“525,600 minutes. 525,000 moments so dear. 525,600 minutes. How do you measure, measure a year?”
These lyrics sang in the Broadway musical “Rent” have been weighing heavily on my mind. Tis the season for everybody to begin to speak of their year, telling of triumphs, and failures. Victories, and setbacks. Statuses of show records, and levels competed. Claiming to change their strategy for next year.
They’re also the lyrics that were sang at my father’s funeral.
In the horse business, our victories are measured on an infinitesimal scale. The statuses that I keep seeing speak of $3 ribbons, double-clears, and qualifications to the next expensive show. Thirteen years ago, my statuses would’ve been the same. I was in the rat race, consumed by drive to get to the next level, the next championship, the next big show.
But then I burned out, just as I see so many young girls do today. At 17 I retired in the only way a youth amateur rider can. I hung up my safety vest. I turned my horse out. And defeated, I swore to myself that I wouldn’t compete again. At least not for a while.
So here we are at the end of 2015, a time when we’re supposed to look back in retrospect, and decide whether or not we were a success or a failure. My year was, quite simply, bipolar. The winter was harsh, the spring was short, and my show season nonexistent. My fall was my only true season of success.
I came in with a bang. Entering one of the first events of the season in Kentucky, I successfully ran around my first training level event. But having nursed a puncture wound in my horse for weeks prior to the event, I decided to have it radiographed a few days after. What we found devastated me. My horse’s left hind splint bone was in four pieces, and would need to be removed. My summer was over, at least for Mak. It would be spent with bandage changes, IV antibiotics, and if we were lucky, a slow and steady process of getting him back in shape.
2015 was over.
But, I thought luckily, only two weeks before this, I had brought a new young Thoroughbred home. With the idea of doing the Retired Racehorse Training Project Thoroughbred Makeover, I had gotten him in the hopes of eventing him as well.
This was the best-case scenario. Mak would be finishing his summer, just as Nixon would begin his. But as I have now learned is Nixon’s way, he had other ideas.
I spent all of May, June, July, and most of August exasperated. I didn’t get to do a single horse show. I also didn’t get to have very much fun. Because for me it’s not the horse shows or the events that make this fun. I didn’t even enjoy riding on a daily basis.
He was, quite simply, tough. Tougher than any horse I had ridden. I thought I would actually have to admit trainer’s defeat with this one. But because this is the horse world, I was more scared of what others would think if I gave up than what would happen if I didn’t. Another failure of 2015. A mental failure.
Called To Serve, or “Nixon,” in one of his more uncooperative moments.
But a success? Having cut out the toxic friendships, I was finally surrounded by those who encouraged me to continue on. Even if failure was at the end of the tunnel, they convinced me to put every last drop of try into this horse.
I got to finally rectify this with Nixon in October, by getting to do back-to-back shows at the Kentucky horse Park. We won both.
So in my synopsis of 2015, that is what should read. Move up to training level—check. Win a combined test—check. Win a nationwide competition on Thoroughbred retraining—check.
But of course being a horseman, I am a perfectionist. I might’ve had three amazing weekends, but that leaves 49 that I didn’t. That is how the Facebook statuses read. Because we are horsemen. And even when we have experienced the highest of highs, we still fixate on the lows.
I was recently interviewed for a television show that will be featured on RideTV. The woman interviewing me, Jane, asked me if I had any words of wisdom or a specific mentality that got me through the tough times. I thought for a moment, and then I remembered a saying that my parents had hung up in our home.
“The worst day of fishing is better than the best day at work.”
This is how I feel about horse showing. I can’t afford to compete every weekend like some. But I can afford to compete a few times. I can’t afford to board my horses at an elite fancy farm. But I can afford to own a horse. And I can’t afford to have the latest style or trend adorning me. But I look pretty darn good in hand-me-downs.
And the worst day of showing a horse isn’t a bad day. Let’s be honest, we’re living every little girls dream. We have ponies. Do you think the little girls care if your pony is going prelim? No. Why? Because it’s a pony.
Let us remember that when we get hard on ourselves. We are the few that got to live out those childhood dreams. We still have those ponies.
It all starts with a pony!
So this year, 2015, lets all take a moment to reflect not on the competitions, not on the levels, not on the $3 ribbons. Instead, may you reflect on that one dressage school where your horse finally leg yielded. Or that time a four-star rider told you he thought your horse was “the one,” even after your horse took off with you over a cross-rail.
That cross-country lesson with your trainer, where she smiled and said how much you’ve improved. That moment, when your vet becomes more than a vet and shows up on show day just to feed you. Or the show that you didn’t get off of the wait list for, but where you got to watch your dear friend cross the finish flags of her first beginner novice in 15 years, a smile plastered on her face.
And that day, when the man who works at the stable that you board at, who rarely speaks a word, tells you that you deserved to win. He says, in broken English, that you work harder than anyone he has ever seen.
Those are some of my 525,600 minutes. And that’s how I’ll treasure this year.
A lifelong horse enthusiast and eventer, Carleigh Fedorka currently resides in Lexington, Ky., where she is a graduate student at the University of Kentucky studying equine reproduction. Before this, she worked on Thoroughbred breeding farms like Hinkle Farms and Chesapeake Farms. Carleigh has placed, sold, and owned a variety of horses—mainly Thoroughbreds—but currently competes on her own Dynamaker.
When she is not riding her horses, Carleigh is a racing enthusiast, and helps her boyfriend on his own farm while also enjoying their two Labradors. She doesn’t like to admit it, but she is also an avid needlepointer and a closeted 80-year-old. You can read all of Carleigh’s COTH blogs here and more on her personal blog site, A Yankee In Paris.