A million years ago when I was young and adorable I attended USDF’s Young Rider Graduate Program, a two-day conference on how to be an adult in the horse business. It was a very informative weekend, with speakers on a huge range of subjects from professional liability to marketing to sponsorship, and one of the speakers was Jane Forbes Clark, who is a major player in ownership of team horses across several disciplines.
One of her pieces of advice on how to attract sponsors was to read, or listen to, the daily news. She encouraged us all to be able to talk about things other than horses, to have an engaged mind across a broader pool of subjects than just our profession.
It’s good advice on a sponsorship front, but I remember hearing it and thinking that it was good advice on how to not to chew off your own arm as a horse trainer. Life with these easily injured and chronically frustrating creatures can tear your heart apart, and if you’ve got nothing else, then you’ve got nothing else.
I’ve never been one-note; I didn’t know horses were what I wanted to do professionally until I was 20, and up until then had studied journalism and public policy, worked for my local newspaper and in local politics, and found other things to be passionate about. Those interests have stayed with me, and this year, as things have been tough for me around the farm, I’ve stayed politically engaged. (Hey Virginia residents, vote today!)
And I have other physical interests too, both as a means of cross-training and as a means of having something else to do. Since moving to Virginia I now live an hour from one of the gates to Shenandoah National Park, which has made me fall in love with hiking.
I took a karate class for a little while, until I broke my toe (which sounds like I broke it doing something cool like breaking boards, but really I just tripped in class. I’m super fly.) A few years ago I ran a few triathlons, and while I’ve moved on from them because the biking and the swimming were a little more time consuming than I can fit into my life, I still run, and like group classes at my gym.
And the best thing about those gym classes (other than my sexy guns here) is that I get to talk to people that have literally nothing to do with horses.
Like so many horsey kids, I was all about them in all parts of my life. Even as an adult, my two best friends are riders, and when we get together we inevitably talk shop, much to our husbands’ and boyfriend’s collective dismay. So being able to talk about other things, not just because I know about other things but also to have the opportunity to talk about other things, is a blessing.
Two weekends ago I attended an evening wedding with my boyfriend. One of his best friends, members of a group of guys that have been friends for 20—and some of them 30—years, was getting married in Washington DC. I took the weekend off.
We walked around Alexandria together. I met his friends, and talked about politics and sports and cooking and travel. I rented an unbelievable dress from Rent The Runway (which, ladies, if you don’t know about, you should, because it’s a phenomenal service and I can’t believe no one invented it sooner). I got to do my hair up and spent more than 5 minutes slapping on some makeup, something I hardly ever get to do. We danced, drank an unholy amount of bourbon, and generally had a blast.
And while horses inevitably came up a few times, because it’s a curious topic of conversation for the uninitiated (“Wow, you train horses! So, like, are you a jockey or something?” Yes, I’m a 5’10” jockey.), it didn’t dominate the night. Not even close.
It was one of the more fun weekends of my adult life. It was a break from my reality. And it made going back to my reality—which was, 24 hours after my return, facing Danny’s colic surgery—just a little less daunting.
I know others who are extremely accomplished in one area of life or another. I’m related to a few. More still are my clients. And all of them have a singular drive that allows them to do what they do. They eat, sleep and breathe it. But they’ve all told me about burnout, about seeing the breaking point, and for some, about running into that point full speed. It’s not a phenomenon that’s unique to horses, by any stretch. And I can see, and have even come close to experiencing, the same thing myself.
So I escaped for a weekend, and I have no regrets. I’ll do it again in December, when I go on what has become an annual tradition: friends and I rent a cabin near Shenandoah, and hike and cook and drink and sit in a hot tub and crack up and do it all again the next day and then head back to our lives, just a little broader (not just in the waistline, though certainly that’ll happen too), and just a little fresher, ready to head back to my singularly-focused life.