“If riding were all blue ribbons and bright lights, I would have quit long ago.” – George Morris
This quote seems to continually play in my head these days. It is a constant reminder that even though I might have had one bad lesson, it’s not the end of the world. But, oftentimes, in that very moment, it feels like the worst thing going on.
We have all had those dreadful days where we leave the barn frustrated and in tears because we couldn’t get the course, movement, or pattern right. We beat ourselves up for not understanding a new technique we’ve seen our trainer do countless times before.
Then this thought hits you like a truck, “what if I’m burning out?” Hitting the wall constantly drives any rider striving for perfection absolutely insane. When riding, seeking absolute excellence 24/7 can make you feel inadequate or as if it is the end of the world.
Burning out is defined by Merriam Webster as “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” Not only is this a mental barrier but a physical one as well. If we’re not mentally all-in, neither is our body. We start to give the wrong cues, signals, and transitions that our horse needs to understand the exercise we’re getting so frustrated in.
Some lessons end in tears as you put away your horse, telling them you’re sorry for the rough day. They look at you with those honest eyes, which can hit that note in your heart of “do I really deserve to do this?” After a quick shower and whatever you can scrape up from the leftovers for dinner, you’re left huddled in your bed, questioning everything you know in your life.
Trust me when I say that this feeling has happened to almost every rider in the industry. I can testify, I had one winter circuit where I fell off four times a week for six weeks straight. By the end of those weeks, I never wanted to sit on my horses again. More than anything, I wanted to hang my helmet and spurs and call it quits right there. Let me tell you, falling off 24 times in two months is the worst feeling I had experienced yet in my career. I felt like a complete failure to my horses, and my trainers had me in tears most days.
I told myself I must be cursed, or someone made a voodoo doll of me. But in reality, I had hit a speed bump in my riding. I started moving up divisions, competing in more intense classes, and boy was I falling flat on results. It took time and a lot of tears for me to understand that it’s okay, and it happens. If I looked back and remembered what got me through those hard times, it was the horses. When I questioned myself if I could sell my horses and quit entirely, I thought of my horses on our best days. Winning that big class, we worked so hard for or having a silent moment where everything felt right with the world. Seeing the view between those two floppy ears compares to nothing out there. I was selfish and didn’t want my horses to leave my side, so I stuck it out for them. I rode through my hardest moments and thought to myself, “I’m staying in it because my horses deserve the very best from me.”
It’s the adrenaline, emotional connection, and the passion we have for horseback riding that pushes us so hard into wanting more. Think about the times you couldn’t see your life without horses; remember the love and devotion you have for them. Think about how they don’t have to do any of this for us, but still try their best every day for you. They try to answer every question you present to them in the best way they know how.
You have to remember when you get into those depressive spirals why you started. Why you first stepped into that barn aisle with the horses pawing at their doors for treats as you took in the smell of fresh shavings. Think about why you climbed on the backs of these amazing animals for the first time and decided that this sport was for you. It is because it felt like home.
Think about those endless nights where you sought solace with your horse instead of friends or partners that wouldn’t answer our texts. Think about those long chats you had in your horse’s stall about anything and everything while they quietly munched away at their dinner. Think about those peaceful moments as you hugged their fluffy necks tightly and felt like you had found the missing piece in your day.
Think about the moments you couldn’t see your life without horses, and remember the love and devotion you have for them. Never forget that your horse doesn’t have to do any of this, but they still try their best every day for you. When time gets hard, and all you want to do is to quit, remember the love that brought you to your horses and all of the things that your horses taught you. That is why we do this.