It’s time to put my big girl pants on. I have to take a deep breath and be rational. I have avoided equestrian goal setting for long enough. I have made excuses, both valid and invalid, as to why I have avoided it. For example, I don’t want to put the goal ahead of the health and well-being of my horses (valid). I think there is a mystery jinx on my horses’ soundness when I announce some big plan (valid based on my own experience, but in reality—invalid). I think some trainers use goal setting to get their clients to trade up their equine partners (valid and invalid depending on the program). I don’t want to be overly ambitious and get hurt; my day job is in its prime (valid). I am more than a little obsessive once I have set my sights on a goal (so very valid).
In my professional life, I am a goal setter. I looked my brand-new CEO dead in the eye last week and told him I want to be three spots ahead of where I am today. I didn’t think twice about it. I outlined a well-thought plan for professional development to get there. But ask me about my plan with the horses, and I shy away like my 2-year-old from the sound of the fly spray bottle.
The last real goal I set was to win our state medal finals in 2016. Arizona is a medium-sized state, and I placed third the year prior, so this seemed like a fantastic goal to set. None of my horses was a suitable medal final partner for one reason or another, so off I went to import what would be the most disastrous purchase of my equestrian career. I bought Rivalry off a video from the Czech Republic, drove myself eight hours each way with a three-horse slant and my Pomeranian for a co-pilot, and picked up the most ill-tempered hunter/eq prospect of all time from quarantine. We had three weeks to prep, and in our first warm-up class, he wouldn’t even trot the first jump. In the second round, he tried to run out the in-gate sideways, and I had to pony kick to keep us in the ring. I ended up catch riding one of our lesson horses, bless his heart, and came in second. That was the end of my equestrian goal setting. Rival is no worse for the wear, enjoying life as a trail horse in Temecula, California, and it’s taken me three years to muster the courage to even talk about goals. His purchase was an epic mess financially and emotionally, brought on by my desire to attain a very reasonable goal.
Since then I have tidied up my string. I am down to two very cooperative jumper mares, another for sale, and the aforementioned 2-year old. I can really devote my time to the mares, Sammy and Landis. They are kind, talented and scopey. We learn. We make allowable mistakes. Sometimes we get very good ribbons. I also acquired a horse property, have spent every last nickel renovating in order to have as-close-to-perfect footing as can exist in our arid climate, providing myself unrestricted access to the world’s most time-consuming hobby. I have run out of excuses for not entertaining new equestrian goals for 2020.
So I did what I like to do; I had this conversation over text with my trainer after a glass of wine (OK, two) from my couch. And to my shock, she agreed. Because my goal is lofty and far from where I sit today, I expected a gentle redirect. I expected, “How about this instead?” and to my amazement, and somewhat to my horror, she agreed with my plan. So now I am stuck with it. Ride in the Arizona Grand Prix before I am 50. I turn 46 this September. This gives me three years to inch up from 1.05 meters to our local grand prix height of 1.35 meters. I don’t care if I am slow and have rails; I just want to grow old with my mares knowing we did it once.
The crazy thing about being an amateur is once you take out the years for big life transitions, pregnancy, new careers, college tuition for someone, and whatever else real life demands of you, there are not that many years left before it’s time to think about moving down in height. This was the first thing that got me moving after years of PTSD from Rivalry’s purchase. “It’s now or never, old lady!” I said to myself as I set down my wine and texted my trainer.
The second thing is the realization that my confidence in sharing that professional goal with my new CEO comes from years of hard work and overcoming adversity. I have never been in the right place at the right time. I don’t think I am naturally any more talented than the next guy, or gal. I have fought hard to turn good into great, to come from behind, to come up with creative solutions to the challenges ahead of me. When things get hard, I pull away from the pack. I am “a mudder,” in horse racing terms. When conditions are at their worst, I am at my best. There is no reason that the same tenacity shouldn’t serve me well with my equestrian goals.
My trainer has broken my big goal, grand prix, into a smaller goal for 2020, 1.10 meters, and it’s time for me to get serious. This exercise has given me some much-needed energy for my routine at home and away. I am cross-training. I am taking better care of my tack. I am obsessive about cleaning feet at night. I am watching videos of Sammy’s sire competing over 1.55 meters at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida) on loop. I am all in. We are on a path.
And for what it’s worth, to all you superstitious folks out there, those of you that nodded in agreement when I talked about the mystery jinx: The time it took from whispering this goal out loud to calling the vet to suture Sammy’s head after a bizarre stall injury was 26 hours, so that excuse may be valid after all. We will get through it; we always do. I will learn along the way in Arizona and California in 2020, making allowable mistakes, hopefully still making my family proud, but chasing my dream with everything I’ve got.
Allison Hughes lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she describes herself as a “helicopter mom” to four horses and four dogs. She travels each week as a vice president of sales for a software company and generally blogs from 30,000 feet on Southwest Airlines. Allison has been recognized by Halo Horses Equestrian Boutique as a “Featured Amateur” and by the Street To Stable Equestrian Lifestyle blog in their “The Balancing Act” series. Allison began riding at 6 years old in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, and now competes in hunters, jumpers and equitation in Arizona and Southern California. Allison is often joined in the barn or at the shows by her husband, Bobby Hughes, a former professional baseball player turned home builder.