There are several aspects underlying our sport (and partly all sports) that can be difficult. First, like all sports it is a competitive business. By this I don’t just mean sports are competitive, I mean that to make a profit and to be able to live and work from our sport you have to run a ‘horse’ business. These businesses take many forms. You can train horses or people. You can breed horses. You can be in any of the support branches of equestrian sports like insurance, medicine, saddlery, shoeing or a hundred other aspects. You can also work a completely outside business in order to support your horse habit. However, you have to make money somehow to feed and care for them. Second, like all sports it is a game. Finally, unlike other sports (except perhaps agility dogs and herding) our sports partner is an animal. So how do these three things complement each other and sometimes diverge interests?
As a business and a competitive sport, at times we have to make decisions not based upon our hearts but our heads. Although let’s be honest sometimes we pick the heart too often. We have all faced many tough decisions, like selling our partners. This sounds horrible and it feels worse but it is the reality of our sport. It is so hard. It takes a little piece of our souls each time we are forced to let them go or they leave us. I think it is a bittersweet pain, like those of a parent when their kid leaves home. You want on the one hand to keep them safe and warm at home in the nest. You want to be proud and let them soar to find the heights they could reach without us. We also are terrified that something bad could happen when they are not within our sight. I wish I could have kept every horse I ever rode. I hold everyone in my heart.
But this sport is not like any other. There is no huge yearly salary paid by anyone. You don’t get millions for winning the championship. Furthermore, the costs to participate and even keep in the game is so high. I have come to realize that my childhood threat, “that I would rather sell a kidney than Sjapoer” just isn’t enough. We work and we train and we love and we lose.
We compete and train because this sport is amazing. We love it, we live it and we breathe it. We read every article. We devour every tack magazine. We inhale barn air and it fills our spirits. This sport is about so many things. It is about trying to obtain perfection by working hard on the same things over and over and over. But it is not just about technical perfection. It is not just about suppleness, frame, balance, bend and the movements. It is also a sport about our horses. It is about their spirit, their personalities, their power and beauty. It is an aesthetic sport like figure skating, gymnastics and ballet. How many times have the commentators in all of these sports spoken of the difference between mechanical and technical perfection as opposed to flowing beauty and the innate feeling of the sport. This spirit within our equine partners should never be trampled. They have a free spirit and joy fills them. They symbolize power and the trust between the partners within that harnessed power. This beauty must be seen by those outside our sport. This beauty as we know is and should be judged. If we only see technical perfection and we allow this spirit to be crushed in the drive for a technical ten we do an injustice to the sport and more importantly to those that trust us.
This brings me to the underlying reason the majority of us are in equestrian sports (because it isn’t for the money!) We are all horse crazy. Some of us caught the bug early and some later but we all get antsy, our fingers get itchy if we go too long without reins in our hands and leather under our seat. We are obsessed with our animals and we spend thousands of hours and most, if not all, our money on them. We get them toys, treats, blankets and bling. When they hurt we hurt and when they learn and achieve we beam like the proud mamas and papas we are! We post videos of their funny moments and we show their pictures like new grandparents. Why do they fulfil us so? I have talked about this before but I believe they give us so much. Like other ‘pets’ they give us love, attention and trust. Like other pets we learn responsibility and gain an empathetic nature from our role in their lives. We talk to them and share our heartaches and joys. We have grand adventures and lazy days together. We learn to overcome challenges. We learn patience. We learn disappointment. Like other sport animals we work with our horses as a team to achieve a goal and an outcome. We spend countless hours working to achieve perfection together. They show us heart and dedications. They show us hard work ethic without complaining. They show us that you can sense others feelings and it can affect how we interact. They show us honor and selflessness in the way they defer their larger power to us in trust. We learn to do the same back to those weaker than ourselves. They teach us leadership through guidance, calm surety and love not physical dominance.
I think that horses have taught me everything I need to know to be a good person. I think horses have taught me everything I need to know to be happy and content. Horses and being able to spend my life working with them every day has been the greatest blessing of my life. I could never imagine a world or a life without them and I wish every person could learn and share this experience with me and with all of us crazy horse people.