Courage, empathy, self-reliance, quick-thinking, problem solving, disciplined, hard-working, ambitious and modest. I spent my undergraduate education contemplating the Aristotelian abstraction of personal virtue. Much better horseman have cited sound horsemanship as a form of self-mastery but I haven't met too many of them in the stick-jumpers.
Weeks ago, a horse and I left the California sunshine. Left a horse park where movie stars, second-generation coders and stockbrokers spend time in VIP tents and posh clubs. For them the cost of riding and showing is so easy. Like skiing, the recreational ride is exhilarating and fashionable. I am extremely fortunate to share the ring with these riders and am happy to sacrifice holidays, vacations, etc. so I can develop my ponies at this level. However, as recreational adults or budding children how do we justify the pricey dollar tag and exorbitant time suck? When its neither glamorous or relaxing to show and train at this level, why exactly do we do it?
My answer came at a schooling show. As a not so secret insomniac, I hate the one day shows. Waking up at an ungodly hour (even in comparison to week long shows) the hectic packing of trailer, unloading of a group of horses to hastily school before plopping the owner back on and moving to the next one (HOW DOES ONE SCHOOL 5 HORSES IN AN HOUR, she asked). But all the kids showed up on time, carefully arranged their hairnets and did their best to contain their nervousness as I quietly and slowly recited their course.
Some classes went well, others not so well. Some students fretted with anxiety, joyous to be done with the day. Others worked hard to take in notes and make thoughtful improvements to the ride so that historical mistakes would stay history. Though the time in the tack was successful it was out of stirrups that I was most proud of my kids. The quiet one, the one that barely spoke above a moderate whisper was yelling out the course to a complete stranger before she went into the ring. The girls were bringing each other water, asking each other questions and helping each other get ready in that never-long-enough time period between one horse and another. Girls were jumping on tables and cheering after a particularly great round (belonging to some person on a oh so cute pony named, "who cares").
I watched one collect her fifth place ribbon as she told everyone pinning ahead of her congratulations. I watched another tell her pony "Thank-you for taking care of me." I watched another mentor a younger all day, answer all questions and never loose patience.
And I realized these riders had found courage, confidence, and compassion from their horses. I hope I never loose the lesson.