Missing Maya

Photo by Gabrielle LaValle

This week I came across a favorite quote about character. It said: “Two things define you. Your patience when you have nothing, and your attitude when you have everything.”

The author is unknown, but the sentiment is known to anyone who has ever experienced both success and setbacks.

Among horse people, that pretty much covers everyone. But this week being Rolex week, I couldn’t help thinking about how it applies especially to Maya Black.

A year ago Maya and Doesn’t Play Fair (aka Cody, aka Munchkin) were returning to Rolex to compete in what would be only the second four-star attempt for either of them. You know the rest: 6-foot tall Maya and her 15.3-hand fire-breathing pony went on to finish in third place behind the soon-to-be Olympian Lauren Kieffer (riding the venerable Veronica) and Michael Jung (riding his previous year’s winner fischerRocana FST). It was, as they say, a Cinderella story.

My family was lucky enough to be there to see it, along with a large contingent of “My Oh Maya” fans that figured out a way to get across the country to see the local girl do good. We weren’t always the most polished group (some from our circle thought wearing floppy “Southern” hats would be a good look) but Maya was her gracious and polite self. My daughter — OK, all of us—were awestruck. (It was Rolex.)

But Maya treated us no differently than she did at local shows back home. Though she had many commitments to keep, to her horse, coaches, officials, sponsors, journalists and the many fans she has on the east coast, she made time to meet with us and come to dinner with us and well, just be Maya. She was at the top of her game. The sky was the limit. But she kept her boots on the ground.

And that’s what she’s doing now, one year later.

Last fall, after Cody was retired by his owners, Maya returned to her home on Whidbey Island, about 2 hours by car and ferry from Seattle. Maya grew up there, received her A-Level in Pony Club there and brought up Cody there from a green 6-year old. It’s also where she bought and trained her first upper level horse, Kejsarinna, who went on to win the 2* at Jersey Fresh before succumbing to an injury. Maya still trains in the same modest uncovered arena surrounded by tall evergreens. And she trots and gallops her horses in a gorgeous field with views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, but one she occasionally shares with grazing cattle.

Maya currently competes her own horse, Mowgli, an OTTB that won the Preliminary division at the 2016 AECs and finished 2nd in the 1* at Galway last fall, and she recently started a 4-year old OTTB she purchased this winter.

She’s also teaching and training client horses, including my daughter’s mare. That means my daughter has a front row seat for a class in patience and attitude. When we first met Maya, we requested stabling near her at events because she was one of the few people we knew, and because no question we threw at her was too stupid. Since we never heard anyone speak ill of her (though she dominated the top placings) and never heard her speak ill of others, my husband and I would say the letters WWMD to our daughter as a behavioral guide. That’s right, “What Would Maya Do.”

Okay, we know she can’t actually walk on water, but anyone who has ever met Maya knows she’s far too busy to ever feel sorry for herself when things don’t go her way. She’s learned in her 29 years that if you do the work, success will follow, even when horses inevitably try to thwart your plans.

I asked her once how disappointed she was about a minor injury keeping her and Cody from traveling to the Olympics in Rio as the reserve pair on the U.S. Eventing Team.

Maya said she realized at the time that such opportunities rarely come along, if ever. So she focused on appreciating the moment.

“If you’re only in this to get medals, you’re going to be unhappy,” she said. “You have to enjoy the process.”

And so when I look at the Rolex invite from last fall that we pinned on our tack room wall—the one with Maya and Cody’s picture—I try to quiet my own inner woulda-shoulda-couldas.

I recognize that I’m bummed she’s not at Rolex (and we’re not there to watch) and then I remind myself to be patient. She’ll be back. Adjust that attitude. And get busy doing something.

That’s what Maya would do.