BY LAUREN MAULDIN
I know I’m not the only one that’s ready for 2020 to bite the dust. It’s been one thing after another, and we’ve all been in this muck together. I don’t have to list the struggles we’ve gone through—we’re all painfully aware. But through the holidays, I’ve been trying to shift my mentality. Instead of focusing on how insane 2020 has been, how has it helped me?
Horse Shows Seem a Lot Less Important
I love horse showing as much as I love horses. It’s my favorite way to spend a vacation day. Traditionally, every aspect of my riding has been geared towards the next big show or goal. Each lesson and hack had my eye on the prize. Always, “Go go go!”
When the pandemic screeched shows to a halt, my perspective started to shift. Furloughs, rising case numbers and schedule changes completely botched my showing plans this year, but I realized I didn’t miss the grind as much as I thought I would. Instead of feeling inferior all the time, I tried to channel my energy to what was going right with my horse. I worked to acknowledge the progress we made at home. Don’t get me wrong—I miss showing. Sometimes I feel left behind when I see social media posts of others’ blue ribbons, sailing over big jumps. But overall, I’ve learned to better appreciate where I am at the moment. Now, my goals are more about building my confidence and strengthening the bond with my horse.
The Barn is About More Than Riding
The barn has always been my sanctuary, but that has never been more clear than during the challenges of this year. With so much space to spread out outside, I was able to see my friends face-to-face while we enjoyed our horses together. Barn family has always been important to me, but being isolated alone at home made barn hours more precious than ever. Each time I pull into the driveway, I feel my heart begin to warm.
I think it’s easy to get bogged down in the little things like interpersonal drama or complaints about the facility or training, but this year taught me to really appreciate what a boarding barn is. It’s a special community of like minded people that would likely never interact otherwise. From sixteen to seventy, we all encourage each other and offer moral support—whether it’s about getting through the gymnastic or pandemic challenges. Most people, especially this year, don’t have access to such a special place.
Mental Health is More Important Than Ever
Physical health is obviously important, especially at a time where so many lives have been lost to this virus. But this year I’ve learned to pay better attention to not only my own mental health, but my horse’s as well.
We’re all under a ton of stress right now, and it’s gone on for so long that it’s seeped into our pores. The news cycle, like pollution, has become a part of daily life. I try to check-in with myself from time to time, and evaluate my life like a neutral, third party. Am I sleeping enough? Have I done something nice for myself lately? This may seem obvious, but it’s extremely important in a year like this. When I take better care of myself, I’m also a better partner to my horse. Showing myself kindness also shows him kindness. If I am aware of my feelings, I can recognize when it’s a better day to stroll around in the field versus working on complicated flat exercises. And because things have been so chaotic and stressful, I check in with myself now more than ever before.
We are More Fortunate Than We Realize
The biggest lesson that 2020 has taught me is that I am incredibly fortunate. Really, most of us are. Being surrounded by so much loss and hardship has made me appreciate the basics. Family, friends, health. And for us equestrians—horses. If we can ride, if we can bury our fingers in a fuzzy mane or soak up the smell of hay, we are doing well.
This is a time to focus on the immediate and the precious. That doesn’t me we can’t stress (we’re gonna) or that our problems will all melt away (they won’t). But if we can focus on the positives then we’ll all be better off.
I’d like to say that the hardships of 2020 will disappear as the New Year turns, but that’s as realistic as saying your three-year-old hunter prospect will be ready for International Derby Finals next summer. What I can say is that us equestrians are a tough group, and we’re going to get through it. And as we do, we’re going to learn a lot and grow stronger along the way.
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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