Here’s a photo I kept going back to look at on social media. I knew there was something there I had to talk about. California-based upper level rider Tamie Smith posted it. She wanted to make sure her husband knew how much she loved and appreciated him on their wedding anniversary.
But when I really looked at this photo, it stood for so much more. It’s a photo taken from behind a procession of daughter Kaylawna, her horse, Tamie’s husband Dave, and FEI steward Fran at last year’s North America Junior and Young Riders Championship competition at Kentucky.
First of all, she’s on her way down the ramp into the Rolex stadium for a dressage ride, that hallowed place, the dream cloud location that every young (and old) eventer in America wishes they could enter. But such dreams take many details to shake into place.
First, the horse; an animal you nurture, train, live and die with, care for with all of your heart and all of your pocketbook to get, sometimes, to just one corner of The Dream. If all shakes into place, the glass jar of screws spill out in perfect order, you actually get to Rolex and get to compete.
And if even more stars align and fortune cookies predict, you complete the three-day event at the pinnacle of equestrian competition. And if you are vaulted into Heaven, you get a ribbon and place among the champions at the victory gallop at the end of the day. So the horse, the creature that enables all of this, is the first circle of love. (Remember, love is stable management, ala George Morris).
Next, the supportive undercast to the dream has to be solidly within the circle. Not outside, smiling, waving and taking video, but living and breathing that dream on the ride with you, next to you and on occasion, behind you pushing or in front of you leading. Having a cheering section is different from a partner who shares your dream with you, who hooks onto your star and says, “I’m coming along … it’s my dream, too.”
This person, or persons if your family is with you, also is your tribe — they join you on this trek to the Promised Land. Their smiles, words, sometimes just their physical presence beside a tense warmup ring, or sitting on the tack trunk next to the stall of the broken horse with an arm around your shoulders, is beyond your ability to appreciate. You feel so complete, so lucky to have them, so thankful they are in your life, constantly amazed at your sidekicks who are where they are when you need them. That’s the second circle.
The third circle is a more silent one. It’s the overarching presence of fairness, or faith in the system that makes the competition a worthy goal. If it were a cheap thrill, or a fixed contest, there would be no satisfaction in the win, little gain for the pain. Love exists, here, too, in the officials who study the game, figure ways to fix it with rules when it breaks, safeguard the horses, the competition, the public views, agonize over decisions, and educate riders who lose sight of the goal along the way.
The love here is the love of the parent for the child, the mother’s guidance, the father’s pride in competition; the “family” that includes many non-family members who still care about you and your horse, and a sport, and it’s future.
This love will keep this sport alive for everyone to reach their eventual goal, whether it’s walking boldly down the path with the big green Rolex signs, or just leaving the start box with a kick and a “whoo” at your local novice horse trials. A sport that is the wellspring of dreams. Keep the circles linked and you’ll get there.