Rediscovering the Joy of Horses When Showing Isn’t Possible

1997
Photo © Taylor Sammarco

BY LAUREN MAULDIN

I am, by my own definition, a competitive person. Don’t confuse my lack of talent or success in this sport for not caring. I deeply want to win. Always have.

This fierce, inner competitor influences almost every part of my equestrian life. It’s why I bought the most talented horse I could afford, a green 4y/o OTTB, last year instead of choosing an easier option on my limited budget. It’s why I work extra, always chasing that hustle, so I can afford to keep my horse in training. It’s why I spend hours dutifully studying this sport. How I can tell you all the trends on the A circuit, even though I have never shown there myself. Why I want me and my horse to look turned out to the nines for a simple hack at home. I am always driving towards success. I so badly want to win.

Photo © Taylor Sammarco

But there’s wanting something, and then there’s reality. 2020 has delivered a huge dose of reality.

First there was the stay at home order. I thought okay, shows are cancelled anyway and I have a trainer who can ride my horse. I’ll just stay home. No big deal.

Then we had a bunch of rain here in central Texas, and the attack of the Thoroughbred feet came rearing its ugly head. My horse threw 3 out of 4 shoes, and tore his feet up so badly that he had to go on stall rest and wear boots while he grew back out. My barn visits weren’t for riding or training, but instead packing and painting and trying to get him feeling better. Another setback, okay. We can still get back on track.

By the time he started feeling better, another blow. I get notice that my hours and salary at my corporate job are cut due to COVID19. While I won’t lie to you and say I didn’t feel sorry for myself (I did, 100%), I quickly realized that I’m incredibly fortunate. This pandemic has created food insecurity, homelessness and unmeasurable stress on our society. Thinking things through put my feelings in perspective, but it also made me quickly realize that training rides and lessons are a luxury that I can’t currently afford.

Which brings me back to my young horse, my showing goals and this deep desire to win. What happens now? When the shows are opening back up soon, but I’ve had two rides in a month and am now on my own with a green horse.

Photo © Taylor Sammarco

Maybe some amateurs would give themselves a pep talk about how they don’t need training rides. They’re good enough on their own, and they’ll eat ramen noodles if it means going to horse show. I’m sure there are a lot of amateurs like that, but I’m not one of them.

I’m a security-minded amateur. I need to know I have enough money in the bank to pay for my horse’s board, shoes, and veterinary needs even if I lose my job. Not to mention I have to pay for my mortgage, and my own care. Those are my financial priorities, not ribbons.

And as for being good enough to do it all without a trainer? Count me out. I love my trainer. I can’t imagine showing without her. Who would talk me through my anxiety attacks and remind me to add leg when all I want to do is crawl and add towards every oxer? She’s worth every penny.

So my showing goal, my need to win, the reason I bought my horse… it’s all on hold right now. #Stayathome doubles as #Hackathome for the foreseeable future.

At first, I was pretty depressed about it. Why even have a horse? I looked at the big monthly expense in my bank account, and had feelings of “What’s the point?” It’s not like every ride is easy or pleasant, especially with a green bean. Wouldn’t life be so much simpler if I just turned away towards safer, cheaper and easier pursuits?

Photo courtesy of Lauren Mauldin

Then I remembered the little girl I used to be. The one that stayed up late at night looking at picture books of horses. She invented names and stories for each glossy image of a horse cantering through an open field. I loved horses before I loved showing. I didn’t start riding because I wanted to win a blue ribbon. I begged for lessons for years and years because I had this undeniable draw to horses. It took my parents a while to catch on, because they didn’t understand how I could be so mystified by then. To be totally honest, I don’t know if I understand it now, all these years later.

When I went to the barn this weekend, I remembered that little girl. The hopeless horse lover. I thought about her when I got my horse out. When I curried out his winter coat and sprayed conditioner over his dapples, I thought about how amazed that little girl would be that she owns such a pretty young gray. He looks just like the horses running through fields of wildflowers in the old books I had.

And when I rode, I didn’t think about winning the hack or prepping for lead changes. I thought about what a pretty day it was. How I should keep his attention in the spooky corner with a little inside rein. I told him what a good boy he was when he did a nice bending circle. We both breathed easy, a big relaxed sigh, when I reached down to scratch his withers.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Mauldin

I hate how things are happening in the world right now, and I for sure miss lessons and the promise of horse showing. But I also think that I needed this forced downtime, this exercise in appreciation. There is so much more to riding than ribbons. For the competitive ones like me, it can be easy to forget.

With all the unknowns on the horizon, I am committing to devote less time to stressing over things I cannot control. More time to appreciating what I have. Right now, I have a lovely horse and a big field to hack in. Regardless of everything else, my inner, horse-loving child, is very pleased.


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.

Read More from This Author »

Previous articleSaving Nation
Next articleHelp Save the School Horses