Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Adopt a Motto

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.

Share your thoughts by clicking on "comments" below or emailing me at:


Anonymous said...

I understand completely what you’re talking about. :-) I think my motto has more been along the lines of “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.” As a single 24 year old, buying and affording a horse can be a huge challenge. When my horse of twenty years passed, I only lasted a year before I knew there was no way for me to live without owning another horse. My solution? I, bought a yearling. This decision, albeit somewhat risky, can be much more affordable than buying a fully trained adult horse. It does however come with two major requirements: Tons of Patience and Dedication.

Anonymous said...

You are so right. I am only in middle school,but I would love to get to the top, but am never going to unless my family wins the lottery some how. Luckily I am still able to compete locally! My motto is "Be thankful for what you have" (I can ride at all) Some of my friends can't compete so I am lucky I can. I always take any of the chances I get. Althought I absoulutely love your motto too! :)

Anonymous said...

Extremely well said, and written. Though I am only in the beginning stages of my riding, I sometimes get very discouraged when I see competitors roll into the arena grounds with their large trailers, and high dollar, (highly trained) horses. It's at these times that I must remind myself that everyone has had to start somewhere. I also have to remind myself that I may never make it to the NFR, but that shouldn't stop me from doing my best with what I have, at the time that I have it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Cindy. I'm in the 8th grade and there are 8 people in my family. so, as you can amagine, money doesn't come easy. But here I am, being able to work for riding and lessons. Then why do I get so green-eyed at my fellow riders who can afford to go to every show? I like the motto above, "Be thankful for what you have. I'll try.

Cindy Hale said...

Thank you all for your heartfelt comments. I hope you don't mind if I refer to these in a future blog posting.

I grew up in a less-than-wealthy family and it was always a financial struggle to find the money for my sister and me to show. Though I could afford it more easily when I became an adult and had a job with a nice income, it was still stressful to take so much money out of the budget to put toward a horse show. Now I see the same struggles with the group of young girls that I teach. As their riding instructor, I encourage them to increase their horsemanship skills, and I love for them to test those skills at shows. But most of them will be limited in how far they can go in their showing due to the cost of competing. And that will be a hard lesson for some of them to accept.

Anonymous said...

I know I'm a bit late - but I wanted to mention that my motto is "Never give up, even when the going gets tough." I'm the only deaf rider I know, and people have always told me that I couldn't (1) train a horse, (2) show successfully, or (3) teach younger girls how to ride.

However, in my decade of riding, I've retrained three OTTBs, two rescue ponies. I have many tricolors to prove that I have shown successfully in hunters and dressage. I'm also currently teaching a eight-year old how to ride as well - and the thing is, my student is half blind.

Just shows how much you can accomplish when you put your heart in it.

Cindy Hale said...

What a lovely, inspiring story, Gina. Thanks for sharing!