- Life is better when your schedule is fluid. Returning to riding has brought a whole new meaning of roll with it to my life. Things happen at the barn, horses happen. Lessons run long, trainers have to squeeze in an extra ride, but can also be understanding when you should up half an hour early for night lessons.
I found out early it's best to not plan something immediately after barn time. If you're in a rush, the horse notices, the trainer notices and your anxiety level becomes apparent and manifests itself, usually in missed distances and forgetting to clean your bridle. I stopped stressing about timelines at the barn a long time ago and it's made a world of difference. Taking the time to give Leo a good groom and graze session after a lesson brings me just as much, if not more, joy than a kick-ass jump school.
- In the same vein, the barn is a place of escape and calm, so don't ruin it for others. I go to the barn, and I think most people do, for a break from real life. When I'm riding, it takes every tiny brain wave I have to focus on the situation at hand: piloting a 1,500-pound animal over jumps while trying not to meet dirt. Is there time to worry about shitty co-workers or bills or my to-do list when I get home or that asshat that cut me off this morning? Nah. Also, respect that other people think of the barn as their haven—don’t bring yo drama to that environment!
- Don't take it personally. People and animals have off days. Trainers and barn mates can have bad days, and unless they explicitly tell you you’re the problem, assume you’re not (good rule anywhere in life). Animals being naughty also aren’t always a reflection of your personality or actions. This lesson was best taught to me by my wild child dog, JD. There’s only so much training and exposure that can change the wiring in his brain. He’s just a talker. He will probably always have a meltdown upon seeing a dog that’s also excited to see him. I don’t take his “misbehavior” personally anymore and just deal with the situation as quietly and kindly as possible. Same with horses. There are times when you can do everything right and still have things go wrong. That’s life.
- You are your own competition. I ride at a pretty nice barn and, especially growing up, envy was something I struggled with. I’ve since turned my “benign envy” into admiration. There’s a lot of respect to be had for people who’ve had desires, turned them into goals and accomplished them. It’s also impossible for me to objectively compare myself to their achievements. It’s been said many times before, but I feel like it’s particularly true in horse sports. Horses have different personalities, strides, heights, jump-styles, fitness, struggles as with their riders. The only person you can compare yourself with is you.
- You get what you put in. Call it intentional thinking, mention skill refining, sports psychology, or whatever you want. Planning a time to positively think about schooling rides, lessons or show classes is so worth it. Also, keeping in my mind what I most need to work on most (collecting that giant stride, mostly) keeps those thoughts in the forefront of my mind. Taking the time to mentally prepare yourself before riding, especially when jumping makes it that much easier to get yourself focused in the moment.
- Horses are basically giant, expensive dogs that you can ride. Just needed to be said.
- Buy quality and only cry once (but for a long time). If you try to cheap out, safety and comfort are the first things to go! No further elaboration needed for my husband’s sake.
- Don't dwell on the mistakes! Distances get messy, lead changes get missed, shoulders drop in, rails get knocked. When you try it again, work to correct it but also don't assume that it'll go wrong again. And focus on what went well. Maybe you totally chipped the vertical, but your position wasn't thrown out of whack. Positivity.
- If you're thinking about returning to riding, just do it. Riding has brought so much joy back into my life, I’m only disappointed that I waited so long!