, experiences, and choices will look a little different.

pc Austen Gage
If you had asked that little girl who loved her stickers and begged to pet the noses of any ponies in fields along the side of the road.... If you had asked her "Why?"... Honestly she probably wouldn't have been able to tell you. But it definitely didn't have anything to do with our adult preconceptions about "success." It wasn't about winning or blue ribbons, or even the more nebulous ideas of glory or victory or redemption.

It had to be something more innate than that. Some deeper driving force. Something more closely related to the personal significance of even those earliest small, simple horsey experiences.

pc Austen Gage
As an adult, that significance and meaning feels increasingly conflated with more external pressures. It feels like now there are competing priorities -- the perceived needs to justify the expense, to rationalize this crazy habit, or to somehow prove ourselves.

And these pressures start redefining how we think about "success" with horses, such that the definition creeps further away from what drove us to these animals in the first place.

  pc #needsmoarstickyspray
That sense of personal significance is so vague, so hard to describe, right? Even today I couldn't really verbalize in a satisfying way WHY horses, ya know? It's much easier to frame the idea of success or goals in more broadly accepted terms. Like conforming to the norm of measuring progress by the "level" of our riding, for instance.

But.... There's real problems with this, right? When our focus shifts away from personal fulfillment and significance, and toward those external measuring sticks, we open ourselves up to burnout, discouragement, or worse. Any sense of external validation is fleeting anyway. There's always some next hoop, some other more distant goal post, and nobody is ever going to care as much as we do about our own outcomes.

pc Austen Gage
So.... That's not really good enough, ya know? My horsey lifestyle has nothing to do with some predefined rubric that says whether we've "made it" or not. That's not what drove me to horses as a little girl, and it's not what sustains me now. Does that make sense?

Honestly, from where I stand, I've come to believe that there are very few wrong ways to enjoy horses. Assuming you're healthy, safe, and having fun.... Well, there's really no need to explain why. Just have at it, right? It hardly matters what you do with horses or how you do it if those simple boxes are checked off the list, IMO. We don't have to agree on tactics or methods or whatever when we all share this same intent.

pc Amy Flemming Waters
Realistically, what are horses even doing in 2019? It's easy to become so consumed by our own little performance / sport horse universe that we forget about the rest of the horses out there... But they're still there haha. And not just in other areas of sport, either.

Consider every other avenue in which horses work for a living: the countless lesson ponies and schoolies around the world; the therapeutic riding horses; all those anonymous strings of trail horses on beaches, at the Grand Canyon, and everywhere in between; the NYC carriage horses; Baltimore's arabbers; Amish plow horses; working ranch horses; etc etc etc.

pc Amy Flemming Waters
Most of those horses lead lives far, far different from the average adult amateur-owned horse. Although even within the world of privately owned horses, there's still extreme diversity. The pasture pets, half-lame trail horses still getting ridden, kids' ponies, horses in rigorous professional training programs, and horses owned by the imperfect, averagely skilled rider.

There are also extreme variances in horse lifestyles around the world completely independent of the horse's job title. Just consider the vast differences between East and West Coast horse keeping.

pc Amy Flemming Waters
Again tho, from where I stand, I don't really see very many "wrong" ways to enjoy horses in our lives provided everyone is healthy, safe, and having fun.

Per force of our own unique journeys to horses, the variances in backgrounds, resources, interests, locations, goals, skills, etc etc etc, everyone's horsey life will look a little different. We've all gotten to wherever we are because of our sets of choices and circumstances. We all have little confirmation or selection biases, rooted in our own histories and experiences.

     pc #fuckyea4eva
But the great thing about these animals is that one size does not fit all. There's room for everyone.

At this particular point of my riding life, I identify as an eventer. I have ambitions and goals that align with the various levels of the sport, the various hoops that must be jumped through from one to the next. There are specific things I would like to achieve, and a major component of the joy I derive from riding revolves around working progressively toward those goals.

      pc #theactualhandsomest
But none of that is the "why" of my horse habit. How my relative success as an eventer holds up against any other measuring stick can't be the only way I gauge impact, right?

