I just lived through one of those disaster weeks.
It started with the USDF FEI Trainers’ Conference. I’d been selected to ride on Elvis, and I thought it would be a good exposure moment for him as I work to add members to his syndicate. But I’d also entered a CDI for later in the week, and when we started playing with some big changes to my warm-up routine in the clinic on Monday, I realized I needed a new plan. (A clinic can be a wonderful opportunity to try something new, but I know from experience that making major changes right before you show seldom works out.)
They graciously let me sub in my mom’s wonderful Lusitano, Helio, who is 9 and very much still developing. We spent the first half hour talking about his self-carriage, notably his tendency to be a bit too round, and the challenges of how to address that issue. I was very proud of the little guy for stepping up so beautifully, and I posted a quick clip of him working the canter with Olympian Ashley Holzer, only to have the Klassikal Kowboys of Facebook™ get a hold of it and send it viral because—gasp!—there were moments in time where he was imperfect in the contact.
We then went to the CDI, where Elvis, who is normally the least emotionally complex creature on the planet, full of confidence and work ethic, absolutely lost his mind and put in an abysmal test. Not the way I wanted our international career to start. And in the background, my new rescue dog had developed a urinary tract infection, and someone dear to me had received a cancer diagnosis.
So it was just a train wreck, from stem to stern. Nothing fatal, nothing insurmountable. But just a hot, hot mess, and a lot of it in public.
Through it all though, amazing things kept happening.
At the Trainers’ Conference, a couple of very famous, team-level riders sought me out to tell me they were impressed by how well both horses dealt with a challenging situation. One liked Elvis so much she asked if he was for sale. (Hands off, lady. But it’s always nice to be asked!)
At the show itself, some very important folks, international-level riders, came to watch me ride and, when it was a dumpster fire, they found me after, or texted me the next day, to tell me their own personal stories of Great Horses Gone Awry In Public, and to remind me that literally everyone good in the entire sport has had something run amok, many of them in much more serious situations than a little CDI that wasn’t qualifying for anything.
I remember reading that, in spite of being as politically different as two people could be, President George H.W. Bush became close personal friends with President Bill Clinton, because there are so few people in the world who can understand and empathize with the particular pressures of holding such a position. There are obviously more horse trainers than there are presidents, but my disaster week reminded me, for the millionth time, how important it is to stay close and kind to our peers in sport. I’m always struck, even at the biggest shows with the highest stakes, by how good we all are to one another. Many U.S. team riders came to watch my friend Olivia Lagoy-Weltz return to the international ring after a year off due to a farrier fiasco; some of them were competing against her, and yet there they all were cheering for her.
It was a beautiful and wonderful thing, and not just for me personally, to see Those Who Can and Those Who’ve Done be loving and supportive and compassionate when things were going askew, particularly while watching Those Who Never Have be small, volatile and petty behind the safety of their computer screens.
So here’s to Those Who Can, and Those Who’ve Done, who appear to be too busy can-ing and doing to be rude on Facebook.
Lauren Sprieser is a USDF gold, silver and bronze medalist making horses and riders to FEI from her farm in Marshall, Virginia. She’s currently developing The Elvis Syndicate’s Guernsey Elvis, Beverley Thomas and her Ellington, and her own Gretzky RV and Ojalá with hopes of one day representing the United States in team competition. Read more about her at SprieserSporthorse.com, or follow Lauren Sprieser on Facebook and Instagram.