Valerie Pride’s riding career is perhaps best described as an emotional roller coaster. From postponing big dreams as a young rider to the recent retirement of her five-star horse, Favian, just days before their biggest event of the year, Valerie sometimes probably wishes someone would hit the stop button on this ride. Admirably, she’s able to take it all in stride thanks to one simple philosophy: being grateful.
While these days she’s able to focus on that gratitude for everything she has and find the silver lining in almost every struggle, it wasn’t always this way. As a teenager and young adult, Valerie “was definitely an overachiever, driven by a fear of failure,” she says. “I would miss the extra credit on an exam and be upset for two days because I only got a 106 and 108 was possible. That was my mindset. I was valedictorian of my college.”
Growing up like this had its pros and cons. On the one hand, she got amazing grades and was an all-star lacrosse player. But it also instilled in her the idea that if you work hard enough, you’ll always be successful. And, unfortunately, that’s not always how it works with horses. You can bend over backwards yourself working so hard and your horse can still pull up lame with an abscess two days before a show. Valerie says she had a lot to learn about shifting her mindset as she got older.
“I got my Pony Club A when I was 16, I went to young riders, and then I thought, ‘wow, I’m gonna be at the Olympics by the time I’m 24,” she says. “And then, fast forward, it’s another 20 years. I’m 41, 42 years old. And I’m proud of everything that I have done and achieved and all of that, but I think when I was that age, I probably thought the people that were 41 were has-beens.”
Recently, Valerie has had this heartbreaking lesson hammered home once again. Sadly, she had to retire her only five-star horse, Favian, from the upper levels just ten days before they were due to compete at the Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event. Favian’s retirement was due to a chronic issue in his left front foot, and while this has been a carefully managed issue for the entirety of his career, it finally caught up with him.
“We will never know why his left front foot has issues,” says Valerie. “It’s just that it’s always shown more chronic wear and tear. He has excellent conformation, and I have an excellent farrier, but just from the start, this was a problem.”
Throughout his career, Valerie has been working with a team of highly-qualified veterinarians and farriers to make sure that he stays comfortable and that they’re doing everything possible to ensure he’s happy doing his job. For example, before every five-star run, Valerie has paid for him to have an MRI, to ensure that they’re not missing any source of pain or hidden changes to his hoof. While Valerie knew this might be coming, she had been hoping that Favian had just one more five-star in him, so they could retire on a high note.
“I think that I just knew in my heart of hearts that it was heading that way. And you were hoping for him that he could do one more amazing thing. You know, he was so close,” says Valerie. “He was a bit on borrowed time his whole life. But that just makes him that much more of a champion, you know? That’s how awesome he was.”
Mentally, she wasn’t just dealing with “Black Beauty’s” retirement, but also with pressure from sponsors and trying to decide what would be best for her barn and her clients. “Should I just go and do a dressage test? Because it means so much to sponsors. This year, Kentucky was just back on again in full force, with autograph signings,” says Valerie. “But at the same time, being short staffed is a big thing. You know, even if I go to Kentucky just to be a presence, which is so important, I’m leaving my groom behind, my clients behind. It just didn’t help.”
At the end of the day, Valerie decided to stay home. She says she would rather retire him before the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event than risk him breaking down during the run. “This horse owes me nothing. He’s been amazing.”
Despite knowing she made the right decision with Favian’s best interests at heart, all of this stress caught up with Valerie. After deciding to stay home, she didn’t have any desire to watch footage of LRK3DE and wasn’t finding joy in being at the barn for long hours and teaching lessons in the same way she was before Favian’s retirement.
But in true Valerie fashion, she’s been working hard to find the silver lining in Favian’s retirement. “I’m grateful for this free time that I have. I’ve been trying to catch up on some sleep that I haven’t had since like November and have a day off here or there. I’m just trying to spin this into a positive and take some time,” says Valerie. “I know it’s maybe not ultimately what I wanted, but I’ve got to make the most of it.”
It was a sign of her return to normalcy and of better things to come when she started to look forward to watching footage of Badminton. “I was actually really excited to be aware of how excited I was about Badminton,” says Valerie. “I was bouncing back. I’m grateful that there was another five star one week later to kind of redirect my attention and my focus and be like, okay, you know what, the month of May is going to be really light; let’s go horse shopping.”
