When we find a passion in life, we dream that we can spend our free moments or make a career pursuing it, and that our dedication will bring both success and emotional rewards. But the more you hyper-focus on one area of your life, the more it closes in on you and disproportionately amplifies its own importance.
I hyper focused on my riding this winter. Every fourth day for two months I drove the 10 hours between Aiken, S.C., and D.C. This winter meant grueling lessons honing my skills, morning meetings in D.C., followed by evening lessons in Aiken, and thousands in cash towards vet care and shoeing and competitions and lost income while away.
In return for handing over months of my life and my bank account, I had two great events to start off the season, with Lizzie in the best form yet across three phases, and jumped clear around my biggest course ever at a jumper show. All I wanted this year was consistency, and I appeared to be getting it.
Then, I went to the Carolina International and Lizzie tripped in the water and I fell off.
It was the last show of the winter, so I came back home full-time to Virginia and to the rest of my life. I had some big plans for my company, so I knew I only had one show left before I would have to take a break and focus on the rest of life. I loaded up Lizzie and headed to CDCTA, where she won the dressage then a slip in wet grass in show jumping ended up resulting in my first elimination for refusals since I was 12. Well, 2015 turned around real fast on me!
I drove away from that show, unloaded Lizzie at the barn, then went into D.C., to sign papers on my business’s first commercial property. While taking on this new space meant I had three weeks to renovate and furnish a two-story building and launch an entirely new branch of my company, I breathed a sigh of relief. I realized that I had followed my passion with so much focus that I had let my entire world close in around me.
The horse world, with all its ups and downs, is just a small and largely insignificant part of the world at large. But for those of us who follow our passion for horses into the competition world, it can become a snow globe that traps us and hijacks our life balance. When things are going well you sit inside the settled globe smiling, and feeling as though all is right in the world.
When things go poorly and your globe gets shaken, you feel as though the universe is caving in around you, and all your dreams are disintegrating before your eyes. But in the end, you are just in a self-created snow globe panicking over horse problems. So when I came back to Virginia full-time, it was really nice to step outside the snow globe and breathe the crisp air of the rest of life for a while.
I gave Lizzie a month off while I spent 19-hour days running my existing company, launching a new branch, and renovating the building. I did all the renovations myself, including installing floors and molding, putting up a brick wall, furnishing, painting, and building desk and bookcase installations. I had countless friends coming over after their jobs finished to help me until midnight, and the last thing I thought about was how to improve my horse’s showjumping.
My business is an educational coaching company, an idea I launched in the region eight years ago. I work with kids that have learning disabilities and attention disorders, and I help them figure out how they can succeed in their education.
So outside the barn, you can find me consulting with a family whose child is convinced she is “stupid” or “not meant for school.” Or you can find me in meetings at schools advocating for a student’s right to accommodations under federal laws. Or you can find me working with a “behavioral problem” child who is a really bright kid that is frustrated, or is upset that life is cruel because his father is dying, or is so scared of doing poorly when he tries hard that he has settled on just not trying at all.
So in my day-to-day life, I get reminded that no one’s world is ending because their favorite show horsey hit too many sticks this weekend. Some people think the horse world is the whole world. But the reality is that we all live a privileged life, and most people do not have the luxury of their biggest problem being how to improve a trot. It doesn’t mean a professional rider is without perspective, and I wish every human on the Earth could find their passion and pursue it for a career. But pursuing a passion with hyper-focus as an amateur or a pro can make the horse world become quite insular, and we have to all remember there is more to this whole thing called life than our show record.
As much as I love riding, I love the rest of life more. It was nice to see friends I had not had time for in months, even if it meant they were helping me paint at midnight on a Saturday. So when May 3 came, and I launched the new property on time with an open house, I sat and pondered, “What now?”
Did I want to go back to driving out to the barn every morning, hauling all over for lessons, busting my butt to get Lizzie’s fitness work in, never seeing my friends or husband on the weekends, and collapsing in bed at 10 p.m., when home from work to get up at 5:30 a.m., to head to the barn? I didn’t really, to be honest.
So, for the past few weeks, I have gone out and hacked a lot. I have flatted some, and snuck over for two jump lessons. I wouldn’t say I am unmotivated to ride, but rather I am motivated to exist outside the snow globe for a bit longer. I am enjoying everything about my horse that you love as a child, and shelving the whole competition thing. It takes a very different level of commitment for me to compete at preliminary and above, as the horses have to get their fitness work in and I have to train every day.
I love my sport, and I love riding, but I just am not that committed at the moment. This past Saturday I did a casual and fun morning ride, then went to two different parties for friends until 1 a.m. I drank and laughed and didn’t have to worry about being up to braid, or to get a trot set in, etc.
I don’t know who won the big events of the past few weeks, or the small ones. I have no idea what the latest gossip is in the barn about whichever horses and whoever owners. I have no info on life in the snow globe, and I am totally OK with that.
I signed Lizzie up for the training level at Waredaca in a couple weeks, because it is one of my favorite venues and I know we can cruise around a training with the kind of riding I am currently doing. And because going around a training will simply be fun for us.
At the end of the day, this sport is about me enjoying the partnership with my horse. After Waredaca? Who knows.
I could aim for the one-star in July, or I could just focus on weekends away with friends, enjoying long hacks on the good days, and pursuing my other passions in life. I’ll find my way, but it has been really nice to wander down some of the other roads lately and remember what those paths offer.
We are all in this weird world because we fell in love with the horse as an animal, with trail rides and pond swims, with horse camps and long Saturday bathing sessions. So if and when it all gets a bit overwhelming, or you find that you feel defeated as a person because of how you did at a show, just take a step outside the globe for a while. Ride bareback, hang out with friends, sleep in, help in your community.
Remember life is about balance, and there is a lot of life flying by that has nothing to do with the angle of a shoulder-in. I bet we will meet again at a competition, in the center of the snow globe, but hopefully with renewed passion, less pressure, and a good sense of perspective.
One of the Chronicle’s bloggers, Kristin Carpenter juggles the management of her own company, Linder Educational Coaching, organizing the Area II Young Rider Advancement Program out of Morningside Training Farm in The Plains, Va., and eventing at the FEI levels. 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.