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March 3, 2014

The Things That Might Have Been

It's hard not to see the world from between those two wise ears anymore.

A year ago I was preparing for what I hoped to be my first advanced horse trial on my off-the-track Thoroughbred, Trance, but my partner of 12 years got injured at the last minute. I wrote about it in The Things That Time Steals, and in that blog I contemplated his retirement.

I know over the past year that I have done what is right—he is leased to the most wonderful family, The Pitchers, and will be teaching Katherine Pitcher about training and preliminary in the coming year. He is happy, he is sound, and he is loved. What more could I want?

I turned my focus to my new off-the-track Thoroughbred, Khaleesi (Lizzie). She did her first horse trials last March at beginner novice. She is special. Just last weekend she rocked around her first preliminary event, adding only a few time penalties and a rail to her dressage score.  I am so blessed to ride her.

And yet, I find myself feeling hollow in the oddest moments. I love Lizzie more than anything, and can’t believe I lucked into such a talented young horse. And yet, I have this spot in my heart that aches for Trance.

This is the first year he has stayed home in Virginia while I made the trek south to train. I don’t get to see his crooked blaze everyday for the first time in 12 years. That is really tough. Like any relationship, I can intellectually acknowledge that we have both moved on to more suitable things. I know he is happy, I know I am happy, I know we are both so lucky to have tremendous new partners…but I miss him.

Late at night, I find myself scrolling through our old competition photos and pondering the things that might have been. If only I knew more when I got him, could he have been my first four-star horse? If only he was blessed with a more gifted rider, would he have conquered the world’s hardest tracks? There are so many questions and, as with all hypotheticals, so few answers.

The future for both of us is so bright, but I struggle to not have his partnership and guidance. When I was a bright eyed 17-year-old with more ambition than sense, he taught me how to be humble and patient.

When I lost my father at 22, his hoof beats assured my heart that life continued. When I was a hopelessly optimistic 24-year-old who thought I could save the world, he taught me how to ground myself and accept that changing one life was enough.

When, at 28, I realized that part of life is letting go of dreams, he learned that lesson alongside me.

Now, I am struggling to accept that I was enough for him. I am struggling to not feel guilty that his talent was wasted on me. I know I always put him first and loved him with all that I had, and yet I ponder the things that might have been.

The things that might have been have a way of haunting us and cruelly diminish all that we have accomplished. They have a way of strangling our joy with guilt. These are self-inflicted judgments, and this is a battle that is waged with myself.  I think every goal oriented person struggles as future hopes shift into past shortcomings.

When I am around him, he is able to nudge me each day and assure me that everything we did together was enough. But this year, while we are apart, I lack his direction and guidance. For the first time in over a decade, I don’t have his daily life lessons to ground me. Perhaps this is just another lesson: one of letting go, one of learning to rely on a new partner, one of being at peace.

It is funny how, as riders, we depend so much on these partnerships. For 12 years Trance has been my therapist, my partner in crime, and the nose I can see sniffing out the trailer window as I have driven hundreds of thousands of miles over this country. 

I should not waste time on the things that might have been, because in the end just finding each other was the biggest miracle, and accolades have nothing on our memories.

As for the future, there are so many things that at this moment could be, so much potential in my new partner that I can’t let “the things that might have been” hold me back. There are no re-dos in life, and this whole thing is a one-way street. I am not one to have regrets, but I think we all ponder how our past partnerships would have turned out if we only knew then what we know now.

One thing is certain: looking back is a good way to mess up everything ahead.

We all know better than to look back to see if the rail fell, or to mentally waver on the movement we just completed in our dressage test. All we can do is take the people we have become and dedicate it to the next partnership.  

After all, the best you can do is the best you can do. So whether your “might have been” is advanced, or your very first schooling show, or the horse you wish you had bought, we have to be content with the knowledge that if you did your best with what you had, it was enough.

One of the Chronicle's bloggers, Kristin Carpenter juggles her riding with running her own company, Linder Educational Coaching, running the shows and events at Morningside Training Farm in The Plains, Va., and riding her two horses, In A Trance and Lizzie. She grew up in Louisiana and bought "Trance," a green off-the-track Thoroughbred, as a teenager. Together, they ended up competing at the North American Young Riders Championships and the Bromont CCI**. She's now bringing another OTTB, Lizzie, up through the ranks. 

Read all of Kristin's blogs...