Sensitivity: An Asset in Eventing and Life

My name is Lyndsey and I am from Ohio. In the last three years I have been competing my “been there done that” WB/TB mare at the Novice level. I work at a local area hospital, and it was there that I got the inspiration behind this article.

Photo by Xpress Foto.

In my opinion eventing can be summed up in one work: humbling. The second you get confident you end up on your butt. The minute you second-guess yourself you find that your limits have gone way beyond what you have ever thought. A rider that is too cautious on cross country can be just a dangerous as an overly confident one. These qualities are just some of the qualities that our sport reveals to ourselves.

I have learned more about myself in the trenches of a terrible ride than I have in any other situation I’ve been put in. I’ve learned just how far I can go when I put my mind to something. Or that having a plan A, B, and C can not only get you through the combination at fence #9 but also
through most obstacles of life. Eventing teaches us to adapt quickly and to have back up when things don’t work out (because with horses nothing is guaranteed). Most things I’ve learned made me feel better about myself: For instance, that I can persevere even when the score cards are not on my side that day. But recently I have learned a quality in myself that I once would think is a disadvantage.

I am a sensitive person.

Many would think, “Well, what’s the harm in being sensitive?” My response would be, “Well, then you don’t know an eventer.” Goonies never say die and neither do eventers. We are the sort who tough it out when things get hard. When the road gets rough we work harder. This sport is not for everyone, especially not the ones easily swayed by hard times.

So what is a sensitive person like me doing in this sport? Well this realization first surfaced while in my mundane life as hospital employee. I work four 10-hour shifts in a level one trauma hospital. Here there is not time for egos or feelings. Our jobs are to help people and rely on the training we have received to take care of them. So I guess a better question would be, what is a sensitive person like me doing working at a hospital?

It was one day at work when a co-worker looked at me and told me, “You shouldn’t be so sensitive all the time,” gauging from an interaction we were having. Me? Sensitive? You’re joking, right?! I mean, eventers aren’t supposed to sensitive. Hospital employees aren’t supposed to be sensitive. I trench through the mud on a daily basis. I go to work expecting to get yelled at by a doctor about something that is usually out of my control. I have fallen off my horse more times than I care to admit and get back every time. I have felt the fear in the back of my mind and brushed it off at every cross country fence. For heaven’s sake I gallop a 1,200-lb. animal at standard fences for fun … I cannot be a sensitive person.

And then there it was in front of me: I was sensitive to being called sensitive.

So I reflected on it a couple of days and here are my thoughts:

I am sensitive because I am an eventer. Strange thought, right? Eventers become so attuned to their horse that they can detect the slightest flick of an ear and tell you how the ride is going to go. I can feel the smallest change in my horse’s back right leg enough to know when she is sore. I know when she is eager to come into the barn and get tacked up means it may be a longer warm-up just to get her attention. She will whinny at just the perfect point of a schooling to tell me, “You’ve got five minutes left before I totally mentally check out for the day.” I can feel her tension in my hands when she is just a little unsteady even when a judge isn’t able to detect. A connection is made with me and my horse only when I am sensitive enough to feel it.

Photo by Xpress Foto.

I find that most people outside the ring of horses do not know what it is like to sit back on a situation and constantly be calculating. Your mind is always on going and reacting. We all know that feeling of being at an event and you find yourself staring at your horse in their stall or when we are hand grazing to find the subtle things most people don’t see. Are they nervous and looking around trying to adapt this new situation? Are they pacing in their stall and trying to show us discomfort? Is their attention more on their food then the other hundreds of distractions that could be going on? We become so attuned to our horses that we know just by a simple demeanor change when things are not right. Same goes with each step made when I am riding. It is a constant ebb and flow of action and reaction. A constant balance of asking and giving of the rein and leg. Take too much and your horse won’t give. Give too much and your horse gets lazy.

Once again there is a connection made between my horse and I only when I am sensitive enough to feel it.

And in my opinion the same goes with people. I feed off emotions and react. Some reactions are encouraging while others you pack up to bad luck and try again another day. Our reactions and conversations can be wrong sometimes and that is okay. But we pick ourselves up, learn for the next time and try again. I am not going to be right with every reaction with my horse or the human being in front of me. But the importance is to be sensitive enough to know how to adjust from there.

Sensitivity is not weakness. It took a while for me to wrap my head around that. Being sensitive is being able to feel any situation unfold and having a connection with the world around you. You see this sport is made of sensitive people because feel is not something that can be taught. To be a good rider you have to be sensitive and be able to feel the subtle changes between you and your horse between fences to know when to kick on and when to grab mane

So with this I say: Hello, my name is Lyndsey … and I am a sensitive person.