BY LAUREN MAULDIN
My story is not unique in our sport. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love horses. Begged for lessons, was fortunate enough to ride as a kid. Worked hard and sacrificed to make opportunities happen for myself. Got injured, got scared. Won some. Loved amazing horses, cried buckets when they left me (still do sometimes). Really, it’s like I blinked and realized that I’ve spent the majority of my life dedicated to these animals and this sport.
I don’t regret a minute of it. Through horses, I’ve met the best people. Found grit and a mental toughness I didn’t possess before I started riding. I’ve learned countless lessons in patience, diligence, responsibility… too many to list. Every penny spent, bruise earned and tear shed has been worth it.
But I am very, very tired.
It’s not the grind that’s worn me out. Driving to the barn after a long day of work is a privilege. Even falling off my baby horse in a green bean moment is a privilege, because I’m lucky to have him. He’s not the fanciest in the barn, but he’s the nicest I’ve ever owned and sparks so much joy. Just looking at him, even if we’ve just finished an hour lesson struggling with the same thing we were struggling with the week before, sends little tingles through my heart.
But lately, I am exhausted.
I’m tired of hearing about how unaffordable this sport is, how elitist it’s become. From my point of view, it’s always been elitist. The most money I’ve ever spent on a horse was $8,000 dollars, and many of my peers spend that in a single week showing. I know the institution of horse showing has financial barriers as deep as the pockets of the top elite in it, but I have no idea how to fix it. Every time I read or write or publish a piece on diversity and inclusivity, I can’t help but think about how much privilege I grew up with (and currently have) that has allowed me to participate in this sport. Then I think about how I add a lot of hustle to that privilege, yet still feel so far away. It’s a hard fact to swallow that so many deserving, amazing, lovely people may never get access to this sport that has given me so much.
I’m tired of working two jobs and scraping pennies so I can afford to go to local horse shows, only to be constantly told how they’re not as nice as rated shows. The courses aren’t good enough, footing isn’t ideal, jumps are beautiful, prizes are blah, school horses are “ugly.” I strive for improvement, as I think most equestrians do, and am not blind to the limitations of local or schooling shows. But do we have to be constantly putting down where we are while we set our sights on something else? If people show rated, they want to show a fancier or bigger rated show. If they travel to circuits, they want to qualify for indoors. It’s totally okay to make big goals for yourself and push to the next thing, but do we have to carry up so many others in the tailwind? Your “dinky” little show is someone else’s Maclay finals. The levels, especially when they’re being pushed on you, are exhausting.
I’m tired of USEF versus WEC Ocala. Our sport needs a shakeup and a reset—I genuinely believe that. But there is so much vitriol right now. So much entitlement and unwavering “rightness.” I don’t want to be right. I want to ride my horse. And guess what? I’m not showing at any rated winter circuits. Not this year, not next—possibly not ever. I understand that big changes and governing agents are a really big deal to riders on the circuit, and don’t blame any of them for exerting their voice and sharing experiences and opinions. But we need to remember that those riders are the minority, not the majority.
The majority of riders are like me. We have a credit card balance that never goes away, because the minute we think we’re getting on track our horse needs injections or teeth floating (from the dentist-specialty vet, not the cheaper option) or something else that we’ve deemed more important than a perfect credit rating.
We like to show and feel extremely validated by tracking progress in the ring, even if that progress is a tiny sixth place ribbon at a local show. But we know the closest we’re going to get to indoors is sneakily watching the livestream during conference calls at work. Especially after this past year, we know that getting the ring at all—at any level or rating—is a success.
I can’t speak for all the riders like me, but I’ll speak for myself. I am fed up with the entitlement. I am exhausted by the constant complaining and name calling. It’s been a long, hard year. We are all feeling the effects of 2020, and it manifests in different ways. For many, it seems to be manifesting in excess negativity in our sport.
I don’t know how to solve any of these problems. They are bigger than me, even though I’m the backbone of our industry. I’m the one looking through all the tack sales, paying for professional rides, keeping my horse up-to-date on quality vet care and farrier work, and throwing money into my chosen show circuit as often as I can.
For those who are the big wigs, the rule makers and the names that people care about and listen to, I’m going to ask you something simple. Go ride a horse. I don’t care if it’s the old Morgan cross that usually does up down lessons or an imported 1.50m jumper. Remember the feeling that got us all into this sport. Feel for the tingles in your heart. I fear many of you have forgotten what that’s like.
And when you find that feeling, carry it with you through the board meetings and social media spats and ringside discussions. I realize I’m no one special. Nobody cares if I’m tired. But if we can’t keep our shared joy of the sport at the heart of everything we do, there is no path forward.
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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