Wasn’t My Path

Six years ago I applied for the Junior Young Rider Olympic Dream Program. This would consist of the top Junior Young Riders over the United States that would travel all over Europe and learn from the world’s top trainers for a period of time. We had to send a video of us riding certain movements and give a brief overview of our history with dressage and our goals we wanted to accomplish.

I remember pulling my car over when I got the email that would give me the news… As I was gathering the courage to open the email my goals and dreams flashed before my eyes, Olympics, Gold Medal, Europe, Traveling, Training… My heart dropped when I found I was not accepted into the program.

I hadn’t thought about this for YEARS… Until today. I was going through some pictures of an old friend that was training in Florida during the same time I was down there as a working student. The fancy horses, the beautiful stables, the double bridles and big necked horses… Then the light-bulb appeared: It wasn’t my path.

The dots are connecting.

Yesterday morning I woke up in a panic attack. The stresses of expectations and pressure of performing were creeping up on me. My past experiences with showing were focused on winning. Yes, I wanted to enjoy the process and ride dressage to benefit my horse… But when I turned down centerline my game face was on and I was there to show.

That was me with the old mentality. I didn’t play, I practiced. I was 100% dedicated to being the best that I could be, however my tunnel vision on what I saw as ‘success’ wasn’t the best for my horse.

My time in Florida with the fancy horses, fancy stables, double bridles and big necked horses opened my eyes and caused me to step back and re-evaluate my path. I didn’t know who I wanted to be after that, or why I was even on that path to begin with. I didn’t know how to move forward and I was terrified to try.

My trainer in Florida did an AMAZING job educating me about the hows and whys of dressage and I appreciate her approach in thinking about the horse bio-mechanically. Despite having that knowledge of how to get where I wanted to be physically, I couldn’t shake the guilt.

The guilt of not getting into the Olympic Dream Program. The guilt of allowing horses and competing to drive a wedge in between my family time. The guilt of riding Third and Fourth level on a hollow horse. The guilt of getting so frustrated with Fable when he wasn’t ’round’ or ‘through’ enough. The guilt that built up throughout my entire life finally broke loose. I had no idea how to cope with it.

I let all of this guilt put my riding career on hold for five years.

Thankfully, I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress in accepting where I was, and forgiving myself for the things I’ve done. But ever since I declared going for those goals again, those emotions floated right back up to the surface. It was easier to take the pressure off and say, ‘Those aren’t my goals anymore, that was a different lifetime. I am content.’ But what I was really saying to myself: “I’m not good enough for those goals and I’m not going to allow myself to feel the pain of giving up. So, I will go numb.”

Un-numbing is a process and sometimes in order to feel 100% of the good emotions you equally have to feel 100% of the undesired emotions. As I was resisting the urge to numb myself this week as the fear crept in: I felt anxious, I felt excited, I felt passionate, I felt angry, I felt my doubt, I felt my courage. I felt everything.

So here we are, the reason I started this blog entry today:

Six years after I was rejected for the Olympic Dream Program and for the first time in a long time it makes sense why that wasn’t my path. I had to learn a different version of success. A version where the horse was the judge, not the person sitting outside of the arena. I learned how to really feel. I learned how to let go. I learned how to trust. I learned how to play. I learned how to laugh in the saddle again. I learned the true friendship a horse can offer when you drop your expectations and appreciate what they offer. I learned to think outside of the box and I am continuously challenged to thinking outside of the box.

The time Fable and I spent developing a new language and mending our partnership has been an experience I wouldn’t change for the world. Because of everything we’ve learned together, Fable is now in the best shape of his life. His muscles are balanced, his coat is dappled, mane and tail are full and shiny, his lungs are in great shape, his feet are allowing him to move the best he can.

The moment that ignited the idea of showing again happened last weekend when a student of mine came out for a lesson with him… Fable knew he had a new set of eyes and his fancy ‘dressage’ tack on with his bit and everything. As she sent him out on the circle he showed her his piaffe… Through the entire lesson he continued to be a ham with his expressive and engaged trot with incredible cadence and softness. He was dancing. I couldn’t help but think he was telling me now is the time.

THESE are the reasons I have set the goals of achieving my USDF Silver and Gold Medals. My horse. He’s telling me he is ready. This time, it is for Fable. 

Fable is the horse of a lifetime and he has offered to dance, it would be a shame not to accept. He is putting his his whole heart into what he does and it’s time for me to let go of my fears and do the same.

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