The Waiting Game

Aug 16, 2014 - 2:45 AM
Photo by Susan J. Stickle.

Michael often says that there are three kinds of riders: riders who make things happen, riders who hope things happen, and riders who wonder what the hell happened. He then adds a fourth category, riders who wait for things to happen.

At first blush, this waiting period seems like a passive process, just sitting around and wishing and praying that some opportunity will present itself, that some rich sponsor will come along, that someone will drop the next Totilas or Valegro into our laps. But that’s not what he means.

He means that sometimes, no matter how bad you want it, or how ready you wish you were, you—or your horse—are just not. And with no other option but to wait, you wait.

My last blog on poodles, not problems, talked a bit about it, about having young horses in a program, humming along, and running up against something where the only solution is time—time to put on muscle, or grow, or mentally mature, until the horse is ready for The Next Thing, whatever that is. Johnny is doing everything I could ever want a 5-year-old to do. Fiero is doing everything, and then some, that I could ever want a 7-year-old to do. Danny and Dorian are ahead of the curve on some stuff and a little behind it, I guess, if there is a curve (and there’s not, really), so we pick away at stuff, but on the whole they’re up on what I’d want 6-year-olds to do.

And so I wait. Fiero and Dorian will go to shows, because their owners would like them to—and oh, twist my arm, to show nice horses who make me look smart, it’s such a curse. Johnny and Danny are mine, and I’m saving my pennies for things like lessons with Michael, and so they stay home. 

But the waiting is really my decision on them. That’s easy to live with, even for a control freak, type-A DQ like yours truly.

Being forced to wait, though, is another thing altogether.

Fender was doing everything I could ever want an 8-year-old to be doing until we got stuck in an apocalyptic traffic jam, spending three hours going nine miles because of a fuel truck accident while we were en route to a horse show this spring. Patience not being one of Fender’s virtues, at some point he started pawing the trailer, and that’s the only thing I can think of for why he walked on the trailer sound and off it lame. 

And it didn’t matter that we were ranked #2 in the country on the Developing Prix St. Georges list. Our year was over.

He’s recovering brilliantly—ahead of schedule, actually, I shudder to say out loud—and barring calamity we’ll be back to full work well ahead of our departure to Florida in January 2015. This is the way it goes with horses: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes they whack their legs on the trailer.

But I look at Midge, who has had setback after setback and is unlikely to ever be a Grand Prix horse ever again, the best horse I’ve ever had; I look at Ella, who keeps getting better and better and, for reasons completely unknown to all involved, can’t seem to get sold; I look at the bracelet I wear from Cleo’s tail hair, the horse who should have had such a great career; and I look at Billy, who I would give anything to have now at age 5, knowing all I know now (largely because of him); it just seems like something, someone, would have worked out by now.

But that’s not the way it goes in the real world. It’s not just a matter of punching your clock. It’s about work, hard work, gut-wrenching, back-breaking work, long hours and horrible decisions, of course, but it’s also about luck, about getting the right 2-year-old off the sale video and, somehow, miraculously, getting the education you need and the right help at the right time to get it to Grand Prix, and then having someone decide to skip the selection trials, and get you an invitation. 

It’s about being the person the owner of the broodmare called to say hey, maybe this mare could be a riding horse. 

It’s about the Olympic legend you work for having too many good young horses, and handing the reins of one of them to you.

It’s about making the things you can make happen, happen, and then waiting for the right stars to align.

And so…I wait.

I’m not waiting idly, of course. I’m making my young horses into good athletes, ones that respect all the aids all the time (not just when you’re not distracted by a bumblebee, Daniel). I’ve got a great business full of all kinds of people—amateurs who will go Grand Prix, amateurs who just want to sit the trot and learn on-the-bit; kids who will grow up to be all those amateurs, kids who could be our Olympic teammates; professionals in dressage, in jumping, in eventing, in driving, in Arabians. I teach at home, I teach clinics. I write for Dressage Today, for USDF Connection, for Practical Horseman, and for this funny little blog.

I do triathlons so I’m not the size of the Hindenburg. I do yoga so I’m not crippled by the job by the time I’m 50; I wear sunscreen and long sleeved shirts and, yes, even the dork visor (you all see who’s laughing when I have skin like Giselle Bundchen when we’re old and gray). 

I build my team, of owners, of staff, of sponsors, and do my absolute best to do right by them, and then I pay it forward whenever I can.

I read and listen and learn all I can from anyone who will teach me anything. And I get as many skills as I possibly can so that when my number comes up, when my luck changes, when it’s my time, I’m ready.

And then, I wait.


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