BY MARY LYNNE CARPENTER
Perseverance and grit.
As equestrians, we hear a lot about these personality characteristics. When equestrians tell stories, they often reference perseverance and grit as key ingredients to a formula that produces a successful outcome. Most notably, they are frequently credited for a rider triumphantly reaching a goal. We all seem to like reading these narratives. Decades of horse literature is replete with them. There is something intrinsically satisfying about a story tied up at the end with a glorious bow—especially when that bow is a blue ribbon.
One aspect of these stories troubles me though. Many of them almost promise that perseverance and grit guarantee success. If we have enough of each ingredient and hold out just long enough, we will eventually reach the mountain top. While this is certainly evident some of the time, many horse people show much determination and resolve with little worldly success to show for it.
Perseverance and grit is certainly needed to reach the pinnacles of the sport, but it is also needed just to stay in the game at all.
Sharing our lives with strong, quick, large creatures with minds of their own takes courage on any level. This applies whether you keep pasture ornaments in your backyard, show horses in a multi-million-dollar barn, or anything in between. We hear a lot about the top-level show riders and trainers successes, but much less about the person who leaves the championships with no ribbons after trying their best, whose horse dies after a long illness even with excellent care, or the rider who struggles to get back into the saddle after an accident.
There is tons of perseverance and grit woven throughout those stories. Such narratives often reveal a richness of strength and character that largely goes unnoticed in a world that more readily responds to more obvious signs of success. The stories of courage demonstrated by the everyday equestrian often play out in the valleys and trenches of life where strength of character is most needed if our equine industry is to survive and thrive.
As with regular life, horse life is filled with many situations where the ending to our stories is not so satisfying. Lackluster. Down right tragic. Dreams and goals and plans dashed. We need fortitude and determination to face these circumstances with some kind of poise and come back out to try again another day.
I worry that equestrians sometimes forget this. I worry that this omission in our understanding causes attrition in our horse community if we are not able to consistently
reward ourselves with social media likes, ribbons or other accolades. We need to learn to feel satisfaction in how we faced a situation, not just in its measurable outcome.
We forget that there is quiet dignity in doing the things that thousands of equestrians do every day, things that are not special, flashy or news worthy. The backbone of the horse industry is thousand upon thousands of people like this—people like you and me. We ride and feed and muck out and volunteer sight unseen in the background of horse life. Maybe we don’t get much fanfare for our efforts. Maybe we feel forgotten or that our contributions are insignificant. But nevertheless, we show determination in the things that we do and the commitments that we make towards our horses and our fellow equestrians.
Sometimes this determination looks like continuing to fight for every scrap of horse-related knowledge and learning opportunity wherever we can find it. Sometimes it looks like continuing to take riding lessons, even though it is obvious to everyone (including us) that we aren’t going to make it to the Olympics. Sometimes it means walking away from a barn where we once found immense joy, but now find the atmosphere toxic. Sometimes it means keeping our old horses, even if they can no longer be ridden and have an ever-growing list of expensive ailments because it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes it looks like standing by a horse as he takes his last breath, mourning his loss and later opening our hearts to another.
Resolve manifests itself in an infinite variety of ways in the life of the everyday equestrian.
Hopefully each of us can recount a solid victory story somewhere in our past. A victory story where we felt the joy of setting a goal and achieving it. I enjoy garnering accolades as much as the next person, but if you are anything like me, your life has not been one big victory lap.
When we interpret the emphasis to be on “winning,” it can take some mental gymnastics to glean satisfaction out of life when you rarely find yourself up on the podium. When you can’t create a positive outcome despite your best efforts, the only thing left to control is your reaction to your situation and how you chose to carry yourself through it. In the midst of the difficulty and disappointment, you can choose how you treat yourself, your horse and your fellow humans.
Even without a happy ending, you showed perseverance and grit.
Mary Lynne is a backyard horse-owner who lives in Indiana. She loves to ride and write. Her other essays have appeared in Equus Magazine, The Horse Magazine and on Horse Network.