Comparison and Authenticity
It’s a cold (by Oregon standards) January morning, and I am once again sitting on my couch lost in thought. My horses are fed, stalls are cleaned and they are awaiting their turnout once the ground thaws. I have a couple sugar sensitive horses so turn out on frosty grass is a no-no. After playing with my dogs in the orchard and building a toasty fire in the fireplace I sat down and watched a few horse videos. I love seeing how different disciplines and different parts of the world do the horse thing. But while watching a video of a hunter rider showing in Florida and feeling like it was boring and the horses looked…. Well, dull, my mind started to drift.
First it went to yesterday, when a newer client stopped by to discuss her horse who is in training with me, and her plans for the future. She's fast becoming one of my favorite people to deal with, not only because she loves her horse and only wants what is best for him, but because whenever she comes we end up standing around petting horses and talking. But not just talking, we have these conversations that seem to go deep into who we are and what we believe, like we have known each other far longer than we in reality have. It made me wonder why I felt like it was so easy for us to talk so openly, especially considering I am generally an introvert and don’t open up to people very easily. Sure, we share many of the same ideals and beliefs, but even then, this openness went even beyond that. It hit me as I sat here going over the whole afternoon that it was because she was someone who felt very authentic to me. What you saw was what you got. She knew herself, she accepted it, and was very comfortable with it. And I feel like I have reached this point in my life where I am the same way. So our conversation felt very honest with no hidden agenda, which to me, at this time in our world, feels very rare. Especially in the horse world.
The thought hit me that this is one of the biggest issues in the horse community, maybe even the world at large. That we constantly compare, and this comparison makes us competitive and can lead to being unhappy with what we are doing. The horse world has always been competitive. We literally go to horse shows to compete against other riders, having a judge compare us to either each other or a standard for that discipline. But that seems to seep down to even how we ride and train and even choose our trainers/coaches. We compare show records, or successes and failures. We say ‘this trainer couldn’t get this horse to do this but now this new one can’ leaving out all the nuances that make every situation different. We compare our progress with someone else's, we compare our horses behavior to other horses. And because we do that, because we don't stand back and look at the whole situation, the huge big picture that needs to be weighed into our thought process, we become dissatisfied. That steals any joy we should be getting from our journey, and it makes us feel like what we are doing is not enough. Why am I inching forward rather than leaping forward like so and so? Over the years I have had clients who feel unsatisfied, despite my pointing out big progress, who hear my ‘give it time just wait’ but can’t accept it. Then maybe the horse gets sold, or they move on. And maybe they have success somewhere else or maybe not. That's not even the point. We forget that the journey with horses IS the destination!! It's not Grand Prix, it's not winning that ribbon! It's the journey with your horse, together, learning and growing and hopefully finding joy.
If we compare, and it causes us to feel dissatisfied we will struggle to be authentic. Because we aren't seeing reality, we aren’t seeing how far we have come and what we are learning. We are walking down a beautiful path angry because we ‘aren’t there yet!’ But really where is ‘there’? What if you eventually do get ‘there’ and it's not what you expected? What if you get to the level you want but your horse is miserable, full of ulcers or needing to be injected every 6 months? What if you are broke? What if you feel very triumphant while you receive your ribbon but then you look at Instagram and someone with a fancier horse scored higher than you? If you don't show, what if the other trainer you compare yourself to has more horses, a nicer barn, a bigger arena? What if you get it all, but are burnt out, tired and grumpy? What if you lose the joy? When we do all this comparing, we bury our authentic selves under a pile of ‘not good enoughs’ and then we can’t be our real selves, because it’s left feeling ‘not good enough’.
I have come to this place in the last couple years where I feel enough. NOT perfect!! I am still growing and learning. But enough as in, this is me. Much of this is written based on what I went through, the questions I asked myself before I came to this place. This is my training, my style of riding, my business and horse journey goals. If you like it, great, if not that's fine! We all have different paths to walk. But we need to walk it and enjoy the walk!! Because when we enjoy our journey I guarantee our horses will as well! They crave authenticity and peace, they want to enjoy their jobs! And if we are putting comparison aside and just enjoying our journey we will be more fair with our horses, not just ourselves.
