BY LAUREN MAULDIN
Life—and horses—have seasons. When I set out to purchase a horse capable of getting me into the adult hunters, I thought this would be the time for me to buckle down, train harder, and fully obsess about all things horse shows. I didn’t think I’d be riding less than ever before. And if you told me that’d be the case, I definitely wouldn’t think it’d be a recipe for better mental health. But here I am—happier than ever before.
Throughout my entire life with horses, I feel like I’ve been chasing something. It’s taken different forms. A blue ribbon. A certain division. Year-end awards. Fancier horses. Better tack. Trendier attire. The mark kept moving up and up and up. When I marked something off the list, I felt accomplished. Happy even, but it was short-lived. A hollow sense of achievement. It took age, maturity, and this season of my life to make me realize that all of my efforts were really me chasing approval.
I looked for validation in judges, trainers, and peers. For so long, I needed everyone to tell me I was okay. I thought affection, respect, and even love were all things to be earned. If I wasn’t doing well enough, I didn’t deserve them.
When you wait for some phantom stranger to reach down and make you feel good about yourself, you’ll wait forever.
Though my quest was flawed and fruitless, I’m lucky I chose this sport to throw myself into. Because riding brings horses. And though the ribbons I’ve collected have done nothing to heal my soul, the horses have. They have stayed patiently alongside me, jumping fences and humoring me at horse shows while I tried to impress everyone else. Quietly, in their deep breaths and soft stares, they waited for me to understand that I already belong.
Love and respect aren’t earned through achievements. Belonging in this sport isn’t about championships and finals. It’s showing up for yourself—and yourself. It’s making the choice, year after year, to finance this insane hobby and dedicate the hours, whether that’s six days a week or one, to spending time at the barn. Above all else, it’s honoring these amazing animals that choose to lift their bodies—and our hearts—over obstacles, both real and psychological.
When I sit back and think about it all, this desire to chase my next level of accomplishments fades a bit. Don’t get me wrong—I am still very competitive. I love to horse show. I have a list of goals this year that I’m going to do my best to achieve. The difference now is, I’m not going to lie to myself that I’ll be happy if/when they happen. Happiness is something you build yourself at home with your horse. What this season of life has shown me more than anything else, is that the quiet moments with those you love do more to fuel your soul than anything else ever could.
About the Author: Lauren holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of California Riverside, and is a lifelong rider and writer. She writes as a way to explore life. She’s interested in the impact horses have on our lives as well discussing 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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The Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association (PCHA), a non-profit corporation, has as its main purpose the promotion and development of the sport of horse showing, primarily in the Hunter/Jumper, Western and Reining disciplines. These objectives are accomplished by setting the standards for showing on the West Coast and approving shows that meet these criteria.
Founded in 1946, the Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association promotes the interests of owners and exhibitors, cooperates with exhibitors, officials, and management of competition, publicizes and advertises PCHA sanctioned shows, encourages and assists owners, exhibitors, and breeders of horses to maintain, develop and improve the quality of horses of the Hunter, Jumper, Western and Reining divisions.