Embrace the Suck

“Obstacles do not block the path, they are the path.”

I love this proverb.  It speaks to an attitude of mind that is applicable to everything we are trying to do.  We can face challenges with frustration and disappointment, or we can understand that the challenges are what make the journey worthwhile.

There’s another phrase I like that captures the same sentiment, in a little more straightforward language.

Embrace the suck.

Think about it. Reaching our goals is hard. Pushing ourselves physically and mentally is hard.  Reaching outside of our comfort zone is HARD.

Embrace the suck.

Are you trying to improve some particular aspect of your riding?  Maybe your leg is a little weak and your sadistic trainer has suggested riding without stirrups.  But riding without stirrups makes you feel even more weak and insecure and has your thigh and calf muscles screaming.  EMBRACE THAT SUCK.

Maybe you are having trouble staying off your horse’s back when landing from a jump and your (surely evil) trainer has suggested riding more in 2-point position to strengthen your base.  But practicing 2-point makes it hard for you to walk the next day.  WALLOW IN THAT SUCK.

Maybe your riding skills are strong but competing in a horse show in front of an audience and actually paying money to have someone judge you makes you feel like you’d rather throw yourself out of an airplane without a parachute. CELEBRATE THAT SUCK AND BAKE IT A CAKE.

I’m serious. We have willingly chosen to participate in a sport that is littered with uncontrollable variables and dependent upon the cooperation of a large fragile animal that is genetically predisposed to leave the scene.  Riding is very challenging and requires years of concentrated effort to achieve a moderate level of skill.

In other words, you could work hard at riding for a long long time and still not be very good at it!

EMBRACE THE SUCK.

By accepting and even welcoming that which is hard and frustrating, by recognizing that setbacks and disappointments are the path, and not a deviation, by embracing failure as a necessary component of success, we are then open to seeing and appreciating our moments of brilliance.

Our brief, focused, intense pinpoints of perfection.

I was at a horse show this weekend and the conditions were less than ideal.  It was blustery, cold, and drizzly on and off throughout the day, and my horse Rainy was fresh and enthusiastic about showing off his athletic ability. There was bucking involved.  And squealing.  I spent a ridiculous amount of time in the schooling ring, just cantering.  Lots of cantering.  Cantering is wonderfully rhythmic and calming, and for my horse it’s a great way to blow off extra steam and settle into a zen space.

At one point I cantered across the ring to change direction and without hesitation or any break in rhythm my lovely horse changed his lead at the same moment that I formed the thought of a lead change in my head.  No big deal, right?  Every well-trained horse should have a nice lead change.  But this horse is returning to work and competition after a long lay-off.  One of the challenges we are facing in his return to real work is that he has seemingly “lost” his lead changes.  They used to be easy, almost automatic, and now they’re not.

I am embracing that small suck.  I am relishing the opportunity to work through the step by step training process to reinstall the lead change.  As Rainy is reliving his youth through a revitalized energy level (there was actual BUCKING AND SQUEALING), I am reliving the happiness I felt the first time he and I went through this stage together.  Of course I have felt frustration about it.  But the obstacle is the path, and how grateful I am to be going down this path again.

 

“The Flying Change”

      Henry Taylor

 1

The canter has two stride patterns, one on the right lead and one on the left, each a mirror image of the other. The leading foreleg is the last to touch the ground before the moment of suspension in the air. On cantered curves, the horse tends to lead with the inside leg. Turning at liberty, he can change leads without effort during the moment of suspension, but a rider’s weight makes this more difficult. The aim of teaching a horse to move beneath you is to remind him how he moved when he was free.

2

A single leaf turns sideways in the wind in time to save a remnant of the day; I am lifted like a whipcrack to the moves I studied on that barbered stretch of ground, before I schooled myself to drift away

from skills I still possess, but must outlive. Sometimes when I cup water in my hands and watch it slip away and disappear, I see that age will make my hands a sieve; but for a moment the shifting world suspends

its flight and leans toward the sun once more, as if to interrupt its mindless plunge through works and days that will not come again. I hold myself immobile in bright air, sustained in time astride the flying change.

 

 

Let’s ride! 

How badly do you want it?

“How bad do you want it?”

“How bad do you want it?”

“HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT?”

I repeated these words to myself over and over again as I walked across the field in the dark.  It was 4:30 in the morning, and I was bringing the horses in to be fed before I had to leave for work.

(My mother is reading this and internally shuddering at my improper grammar.  It was cold, dark, and 4:30 in the freaking morning.  Sorry Mom.)

It was 2006 and I had just started back to work full-time after a two-year stint working a 20-hours per week flexible schedule with my department.  The part-time shifts were great and allowed me the time to ride and train and show much more often than I had in the past. But it tightened my budget and kept me competing strictly at the local level, on local quality horses.

