Riding Forward Into the Unknown

The evening I got the award in the mail. Photo by Gibby’s mother, Rosalba Baroni-Booth.

I hate change. Change is scary. Our brain literally thinks we are going to die if we step outside our comfort zone so it pitches a massive fit anytime we try to. This is useful when it tells us not to get into that car with the sketchy guy from the bar, but a giant pain in the derrière when it’s something life-changingly awesome like competing at the AECs. This makes it very challenging to actually do said scary thing even when it’s something we really want to do or something incredible. It’s much easier to just stay the course because that’s what we know, what we are good at.

Going to the AECs has been one of my dreams for the almost 12 years I’ve had my pony. At 15 I got real about the unlikelihood of my seven-year-old dream of competing at the Olympics happening and instead hoped to compete at nationals. Honestly I didn’t actually think it was ever going to happen. And then it did this August and it was incredible.

Delaney gave me the ride of a lifetime flying around the cross country course in the pouring rain like it was nothing. I’m still pinching myself in disbelief—did it actually happen or was it all a dream?

Problems arose when we returned home. I told myself it would be clear once I got back what I wanted to do. Did I want to continue competing? Did I want to try and go back to the AECs next year? Did I want to retire my pony from competition? Did I want to focus on trail rides and hunter
paces? I was so confused it left me stagnant.

Riding has been a ginormous part of my life for as long as I can remember (I was begging my parents everyday from the age of three for lessons), but that doesn’t mean it always has to be that way. Will I be judged if I step away from it? Do I want to step away from it? I don’t know who I am without horses. What would I do instead of clean stalls every morning? What would I do on weekends if I didn’t have lessons, clinics and competitions?

I felt guilty for questioning everything. I made a commitment to my pony and I’m not going to turn my back on that nor do I want to sell him. He’s my best friend. But things were still so murky about what I really wanted to do and what I thought I should do.

If you explain eventing to a non horse person they think we are absolutely nuts to do three different phases with one horse. However, the part where we are galloping over solid obstacles totally sends them over the edge. And if you think about it — it is pretty crazy. We are a bunch of crazy adrenaline junkies!!

I feel badly about the burden my riding passion and keeping the ponies in the backyard puts on my non-horsey-had-never-touched-a-horse-before-we-started-dating fiancé. She didn’t sign up for this and yet while I’m working she can be regularly found bringing horses in, feeding them, and doing stalls (yes, I know I got very lucky :-)

And of course we know all too well they are giant money eating machines. I love that cartoon of the horse eating a giant pile of money and out comes poop. It’s fabulous and so true.

So as you can imagine absolute turmoil has been flying around my brain since the beginning of September. And then I got a surprise package in the mail from the USEA a few weeks ago that caused me to stop, take a deep breath, and let me figure out what was really important to me. Delaney and I had won the award for highest placed (and I think only :-) pony in Senior Training at the AECs. An award I didn’t even know existed.

Upon inspection of the plaque, medal, and giant ribbon I noticed that it said in memory of Avery Dudasch. My curiosity got the better of me and I found myself standing in Delaney’s stall (after of course showing him our new loot), Googling. I immediately became wrapped up in reading posts and watching videos about a brave pony loving girl who tragically lost her battle with brain cancer at the age of 11. I was honored and humbled to receive such a powerful award that I sent the family a message thanking them and trying to understand the enormous hole in their hearts they must be grappling with each and every day.

I’ll admit I didn’t have this realization right away, but a few days later it dawned on me that I needed to move. I was treading water, not doing anything while my pony hung out in the field looking up hopefully at me every time I walked towards the barn. “Did you bring me carrots?”

It felt selfish to stay in a slump over my own crap while a little girl never got to ride her pony again or reach her 16th birthday (the age I was when my parents finally gave in and bought me Delaney). Thinking about her gave me courage to take a step — in any direction. It didn’t matter which; I just had to move.

I have a tendency to want to wrap everything up all nice and neat so part of me feels like I should tell you I’m now crystal clear on what I want to do moving forward. But the truth is I’m not. I have no idea what I’m going to do. I’m choosing to live in the here and now with all of this. I know I’m not a horrible person if I decide I want to put competing on hold, maybe temporarily, maybe indefinitely. But I’m not sure if I’m going down that path yet and I’m ok with that. I’ve hired someone to help out around the barn while I’m working so it doesn’t always fall on Shannon’s shoulders, and as far as the money piece … yup, definitely still working on that one! I’ll let you know if I figure it out!

I had been using so many excuses not to get back in the stirrups. Thinking of Avery I told myself to just get on and then go from there. So I’ve started trail riding Lane again, joined by my two dogs. It’s been marvelous. I don’t know where we are going and I’m OK with that. But I do know I owe a huge thanks to Avery for helping me get unstuck, back in the saddle, and finding peace with the possible changes that may be happening and the uncertainty of it all.

The first time I got back in the saddle. Photo courtesy of Gibby Booth.

Gibby is a pony loving dyslexic entrepreneur and licensed massage therapist. She lives with her fiancé, four dogs, and three horses in a small town in Massachusetts.