On Ambition, Finances and Accepting our Limitations
There are specific qualities I appreciate most in a rider: empathy, coachability, and work ethic chief among them. A rider with these qualities will undoubtedly progress faster and have more opportunities than one who doesn’t. With that said, there is no use in sugarcoating things and pretending that just because you possess these attributes, you will inevitably rise through the ranks and get the ride on Grand Prix horses if that is your dream.
Realistically, most of those riding opportunities are likely to go to someone who has all those qualities plus experience honing their skills on multiple well-schooled horses under the guidance of a top trainer. The myth that hard work will open any door for you in the equestrian world is just that, a myth, and I think by perpetuating it we are doing a disservice to everyone involved in the sport.
There is perhaps nothing more annoying than someone coaching or competing at the highest levels implying that hard work is all you need to get there, so let’s note here that two things can be simultaneously true: hard work and dedication will open doors for you, but some things may be categorically out of reach. The reality of the matter is there are very few riders for whom finances are not a limiting factor, and having ambitions that exceed one’s finances is a source of discontentment among many riders, including myself at various points in my riding career.
It’s a common refrain at any horse show: at a local show, someone is envious of another rider’s “expensive warmblood.” The owner of the expensive warmblood is envious of someone else’s newly imported jumper, while that person is jealous of someone they know with multiple horses and even the person with multiple horses wishes they had a bigger budget for scopier, more competitive mounts.
In order to focus on ourselves and be happy in this sport we must first accept the basic premise that there will always be someone who has more and this is true for nearly everyone. So once you have accepted this universal truth, how can you find satisfaction in a sport where your ambitions exceed your budget?
Focus on process-oriented goals
One of the great and humbling parts of the sport is that perfection is rare and fleeting. It’s why a hunter score of 100 is newsworthy, and it’s something we can lean into when seeking ways to make progress within our limitations.
While the objective of an outcome-related goal is one in which the target is the outcome itself, for example, competing in the 3’ hunters, the target of a process-related goal is a smaller milestone that can help you achieve the larger end goal.
While some outcome related goals—such as competing at a certain height—might be beyond our reach financially, focusing on process-related goals can help you improve your riding and make progress even if you don’t have the budget for a new horse or more horse shows.
Examples of process related goals would be more consistent lead changes, improving your position, or tighter jump-off turns. The reality is that most of us yearning to move up haven’t mastered the art of what we are doing anyway, and focusing on the changes we can make in our riding now can lead to a greater sense of satisfaction than focusing on what we wish we had, whether it’s a better horse or more opportunities to show.
Let go of the expectations of others
No one else cares how small or big you jump at the horse show and any perception that they do is usually reflective of their own insecurities. Every rider’s participation in the sport is valid whether they are a walk/trot rider or showing in the 1.40m jumpers.
So often, we harbour internal beliefs that we must jump a certain height or attend certain horse shows to be garner the approval of others or be a “real” rider. In reality, the things that make someone a good rider—kindness, openness to feedback, and horsemanship skills—have nothing to do with our actual riding ability.
Achievements at any level are worth celebrating and we should all take pride in our unique journey with horses regardless of how it might look compared to someone else’s.
You know it's hard to elude the trap of self-comparison, or this tweet would not have resonated with 265 people
Remember why you do it in the first place
Anyone competing at a horse show first fell in love with horses, and sometimes we lose sight of the pure enjoyment of the horse under the stress of competing and feeling the need to justify the cost, time and dedication to a sport that is becoming increasingly expensive.
If the stress of competing is overshadowing your enjoyment of riding, it might be time to re-examine your goals and consider what you can do to find greater joy in horses: it could be a new discipline—maybe your 2’6 hunter would be a great 0.75m jumper, dressage lessons would help your flat work, or a working equitation clinic would improve your horse’s confidence—or just taking the time to enjoy the company of your horse grooming and grazing them without the pressure of showing. At the end of the day, you could have all the money in the world and if the love of the horse and your horse’s welfare isn’t your foremost priority, satisfaction will elude you anyway.
So, if you find yourself scrolling Instagram reels of people riding amazing horses at incredible venues and feeling a sense of inadequacy about your own riding, remind yourself this: if you are lucky enough to be riding a horse in any capacity, you are more fortunate than many others.
While I believe firmly that we should collectively be coming up with ways to make the sport more accessible, you are a lucky individual if you get to share your life with horses and this is something worth keeping in mind when you find yourself feeling down about your place in the sport.