2019 really started out with a bang, with some good wins and solid ribbons at the Grand Prix level. I was feeling on top of the world, and Ocho was strutting his stuff proudly at our next step up. "On fire" as many would say.
Slowly as the year progressed that flame got dimmer and dimmer. Rails started coming down, mindless mistakes were being made, tack changes, vet checkups, huge show bills now that we were not placing, etc etc. Combine that with quite a good bit of mental instability from some heavy personal issues, I was ready to quit. What am I doing trying to make it with the best? I'm a nobody. My horse didnt cost 6 or 7 figs. I'm doing this on my own. I'm from a little nothing town in Georgia. Who am I kidding?
After a particularly rough class this past weekend, I was feeling quite sorry for myself and my little horse. I drank a little too much wine Sunday night, and decided that I was done for the year because I just can't handle any more dissapointments or ask my horse to jump buildings for me while I'm trying to repeatedly kill him at a distance that is just a bit too far away. I was laying in bed that night, trying to figure out my next career move: "I wonder how much I can sell the farm for." "Maybe I'll open my design business back up". "Maybe I'll just move to Europe and work for someone else".
But my mind started wandering back to Ocho and my farm. How much success we have already experienced together. How far the business has come in this little nothing town. How successful my students have been at huge national finals. A huge group of supporters that always lift me up, coming to cheer us on bearing bananas ... Am I really going to just throw all of that away because I have been hideously embarrassed a few times this year?
"Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries"
I will never forget a specific comment that McLain Ward made during a clinic I audited in Aiken a few years ago. "You absolutely have to have sports amnesia. I was mounted on one of the best horses in the world, but mentally I was a mess. I couldn't let go of what happened yesterday." It was quite shocking to me that he of all people, the guy that wins literally everything, struggles with the mental game.
We all do. We are all surrounded by horses nicer than ours, ridden by riders better than we are, with equipment newer than ours, with deeper pockets than us, with better records than us. And here we are, letting "keeping up with the Joneses" kill our own hopes and dreams. We begin to want to protect ourselves to avoid the embarrassment of a bad class.
Life, dear, is just this. It will throw you curveballs every day. One day you will be shining brightly at the very top of the podium, with your blue ribbon and nice check. And the very next day, you will be shoved into the dirt with a burning stack of hundreds sitting next to you, with your brain screaming at you that you suck and you have no business being here.
What separates the good from the greats is how you recover mentally from the bad days. Are you going to stand up, brush yourself off, and be thankful you are still breathing? Or are you going to quit? Just because you feel like your not good enough?
Let the horses teach you resilience and patience. Let the sport teach you how to be strong. Let the bad classes teach you how to let things go. Let the negative experiences teach you that its ok to make mistakes. And always keep your eyes up and look forward. Do you ride staring behind you? I sure hope not. Hang in there for the bad days, and really enjoy the good ones when they come along, because they will.
"You can only do things one day at a time, sport. Sometimes life is so bloody that's the only way you can get through it. But the good bit about living one day at a time is that when nice things happen, you enjoy them more than people who are always thinking about the past or the future."
Always remember, you are human. The most wonderful thing about our sport is, there is no time limit on becoming one of the best. It doesn't matter that you didn't get onto a ranking class podium by the time you were 21.The ONLY thing that matters is your work ethic, confidence, and determination. Will you use the bad class as an excuse to run away and hide? Or will you use it as your motivation to work harder and do better next time your in the ring? We all slip mentally, and its ok to be upset and frustrated with yourself. Heck, I slipped right into the bottom of a bottle of Rose that Sunday night. But today, I'm ripping off that band-aid and getting to work. Because I sure as hell wont get better feeling sorry for myself.
Positive thinking will always yield positive results. Sure, the road of life with throw potholes and speedbumps your way, but take them for what they are: experiences to help you become a better driver. And those lessons are priceless. Stand up strong, laugh a little, throw life the cheekiest smile you can muster, and tell them you'll be back better than ever. Then continue jogging along, one foot in front of the other on life's marathon, as you'll always outlast the sprinters in the end.
Chin up dear, and always remember that today is the first day of the rest of your life.