Then an opportunity fell into my lap.  The trainer I was working with had a fabulous horse for sale that was at a bargain basement price due to the owners’ divorce.  He was a jumper turned hunter with plenty of scope and the experience to walk right into the 3’6″ ring.  He was also gorgeous.

I wanted him.  Bad.

I knew he could help me scratch a big item off my bucket list: competing in the 3’6″ Amateur/Owner division at USEF rated shows.

So I came up with a plan.  I sold or leased all of the horses I then owned, except for Maddie‘s baby Rainy who was just a yearling at the time.  I put in for a full-time position that had just opened up at my work, knowing it would give me the added income I needed to afford showing at the rated level (although still on a limited scale and doing my own braiding, grooming, and hauling).  And I committed to selling the new horse after two seasons, regardless of whether or not I reached my competitive goals.

The plan fell into place.  I named him “Strategic Move” in recognition of the calculation involved in my two-year undertaking.  His barn name “Stash” was in honor of the savings account that went toward his purchase.

And every morning I woke up at 4:00 a.m., fed the horses and the kids, and got to my job at six sharp.  My shift ended at 2 p.m.  I picked up the kids from school on my way home, cleaned stalls, rode, made dinner, helped with homework, and headed to bed early so I could get up the next morning and do it again.

I trailered over to my trainer’s place once a week for lessons and I met him at the horse shows, arranging my leave and vacation schedule around my targeted show dates.

I ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

“How badly do you want it?”

I learned so much.

He exceeded my expectations.  At the end of our first season, we won the year-end series Championship at HITS Culpeper in both the Adult Amateur Hunter division and the Adult Equitation division.  We qualified for Zone 3 Finals and won some ribbons there too.  We moved up to 3’6″.

He was such a gentleman.  He was so good at his job that we almost never jumped at home, preferring to trail ride in the fields around the farm.

In our second season we showed consistently in the Amateur/Owner division and won ribbons at The Barracks, Keswick, James River, Rose Mount, and back at HITS Culpeper. At the end of the year, we ended up overall sixth place in the division with the Virginia Horse Shows Association.

But by then, he was already living in someone else’s barn.

I wish I could say that after executing my plan perfectly, I would recommend the same strategy for other riders in similar circumstances.  But the truth is… I have regretted selling Stash every single day.  Despite my years of experience buying and selling horses of all types, I failed to anticipate how much I would miss him.

My partner became my friend.

“How badly do you want it?”

Monogamy and horses…..

I have a confession to make. I am deeply involved in two different relationships, and I need help. I’m not going to name names here, in order to protect the privacy of those who have been drawn into this drama through no fault of their own.

Horse A: tall, dark , and handsome. Not really my “type” physically, as he is a bit lankier than I am normally attracted to, but let’s face it, he was really a rebound relationship. I had just sold my A/O horse and I was hurting. I wanted something to fill my empty hours. Horse A has been very good to me and he has a lot to offer, but there’s something missing. You know, “that spark”, it’s just not there. Is it fair to just get what I need from the relationship even though I’m not in love with him? Because the one I am really in love with…………

Horse B: built like a tank and what a looker. Seriously, sometimes I just stand there staring at him and feel all mushy inside. He’s been in my life for a while, sort of in the background (I knew his mother well), and it’s only recently that I have realized that I have fallen for him like a ton of bricks. Every moment we spend together is sheer joy. I know it sounds corny, but just going for a walk in the woods together leaves me smiling for hours. And he is much more affectionate than Horse A. He always looks genuinely happy to see me, loves to touch and be touched and give kisses. But Horse B is still an unknown quantity. Loads of potential but he hasn’t proven himself yet. But I find myself resenting the time I spend with Horse A, even doing fun things!, and thinking about the day I will be able to do the same things with Horse B, and comparing the two. I know it’s not fair.

My friends are divided on the issue. Some say I should let Horse A go now and allow him to find a relationship with someone who will appreciate his great qualities and love him for who he is. That way I could devote my energies to strengthening my bond with Horse B and developing our relationship. Other friends say I should continue getting what I need from Horse A (using him! ) until I am absolutely positively sure that Horse B is going to live up to my expectations. Notably, none of my friends suggest that I should end my relationship with Horse B, because they can all see how much he means to me.

Advice please!!! I know it’s hard to imagine, but what would you do if you found yourself in this predicament?
And please please, try not to be too judgmental.

🙂

 

Author’s note:

This piece was written several years ago when I was debating between two horses and which one I should keep. (The news at that time was full of stories about the then-Governor of South Carolina, who “disappeared into the woods” as he followed his lover across the world.)

Happily, I made the right choice.