The Olympics–almost always the centerpiece of the years in which they take place–signified the uncertainty that was 2004. I mean, can you name the medalists (individual or team) in the show jumping and eventing? No, you probably can’t, especially since the show jumping hasn’t gone through all its appeals yet–and may not for months, or more. It was that kind of year.
It’s too bad because Athens was actually a marvelous extravaganza, even though only weeks before the Olympics opened in August you could have gotten good odds that stadiums and infrastructure couldn’t possibly be ready. But, somehow, they were ready, and the world’s oldest country looked renewed and welcoming. But then, from an equestrian point of view, the wheels started to fall off. There was the Bettina Hoy refusal confusion, Royal Kaliber and three other show jumpers breaking down, the sometimes mystifying dressage judging, and a month later the drug-test results came back. And those tests just might mean our show jumping team has won its first Olympic gold medal since 1984. But will anyone remember this one in 2024?
The Olympic short format eventing competition epitomized the disheartening uncertainty eventers felt this year, but at least they still have a sport, unlike Britain’s foxhunters. After years of threats, the Labour Party finally managed to maneuver into a place a law banning foxhunting. And now the country’s oppressed rural minority is plotting ways to work around and to challenge a law with effects that go far beyond foxes and hounds, into other horse sports, local economies, and the community’s culture.
Looking back on the year outside of our little world, it’s really hard to find much to count on there either. Let’s start with something that hits each of us every day, gasoline. As the price fluctuated slightly around $2, we heard conflicting predictions about its future availability–who knows what will happen next in the Middle East, the home of oil– forcing us to worry how our nation, which simply can’t live without gasoline, would cope if something drastic happened.
The presidential election could hardly have been a bigger uncertainty, although at least this time we didn’t have to wait weeks before we knew who’d won. And then there’s the economy, directly related to gasoline and politics. Some of us prospered in 2004 (especially if you were selling gasoline or real estate), some of us weren’t so sure as wages stagnated while the stock market charged ahead in the last two months, and some of us sunk deeper and deeper, simply unable to pay all the bills.
Can we see a light at the end of our tunnel? Surely, and I’m convinced that we who own and ride horses have an advantage when it comes to dealing with uncertainty, because we sure have a whole lot of experience in bouncing back and looking ahead. Horses are the epitome of uncertainty, and we become used to–adept at–accepting it and finding ways to go on in life. We know that we can have a breakthrough training session today and a victorious performance tomorrow. But the next day could bring nothing but refusals, and next week we might face the heartbreak of a serious injury or worse.
Still, we press on, training and caring for the horses we have, looking to develop that extraordinary feeling of trust between us and our horses, a connection that people who’ve never felt it can never hope to understand. At least, when other parts of the world seem to be falling apart, we still have that. Enjoy it in 2005.