I recently attended my good friend Lynn Symansky’s wedding in November. I was lying on the beach in St. Croix listening to Hannah Sue Burnett tell a funny story to Jennie Brannigan. Lillian Heard and Ryan Wood had just walked back up to the house and Danny Symansky, Lynn Symansky’s brother, and my husband [Tik Maynard] were swimming in the ocean.
I shuffled the sand in my toes for a quiet moment. Just for a second I looked at myself and my friends from a birdseye view and thought, “What a lucky and happy bunch—how are they all connected?” Then I laughed at the absurdity of my own answer. I decided to bring the group in on my thoughts and during a pause of conversation I said, “Isn’t it so weird all of us ride horses, like for a living?”
As Lynn and I walked up to the house where we would reside for the next week, we both were in awe. We started laughing and talking about how outside our means this vacation, or Wedcation as we dubbed it, was. But as Hannah Sue’s boyfriend, polo player Doug Barnes, said so perfectly, it’s pretty amazing what you can do when you get your friends together and pool your resources. As the week went on this became more apparent to me on a deeper level than in the fiscal sense.
A weekend at Lynn Symansky’s wedding helped Sinead Halpin reflect on her year. Photo courtesy of Sinead Halpin.
During this week I sat back and watched Karen O’Connor chat with my brother like old friends, I heard of the epic basketball game between Will Coleman and my husband, I laughed as Danny’s fiancé hiccuped down the aisle at the rehearsal, everyone was impressed with Ryan Wood dancing a dance, I bobbed up and down in the water while Allison Springer got a snorkeling lesson. I genuinely enjoyed seeing Lynn’s husband Eric Reid laugh wholeheartedly while embarrassing speeches were made at the rehearsal dinner, and I loved watching Lynn have one of the most beautiful days. I realized by pooling our assets we were bringing our family, our humor, our ridiculousness to this trip.
My brother and his wife attended the wedding because after years in the sport, the line between friends, family and extended family become blurred or even nonexistent or maybe even more importantly, those lines just are not relevant.
To say we are a balanced group as eventers would be a stretch—unless you define balance as yo-yoing between extreme highs and lows! The thing about this “family” is that everyone “gets it.”
We love greatly, laugh constantly and are always empathetic, but rarely sympathetic. This is at least the definition of the motley crew I hang out with. We will spend all our money on an experience not on an asset.
Hence how we will sleep on any couch to save money at a horse show but also end up on a beach in St. Croix.
As I look around at all the sad, scary and evil that is going on in the world, I thank God my world seems to be a little planet all to its self, operating in the same solar system as the “real world” but ever so pleasantly removed.
I almost skipped the Hall of Fame dinner at the U.S. Eventing Association Annual Meeting and Convention in Washington D.C., and I’m so glad Lynn demanded I go.
Once again, I was unprepared and did not have tickets. The event was sold out but Jennie’s owners, Tim and Nina Gardner, kindly offered their tickets as they had to leave early—another example of extended family.
I love a good speech. To me a speech has a gripping opening, a certain amount of wit and humor in the middle and an emotional closing. It grabs hold of you, it makes you laugh, makes you cry and engages you in a way that your eyes do not leave the speaker, and a story is told.
Every speech that evening swept me up in a story. During every speech, Allison would look in my direction making sure someone was “feeling” the moment. The tears in my eyes were hopefully enough of an answer and then Joanie Morris [USEF managing director of eventing] asked if Lynn and I were getting paid by the speakers because we were doubled over in laughter more often than not. It was an evening that celebrated our most beautiful, sometimes dysfunctional, ever changing, always loving family.
This time of year I always find myself reflecting on the past as well as eagerly making plans for the next. Sitting at the convention I realized that I am no longer an up-and-comer, but not quite a been-there-done-that. What a funny place to be.
This year for me there seems to be a bit of a shift, not enough to create an earthquake or avalanche but some earth has moved. As a young professional and a person in general, I feel like I have always been a selfish person or as I like to say, an independent person, to make myself feel better. Family comes second, third or whenever it works into my schedule person.
Luckily I married a wonderful man who puts family, kindness and doing right by the world as important as going to the Olympics or a World Championships. I have always felt guilty about my “one track” mind. This year my priorities have widened. I’ve become obsessed with a financial five-year plan, so I can have a sustainable future for my family and my team. I am paying attention to spending quality time with people I love and enjoy (this includes horses). This year for some reason I realized it does not have to be all or nothing, or maybe it does…we shall see!
Sinead Halpin had a solid year with her string of horses, including Forrest Nymph, who completed the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill CCI** (Md.) for the second time. Photo by Lindsay Berreth
If I could give advice to the young professionals coming up, I’m not sure what advice I would give honestly. I would not tell them don’t worry, because you should. I would not tell them to relax and that everything will come in time. If you relax it might not. I would not tell them it gets easier, because one must define easy and to everyone that is different. Every tough experience I have had has made me appreciate good people and good horses so I would not wish upon them an easy road.
I guess my advice to a young horseman would be that you are going to feel things, good and bad. You are going to do stupid things, you are going to train some horses badly, you’re going to get burned and probably without intention going to burn someone too, you are going to get hurt physically and emotionally, you are going to reach the point where you are so tired you can’t take another step forward.
But you will, and then you will learn, you will grow. You will be in a world that is riddled with depression and excuses, but you will persevere. You will find happiness. Maybe not all the time, but enough so that you know it’s worth working for and certainly worth living for.
In St. Croix I spent a week with some of the most talented in our sport, and we did not talk about horses, we talked about life. So to ride horses for a living may in all honesty be crazy, but for some of us it’s the only way we know how to live.