Having goals is important. Whether it’s to someday ride in Rolex at the four-star level or to finally perfect that walk to canter transition, goals keep us focused. But when do goals stop being goals and start being obsession?
Inevitably, sometime during your horse career, you will meet someone who simply has horses to compete. What a sad horse life that is! One of the things that sticks in my brain about the horse world is that there are two types of horse people: those who care for their horses first, and those who ride and hand off their horse to a groom, not to be seen again until the next ride. I’m not talking about the upper level riders who have too many horses to handle without a team, I’m talking about the people who think they are doing the horse a favor by riding it. Any horse that allows you to ride, especially ride well, has done you an incredible privilege.
I have two dueling goals for my horse always in my brain. The first is to compete, hopefully successfully, starting at Starter and moving up from there. This is, to most eventers, an obvious goal. We love to compete, and we sure as heck love to show off our horses! The second goal is just as important, but more often overlooked. That is to just enjoy my horse.
You may think, “But can’t we enjoy our horses while working towards our competitive goal?” The unsatisfying answer is, “Kind of.” We enjoy our horses when they do something incredible, when they nail that leg yield, or transition, or take off from just the right spot. We praise them and tell them we love them and that they’re the most incredible horse on the planet (because every horse lover thinks their own horse is the best!)
My goal to enjoy my horse is bigger than that. Beau is a 12-year-old, off-the-track Thoroughbred gelding, and he has had a long, hard life. I want to enjoy just being with him, turning him out, hanging out in his stall, brushing him to a shiny glow. But I board him half an hour away, and I can’t always do that. So my goal is a little more difficult than I thought.
Instead, I have to plan to balance my visits to my handsome boy. Enough rides to keep both of us in shape and advancing to our competitive goals, but remembering to take time to just enjoy his company. One of my favorite ways to do this is to ride bareback. Something about a bareback ride is just so connective, so bonding. It’s a fun way to love on your horse!
Finding the balance means working towards your competitive goals, always trying to move forward. It means long hours practicing, long hours training. But it also means relaxing. It means taking the time to tell your horse you love him when he’s just being a normal horse, too. It means creating that bond that will ultimately make it easier and better to compete. It means having fun!
So, remember to hug your horse. Remember to love on him or her, because even if they haven’t done something great to work towards your competitive goals, every moment spent with you is a moment more of bonding. Every moment is more of their company to enjoy. Finding the balance may not be easy, but it is oh so worth it!
About Emma: I’ve been riding for six years, started my college’s small equestrian club, and share a lovable but fiery OTTB named Beau with my dad, Mark. We plan to take Beau to his first eventing competitions this summer! Horsey Instagram: @knight.eventing