BY LAUREN MAULDIN
I never thought I’d be living through a pandemic. None of us did. It certainly wasn’t on our 2020 goals list or New Year’s Resolutions.
Now, most of us sit and wait to see what happens next, gaze glued to the news cycle. Equestrians have joked and called it stall rest. I’ll call it something more accurate to my personal experience—fear.
As someone with generalized anxiety, I’m afraid all the time. Big presentation coming up at work? I’m afraid I’ll mess up and get a bad performance review. Dog coughs a little too often? Afraid she’s got cancer. Horse has a bad lesson and acts like a wild thing? Afraid we won’t ever make it in the show ring. My normal life is a never-ending series of small fears. With therapy and practice, I learn to control them. Mostly.
But now I’m being faced with real fear. The kind of fear that friends can’t easily calm with a well-meaning, “You worry too much” over margaritas. The kind of fear that is amplified tenfold after watching the news for five minutes. The kind of fear that, unfortunately, is very real.
I know that many of us are afraid.
I’m not here to tell you how to quell the fear. I wish I knew. There are a bunch of social media meditation gurus that can guide you through yogas and meditations, news about “the helpers” and all sorts of people looking for the bright side in all of this. That probably helps, but I think equestrians should remember something else too.
Many of us can’t see our horses now. We’ve had shows ripped away, and with them some big goals and dreams. You can’t rank sadness. A walk/trot IHSA rider’s show is just as important as another rider’s Devon. No matter where you fall on the equestrian scale right now, we’re all hurting.
It’s okay to acknowledge that hurt. Just because equestrians come from a place of privilege, especially compared to many who have lost their jobs and face extreme economic uncertainty, doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to cry for the things we have lost this year. Let yourself be sad if you want to. Say this sucks (it does), scream, punch a pillow. Feel all your feelings unapologetically.
But after you do, give yourself permission to dream again.
Horses have been around in our society longer than 24/7 news and vaccines. Thousands of years ago, a crazy person looked at this beautiful, leggy wild animal and thought, “I’m going to see what that’s all about.” Society was built in a partnership of humans and these flighty, complicated, delightful creatures. It wouldn’t be impossible to say that it all started with a dream.
In a modern age of cars and modern comforts, the horse is redundant. The average human doesn’t need them anymore, but we aren’t average. We still look at horses with the same starry-eyed gaze that domesticated them over 6,000 years ago. We aspired to jump fences, dance, run as fast as we can, and achieve impossible feats with our four-legged partners.
Through all of this madness and uncertainty, I ask you to hold on to that dream. Use it to fuel you when you can’t find the light. Cradle it, and remember how dreams can push us forward when everything else seems bleak.
I can’t tell you when this is going to be over. Don’t know when the barns will open up, the horse shows run again. I don’t know what the economic implications will do to our sport.
Believe me when I say that I know times will be hard. This is an expensive sport, and many will have to make changes—myself included. What was going to be a few short months of training before my horse’s green year debut has turned into an indefinite period of worry and wait.
But, as a best barn buddy keeps reminding me, the sun rises every day. Hundreds of years of equestrian sport will not dissolve from missing a few key shows. All of us wild-eyed, crazy horse girls who live and breathe for this sport will be raring to drop our stirrups as soon as we’re back in the barn. I don’t know how, but I know we’re all going to emerge from this. Many things will be different, but our love of horses and the sport will never change.
So in the meantime, keep dreaming. I don’t care if it’s picking up the correct lead cantering at home or preparing for your first Grand Prix. Scheme up something that feels impossible. Visualize it before you go to sleep. Let it carry you through the uncertainty, remind you to keep going in times of hardship.
When we get through this and accomplish these goals—and we will get through this—the horse world will be waiting to cheer each other on, big crowds and all.
About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. Beyond equestrian journalism, she explores body positivity, mental health and addiction through personal narrative. She enjoys showing on the local hunter/jumper circuit in Austin, Texas.
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