I am writing to you from beautiful Okinawa, Japan, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force. I arrived in June and will spend 12 months here on an overseas short tour. For those not familiar with the military, if you stay in long enough, you will more than likely be expected to spend a year on the other side of the globe.
And you know what, there really is no better place to spend a year, even if I am half a world away from the center of my universe. Clearly, some assignments are more fun than others.
Yeah, please do not cry for me.
It is hard to write about the tough parts of this tour with that picture overshadowing everything. Honestly, I cannot complain—I am not getting shot at; things are not exploding, and just about the worst part of my day is when my email crashes. From a professional perspective, things are just fine.
But it is difficult being so far away from the horses right now. I know I have talked a lot about Soon in my previous posts, but I am coming up on some one-year anniversaries this fall (some happy, some heartbreaking), and I guess it is keeping me grounded. More than ever I wish I was around my new baby Thoroughbred, Sig. He has been my equine comfort pillow and personal court jester for six months. Do I ever miss him now!
So, if I am in Japan, where is the Boy Wonder, you ask? He is back in Kentucky, spending the year at “boarding school” with my good friend, Ashley Watts of Liftoff Equestrian in Versailles, Kentucky. Sig had a very light winter with me, mostly hacking and some light dressage schools. We did quite a bit of ground work to build our relationship, and he had some of the spring off. He was already doing a lot as a 3-year old when I bought him, so I gave him some down time to grow up. I would offer more details and photos, but quite honestly, Sig just ate grass most of the time. Not exactly newsworthy, unfortunately. He seemed quite satisfied with it though.
I dropped Sig off with Ashley in May, and since then she has done a fabulous job with him. She has a similar philosophy to me, and I knew she would bring him along much the same way I would. Now a 4-year-old, Sig is in a full training schedule, getting a nice foundation on the flat, enjoying plenty of hacking and doing some gymnastic work to solidify his foundation over fences. I believe in the young man getting a well-rounded education and could not think of a better horseman to give it to him than Ashley.
While I wish I was the one doing the riding, it is just as good a feeling to receive A+ report cards on Sig. Most importantly, it is the greatest relief to me to not have to worry about my horse, to know he is in the best hands in the industry.
As one might imagine, I am starting to go a bit horse crazy over here. There are riding options, but unfortunately with my schedule I do not know if I will be able to pursue them at this time, at least not regularly. I thought I had prepared myself to spend a year without horses; I thought it might be nice to have a break and could be a good way to keep the drive and desire fresh when I return. I suppose in a way, I was right. I just greatly underestimated how quickly I would get that point again. I am not quite three months into this adventure, and the only thing I can think about right now is riding and training.
So good job, me. I guess.
Except I have nine more months of horseless-ness, and I am having to get creative to satisfy my craving. I may have to re-watch all the George H. Morris Horsemastership sessions and take more notes. That should eat up a month of my life (worth it, if I do not pass out from flashbacks). In the last week alone, I feel like I have watched every horse show listed on the U.S. Equestrian Federation On Demand page (that is a lie, by the way, I have watched maybe four…which is probably still “desperate” in the span of eight days, so never mind). That includes the entirety of the 2014 Maclay Final. All nine hours of it. Nine. That happened.
On the bright side, an equestrian media legend friend of mine and I came up with a super fun way to live-blog Medal Finals, so in the future if you see something new and exciting and hilarious…you are welcome.
In all seriousness though, as I approach the one-year milestone of Soon’s performance in the George Morris clinic and what that moment meant to me, and then losing him not long after, I need to be around horses. They just put me right. While I am sad at the moment not being around them and not being able to focus on training, I am at least encouraged that the desire to learn, the desire to study, the drive to absolutely work my tail off like I did last summer has finally returned.
I honestly had lost that desire after Soon died. Even with Sig, the only thing I wanted to do was get on and go for a quiet hack. It was the equestrian equivalent to living in sweat pants and a bathrobe and watching Netflix all day. Sometimes you need those days. After the events of last fall, I needed exactly 254 of those days. Looking back though, it was the perfect time to have a young horse. I did not feel the urge to pressure Sig, and when I did not feel like riding, he got to just be a horse. Or we played in the round pen and learned more about each other. We both needed time to just “be.” It worked out impeccably.
Now I feel ready to get back to business, and I am looking forward to the next chapter with Sig. I just have to get through the next nine months—somehow.
Knowing I would need a distraction here in Japan, I decided to get myself back into classical music. I grew up studying classical piano and clarinet through college (I was adequate at best) but stopped playing shortly thereafter to focus on a riding career. I am now learning the violin and have been taking weekly lessons since April. I am enjoying working toward this lifelong dream of mine, and I am channeling all my energy and drive into daily practice and study to absorb as much as I can. I probably YouTube as many violin concertos as I do horse shows. I have so much to learn, and it is reminding me what it is like to be a complete beginner at something. I think that is a great thing for everyone, as it is completely humbling and provides important perspective. The music is keeping me busy and is giving me an outlet. Hopefully, one day I will be good enough to play in a local, amateur orchestra and get that long lost love back in my life.
And where there are no horses, there can still be solace. There is a lovely, secluded beach just down the street from my residence. The peace I usually find with horses, I have also found in being near the ocean. I have my “sitting rock” near the edge of the water. No noise, no phone, no distraction, just open ocean. Sometimes I sit there and stretch after a run and enjoy the quiet morning. Sometimes I go in the evening and watch the tide come in and the sun go down. I watch the water dance in between the rocks on shore. Every day I go, I am greeted by the Pacific, and every day I feel like it knows exactly what to say to me.
The ocean has its own personality, and it has its moods. Somedays it is playful, spraying me lightly with water as the tide roles in, reminding me to put my writing down and pay attention to it. It is hard not to smile at it and say “Really?” like you would at a precocious young horse nuzzling at your sleeve for your attention. The ocean has so many layers to it; it can be angry or calm, intimidating or soothing. It is humbling to sit on that rock and look out into the expanse of nothing and feel like the smallest thing in the world but also reassuring to be totally secure in that feeling. It is contradictory. Far out into the ocean, the water is endless, deep and frightening. Up close on shore, it is like a fond friend.
My time near the ocean has reminded me to feel alive and be in the moment, much the same way a favorite horse reminds you to always be present and thankful. It is teaching me to be mindful, helping me to make peace with myself.
The ocean is inspiring. It is always moving, always changing; it never stands still. Even when the surface seems quiet, underneath there is still a current. It is a charming metaphor for growth—even if progress seems slow, beneath a quiet exterior there is a strong will inside you, and it will carry you where you need to go.
And that is where I am at now, half a world away. I am on a walkabout. I hope this year will help make me the person I want to be—a stronger person, a better person, and a happier person (that is, if I do not go crazy from lack of horse time). I know that when I get home, I will be ready to work and be a good partner for Sig. And thanks to my friend’s help, he will be ready for me. As for the rest, I suppose I will have to see where the wind and the currents take me.
In the meantime, I will be sure to enjoy the view.
Lindsey Colburn is an active duty Air Force officer and grew up riding in the hunter and equitation divisions in the Northeast during her junior years. Following college, she rode and trained foxhunters professionally in Middleburg, Virginia, prior to joining the military. Lindsey bought the Thoroughbred gelding Soon off the track in 2013, and she spent the last four years training him. The pair competed in the jumper ring while Lindsey balanced an active duty military career and obligations. Read all of Lindsey’s COTH blogs.