Realistically, it's not clear whether I'll still be eventing in 10 years or 25 years. Who knows, right? Things change. What I DO know tho, is that no matter what I'm doing at that future time, there will probably be a horse involved. Because that's what I really want, separate from everything else. That's a choice I expect to keep reaffirming again and again.

pc Austen Gage
And somehow, the simple act of reminding myself that this whole thing is a choice, this is what I've chosen, helps keep me focused on why. Not just in terms of what success means to me today as an eventer, but what significance it would have to that little girl with her stickers and model horses too.

pc Austen Gage
They say that "visioning" is a self-awareness exercise, a chance to sit down and really think about what we are, and why. So we can be deliberate in our choices today in keeping with our vision for tomorrow. A lot of this is in some ways a continuation of the process I used to set goals for this year, and in other ways a reminder to stay true to that process.

Or, haha, ya know.... Maybe it's all just pointless navel-gazing. Who's to say, really? For me, tho, it's useful and empowering to think through. Have you ever likewise sat down to think about how you measure success in horses? Whether that success is based on internal or external factors? Or how that definition may have changed and evolved over the years, or what it might look like in the near or distant future?

39 comments:

  1. Can we just do jockey themed hunter paces and gallops on old chestnut men all day every day, though??

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    1. I mean, yes. Obviously haha. That sounds basically perfect

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    2. the jockey picture was awesome.

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    3. that whole day was awesome ;)

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  2. I am always amazed at how you take my very random and unformed thoughts and put them into words so that I am reading this going YES THIS!

    The other day I was doing barn chores and it hit me how happy it makes me to be feeding horses.

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    1. Aw I always loved the feeding chores too <3 sometimes it feels weird and like I’m missing something by not working at a barn anymore tbh

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    1. Thanks - and absolutely!! Share away ;)

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  4. Wonderful post - I certainly came from a similar place as you as a child - stickers, books, etc. :-)

    We lived on a farm (the land was rented to a farmer, my parents weren't farmers) and my parents had to deal with the constant questioning from about age 5 onwards: "WE LIVE ON A FARM, WHY CAN'T I HAVE A HORSE?". I would get to go on trail rides a couple times a year and that would just make it worse. I would yell and rant and draw little pictures of where the barn and pasture would be. At 12, they caved. ;-)

    And jumping ahead to the present, I've been staring at a draft post to explain "why halter horses, they look weird..." and can't get anywhere. Your post kinda covered it all with this line: "But the great thing about these animals is that one size does not fit all. There's room for everyone."

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    1. thanks! and honestly i'd be interested in reading more about halter horses, i really don't know anything about it. it's kinda easy in blog land to think that "thoroughbred" is synonymous with "normal horse" bc that's what so many of us have lol, but realistically the saddlebred or the percheron or the cob or the halter bred qh are all pretty different looking lol. but for specific reasons!

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    2. I'm sure I'll get the post done eventually, it just isn't feeling right yet! :-)

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    3. yea i know that feeling for sure!

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  5. The first thing I remember loving when I was little was how horses smell. I still catch myself sticking my nose in Gav's fur and breathing in deep.

    I do question the why and have yet to find the answer.

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    1. oh man, the smell is so real tho. i kept this weird little leather purse in my room as a kid bc the leather smell reminded me so much of horses!

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  6. Similar background here too. I grew up in a little town, but my parents were both city folk (Brooklyn, NY born and raised) before spawning my brother and I. I met a friend in Kindergarten and by first grade she had her own pony. I went with her to the barn one day, and I harassed my parents endlessly until finally, the summer after second grade I got to start lessons. And it all spiraled from there. They had no idea what they were getting into. And I wouldn't change a thing. (Not sure if they agree though... Lol)
    I was thinking recently what I would do if I could never ride again. And I knew that even if I couldn't sit on a horse anymore, I would still need them in my life. I'm not sure what it is about them exactly. I just think some of us are born with a little horse in our blood. You can't deny that craving.

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    1. Driving a team of minis - that's my plan if I can't ride! Oh - and a halter horse... ;-)

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    2. ha yea my parents really had no clue. actually it's only really recently i think that it's actually really made an impression on them just how serious i am about this whole thing lol. they never really saw me ride through high school and college, but then came to one of my events with isabel and watched me run cross country. after that, they were like, 'oh ok yea we get it now' haha.

      but yea, agreed completely. there's no way to know if there will ever be a time when i can't ride for whatever reasons. but if at all possible, i'm pretty sure there'd still be horses in there some way or another!

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  7. Awww, love this. Like you, I was "that" horsey kid, despite not having a horse and not being from a truly horsey family (my dad rode, but stopped when I was born). Saddle Club/Thoroughbred books + Grand Champion horses were my life. My bikes were horses. Hell, *I* was the horse sometimes. I was weird. It was great.

