Set goals then ride to victory My husband Brian Kimball smiles after achieving his first third level score toward his USDF Bronze Medal. He is my inspiration this piece. Photo by Sandy Wagner

How to Enjoy Your Equestrian Journey [Even When it Sucks]

Equestrian Journey

There’s a sign in my house that I read daily. The message only sinks in occasionally even though I walk by it dozens of times.

The decor also greets my home’s visitors in the foyer sharing a little inspiration:

“Happiness is not a destination. It is a way of life. Enjoy the journey.”

Remembering that little nugget is almost as important as the message it conveys.

For us, as equestrians, we are challenged daily as students learning the art of equestrianism since we are never done learning. Although we may eventually become really good riders or horse trainers, there’s no such thing as perfect in horse sports. We’re always searching for an idea of “perfection” in a sport where it isn’t possible. That never-ending equestrian scavenger hunt can get to even the best of us after a while.

I’ve watched others burn out and leave horses entirely. I can understand from their point of view.

All competitive equestrian disciplines are expensive, time-consuming, and dangerous. Even more, we’ll never take a riding or driving lesson where our instructor tells us everything looks awesome. There’s always something that can be better.

To paraphrase my husband’s thoughts on the lesson situation. Basically, he says we pay someone a whole bunch of money to tell us how much we suck for 45 minutes and we’re supposed to smile and say thank you at the end.

If we aren’t humble when we start riding horses — just give it time.

As a dressage instructor, part of my job is to find a rider’s weaknesses. On the flip side, I also have to be their cheerleader when my students start to get the ‘I-suck-at-this’ blues.

How to Enjoy Your Equestrian Journey Even When It Sucks
Nancy Bolton is happy every time she climbs aboard her chestnut mare Kellen. She values progress over perfection.

Trust me, I’ve been there too. Sometimes, we all suck at this. It’s the never-ending equestrian scavenger hunt, remember?

So, what is the best way to enjoy the journey to becoming a better equestrian?

Let’s remember to appreciate our horses.

The best cure for the ‘I-suck-at-this’ blues is to wrap our arms around the neck of the horses who tolerate us daily and say, “thank you.”

Yes, we need to all go hug our horses.

They are the reason we started all this madness in the first place. The horses didn’t ask to be dragged around the country chasing ribbons or getting yelled at by strangers with foreign accents. They’re just unbelievably obliging and generous creatures who have decided that humans are probably crazy but they’ll put up with us anyway.

The horses must have a pretty good sense of humor because most of them just keep going along with our antics.

Set goals then ride to victory

What else can help us enjoy our equestrian journey like never before?  Everyone needs to set riding goals. They give us a reason to ride better daily.

When I work with riders, we set goals to move up a competition level or to obtain a USDF medal or qualify for championship shows. Most of the time, as long as the rider puts in the work and the horse is healthy and capable, we meet our goal then set another one. I think what we often forget is to take the time to look back at all of the hard work and enjoy that little moment of victory.

The next goal is always a more difficult challenge and the skills are harder to master for both horse and rider. Basically, the better we get, the harder it is to master the skills and the more the ‘I-suck-at-this’ blues have a chance to set in. Shouldn’t we take a minute to look back on all those previous struggles and celebrate a little? It’s only getting harder from here.

While we’re trudging along trying to claw our way up the perfection ladder, the journey is really more fun if we’ve got some other people struggling with us. So, go support you barn buddies at their clinics and shows.

Congratulate the winner of your class even if you are dead last. Tell your friend you’re excited about their success, even if you’ve had nothing but failures lately. It feels good to be supportive and it comes back to you in heaps later.

No one likes the green-eyed monster also known as jealousy. Furthermore, wallowing in your own self-pity will only magnify your gloom.

Hopefully, with a little help from friends, we can all laugh at ourselves. If not, at least we’ll be able to commiserate over a bottle of wine!