I'm going to share one of my greatest revelations with you: Life is not fair. Once I adopted that motto it was easier for me to deal with some of the Big Questions. For example, why do the nicest people often endure the worst luck? Not all of my ponderings deal with Big Questions. Sometimes I wonder why a lot of money doesn't necessarily guarantee me a decent haircut. But as a horsewoman, my life is not fair mantra is doled out on a regular basis to talented, enthusiastic young riders who lament that they will probably never get an opportunity to ride in the big medal finals or try out for a national team or test their skills in a gran prix jumper class. Why? Because they don't have access to a horse whose price tag is equivalent to the appraised value of their parents' house. Or their last name isn't Bloomberg, Springsteen, Selleck or Firestone.
You see, to play in the big sandbox you have to have the fancy toys. And buying a fancy horse, one capable of negotiating the big courses and "looking the part," is generally not possible for middle class (or even the ambiguously titled upper middle class) kids. In this regard, equestrian competition is far, far different than the majority of sports. If your expensive toy--the horse--breaks, it's an outrageous challenge to replace it. It's not as if you can just stop by the local sporting goods store and pick up another soccer ball or a new pair of track shoes.
And then there's the upkeep of the fancy toy. Enough said about that.
This is not meant to cast doubt on the talent and dedication of those riders who do happen to have access to a financial wellspring. I've seen the junior and young adult riders at the upper tip of the pyramid compete, and they are inspiring in their abilities. Trust me, they are not merely posing, pointing and praying. They are riding.
But how many other kids could also ride as well if they, too, were given the same opportunities?
Like I said, life is not fair.
So what can an aspiring young equestrian do to fulfill his or her dreams of competing at the top? You can become a working student with a top tier trainer. Attend clinics and demonstrate your determination and talent. Clinics also give you exposure to the teaching methods of the world's best professionals. Then, with an experienced trainer by your side, use your horsemanship skills and all of your pennies to purchase or lease a horse with enough athleticism to allow you to compete at the upper levels, even if only for a year or two.
Or you can adopt another motto: Be a big fish in a small pond. Or, as my mother would say, "Bloom where you're planted." In other words, strive to be a champion competitor at the level you and your family can afford. Good sportsmanship and solid riding skills will mark you as a winner regardless of whether you're competing at an AA-rated USEF show, a county-rated show or a 4H show. Instead of aiming for national recognition, endeavor to be kind to your horse, polite to show officials and cordial to your fellow competitors. Allow yourself to grow as an individual. When met with adversity in the show ring (and there will be plenty of adversity), muster up some courage, re-evaluate what went wrong, pick up the reins and go in again.
Ultimately what matters in life is not where you win, but how you win. Horse shows should be about more than building a wall full of ribbons; they should also be lessons in building character. And that leads to yet another motto you can adopt: Be a champion wherever you compete.
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