The horse world is a competitive one. It doesn’t matter if you happen to be a professional rider, a trainer, vet, or even a student. It doesn’t matter if your competition is the athlete going into the ring next, or the prices of another nearby business or practice. Competition is everywhere. It is in human nature to strive to better ourselves- to drive towards success and rise above challenges. It is just what we as humans do. For equestrians though, success can be hard to obtain. I know this to be true personally as a rider. I’ve been riding for eight years now, and new challenges pop up all the time from something as little as learning to keep a distracted horse engaged during flat work to overcoming a confidence issue. Riders are constantly challenged to gather up their courage, and give it their best shot. Still, so many times it seems as if all of my efforts fall short and my goals drift farther and farther away.
I happen to ride at a mainly English barn where I take lessons once a week and lease during the summer. Jumping is everything to me. A measure of how good of a rider I am, in my eyes, is how others see me in the horse world. Although I am not a competitive person by nature, the need to jump and become better drives me to push myself harder and harder. But sometimes, it just doesn’t seem to be enough. It’s frustrating to see a younger rider jumping higher than I am capable of. I have made it my goal to be able to jump three feet, but 2’9” is all I have been able to achieve, and that personal record happened several years ago. So much has changed. Then, I was riding an honest and experienced lesson horse who would gladly jump the moon if you asked him to. I was confident and had everything going for me. Then, I got switched to a more challenging horse. A horse that has never jumped over 2’6” and who was a much more forward mount. Cisco was this new horse’s name. It took over a month before we could even canter over small crossrails, let alone even begin to think about adding height to any of the elements that we were jumping. I was dejected and felt like I was back at square one, because to me, the height of the jump was progress, and that was all that mattered.
Cisco challenged me more than I could ever have dreamed possible. Being an Anglo-Arabian, he could be a bit of a hotheaded, especially since I was the only one taking lessons on him at the time. He was often distracted and constantly kept his nose pointed to the outside of the arena, he bucked whenever an energetic canter was required or if we were galloping in the fields, he ran out at fences at every possible chance, and he had his own opinions about when we would pick up a canter. I just couldn’t get anything right with this horse. Now, I’m not saying that it’s because Cisco’s a bad horse, because he is not. I was simply an over-faced rider who was scared of her mount. Improvement came slowly, but come it did. At the barn’s fun show, I took Cisco into a hunter class over fences where the jumps were two feet high. I was a nervous wreck, but we ended up taking home two firsts and a second. Still I wasn’t happy. After all, it was only two feet. Much younger riders were jumping 2’6” and 2’9”. What was our little accomplishment compared to their great victory? I felt worthless and belittled. I felt I would never be good enough.
It was my riding instructor who brought me out of my self-pity. She commented one day what a long way Cisco and I had come. And I paused and I thought about how right she was. There were days when we could barely canter around the arena at a controlled canter, let alone successfully complete a course at a show. I realized that though I wasn’t able to reach the goals I had set for myself quite yet, my accomplishments were something to be proud of and were not worthless. Yes, other girls much younger than me are fully capable jumping 2’9”, but I taught a horse to jump and established a bond with him. I was able to learn from Cisco and became a better rider. Although my goals seem distant and far off, I know that one day I will reach them. Success comes a little bit at a time, and I am willing to wait in order to get that perfect moment, and I will enjoy the journey on the way. After all, I came to realize that more than anything: the glory, competition, and achievement- I loved simply spending time with a horse; to be able to ride and enjoy the company of such an amazing creature. After all, as long as you love what you do, who cares what others think of you? I may not be a great rider, but I’m a happy one, and that is satisfactory enough for me.