“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
My trainer sent me this quote after a long weekend that didn’t exactly go as I had planned.
I was convinced that, owning such a talented and beautiful thoroughbred such as The Jorge, I was sure to be the class star, performing complicated grids and basic dressage moves with breathtaking grace and ease. Sadly, this was not to be, despite the perfectly coordinated outfits I had chosen for us. Instead, the events of the two days left me doubting my 30+ years in the saddle and questioning whether or not I still had the right to enter the show ring.
The dictionary definition of character is “the mental and moral qualities distinctive of an individual.” I’m likening that to Patrick Swayze pulling Jennifer Gray out of her chair and chastising Dad for putting Baby in a corner! But in all seriousness, this business of riding horses, quite simply, cannot help but to build strong character – along with seeing its fair share of characters inside and alongside the ring. 🙂
Focusing on the true definition of the word, I have always prided myself on my commitment to a strong riding foundation, or the basics – flatwork, gymnastics and doing your homework. I was tortured, err, brought up right in this horse world. You did something until it was executed correctly, you worked hard for what you wanted to achieve in the saddle, and even if someone were to hand you a blank check for the fanciest horse in the world, you knew if you didn’t have a solid base then you’d still end up in the dirt. And that you’d have to get right back on again.
So okay, okay… I don’t actually ride without stirrups anymore, but when I was a kid they spent more time locked in trainers’ trunks than on my saddle so I feel like I’ve paid those dues. (I’d like to point out that I am an older amateur, and I’ll play that card like a 50 year old uses their AARP membership at the Old Country Buffet. Acceptable, yes. Questionable? For sure.) But I believe in doing it and if my lower back didn’t hurt so much most of the time, I actually might try a lap or two of sitting trot. Or not. Yeah… probably not.
But back to character. Because my trainer was right – Jorge and I were indeed building strong moral and mental qualities this past weekend through trial and suffering, emphasis on the suffering. It was rough, we performed quite poorly, and I wanted to quit after the first day, which is very unlike me. I was really embarrassed that I could not execute even the seemingly simplest of foundational exercises I had done hundreds of times before. I’m pretty hard on myself most of the time when it comes to riding, even though my Mouse brought me quite far in that regard. Being excused from a walk/trot class at an open show will do that to ya! Still, I was frustrated beyond belief and a bit mortified that people saw us in an #epicfail.
I spent a big chunk of Saturday standing in Jorge’s pasture while he snoozed in the sun, engaged in what seemed like endless conversations with my best friends – Jodie, Hillary and my mom. I’m incredibly lucky to have such friends who have both the compassion to empathize with me and listen, but also the conviction to tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear. And I hope I provide that same moral compass for them. True testaments to their unflappable character.
They had talked me off my ledge of course, and I rode the second day. I popped a couple of xanax to take the edge off my growing anxiety and not unintentionally amp up my horse, armed Jodie with my video camera, and with Jorge still half asleep we headed off to the ring for round two.
Which arguably went even worse!
Right before the end of the session, fighting back tears, I made a decision. I stopped trying to be the valedictorian of the class – that ship had looooong since sailed – and went back to those instinctual basics which had brought me this far in my riding career. I stopped worrying about being perfect and doing everything I was told, then being embarrassed when I couldn’t instantly put it all together. Instead I took the cues from my tired and confused horse to do what I felt was right.
Wouldn’t ya know, I started enjoying my ride. Because through this struggle, I finally allowed myself to draw upon my inner strengths and achieve (some limited) success. That’s not to say what I did was textbook by any stretch of the imagination! But it got the job done, and more importantly, I didn’t let it defeat me, rather it taught me some very important lessons about my psyche. Which is a conversation for my therapist. You’re welcome.
I put an exhausted Jorge in the wash stall when we were done. Just as I started to engage in the game where Jorge wants to play in the water stream and I pretend I’m annoyed, my friend Jess came up behind me, grabbed the hose out of my hand and turned it off. Before I could say a word she wrapped her arms around me in a giant bear hug and told me it was going to be okay. A pure demonstration of the type of person she inherently is and the strong compassionate character she possesses.
And boy did I need it!
This sport isn’t easy. Contrary to popular opinion, the last time I “just sat up there and did nothing” I ended up ass over teakettle with my horse and I on opposite sides of the jump. Riding horses takes coordination, resolve, patience, perseverance, and yes, strong mental and moral qualities to get you through the inevitable ups and downs when dealing with another being who weighs 10 times more than you and is innately afraid of, well, everything!
So thanks to my trainer Lane, I’m determined to chalk this up to yet another character building learning experience in my now 34 years of owning horses. I’ve come out of this (48 hours later) inspired to achieve what I absolutely know in my heart Jorge and I can do together. I’m also simply grateful to have the opportunity to share my passion for all things equine with so many amazing women, both at my barn and a text message or phone call away, whom also often experience similar situations and understood exactly how I felt. Did I happen to mention that I’m additionally thankful for a barn fridge that contains a tasty adult beverage or two for these occasions?!
In retrospect, it is true what Katy Perry croons while sporting skin made of blue latex, “I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter dancing through the fire. Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar…”
And since Jorge couldn’t join me that evening in enjoying a sizable glass of red wine with my fistful of Advil and maybe a side of Skelaxin after two hard days of complicated exercises, he got the horse version. Which I believe he’d say speaks to my impeccable character! 🙂