There is No Room for Ego in the Barn

BY BLOG EDITOR LAUREN MAULDIN

I’m pretty good at faking confidence. It’s over compensation really, a mask I pull to smooth over issues from low self-esteem and a solid dose of imposter syndrome. When I quit the corporate world and moved to southern California last fall to pursue academia, I felt quite out of place. So, I puffed myself up. Talked a little louder, showed off a little more – bolstered my ego to try and convince myself that I belonged.

And that was fine, right?

Two months after I moved here, my horse did too. To prepare for his arrival, I carefully choose a barn on a bare bones budget. I needed something safe, but I also wanted a trainer and jumps and the basic services I was used to in a hunter/jumper facility. While touring barns, I raised an eyebrow to the rows of storage sheds that are considered tack rooms in Southern California. I stressed that I needed the absolute largest shedrow possible, because in Texas (where I still believed everything was infinitely better) my horse had 16 hours of turnout a day. After some searching, I choose a facility that I was quite happy with but even after my decision, I compared the property with what it didn’t have versus what it did.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

When my horse arrived, I diligently went out daily to ride and care for him in his new life. I tacked him up in his Dy’On jumper bridle, monogrammed saddle pads and expensive boots, and felt quite superior when I walked past school horses in western saddle pads and faded boots as I walked to the ring.

Even though I liked the training rides and lessons I observed, I didn’t immediately join my barn’s program. My horse and I were an established team with tons of shows and ribbons under our belt. I told myself that I was too poor for lessons, but secretly my head whispered and do you really even need them? You’ve been riding him forever! You know a lot more than these lesson kids.

But after a month, my horse and I started fighting. He spooked all the time, ignored my aids, ran around, flung his head in the air in frustration. Naturally, I snatched his face, held his mouth and made everything worse. While my typically solid citizen and I got worse and worse with each ride, the other riders trotted around me – their legs solid on older, flat seat saddles and horses pushing happily from their hind end with a drape in the rein.

By the time my first quarter finished at school, I was an anxious mess beyond functional levels. In my academic life, I spent so much time trying to be the right person for the right situation that I forgot who I actually was. At the barn, I couldn’t even enjoy my horse anymore because each day was an issue to worry over or fight to be had.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

So, I ran away for a bit. I booked a long trip home for the holidays, places where people knew me and I didn’t feel like I had to be anything for anyone. I handed the reins over to my trainer, left my horse fully in her care and training for a month, and said I’d see her in the New Year. I packed up the ego.

When I came back to my graduate program in the spring, I still felt out of place. I still had imposter syndrome, but I gave up trying to be more than I was. I took a deep breath, and started after the break as the only person I knew how to be – myself.

And the barn? A month with my trainer was magic for my horse. So much so, that I immediately put him into partial training and realized that it didn’t matter how long I had him, how many shows we had been to or what kind of tack we had – we still had a ton to learn. I realized that southern California horse care was different than Texas, but the horses still do quite fine and tack sheds actually give you more room to store all your stuff.

Photo by Lauren Mauldin

Those riders with their dusty western saddle pads and ancient Velcro boots, they were learning proper foundations that I had either missed or forgotten in my years of riding. They put in the hours and do the work. I wasn’t better than them. In fact, I needed to be more like them.

I still tack up with my fancy sunshirts and precious tack, but I don’t feel superior when I walk to the ring anymore. And that Dy’On bridle I love so much? My horse scratched an itch while I wasn’t holding the reins, and he stepped on them – snapping the leather clear in half.

“You deserved that!” my trainer said when I hopped off to switch them out. And she was right, I did. The ten year olds know better. Maybe one day, I will too.