I took this photo to commemorate my rock star pony’s 16th Birthday, which I forgot. But it’s OK! Photo by Michelle Wadley.
So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about pressure: the pressure to perform, the pressure to succeed, the pressure to be perfect, and the pressure to do it all RIGHT NOW, immediately, as soon as possible! I could make some very big, grandiose assumptions and statements about the society we live in and how technology has sped everything up, and so on and so forth.
I won’t do that. What I will say, is this: Learn to give yourself a break. I’m preaching to myself as much or more so than to anyone else. I have said for years that I don’t ever need someone else to beat me up or break me down or punish me. I can do that all on my own. And in sad reality, I am quite the master of it. On some level I believe women are better at it than men, and if you are a mom, well, ever heard the term “mom guilt?” Add the adult amateur eventer title to the list as you struggle to juggle husband, kids, dogs, job, career, etc. … and, well, it can all pile up rather quickly.
It really should not surprise anyone that suicide and depression are becoming more and more newsworthy. In this fast-paced, make it or break it (and make it or break it RIGHT NOW) world in which we live, something truly does have to give. It’s tragic and so heartbreakingly sad that sometimes people give their lives.
The week before we lost Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain to suicide, I lost a friend. I hadn’t seen him in a few years, but he was my still my friend, and it still hurt. As someone who suffers from depression myself, I have thought and thought about what the breaking point could have been. In the end there is really no way of knowing what caused any of these haunted souls to break down. In the end, I really only know what affects me. Pressure. And perfectionism. When I am living the life of the rat on the wheel, endlessly spinning and spinning in a never-ending search for perfection that yields nothing but brain crushing pressure, that is when I start to break.
As horse people, and especially as eventers, I think we put a tremendous amount of pressure on ourselves. It is at the heart of what we do and why we love it. Eventers strive to be perfect at not just one discipline, but THREE. We juggle dressage and flatwork with gallop sets and jump schools both in and out of the ring. We try to schedule dressage schooling shows and hunter jumper shows around our true goals of competing at horse trials and three day events. We ice legs and pull manes and study nutrition and sport horse maintenance. IN OUR FREE TIME AS A HOBBY! To even begin to do it correctly and “perfectly” is a full time job. But what if you already have a full time job? And a family? And a life outside of horses? Ah. See. There’s the rub. There’s where the pressure comes in. (Deep breath here.)
I’m here to tell you (and again, I am TOTALLY preaching to myself here) it’s OK.
It’s OK if you aren’t perfect. Newsflash: NO ONE IS!
It’s OK if you use a neck strap every time you ride. Newsflash: William Fox Pitt does!
It’s OK if you had to miss a show because you had a real life scheduling conflict or simply just couldn’t afford it. Newsflash: Your horse doesn’t care! And we’ve all been there!
It’s OK if you skipped a day of riding because you just really needed a break. Newsflash: We all get tired and need to rest. (I know I do! I’m writing this in my pajamas.)
It’s OK if you don’t want to move up a level because you are kind of enjoying the level you’re competing at. Newsflash: I know it can be nerve-wrecking, but you are supposed to enjoy competing! And what is the rush? I, for one, am tired of rushing, all day, everywhere. Horses take time. That’s the beauty of horses.
Which brings me to my last and final point. This sport we do? Um. Yeah. It’s supposed to be FUN. We’re supposed to enjoy it. We’re supposed to love it, have a passion for it, participate in it because we love it and our equine partners. When you are smiling and having fun and enjoying something, guess what? It’s called giving yourself a break. A break from the rigors of life and a break from the stress and a break from the wheel. And who better to help you give yourself a break than your equine best friend? Because I don’t know about you, but I simply couldn’t make it through this life without the priceless depression therapy my dream pony Syd provides.
So take a deep breath. Then take another one. Give yourself a break, and realize that sometimes, occasionally, once in awhile, it’s OK.