It may sound counter-intuitive, but I truly believe I was meant to take time away from competitive riding (and basically riding in general) in order to become a better horsewoman.
If you read my first post, you know that I rode consistently as a child up until about the time I left for college. At that point forward, I took about 8 years off from riding and competing consistently. Long story short, I just needed a break. When I dove back into riding again at age 26, I started kicking myself for letting all that time go to waste. But the truth is, during that time I wasn’t ready to go back to the equestrian world. Now I recognize that time away did me a whole lot of good. Here's 5 reasons why my time away made me a better equestrian.
- I said bye to the burn-out
After riding consistently for the majority of our lives, I think we all fall into the “routine” trap. We get to do this amazing sport around some pretty incredible creatures, but if you’ve never stepped away, it can be hard to see the bigger picture. The summers (and maybe winters) packed with horseshows can be so draining. I know for me, by the age of 18 I was dangerously approaching burn-out status. And I wasn’t even on the A-circuit, dealing with the pressure that some junior riders have on their shoulders nowadays. Having stepped away, I came back with a totally fresh perspective on what is really important to me in this sport. It’s more fun, less pressure, and focused more on my partnership with my horse.
- I’m not focused on the ribbons
This is a huge one. Having chosen to step back into riding, I can see my priorities a lot clearer now. My favorite horseshow moments are ones in which I had a personal victory, like finally nailing that leave-out stride in the jump off, or coming out of a roll-back turn with my horse actually straight because I didn’t just use one rein to turn. Those are the moments I remember, not awards ceremonies or victory gallops.
- I can take a joke
It’s so much easier to laugh off the bad days/rounds/horseshows/etc. Before, I could beat myself up for days over a mistake. When I have bad days now, I can usually pick out one moment that was positive. Chipped jumps or rails down are no longer totally devastating. It helps so much in keeping me motivated – I can look at each mistake as a learning opportunity. Each show is a chance to learn and improve, and that is what’s exciting to me now.
4. I have skin in the game
I’ll just say it: paying for my own riding career (or even part of it) totally changes the game. I know the other adult amateurs out there know what I mean! When I left the sport at 18 years old, all the decisions and finances went through my parents. Fast forward to age 26 when I re-emerged as a horsewoman, all of a sudden I was in charge of those things. It was a bit of a shock at first, but it has been a total blessing. I know exactly what is going on with my horse at all times, and I’ve actually gotten to know my vets/farriers/chiropractors/massage therapists/etc. My trainers have gotten used to me asking a million questions. The point is, as an adult now, I’m making decisions that impact the health and well being of my horse, and that is such an incredible responsibility. But, it makes the whole experience so much more rewarding.
- I CHOSE this, so I’m all in
This is something I figured out recently when reflecting on why I’m so passionate about riding again after spending so many years of my life away from the sport. After taking plenty of time away, I actively decided I could not live without this sport, and I made the decision to make it part of my life again. So, my motivation is perfectly clear – I WANT to do this FOR ME. Honestly, this makes all the difference now. When I’m sitting in traffic after work on my way to the barn, and it’s dark and cold and I’m tired, I like to ask myself, “Is there anything else I’d rather be doing right now?”, my answer is always no! I’m all in.
So the benefits of revisiting this sport as an adult are huge. I’m better emotionally equipped to handle the ups and downs, I can get more involved in my horse’s care, and my focus is always on making incremental improvements in my riding versus winning blue ribbons. While I no longer bounce back up after falling off (yes, I’ve spent more time in the ER in the past 2 years than I’d like to admit), I’m willing to put up with physical injuries. As we all know, bad days with horses are better than good days without.