What Inspires You?

Where do you get inspiration?

As I am in the process of trying to finish writing a book (something I would NOT recommend to any thinking person who likes themself), this is a question I ask myself frequently. For my work as a political scientist inspiration often comes from some new development in a case I am interested in, a book or article that I read, or even discussions I have with my students. I actually enjoy writing, so when I read or hear something that fires my creative juices I can easily settle into whatever I am focusing on at the moment and spend hours on my project.

But what about our sport? What inspires us as riders? Of course, it depends on one’s personal goals, of course, but I find inspiration in so many places it’s hard to make a good list. Lately I’ve been watching all of the incredible FEI competitions as riders were vying for spots on their country’s Olympic team and battling it out in the Nations Cups and Grands Prix. I will never jump a course anything as high or challenging as these giant tracks but seeing the incredible partnerships that produce fast and clear rounds inspires me to emulate my heroes. I watch these brave riders and their generous, athletic superstars flying across a four-meter-wide open water jump and then roll six strides down to a tall, skinny 1.60m vertical and suddenly 1.20m looks a lot more approachable!

A picture of me and Steve after we did our first Low A/O show! I was more thrilled than he was, I think…

I look at how the riders get their horses light up front and sitting behind, making sure they are balanced and jumping off their hocks. I watch the way the riders use their bodies and react quickly to unexpected things, like a trip, or the horse fighting to the jump instead of waiting. I see the lightning-fast calculations when a rail comes down and the ride goes from a careful clear to a fast four-faulter. In the jump-off the older partnerships are the ones you usually see making the biggest gambles, but these are also where you can actually see a younger horse come into its own, stepping up and telling the world: Look at me! Aren’t I amazing? Watching the best of the best fight their way around a huge course and come out elated and hugging their horse and so clearly overjoyed is when I am reminded that we are all there for the love of the sport, and the love of the horses.

I get my inspiration from my friends, all the time, for which I am grateful. I go to a lot of events as nearly all of my riding friends are eventers. I see them tackling huge tables, jumping into water, over a jump, and then up out of the water, jumping things called coffins (why? Why would you call it that, eventer people?), thundering through the woods, up and down banks and I marvel at their skill and confidence. I see how their horses joyfully attack cross country and come off looking like they won Burghley. And, again, I think: Welp, I’m not doing that. My little stripey poles and groomed footing looks pretty good! Maybe my challenges aren’t that hard. Maybe my goals are very much within reach.

I love watching beginners learn and grow in confidence; that inspires me, too. I still remember, more than four decades later, the first time I cantered. It was nothing less than magical, eclipsed only by the first time I jumped. Seeing newer riders taking those same brave leaps reminds me of why I fell in love with this sport, and how much more I have to learn. I was lucky enough to start when I was a little kid; watching an older beginner suddenly understand just how amazing it is to ride and want to come back, even though their muscles hurt and they feel silly in their purple riding tights is very inspiring.

Finally, my horse inspires me. Not because he is especially brave or anything; he does love to jump but he is also lazy and prefers to let me do the driving. However, Steve is a natural athlete, with a jump as big as a house, and even though he’d rather be eating alfalfa and staring at the wall, he will, over and over again, come out and work hard for me. He will jump anything I point him at and expect nothing but a banana and lots of treats. Maybe a latte. Sometimes a beer! Steve actually, to be honest, expects me to provide him with food and treats all the time. But that is the smallest price to pay for what he gives me in his effort and willingness. Steve inspires me to be a better rider and to make his job as easy as I can, so that he enjoys it. Our partnership inspires me to carry my weight and make sure he knows how wonderful I think he is when he does all of the crazy jumper things I ask of him. Sometimes I watch old videos of us in lessons or showing and I’m inspired to get back out there and win, do better, make sure I do right by my horse.

What or who inspires you?