Ah, 2021 has arrived. A year full of promise and hope, a time to put the past year’s Facebook wars behind us and walk into a shimmery rose-colored room of peaceful existence. This is a year I think many of us are looking at with opportunistic eyes. A year that will be exactly like last year, unless we are the agents of change in our own lives and choose to do something differently.
I have been #blessed (sarcasm) to have created and established my business over the last six years. I could sit here and list my accomplishments and stats (RF at Rocking Horse, Morven Park, and a Bucks County schooling show, to name a few), but I will save you the strife. I am very proud of what I have built and very thankful for the opportunities I have been afforded and the amazing humans who trust me with their horses and their own journeys.
But I am missing a piece of the puzzle that used to be the only thing I worked towards: riding.
I have built a fun and busy client-centric business and have one amazing horse that is competing at the top of the sport. He has shown me the way, the truth and the light. I have (almost) completely syndicated him with first-time event horse owners, and I am proud of my off-beat syndicate as well. But my good friend, professional dressage and event rider Lauren Chumley, likes to remind me on a weekly basis that you cannot be a professional rider with a one-horse string.
While I have always known this and agreed with her, I did not want to take for granted what I had. I was just Meg Kep from the block, with an advanced horse! But the time has come to work on growing the string, and to do so with a little bit of conviction. I have branded myself as a coach, a job title I am very much in love with. But I want to be a rider who coaches, rather than a coach who happens to ride.
I have been horse shopping for months, looking for that Dom Perignon horse on a Bud Lite budget. Recently someone asked me if my goal was to make it to a five-star or just to compete safely around the four-star level. I was a little bit taken aback by this. First of all, who doesn’t want to make it safely around a four-star? Of course that is my goal, but also, who makes it all the way to the four-star level and thinks, “I’m good”? If I wanted to stop, it would have been at my beloved level of novice! (Who doesn’t love those rolltops?)
I had not realized until that moment that perhaps I do not have owners and clients asking me to ride their horses, not because I am not good enough, but because that’s not “what I do.” During the livestream at my first four-star at Great Meadow in 2019, Karen O’Connor was commentating with Sinead Halpin, for whom I groomed for many years. While being very complimentary of my riding, Karen said, “I didn’t know Meg rode!” I have known Karen for a long time, but in the role of a groom. I don’t think she was the only one who was a bit surprised by my presence at an advanced international competition; I also could not believe I was there.
A wise man once explained to me the condition known as “Imposter Syndrome,” which Wikipedia defines thus: “a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud.’ ” I had never heard of it before, but I am now aware of how much I suffer from it. I take comfort knowing I am not alone, but I work daily to prove to myself I have put in the work and the time and have at least a modicum of ability and the desire to get better.
Humans are notorious for getting in their own way, and I am one of the worst. It is uncomfortable for me to receive compliments as a rider, but I welcome criticism. I don’t really know what this means, but that’s why I pay for therapy, so I will get back to you on that. I want to be able to define my strengths and weaknesses with candor, so they are more tangible. I think in general we are all very quick to focus on what weaknesses we have and less able to highlight what we do well. No one that I know wants to be the self-tooting-horn of success. So where is that perfect line of grace, humility and self-confidence? Most likely it is lost somewhere between fulfillment and goal achievement.
After one too many moments of feeling sorry for myself as all my friends and colleagues showed off their new imports, I decided to stop. I hate that feeling. It’s a natural response, but it is not productive. I want to feel happy that the U.S. has some really exciting young horses coming up, and I want to be genuinely excited for my friends and their journeys and trust that we all are on different timelines. If anyone should know this, it is me! It is possible to be happy for people, even when they have something you want. It is a practice we all must work on in this industry as the chips stack quite differently year to year, rider to rider. Everyone works hard; everyone is deserving; negative energy is the biggest waste of time.
As an idealist, it takes me a bit longer to look at something from a realistic perspective. So when I finally acknowledged that I may not be able to import something from Germany right now, I realized I can work to grow my horses from a bit more of a blue-collar approach. The first step is rebranding myself as a rider as much as I have as a coach. I don’t have more horses because I have not asked for them from the proverbial universe.
So this is me saying out loud that I actually do have lots of riding goals, and I do love riding young horses, and I do love competing, and I do want to make it to the five-star level (maybe even this year?), and I do want to get better, and I do want to make it on a training list (When is that developing list for the middle-aged coming out again?) as much as I want to teach and coach and watch my students turn into badass competitors themselves.
I am working on recognizing those moments when I sell myself short or slip into that comfortable safe routine where nothing changes.
Now that my palms are sweating with imposter sweat, I want to part by hoping everyone can take this year to make it what you want it to be and ask for the help you need and work on the goals you have created so that we are all a bit happier and grateful and humble and productive in this awesome and terrifying new year of 2021.
Meg “Kep” Kepferle is a four-star event rider who runs her business between Long Valley, New Jersey, and Ocala, Florida. Once a top FEI groom, she has built her business teaching and riding with goals to compete at the top of the sport. She has also created her Junior Event Team over the last few years, which serves to bridge a gap in education for juniors.