Why is it that the American collective consciousness accepts that your life path has endless possibilities exclusively when you are 18-25 years of age?
We all hear as children and young adults that we can be anything that we want to be. Then, somehow, a door closes and you don’t change your path again after you have passed that 30-year mark. Why is it that way in this land known for chasing life’s dreams? Do we stop dreaming midway through our lives?
I, for one, do not want to be pigeonholed into some arbitrary definition conceived by people who don’t even know me. Why can’t I decide what path I should be on at any age? Why should I accept the limitations of other people’s imaginations?
As much as I would like to believe that things are meant to be, the fact of the matter is that I am on the path that I chose to be on. Everything that I am and have now is a direct result of each choice I have made along the way to getting here. I cannot truthfully blame or credit anyone for what I am, and that is a liberating, if not a little scary, realization. I am completely liable; therefore I can determine to change my path.
I did just that later in my life within the horse industry. I decided in my late 30s that I was more interested in being a professional event rider and breeder, rather than my then-status of a professional Morgan horse trainer and breeder. It was a frightening proposition, going from something I was so successful at to the unknown, but not being true to my desires was just as unnerving.
As I embark on this journey to becoming a top rider in eventing later in life, I admit to having the feeling that I’ve lost time and therefore the opportunity to develop my skills and become part of the U.S. Equestrian Federation High Performance machinery. That maybe I’ve missed out on some things that are critical to my success and I needed to have made this decision sooner.
But, there are always two sides to any story. Another way to look at it is that I am now of a maturity level that will allow me to advance more quickly. That my more extensive life experiences will help me to cope with situations in this new endeavor that may have crippled me as a younger version of myself. Perhaps I have a more unfaltering dedication at this age, a determination that cannot be swayed because of the impending time limit.
My yoga instructor said something that struck a powerful chord in me that can be applied to eventing. He said that we should not set limits on ourselves in reference to our abilities to do the postures (which if you’ve seen how inflexible I am, those limits seem very real). Instead, he said to create opportunity for yourself by believing the posture is possible. That’s true, I know it is possible for OTHER PEOPLE to do those postures. I know it is possible for YOUNGER PEOPLE to become eventing superstars. Hmmm… Maybe creating opportunity for yourself can happen at any age.
I am actually living proof that there are very real opportunities for those of us over, dare I say it, (shhhhh) 40. Along with my partner High Times, we have climbed the ranks together. He went from a 5-year-old novice horse stopping at ditches and I from being eligible for the novice rider divisions, to the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** in our sixth season together.
I am also the recipient of the 2014 Rebecca Broussard National Developing Rider Grant. The key word being: developing. That means that people saw potential (a word usually saved for the younger folks) in a 40-year-old rider.
And I’m not the only one. Matt Brown, who is very near my age, also won the 2014 Rebecca Broussard International Developing Rider Grant. And he has also been named to the High Performance eventing squad for the first time in his career just this very year. He’s 38. If he is not a shining example of creating opportunities for your self at any age, I don’t know who is. I am wagering that the investment in the older riders may prove to be very wise—time will tell.
Here, Matt (left) and I (right) celebrate our grants with friends.
One thing I remind myself frequently of is that no one owes me anything. They don’t owe me a chance, a second look, or even a first look. I have to earn it, whether I am 18, 25, or 40. And even when I feel like I have earned something, I probably could have done more.
That being said, I will side with optimism and say that 40 is the new 30 and that I am on the road to an unwritten and exciting future, along with the rest of the brave souls that dare to dream.
So here is to the possibilities. Here is to the dreams. Here is to the endless potential in each and every one of us.
Jennifer McFall and her husband, Earl, run Dragonfire Sport Horses in Wilton, Calif., where they breed, train and sell event horses and teach riders of all levels. They have a daughter, Taylor, who also rides. Jennifer started her riding career in Pony Club and showed her family’s Morgan horses on a regional and national level, winning many national and world titles in Hunter Pleasure, Western Pleasure, Dressage and Jumping. She and Dragonfire Kublahan, a Morgan gelding bred by her family farm and her partner during her teenage years, are pictured on the cover of the Pony Club “A” manual and had an exciting career together through the advanced level.
Currently, she and her partner High Times, a Holsteiner gelding she has brought up through the levels, have finished in the top 10 at multiple CIC and CCI*** events and successfully completed their first CCI**** together at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event in 2014. You can read all of Jennifer’s blogs here.