In high school I always sort-of enjoyed running and even once signed up for track. My stint as an almost track star only lasted a few weeks until I realized the daily after-school practices were seriously getting in the way of my riding, and I was out of shape and not nearly as fast as everyone else who had been practicing since middle-school. My legs hurt, it was harder to ride both physically and with the reduced time, and I wasn't good; so I dropped out. As a kid, I also dropped out of soccer after my team only managed to score one goal all season (against ourselves nonetheless). I dropped out of gymnastics after I could never land a back handspring. I dropped out of ice-hockey because the lack of sleep from the early-AM rink times made me feel pukish all day; and I even dropped out of playing the flute after it gave me a mustache-rash (nickel allergy). I'm not very good at sticking with things I'm not good at. I have reduced all my efforts into one single hobby: horseback riding, and there's not room for much else in my life except family (but that's a whole other post...). I have never given up horseback riding despite incurring major injuries that have put me in the hospital, making a fool of myself in front of many people, and loosing many many more times that I've won. I'm not a particularly good horseback rider, but I am damn persistent and I am always trying to learn and improve!
The timing of this run was not ideal as I had also signed up for a Mary D'Arcy clinic that same weekend, had a heavy load at work, and a lot of horses to exercise at home in the evenings. My husband was adamant: we were doing this and we were doing it together! I emailed the clinic organizer and got myself a special 7:30am lesson so I could ride and then quickly come home, unload my horse, and get to the run registration. As with nearly everything else in my life, the horses came first. Soon it was only two weeks before the race and I had barely practiced. I ran once in my fleece riding pants and paddock boots. I managed to fit in another run at dusk the next week, with my 8-year old step-son and his cousin heckling me from atop my large prelim corner fence, as I made laps around the jump field. Fear was starting to settle in: How was I going to run 4+ miles and not make a total fool of myself?
Race day arrived! After a frustrating Mary D'Arcy lesson where I basically did nothing other than attempt to contort my body to make my horse bend to the left for a solid 1.5 hrs, I did a quick change and went down the street. Riding was not fun this week.
Arriving at the race, I was greeted by a huge swarm of people. Maybe 350+ people were there and some even had families standing at the finish line with signs. Everyone was wearing wicking T-shirts, high tech pants, and had fancy arm bands for their phones/ipods. I was wearing some cotton sleep shorts, 10-year old tennis shoes, and a qualtrics T-shirt! I was starting to feel a little self-conscious and wasn't even sure where to pin my race number on my shirt. I placed myself in the middle of the pack, and left at a slow jog. My husband quickly outpaced me, but I found a good place running behind a man in a green turtle T-shirt. The race ended up being a lot shorter than I expected and I never once even pushed myself to go faster (I was trying to save my energy for a long-haul that just never came). By some miracle, I finished in the top quarter of people...around 21 minutes, not limping or even slightly out breath. At first I was mad, I could have finished in the top 20, but that would have been silly. I am not a runner. I'm a horseback rider. I didn't train, I didn't even try. But it was fun!
At the finish I heard so many people say things like, "I am so proud of myself, I stayed running the whole time" and "I finished in less than 30 minutes, that was my goal!" Not a single person was hard on themselves and everyone was so happy to have just finished the race. Maybe it was just the fact that everyone who ran got two free beers at the finish line (hint, hint eventing...).
In eventing I more often than not hear even the best riders come off course or out of the ring saying, "If only I had used just a little more leg there, or had a slightly better connection in that corner." Eventing is a difficult sport, and eventers are hard on themselves, after all, to borrow a quote, it's "A sport where the work is hard, prizes are rare, ribbons are elusive and the potential for mistakes are many....We ride three times, doing very different tasks for one chance to place, one chance for a ribbon and one spook at the judge can end the quest no sooner than you start."
My recent running adventure left me wondering why I voluntarily have chosen to devote most of my life to this hobby where I usually lose. It affects the regular job I have, my finances, where I live, how much time I have, what friends have (not many), if I can take vacations (no way...). Why do I do this sport that makes me have to push myself to my limit almost every single day? Most of the time I do it because I have to. I do it because I don't want to make a fool of myself at the next show/clinic, because I want to make sure my horse is in shape and I'm not asking him to do something unreasonable for his fitness level, or because I'm riding someone else's horse that they have paid or need me to exercise. Based on my past track record, there has to be something more than that or I know I would have quit completely already.
So I decided to make a list of all the reasons I ride and event:
1) I do it for the horse: When I got Stromboli he wasn't worth much to anyone, had no muscle, was misunderstood, and didn't have a lot of talents in life. It's been 3.5 years and I can honestly say the horse is a fantastic jumper and the prince of the farm. At the very least, this horse is not going to end up on a slaughter truck or wasting away in someone's field. My last event horse, Whit, also was not worth much and now is a successful fox hunter living a life of luxury in Virginia. At least I have the ability to work with a horse and change their trajectory in life.
2) I enjoy pushing myself and working towards something. Last year, I finally achieved my goal of competing at the preliminary level. It was an incredible feeling to do something that seemed so elusive and that I had wanted to do for so long. I got to sit at the "big-kids" table. I didn't do well, but I finished. I even managed to improve drastically over the season.
3) It's fun (sometimes). I do enjoy the camaraderie of other eventers, getting in my truck with my horse trailer and setting out on a new adventure.
4) It gives my life meaning and keeps me healthy both mentally and physically. My horse's depend on me. The owners of the horses in my care depend on me to take care of another animal that gives meaning to their life. I am in good shape. I don't have a lot of extra mental energy to spend on trivial matters like drama amongst my friends.
On Friday we did a nice practice ride on the grounds. Finally Stromboli was connected in both reins, he was agreeable in transitions. We even did a canter depart that felt like angel wings were lifting his body and I was sitting on a cloud. But by the next day, he was back to his old self. It was cold. I felt like I had the flu. He was crooked and leaning. He couldn't hold his own body straight even on the lunge line and was grinding his teeth. We had the same dressage test we have had every time for the past two years and the same score: 43. It was tense, it was angry, and it was not graceful. SJ warm up was scary, but we went into the ring and despite me feeling like I was about to blow chunks all over his neck, had a smooth round with only one rail. XC warm-up was scary and though I finally found my rhythm with him by the end of the course we came home with 5 time penalties! This was not where my prelim horse should be...I was angry and embarrassed.
After this event I decided it is time for me to make a change. I scratched Stromboli from Texas Rose and am taking my husband's fat, out-of-shape, lazy horse Tonic in the BN division instead. I'm going to try to have fun, take the pressure off, and learn to enjoy the sport that I know in my heart I truly love. I'm not sure if I'm giving up, but I know I need to make peace with myself and find a way to improve and feel successful. After all, I've built my whole life around this sport!