I’m sitting on my couch wrapped up in a cozy blanket staring out the window at my very wet outdoor arena. It's another day of heavy gray skies and the winter rains Oregon is known for. My horses are inside, well mostly. They are in either their stalls/runs or their paddocks, my morning walk about in the dark finding my fields just too soaked for turnout. I hate leaving horses inside, I am a huge advocate of as much turnout and movement as possible, but this morning I had to admit defeat. The fields were just too wet, and who knows when they won’t be as the forecast for the next week is rain, rain, and more rain.
Oh I know. We NEED the rain. It's just rain, not snow, wind or a blizzard. It’s not -32 with windchill and feet of snow like I lived through every winter for many years in Canada. I get it. Trust me. But although I am only a small-time trainer, I am still a trainer who makes her living riding and teaching lessons, one who unfortunately does not have a covered arena. This wet weather has an impact not only on my riding schedule but on my income. So today I am feeling the winter blues, something I have been able to avoid up until now using some positive thinking and a little faith. Over Christmas it is easier to ignore the inability to ride, as we are busy preparing for the holiday and running around. My stepdaughter finally made it home despite multiple delays and canceled flights (and lost luggage) so I am taking this break as an opportunity to spend time with her and my husband.
I also see it as a much needed rest for my horses and myself. A time to heal and strengthen myself both physically and mentally, spending time reading some motivating horse books and watching tons of training videos. (this does sometimes backfire and leave me pacing the living room wishing I could go ride, but generally it helps keep me focused). My horses enjoy the break as well, although they seem a little confused. I still spend time with them although it entails more feeding treats, cuddling and grooming. That seems to satisfy most of them, although Greye, Ziggy and Kat (my most consistently worked) seem a little restless, wanting to do more. On days it's not pouring I play with them a little, but today was a complete rain out.
Knowing that they enjoy the contact with me and even miss working makes me feel good! Those three come running when called most days, and now seem to be waiting at the gates everytime I come out. Must be doing something right I guess!
This time off has also allowed me to think through my plans and goals for next year. I am still on the fence as to showing. This shift in my perception on showing has so freed me I hesitate to even consider it. I’ve come to a place where I so enjoy just training and playing with my horses, with no care in the world what level they are at. It’s not like previously I was showing every weekend or really driven to get ribbons. I have always been a reluctant show attender. But I felt the pressure as a coach and trainer that I was supposed to. How else would people know you were serious? Don’t you need ribbons/scores/awards to be considered a ‘real’ trainer? But after years of not loving what I was seeing in the show ring, years of getting ‘well trained/high level show horses’ that needed to be fixed (both mentally and physically) or re-trained because they lacked basics, I felt the desire to show at all basically die. I felt the need to turn away and find my own path. I wanted happy, light, soft, fluid moving horses. I didn’t care if they weren’t flashy or expressive enough. I wanted balance, cooperation and friendship. Can you do that and show? Possibly. Although I will say if you want to win I think you will have to compromise somewhere at least right now. Dressage seems much more focused on big flashy movements and less about the overall happiness of the horses participating in it. But that's just it. I don’t want to compromise. I have come to a place where I realized I didn’t want to play the game, I didn’t think the compromise was worth it. Push my horse into tension for what? A ribbon? A number on a paper? Hurt our friendship so I can feel like a winner? I wouldn’t do that to a person I loved, and I won’t do it with my horses who I also love deeply.
Maybe I am wrong, maybe it can be done. Maybe there are trainers out there far smarter than I am who can do it. Great! Maybe I will find my way there too eventually. For now this is my path and I have to say I am really enjoying it! Now, if it would just stop raining……