As the list of recent tragedies in the world seems to expand at an ever-increasing rate, I’ve felt lately like I’m grasping at straws, unable to catch my breath or move forward in any productive way to counteract any of this senseless violence. Paris, Belgium, the ongoing conflict in North Africa, our own tragic shooting in Orlando, and now more dead in an airport in Istanbul, Turkey … where do we go from here?
Everyone seems to have a different “right” answer, and I am definitely ill-equipped to comment on answers to terrorism or gun control. My heart aches for the beautiful lives lost due to gun violence just as my heart aches for those who have lost their lives in accidents related to my beloved sport.
It’s easy to withdraw or feel overwhelmed when world events are so far outside our personal control. So to counteract this feeling, I’ve decided to write about the things that give me hope.
First, for those of you who don’t know me well, a little about what I do on a daily basis:
I am a small-time horse trainer: I manage a lesson program about 30 kids and adults, I run a nine stall barn, take care of about 15 or so and have four others of my own. I’m not running upper levels, and the horse I started almost four years ago is only now making it around Training. On a good day, I feel like I’m juggling everything, but am still tired. On a bad day I just feel like I’m drowning.
I struggle with a constantly growing desire to quit working in a very sheltered equestrian bubble in the upper crust of American society. But then, I remember that I am in an exceptionally unique position.
Similar to many education-geared professions, I have the absolute honor of shaping the views of the next generation of movers and shakers in America. My students might not go on to ride in the Olympics, or even Young Riders. They might not get their “A” rating in Pony Club (or who knows, they might!)
But regardless of what they do or don’t accomplish as an equestrian, I hope that dealing with difficulty in the ring teaches them to handle challenges in life with grace and confidence. I hope that riding and learning from different colors of horses teaches them to learn from and value those with different colors of skin. I hope that the inherent unfairness of competition on horses teaches them about the unavoidable inequality in the world. I hope they grow up to be compassionate toward others as well as compassionate toward themselves.
The world needs those people.
Most days, I don’t have time for an extra breath, to eat, or to train my five-year-old (still unstarted) “baby” in the cracks of running a barn and the lesson program, and I surely cannot save the whole world by myself.
But all that exhaustion is worth it, because I realize that I’m the lucky one — I get to watch my students encourage each other after a hard round, and cheer for each other’s successes, even when they’re having a bad day on their own horse. I get to watch them grow from tiny camp kids to the point when they are the ones teaching younger riders during summer camps. I get to watch them pick each other up off the ground after a fall, then brush the dust off and get back on with courage when they fall themselves.
Sometimes they look at me from the ground with tears streaming down their faces, turning dust to muddy streaks, and say they want to get on again. They want to give it another go … to try again to get it right. And isn’t that what it’s all about — to get up at our darkest point, and try again?
Most people will never experience the unique joy and privilege of working with horses. The unavoidable humility they garner, as they remind you that you can’t, in fact, control everything. But I hope that my fellow equestrians will also carry these lessons — the lessons of compassion, of strength, and of courage — to the rest of the world.
Read more of Claire’s work on her blog, A Journey for Justice.