The Thief Of Joy
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.
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Wendy Fehr is a Classical Dressage trainer living in southern Oregon. She has been riding and training for over 25 years and loves learning and sharing her ideas on horses and riding!