Yesterday one of my clients asked me to participate in a leadership camp activity for her daughter, who I have known for a year and a half now. They are wonderful additions to my up-and-coming event barn and their 4-year-old OTTB is a gem to bring along. Her daughter is a junior and the school asked for influential adults in her life to write and share what they would like for her in coming years and why they are proud of her. The activity is unknown to her, so she should receive the letter during camp next week.
I started the next morning at my favorite coffee shop, opened my laptop, and drafted the letter. I recounted our mismatched adventures, telling her how much I love watching her grow and develop her leadership skills every step of the way. She is your typical teenager, moody and a little wild — but she is a truly kick-ass human. She relentlessly fights for the underdog and is never afraid to speak up.
As I reached the end of the letter, I realized that everything I wrote had to do with her personally, and nothing about her as a rider. Sure, I was proud of her for keeping her cool when the baby horse lost his shit in warm-up, and yes, she has ribbons that followed her months of hard work and schooling. But at the end of the day, the things I am most proud of her (and all of my kids) for is the attitude she brings to the table when things don’t go her way or the going gets too tough and she feels lost.
Maybe 2% of the kids that come through my program are going to be professionals in this industry. The rest will go on, maybe give up riding for college or a family, but pick it back up later; or maybe they will compete while also building a career and a family. But the lessons they learn today, scrubbing water buckets and poulticing their ponies — those are the lessons that will stick.
Sometimes as a trainer I get caught up in the day to day progression and forget about the long haul. I have to remind myself that every Pony Club lesson, each startbox, every vet visit and barn holiday party — they are learning. Eventing produces tough and scrappy kids who understand the importance of flat work and conditioning. But it also reminds us to not take anything too seriously, ever. We are all out here because we love riding and the sport, through the good and the bad, the tough and the tougher.
Yes, my job is to help my clients achieve whatever they want with their horses, whether it be building up a young horse, nailing that clean flying change, or galloping through the finish flags for the first time. But at the very end of the day, I like to say that my program produces good horseman and even better humans.
Everything they are learning, the mistakes they are making today, will carry and be with them much longer than some 50 cent ribbons they won at that one show that one weekend when they were eight. Eventing reminds everyone that when the going gets tough, you get tougher. You rely on the people closest to you, tighten your girth, and buck up. It teaches you community involvement, leadership skills, and at the end of the day, no matter what the score says, you tried.
For my kids and clients, there is nothing more I can ask for. I feel grateful everyday to be surrounded by people that are quick to congratulate me, but just as quick to catch me when I fall. Eventing builds a passion for riding I had never experienced before my first set of finish flags.
I finished up my letter by reminding my kiddo that I am proud of her everyday, and that her exuberance and spirit are a wonderful addition to our “happy barn.”