Grit and Grace: on Learning From Failure

Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography


Grit is having the courage to push through no matter what the obstacles are, because it’s worth it – Chris Morris

Grace means that all of your mistakes now serve a purpose instead of serving shame – Brene Brown

I am now fully engrossed in my second generation of the struggles of moving up the ranks at horse shows as a teenage girl. I did it myself decades ago, and now it’s PonyKid’s turn. 

It’s a hard process—even when everything goes in your favor. But in a sport that is based on comparing yourself to your peers, it’s really challenging to not let the process get to you. What seems to come easy for some, is not always sunshine and rainbows for you. I remember the moments of discouragement well, and I hope my own experiences have really helped to shed some perspective for my own PonyKid. 

It would appear that everyone else is on this well lit, well-defined path. One they merely need to follow it along to find success. You go from short stirrup, to the pony divisions, to the children’s, to the juniors, and the eq. There is a starting point and a clear plan. 

Photo © PonyMomAmmy

It would seem that PonyKid’s path is a bit more haphazard. There was short stirrup, then an extra year of short stirrup (#becauseponies), then children’s ponies, then a new green pony so some prechild, then covid, then a trainer change, and finally the large greens (throw in some medical issues and life issues too #becauseponies). It is easy for her to see the kids she was doing SS with years ago that are now packing around the large juniors while she is still in green pony land, and feel like she has been shortchanged somehow. Sometimes she feels her path is, in some way, a failure, because of the twists and turns.

I would be lying if I said that I never wished that I could provide the finances to give her that smooth path to just follow, but I am so incredibly grateful for the funky and unexpected path we are on. Because if nothing else in horses is guaranteed, failure most certainly is. And we have had our fair share of failure. 

Failure can do one of two things: crush confidence or inspire learning. In PonyKid’s case, it did the latter. Failure only fueled her desire to prove she could. It taught her resilience. Every disaster of a class, blown lead change, or refusal became an opportunity to be patient and brave. To develop a thicker skin, be grittier. 

Photo © PonyMomAmmy

She is tough for sure, but she has learned that grit has to have a balance. You cannot be all drive and perseverance. You have to be able to laugh at yourself and find the silver lining in the grayest of clouds. There have been days that she has come out of the ring laughing when most of us would have been in tears. Days when her only response has been “I am so proud that he got through the two-stride” when that may have been the only non-terrifying thing that happened. This is where she sheds her light. 

Several months ago, we were elated to hear her and her large green pony announced as reserve champion—officially qualifying them for Pony Finals 2021! But days later, we learned the show office had miscalculated the points (there was some uncertainty as to which classes were to be included in the division) and they were no longer reserve, and therefore no longer qualified. 

We both had a bit of a pity party for a moment, but her immediate next action was to reach out to the rider who was now qualified, and offer her congratulations. She went back the next week, officially qualified (for real this time!) and was show series champion. But it was her kind gesture to a fellow competitor that made her the true winner in my eyes.

Photo © PonyMomAmmy

And it’s actions like those that she could never have learned if her path had just gone straight through. It is the twists and turns that allowed her to learn and grow and really ride.

As an adult army, I have a fear of trying the unfamiliar. Trying a jumper, after a lifetime in the hunters, is daunting. It is easy to simply avoid things that we are afraid of. But PonyKid takes on the challenge with the “over, under, or through” mentality that I wish I still had.

In the last year, we have had the amazing pleasure of showing with at least eight different trainers at shows. The overwhelming majority of the time, these trainers had never met the kid or the pony prior to warming them up at the schooling ring. Every single one of those trainers has said the same two things: “Man, your kid can ride!,” and “Wow, she has an amazing attitude!” At times I’ve needed that perspective—especially when I’ve been standing at the rail, muttering about how she didn’t use her outside rein properly. But when someone starts singing your kid’s praises, it’s usually best to listen and admire the talented kiddo doing her best work with a green pony. 

Photo © PonyMomAmmy

Sometimes I wish I could afford an amazing horse that would allow her to relax a bit and show off her abilities. But a trainer said to me, “There are a lot of really good riders, who can only ride really good horses. There are very few great riders, who can ride just about anything and make it work. Your kid is going to be a really great rider.”

And just like that, all of my wishing she could have it easier, wishing her path could be straight and defined… was gone. It is the challenges that have made her strong, and also gentle. The failures that have made her able to laugh at herself, but keep trying at the same time. And the path that she is on, be it winding, or straight and narrow, that have given her grit and grace.  I wouldn’t trade this path for anything in the world.

About the Author: Ponymomammy juggles her roles of mother (two human, two ponies, and three doggos), wife, and perpetual amateur in Camden, SC. When not shuttling kids, or riding, she can be found feebly attempting to clean or cook, usually in dirty breeches from an earlier hack. Both she and her daughter enjoy showing on both the local, and A rated, show circuits.
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