Looking to the future gives Valerie some hope. While Favian will still be in her life as a lower level horse for a lucky young rider, she’s hoping to get a new upper level horse in her barn quickly. In the past, Valerie has been happy to be the sole owner of her horses. She enjoyed the reduced pressure that comes from not having owners and being able to make her own decisions when it comes to her horse’s future. But, she’s looking to switch things up for her next horse.
“I do have syndicates that have been put together and it might be time to utilize that, to align people,” says Valerie. “The goal is to get something that can go to like the CCI3*-L at the Maryland Five Star, because I just think it’s a fantastic event.”
Caring so much about the horses, her clients, and the sport of eventing only to be constantly let down can wear a person out quickly. “I’m a very empathetic person. I care for my horses. I care for my clients. I care for the sport of eventing and that sort of thing can be easily overwhelming,” says Valerie. “You don’t want to stop caring, that’s not the right answer.”
A side effect of caring so much is the toll it takes on those around you. According to Valerie, you can try so hard to make everything perfect, which is impossible, that you wind up burning through your support team. “I think when you first start your career you want everything to be ideal, and you work so hard for it to be ideal. And you can burn through yourself and your staff and the horses. It’s not malicious. It’s because you just try so hard to do everything right and then eventually the real world just beats you down.”
Valerie’s solution to this problem is to prioritize, realign, and focus on a growth mindset for herself and her staff. “Everybody’s here to learn and unfortunately learning does take time and mistakes and you just have to try to minimize that,” said Valerie. “But that is part of the process. And I think that that is something that I’ve probably gotten a little bit better about. You assume that people know what you know, and that’s not right. You have to really kind of think about where is that person coming from and how can you best use them on the team.”
At the end of the day, Valerie focuses on growth and positivity. Whether it’s training horses, judging, or working with her staff to run her home base of Blue Clover Eventing, Valerie is someone who definitely celebrates the journey, not just the end result. “We’re all trying to achieve the same thing, and sometimes a different horse or person might need to go about it in a slightly different way,” Valerie says. “It’s when you have that learning process and that growth – that’s really what makes life fun.”
Her growth mindset and unending positivity just might be Valerie’s secret weapon. One word that kept coming up throughout our conversation was gratitude. She always keeps in mind that even on her hardest days, she gets to live some little girl’s dream of riding horses for a living. “I’m very grateful. I kind of went through this phase where you think to yourself, ‘hey, when your right foot hits the ground and when your left foot hits the ground be grateful. There’s some people that didn’t even wake up this morning.’ So it puts things in perspective that we get to play with horses.”
Valerie didn’t develop this mindset on her own, but has been working with a sports psychologist to help her create tools and techniques to handle the day-to-day stress that comes from being a professional eventer. “I do have a sports psychologist. He is probably one of the most important people on my team,” says Valerie. “He just listens to me and helps with exercises.”
It was actually Valerie’s sports psychologist who helped her figure out the source of debilitating migraines. After she got knocked out going up a bank, Valerie began to have migraines so intense that she would be forced to lay in bed, unable to sit up without vomiting. Finally her sports psychologist figured out that they were occurring when she became too stressed.
“Those migraines are the universe literally putting me in bed on my bum. And it’s just saying ‘girlfriend, you’ve got to chill out.’ Because you pretty much can’t sit up or you’ll vomit everywhere,” Valerie says, laughing. “It’s horrible.”
While these migraines could be a form of torture for Valerie, she’s actually managed to use the enforced downtime for the better. “I literally just have to lay there and think about nothing except gratitude and how I’m grateful for so many things.”
Valerie focuses so hard on being grateful because she’s a big believer in the power of the universe, and that everything happens for a reason. “I think like attracts like, so you have to keep projecting these good thoughts,” Valerie says. “You have to be aware of what mentality you’re projecting to your colleagues, your horses, your owners, and to the other members on your team, right? It’s definitely your aura coming out. And if you sit there and think about the negative then I think the universe thinks that’s what you’re asking for and it’s just going to send it your way.”
But, Favian’s retirement has tested that faith. “The universe must think I’m a pretty strong person because it’s not going to give me stuff that I can’t handle. But I don’t know that I believe I’m as strong as the universe does right now, because it’s really given me a lot.”
To help young riders avoid setting unrealistic expectations on themselves, in the same way she did, Valerie has this advice: “Anything is possible. Never stop dreaming and never stop learning! Work hard, the right people will notice and know that the right people come into your life at the right times. The universe always has a plan, be grateful, and enjoy the ride.”