    Also...those pictures in this post are ah-mazing :)

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    1. ha but being that weird horsey kid was kinda the best tho, right?? and thanks re: the pictures, i feel so so so SO lucky to have so many wonderful shots of my best boy <3

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  8. I also was a Grand Champion girl (they are under the guest bed as I write this out haha). I feel like every now and again I'll be riding in an arena or around the property and the fact that I not only ride horses, but I do it decently well, and I've owned more than one horse hits me like a ton of bricks and I can't stop smiling because young me would be so proud of older me for making her dreams come true - regardless of if I won a competition or not. I have a horse, I ride, and I have horse friends. Lifetime goal achieved!

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    1. i'm pretty sure my mom still has all my grand champions lol, they'll go to my niece and nephew eventually! and yea, lifetime goal achieved indeed. i'm with ya on sometimes just having those moments where i get to just spend that time with my horse, doing literally anything, and it's just surreal sometimes <3

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  9. I had Grand Champions too - I think because they were a lot cheaper then Breyers. I don't think I ever got a real Breyer. But we did build stables and crafted all sorts of saddles and blankets :) I thought the collection got lost in one of our moves but my sister recently revealed that she saved a bunch and recently started handing them down to her daughter!!

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    1. My sister and I each got exactly one Breyer Bc yea, expensive lol. But we went all out with the GCs!! They’ll all go to my niece and nephew too ;)

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  10. Been MIA awhile thanks to life (of course) but omg wow....Charlie has really come along so incredibly far. You both never cease to amaze (:

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    1. Aw thank you, he’s a very very good boy <3

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  11. Oh a can so relate to model horses(mine still roam my bedroom...) and all those Saddle club books��

    On a side note, are the XC boots you have for Charlie the Kentucky Eventing ones? I was looking at a pair for Ollie and was wondering if you like them.

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    1. Yes those are the Kentucky boots! I bought them used off eBay a couple years ago after having trouble finding boots that didn’t turn or rub Charlie. These guys aren’t as fancy as some other types but they don’t turn or rub. The are sorta fabric-y but don’t hold a lot of water and dry quickly. The sizing is strange since it’s one size fits all - the fronts are kinda short and the hinds are very long. But I do like them and the fact that they have fit Charlie well for years makes me reluctant to buy anything else.

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  12. I smiled a stupid goofy smile at your first caption, #dreamscometrue
    Because at the heart of all of us, is a little kid playing with toy horses wanting one of our own.

    In my own search, sure I didn't get exactly what I wanted but man am I enjoying just being with the horse.

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    1. Yes that’s exactly it - my inner little girl is basically rejoicing at all this <3 so glad you’re enjoying this new journey with your new guy too! It’s all so exciting (even if in our adult minds it’s also moderately terrifying haha)

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  13. My thought paths have been very similar recently, I was that horsey kid too. 12 year old me would be SO happy with how this turned out and I need to remember that more

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    1. Yessss!! I need to remember it more too, remember to really soak up all those special quiet little interactions. As a kid it made my week or month if I even got to pet or brush a real live horse, and now I get to do that basically every day!!

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  14. Similar background to you as well - and I agree wholeheartedly with this entire post <3 We really are living the dream our 12 year old self's were pining for!

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  15. Love this. As I try to stumble along my own path with a baby, I realize I don't have to subscribe to some sort of formula

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  16. Lovely post and also yes grand champions!!

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  17. Love this post!! I was the same little girl with a burning drive to get as close to these amazing creatures as I could, every chance I got. The resources weren't there but the drive was. Why? No idea! And, as you pointed out, I have had to affirm and reaffirm this choice at every phase of my life. In high school it meant busting my butt at the harness racing stable and riding at a sale barn. In college it meant juggling a job in the breeding industry with a degree. After that it meant figuring out how to start my own business and keep it afloat. Endurance is my current sport-of-choice, but it's not about the discipline. It's about the animals. Every time I think I might be throwing in the towel and picking a less insane hobby, a horse comes along that reminds me why I do this. This entry spoke to me. Thank you for taking the time to write it up :)

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  18. I really went through this almost two years ago now, when I was so unhappy with Miles. I got lost among the "show ring success" measuring stick and it ended up not being a good place for me. I wasn't happy or healthy and I don't think my horse was happy at the time either. When I went horse shopping again, I worked hard to get back my roots -- I describe her as the "horse crazy girl" who just loves being around horses and riding.

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  19. How is it you keep writing the posts I need to read? Thanks, Emma!

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