The Struggle Between Comfort and Growth

A tired baby pony and a happy Lindsay. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert. A tired baby pony and a happy Lindsay. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

My heart pounded as I looked at the entry form I had just submitted. My voice caught in my throat as I wondered aloud about the decision I had just made. There’s no way this could go well. Could I scratch right now?

You may be wondering what big show I was attending, what huge move-up I was making. I’ll let you in on a little secret … the answer is none. My slight panic attack, my stress and nerves were all centered around a Starter Level combined test.

That’s right, Intro Test C and a 2′ jump course. Let the ridicule commence. But here’s a confession for you — it’s been a long time since I’ve shown at all, let alone above crossrails. And I was terrified. Ten years ago I thought nothing of cantering down to a 3’6″ combination, and I laughed it off when my trainer kept inching the last fence up until it reached 4′. I was a different rider then — dare I say a normal rider? But she is no longer.

You see, soon after that it became apparent that I had a knack for starting young horses, for schooling greenies, for working with the worst of the worst. Some combination of patience, stubbornness and just plain insanity. Whatever concoction was necessary to get on anything and everything, I had it. I guess I still do.

Ripley (now Bella) being backed for the first time! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Ripley (now Bella) being backed for the first time! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

So, my focus had shifted. The big airy oxer I was comfortable tackling slowly morphed into backing a 3 year old for the first time. I no longer focused on nailing the extended trot in a First Level test or galloping an intimidating cross country course. Instead, I focused on instilling the basics, teaching babies how to steer, how to stop, how to function with an extra 100 lbs on their back. Getting from one side of a ground pole to their other, sailing over a tiny crossrail — that was cause for celebration. And when they got to that point, when my projects were comfortable and had good, foundational training, they moved on. Other people showed them, other people enjoyed them, but never me.

Day in and day out, month after month, year after year, as I watched my babies grow and develop, little did I know that I was changing too. I always felt like I was still the rider I used to be — I was still brave, I was still bold. I could still put the fences up and make things happen if I wanted to. But there I was, shaking in my tall boots just at the thought of showing anything above crossrails. Who the hell was this girl? Didn’t she know who I used to be, what I used to do?!

That’s the thing about getting comfortable. You don’t realize it’s happening until you’re given an other option, until you’re faced with growth. And growth is an intimidating monster. It keeps you up at night and makes you question everything. It sits on one shoulder, urging you to take the risk to step outside your comfort zone. Meanwhile, comfort sits on the other shoulder, reminding you how nice that zone is — it’s warm, it’s easy, it has cookies!

NOT a crossrail! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

NOT a crossrail! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

It’s a constant struggle between comfort and growth. One that never ends because the second you choose growth, comfort creeps in to take over again. And there you stay, blissfully clueless until you find yourself ready to throw up over the smallest step in a different direction.

But growth will always be the right answer — take it from me. Rebel and I went to that show, we cantered in our dressage test, we jumped verticals and oxers, we didn’t die. I might have cried walking out of the arena, but those happy tears came with conquering something I hadn’t done in over 10 years. They came with the conscious decision to try something new, to grow as a rider. So, I may have walked away with a ribbon that wasn’t blue, but in my mind, we won.

Lindsay is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, Kentucky. She participated in the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover on Rebel Annie and is back again in 2017 with Hot Java. Keep up with their journey here on EN and via her blog, Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover!